My family and I moved to Bainbridge, a semi-rural island eight miles west of Seattle, about a year ago. We’ve been life-hopping the past few years, looking for home, and we think we’ve found it here. The schools teach art and science, the neighbors don’t cook meth, and the trees-to-asphalt ratio is off the charts. There’s only one thing missing: sense memory. We’re strangers, the island and me. It’s my firm belief that there’s no better way to understand a place, to really know it, than to lace up a pair of boots and start walking. So last summer, that’s exactly what I did.
I announced my plans at dinner. "I’m going to hike all the way around the island," I told the family. "A circumnavigation. And I’m going to map the island as I go."
"Is that possible?" my 11-year-old daughter Lucy asked.
"Absolutely!" I said. In land mass, Bainbridge isn’t much bigger than Manhattan, but its jigsaw coves stretch its coastline to 53 miles, nearly twice that of the Big Apple. Fifty-three miles sounded perfect: challenging, but well within the realm of the possible.
I told a neighbor the plan. "Is that legal?" he asked.
That seemed to be an open question. Private property fringes much of Bainbridge’s coast, and shoreline access laws are like liquor laws: They vary wildly from state to state and there’s often little in the way of logic or reason behind them. "Maybe," I answered. "Maybe not."
My 21st-century sextant: an Apple iPhone 3GS, loaded with the MotionX-GPS app. The combination would track my progress and let me collect routes, waypoints, and geotagged data. At home I would use the information to make a custom hiking map that clarified public access issues, and create a multimedia digital map with photos, video, and more. I’d even publish a guidebook that would serve as a family record and souvenir from the first year in our new home.