Virtual hike (fail)

I’ve made various posts about doing “virtual hikes”, perhaps culminating with my post about five years on a virtual hike. I was on a roll accumulating lots of treadmill miles (and successfully losing a lot of pounds while getting in the best hiking shape of my life) and then things kinda fell apart for me. And I’m suffering the consequences – without considerable and frequent exercise I gain weight (lots of boring posts here about my previous effective weight loss). So I really need to get moving again.

For many reasons I can’t actually take the real hike I dream about. And staying in shape for hiking (plus burning calories) on a treadmill is really boring and difficult, especially without a training goal (like a long real hike). Even worse is having to drive to the gym (previously I had treadmill and stationary bike in my basement, easy to stick with the program).

So I thought it was time to restart with a new virtual hike. Somehow keeping all my exercise data and converting that to a virtual hike was effective for me. I could always invent some statistical goal (most of xxx, setting new record) or converting static miles to the virtual hike created, completely arbitrary, of course, goals. Seeing a trail on Google Earth and seeing some place down the trail I could reach with a short-term plan provided me the incentive. IOW, silly as it may seem this works for me.

But what trail to do? Ever since seeing the very fictional and highly romanticized movie, The Way, I’ve dreamed of doing the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  I’ve watched the movie so many times plus examined the route and many locations with Google (both satview and many streetviews and attached photos) I feel like I almost know what it looks like. Oh well, I’m not actually going to do that hike, but as Joost says, ‘a man can dream’.

When I was doing my virtual Pacific Crest (starting with John Muir segment) I had various aids, particularly a detailed map (with measuring tools) where I could upload someone’s GPS track (making some minor corrections to match “truth” as see through Google Earth Study and other sources). Plus I’ve actually backpacked, for real, portions of that trail and sometimes my virtual hike overlapped my memories of my real hikes.

But Spain, that was somehow problematic. I don’t have good maps and so would have to rely totally on Google, which is fine, but it’s missing some of the calculation tools I need to translate treadmill miles to actual map locations (measuring all the twists and turns of a real trail to get accurate mileage and thus translate my workout miles to locations).

But I thought maybe I could invent my own tool, get some geospatial data from Spain to load into my program, and most importantly get an accurate GPS track for the Camino. So off to Google search and sure enough there were a few GPS tracks I could use as a starting point. But most GPS tracks (including the ones I’ve made (for local trails) and frequently discussed in my posts) are a bit of a mess – they have gaps, they record wanderings of whoever made the track off the actual trail. So getting whatever “raw” data I could find (ideally multiple datasets in order to reconcile) plus then using all the corrections I can extract viewing the approximate tracks on Google Earth I had some chance of building an accurate track to use for my virtual hike.

Great, now I’ve got two projects: a somewhat challenging programming and data analysis exercise (have tried before to automate reconciling multiple and contradictory tracks) and then a new virtual hike that can occupy me for a few months.

But as I began to work on a proof of concept (manual exploration of the data issues to solve with programming) I encountered an unexpected issue that then led to great disappointment, on several levels. The Camino de Santiago is not just one route but actually many different routes (all, however, ending in Santiago de Compostela, in Galacia). The most commonly followed (matching the movie The Way) starts in St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France, near the western edge of the Pyrennes and near the Spanish border at Navarre. So here’s the track I first began to analyze:


This is the track (orange line) superimposed on Google Earth view of St. Jean with a small insert of recognizable scene, the city gate connecting to bridge over the Nive river (the upper left corner of the inset photo is approximately where the gate is on the Google satview). But? Where on that orange line is the actual start of the Camino? The orange track starts outside the town at “nowhere”. Originally I thought this might have been where this peregrino (trekker) spend the night and started their hike but Google shows nothing there.

So right away in attempting to define what operations I need to perform to correct this track I needed to find the “start” (whatever that might mean). And that’s where this project began to fall apart. First I couldn’t really get an answer to that question (guess only ground truth, like the first marker or something like that) would give me my answer – not something available to me (and following the Google streetview didn’t help, except revealing yet another arch that might be the one from the movie). Second this also showed me the daunting task of trying to reconcile 800+ kilometers of GPS track with “ground truth” (at least as I can discern via Google Earth) – a ton of viewing work plus some complicated programming to incorporate that discovered data into my code that would correct the “true” track. And third, right away I did discover there are actually two different routes from St. Jean to Roncesvalles. And all this complexity for just the first 28km of the hike! And for the typical first day on most itinerary of a 48 day trek.

So weeks of work before I even have a track to start recording my miles. Great, just what I need, another excuse to delay starting my virtual hike. But a good opportunity to fantasize about going to Spain for months for the sole purpose of producing (and publishing) the best track available.

But far worse was finding the massive amount of information about hiking the Camino, especially the many many guided tours (all with some but not very helpful route information). Oh joy, instead of a nice peaceful spiritual experience with great companions  (as per the movie) this hike is as bad as visiting Disneyland or walking across LA basin, mobs of all sorts of people (in fact, once before I believe I saw that 500,000 people per year do some portion of the trail). Plus, often the “trail” is just a walk through city streets or along (or even on) highways. Not exactly the bucolic scene from the movie, walking in exhaust fumes of trucks instead of peaceful woods with sheep.

When I first moved to California I was very excited to visit Yosemite. I’d heard about it, seen lots of photos (esp. as romanticized by Ansel Adams) and it sounded wonderful. Then I arrived, for the first time, shortly after Memorial Day. A total zoo! (but nowhere near as bad as it is today where cars wait for hours at the entrance gate to be admitted). Now all those other people had just as much right to be there as I did, but, wow, the mob surely ruined my experience (go to Yosemite in winter, still crowded but not as awful as summer).

So as I found more and more information about the Camino the worse it got – mobs on tours and ugly trek and tourist traps and junk for sale. I might as well be walking about here on city streets in Omaha (or the few trails here). The two trails I’ve recorded with my GPS, the MoPac and the Wabash (both rails-to-trails projects) manage to create some isolation even though they’re in the midst of farmland and houses and even towns. In short, not much different than the Camino (except for that old world charm, plus all the tourist trap stuff).

So this little exercise led to two fails – getting my track was way too much work, given the purpose is really the incentive for actual walking; and, any notion I had I might actually do the Camino is gone (the police officer in The Way said he’d walk the Camino again on his 70th birthday – given my 70th has come and gone, somehow I thought this year I might actually do it).

Oh, the disillusionment of reality – now what am I going to do? Whine, cry – stuck in self-pity. What I need is a new planet with a wonderful hike and almost no other people – again as Joost says, a man can dream.


About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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