Captain’s log, Stardate 09151…oh wait, wrong Trek!

While we didn’t board the Enterprise and zoom to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, we DID explore where no Google Maps Car has gone before – the mountainous trails of the Pacific Northwest.

Local nonprofit Travel Lane County invited us to participate in the Google Trekker Project, and we jumped at the opportunity. Together, we embarked on an expedition to document the natural beauty of several Lane County trail systems with Trekker 360-degree camera technology.

The modern meaning of discovery

When it comes to mapping our modern world, Google has it down. Gone are the days of sending rudimentary expeditions into the wilderness to fill in the margins of the map. In our era of satellites and GPS, we’re not necessarily exploring the edges of civilization, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost our sense of discovery – far from it – we just have more gadgets, like the Google Trekker.

The Trekker project opened our eyes to the bounty of trails within a day trip of our homes. We take great pride in knowing that with our help, people all over the world can now experience them, too.

“I remember when crossing the Greenwaters Park bridge, headed down from the Larison Rock Trail, that I would be able to look up that image when it was posted,” says Dana Turell, president of Turell Group. “It is pretty neat that I was carrying the [Trekker] pack when that specific image was taken.”

Balancing act

Our TG team split into groups to canvass the trail systems. For some of us, it was an experience we’d been itching to check off our outdoor bucket list.

“Although I hate to admit it, I haven’t been able to experience Lane County’s hiking spots as much as I would like,” says TG designer Maria Peters. “When the Trekker project came along, I was excited to finally have an ‘excuse’ to get out and enjoy a few trails. The footage we took may now be that little nudge other people like me need to get out of the house and into the woods.”

TG Web Director Kurt Booker tackled Trestle Creek Falls as well as Larison Rock Trail, taking on the steep terrain with gusto.

“The most difficult part of the project was carrying the Trekker up a steep, vertical trail and realizing I should probably visit the gym more often,” he says of the hike.

Despite the weight of the Trekker pack, upwards of 40 pounds, some of us found it easier than expected, once we found our balance.

“If you got the pack situated right on your back, it wasn’t as hard as it looked to carry it for a mile or two,” Dana says.

The hard part was adjusting our spatial awareness to encompass another few feet of height from the Trekker orb.

“I was just hitting my stride with the pack on when I looked down at the accompanying phone to make sure I was capturing data. All of a sudden, ‘WHAM!’ I hit a bunch of branches,” Dana laughs. “The team behind said they could see a tree moving frantically – that was me trying to figure out how to get unstuck from the mess. Eventually, I took a knee and leaned just right to break free and all was well again.”

Troubleshooting in the woods

The orb wasn’t the only challenge. There’s always a learning curve to overcome with unfamiliar technology. In this case, we had to overcome it in the woods, with no cell phone reception to call for tech support if we couldn’t figure it out.

“I was the point person with Travel Lane County, who learned about the setup and how to use all the technology,” says TG Production Manager Lindsey Sasser.

“When we first got it out at Trestle Creek, everyone was super excited to start the hike,” she says. “I turned on all the pieces and waited. And waited. And waited for the Android to connect to the cameras. I turned things on and off, punched a bunch of buttons and finally found the right combination to turn everything on, so it was ready to record. I was so nervous the whole time that the batteries would die or the connections would break, and we’d be out there and not able to record. Luckily, it got easier each time I set it up, and we never had a battery die.”

Call it luck, skill, or maybe a little bit of both, we managed to capture stunning footage that was later posted on Google Maps.

Shouting it from the rooftops

We found it somewhat difficult to contain our excitement about our involvement in the project. It’s not every day you get to document places even Google hasn’t been yet!

“I was beyond excited to be a part of the Trekker project,” says TG Bookkeeper Alicia Heer. “I actually think that I shouted it from the rooftop of the parking garage downtown, and yelled it down the hallway of the elementary wing at my kids’ school. I had already been intrigued for years with the Google Car and this was just like that, but different. It seems so futuristic and weird all at the same time. It was equally exciting to get paid to hike. That is my dream job.”

We hope, due to the positive influence of this project, that it will turn into a dream job for future generations, too. The long-term goal is for kids to grow up with fond memories of hiking with their families who, in turn, want to take their kids hiking. In this way, the importance of learning about our natural world and fueling our curiosity about what’s around the next bend will continue to be passed down.

“We used technology to document nature, and I hope that as a result more and more individuals and families, especially those with young kiddos, go on more adventures in nature together,” says Maria.

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