Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tech tricks and treats, plus why beach hiking fails

I want to go high tech for my AT hike, and there's so much great stuff out there to sort through--it's like trying to decide on a Halloween costume.

I have three basic tech desires:
  1. I am using the AT Conservancy's maps, guidebooks, on line interactive map, in combination with the Delorme topo map books and Google Earth's mapping and street view applications to do advance scouting of trail crossings and parking areas.  In some cases it's actually easier than scouting by car, trying to stay on the road while craning your neck to see where the trail emerges from the woods at an obscure crossing, etc.
  2. I intend to carry one or two high-tech gadgets with me that take geo-tagged videos and still pics and record geo-tracking info, with the goal of posting all this on line using map-based software such as My Maps on Google Earth.
  3. In some ideal user-friendly universe that doesn't seem to exist in this dimension (yet), I'd hope to integrate all this info seamlessly, with a few clicks, into a single link to which followers can go and be able to post it in real time right from the trail.

For item 1, pre-hike scouting, I'm afraid it's just a matter of slogging through all the data.  But what's available online has great potential.  Witness this screen shot, taken from  A Google Maps Street View, of a small AT crossing and parking area near the Blue Ridge Parkway above Buchanan, VA (a place I plan to be hiking next week):
(Note the white blaze on the big tree at the woods' edge, right center.)  Since my hike will consist of individual day-hike Yo-yo's (back and forth from road crossings where I'll park), this advance work can save me time and headaches.  It won't tell me if a muddy Forest Service road is impassable, but actually there may also be some on-line help with that (National forest web sites, etc.) - OK, yet more layers of on-line research to consider!

Item two, choosing the right gadgets to carry, is far more tech-intensive.  For those few of you even more tech-bewildered than I am, my hope is to provide a link to a detailed customized map of the AT based on, for example, Google Maps, for use by those who want to follow my progress.  Instead of using the map to find the nearest restaurant that sells a Virgin Daiquiri smoothie, you use it to search for my photos, videos and information I've posted from my gadgets, all organized precisely by their location along the trail.  Google Maps has the software to do this, but it appears you still need to be a serious geek to understand all the ins and outs.  Even understanding what gadgets are most user friendly is a ghoulish proposition.  There is an increasing number of hardware devices available that provide geo-tagged photo and video data--everything from your Smart Phone to rugged head-mounted light weight video equipment such as this GPS-integrated video camera from Oregon Scientific.  I spent all day today researching other such specialized units and found half a dozen.  They are available from several manufacturers, and I won't go into details.  Suffice it to say that none of them does exactly what I want, and each one has strong points and weaknesses.  There are even geo-tagged Sony Handi-cams and Garmin GPS units that take photos.  The trick is to sort through these various tempting treats and figure out which, if any, I want to spring for.

Item 3: how to get the info on the web:  With the advent of smart phones with cameras and wireless internet access, a good chunk of the trail is potentially connected.  But is a Smart Phone all I need to post frequent photos and video *and* GPS tracking info?  Ideally, the answer is yes.  Practically the biggest issue is battery life.  Other issues I have are the limited features of the camera and near inaccessibility of the GPS info for any practical trail use (compared to my Garmin hiker's GPS).  Lastly, is there a "helmet mount" for a smart phone???   On the other end of this high tech info stream (the target site on the internet to post my information), there are other issues.  I'm already posting here on Blogger, and also on Facebook (I can share these Blogger posts to Facebook directly but what Facebook posts is only the title line and then a clunky and repetitive reference to the blog in general--none of the content of the actual post).  I am also regularly posting on the especially thru-hiker friendly AT journaling site,, which is even more clunky to integrate with the other sites (you need to 'code' links by hand using HTML for example).  And it gets worse ... For items 1 and 2, I'm likely to want to add more target sites to the mix: a map-integrated photo site, probably Panoramio, and the 'My Maps' application under Google Maps.  Again, there's nothing that perfectly fits my vision (that's how start-up tech companies came into being, isn't it!)  But I'm just a retired old geezer, well beyond wanting to start a business.  So this Halloween bag full of tech-candy puts a lot of tempting but stomach-turning sugary-sweet calories on my plate.

Still, I'm doing pretty good, dontcha think?  Remember, I'm 63.  I went to school in the pre-computer slide-rule era; and despite a high-tech science career, I still have a hard time keeping up with the break-neck pace of developments.  Wish me luck!

Last note:  Why Beach Hiking Fails:  I was out on the AT a few weeks ago (see earlier posts) after a couple months of hiking only my level beach strand (albeit long hikes of ten to fifteen miles daily).  But back on the AT I quickly found that the muscles used to ascend and descend had gone flabby.  I had some muscle soreness that surprised me.  Beach hiking works well to keep my feet accustomed to the long miles, but I need to keep in touch with the hills.

So ... This coming week looks like a great crisp fall week for some AT hiking.  I'm heading out tomorrow morning and may not leave the trail until Saturday (when I'll head up to Maryland).  Look for a progress report next week.  And meanwhile, Happy All-Hallowed's-Eve to one and all.

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