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Map and Compass in an Urban Environment

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  • Map and Compass in an Urban Environment

    Just spitballin' here and thinking if our guys would like to take their 5 mile hike in an urban environment.

    Our downtown area consists of square blocks about half as long as normal city blocks. Normally 1 block = 1 building.
    Our guys have/will have many opportunities for a 5 mile hike in nature every year, but I think it's also a good idea to learn how to navigate urban environments too.

    If the PLC were to warm up to the idea of an urban hike, I'm concerned that using a map and compass may be "too easy" because of street names on the map.
    Has anyone else here done a similar urban hike? Is my fear about the street names unfounded?
    The overriding goal is for the boys to be able to look at a map, understand it and get from point "A" to point "B", so should I really care if it is "too easy"?

    Looking at downtown Houston, it would be cool to start at Allen's Landing, meander through Discovery Green, Theater District, point out the library, City Hall, get on the jogging trails along Buffalo Bayou to wind up at the Waugh street bridge in time to watch the bats come out.

    Yes, only if PLC's idea.
    Yes, be prepared, plenty of water, sunscreen, food, etc
    On a Saturday, minimum traffic (for those who don't live around Houston, there's not much traffic downtown on the weekends)

    So my main question is the "too easy" one, and looking to hear of similar experiences of urban hikes.

  • #2
    I grew up in an urban environment, but my kids have only lived in suburbia. In that context it is a good idea. Are the boys confident using the various mass transit systems ? Transferring from one to another ? Knowing how to act around the wino and bag lady that mutters to herself or talks crazy to you? Combining those elements might make it a more useful experience.


    • koolaidman
      koolaidman commented
      Editing a comment
      I've thought about integrating mass transit into the picture and that may take place if we do it on a weekday. We live in the suburbs and to take mass transit, it's relatively straight forward, but still a good exercise. Park at the Park-and-Ride, then sit on the bus until the nearest stop at your destination. No transfer needed.
      The Park-and-Ride busses don't run on the weekend. I can usually smell the winos before I see them. Once it starts to smell like the zoo, then you have an idea of what you're about to stumble upon...
      Last edited by koolaidman; 08-13-2013, 04:32 PM. Reason: I put in a non-sensical "However"...

  • #3
    Think of it this way: once the boys complete this hike, would you be comfortable with them doing the same thing on their own in any other environment you all hike in throughout the year?

    Personally, I know I can get lost using a map with street names ... I know how to "get found," and it usually relies on my ability to find north and orient the map. So there is some method to your madness.


    • koolaidman
      koolaidman commented
      Editing a comment
      Maybe it would work better with the street names as they can learn to check the map at intersections to make sure they are on the correct path towards their destination.

      I think the simplified overall objective to SC1 & 2 is to learn to read a map, take a walk and not get lost...

      I do believe the boys enjoy a challenge and respect an achievement that is not otherwise easily obtained.

      The suburban folks around here easily get lost or intimidated by our downtown area:
      The streets are lined northeast-southwest and northwest-southeast and 99% of them are one way.
      I get around it by knowing what street I came in off of the freeway on, and knowing what street leads to the freeway I need to leave on.
      The rest I'll just fudge if I need to.

  • #4
    We urban hike a couple of times a year....

    One of my favorites is this one

    They have a 10 mile version I can't find the link to the map.....

    Downtown Houston sounds like a great adventure......I would have the PLC provide everyone with maps and then they can record compass headings on the map......

    So do you have a really unique place to eat lunch at?????? In cinci when we do that walk we eat at Ziggy deli.


    • #5
      Personally, I'd opt for Cinci.The food is great, decent baseball team. As for the hike, I'd find a way to walk along the river. Is there a rails-to-trails hike around there somewhere?

      After experiencing the ship channel, I admit I'm prejudiced against Houston.


      • #6
        I've been thinking a little about food. It may be a lunch on the way into town, or a dinner thing if we want to watch the bats. One of the peculiar things about the downtown area are the tunnels (only open on weekdays). That's where most folks eat lunch. Finding a place to eat on a scout's lunch budget could prove difficult if your looking for something better than average fast food. Houston is definitely an aquired taste. Pack did you take the boat tour of the ship channel?


        • packsaddle
          packsaddle commented
          Editing a comment
          Nope, I did some work on its pollution. Nasty. It wasn't the worst job I ever had to do but it was in the top 10. The worst was on Laguna San Jose in Puerto Rico. I hate to imagine what could top that.

        • koolaidman
          koolaidman commented
          Editing a comment
          I can see where that would taint your view. Parts north and west aren't nearly as polluted (I say that with blissful ignorance, please don't enlighten me!). It just so happens that many of the refineries are clustered there and Texas City, and Baytown, etc...

      • #7
        Sounds like a volksmarch!
        I think it's a great idea if the boys are from suburbia or the country.


        • #8
          As one who has lived in both urban and rural environments, I can attest to the fact that city people use directions in right, left, straight ahead, and turn around and go the other way. The rural people use the terms, north, south, east, and west. With that being said, there's nothing wrong with using rural terms in an urban setting. Give a city map to the boys and a compass. Give all directions for the 5 mile hike in map terminology, north, south, east, west. Give distances in feet/miles, not blocks and go for it. First of all, the boys will need to ignore the city street signs and if the coordinates indicate a movement diagonally through a city park, all bets are off on the block measurements anyway. Be creative, but with the map, ignore the city landmarks and treat them as geological features of a rural map instead. If relying on a map/compass format, it won't make any difference whether the boys are urban or rural. A country boy should be able to follow the directions to get to anywhere in the city and never have to be told a street name or building landmark along the way. Now, on the other hand, if the boys are making the map, they need to use only map terminology when making their map. They can't use street signs, nor block measurements, but have to walk off the distance and take compass readings instead. I've done it and it works quite nicely.



          • blw2
            blw2 commented
            Editing a comment
            On the other hand, if the goal is to teach urban navigation to boys that already know country navigation I would set the plan based solely on street names and landmarks. Then maybe assign the task to decode the directions as they travel into compass headings and distances.

            This is an interesting concept and could go a lot of different ways depending on purpose.

            One thing for sure... today's smart phones, internet nav sites, and GPS have all but destroyed paper map reading and intuitive sense of direction in an urban setting

          • jblake47
            jblake47 commented
            Editing a comment

            So much for high-tech

            And though I know the area well, there are roads in my neighborhood that don't exist and would cause a novice to the neighborhood at least mild confusion.

          • dcsimmons
            dcsimmons commented
            Editing a comment
            GPSr's don't kill people, just the fools running them . Especially the road GPSrs. Side note, was in northern MI (lower peninsula) this summer with an older GPS in the car. Ran into some unexpected road construction. Consulted my handy road atlas and constructed a new route. About a mile after we headed out on that route my GPS was perfectly happy to steer me onto an unimproved US Forest Service road, complete with sign saying this road is not maintained.

        • #9
          As I look at it, it could be more of a challenge. Hiking through the city, one comes across a multiple choices in direction to go. Every corner there is a decision to be made. There is no established trail to assist you.

          In the woods, most of these hikes follow established trails with minimal crossings to allow one to "check the map". Unless the 5 mile hike is set up as a cross country hike off the beaten path.


          • #10
            When I have set up these o-courses, I've basically given the boys a topo map to a local forest preserve with a set of points marked on the map that they have to visit. They have to figure out where they currently are located on the map, orient, and then pick the best trails to reach the individual points. I normally have some sort of stake at each point with a quiz question, skill requirement or game token they have to collect to prove they were there. I use the website to get topos without trail markings. Anyway, while I think your idea makes for a great outing, I'm still not convinced it meets the spirit of the requirement for teaching outdoor skills. Maybe there is a local orienteering club who could give you some ideas for more challenging hikes.


            • koolaidman
              koolaidman commented
              Editing a comment
              It's not supposed to be an orienteering course. It's just a 5 mi. hike using a map and compass.
              My orienteering courses for FC generally include a couple of control points that the guys can not beeline to. They have to figure it on the map, then figure a way to get to the control point. I'm much more devilish when it comes to orienteering.

          • #11
            My first draft of the hike:

            I think I need to come up with an alternative loop plan in case we're low on adults to run cars.
            We'll see what the boys come up with if they want to design a route.