What tales do our feet scribble?
The daily GPS tracks logged by the Out of Eden Walk, a 24,000-mile foot journey across the world along the pathways of our Stone Age ancestors, contain hidden stories in map form.
Ruler-straight segments of the walking trail, for example, suggest dull slogs along inhuman car roads. (No life-forms move in a brutal direct line.)
Sharp twists or curves, like kinks in a garden hose, usually indicate interesting encounters. Dense seesawing tracks hint at muscle-scorching trails up or down steep cliffs or mountain ranges. (See a map of when authorities halted Paul Salopek's storytelling odyssey.)
Abrupt right angles signal an encounter with a fence or a minefield. But what about densely tangled clumps of GPS data? Inexplicable dead-ends? Backtracks? The routing that resembles a clot of spaghetti?
Such doodles often pinpoint an unforeseen blip in the journey: a quirk of landscape (like the yo-yoing ridgelines of northeastern India), an alarming anecdote (being run out of a Kurdish village in Turkey), or a knot of utter confusion (looking for a stolen water cache in Uzbekistan). Hence: Welcome to the Kinks Map.
It works like this.
My antique walking path from Africa to South America is being accurately logged, for archival purposes, via a pocket-size GPS device that’s slung from my neck on a bootlace. This tiny machine receives a continuous stream of signals from satellites orbiting 22,236 miles above the Earth. Using a process called trilateration the GPS device converts these signals into exact latitude and longitude locations. This information gets poured into a digital map—a gigantic canvas—that is pored over by Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis mapmaker Jeff Blossom. Jeff identifies curious kinks in my trail. (No easy task: I’ve covered about 11,000 miles so far, or more than 20 million footsteps through 18 countries.) And I dig back through my journals to try to identify the cause of each messy GPS doodle, erratic curve, sharp angle, or retreat.
So come join us. Take a virtual ramble along the squiggly global trail. We’ll be updating the Kinks Map periodically.