It so happens that there are a lot of stairs in my hilly neighborhood of Silverlake, Los Angeles, perhaps I could run them all! And map them:
If you want to read all about how it went check out the story on my website here (spoiler: it took two tries). If you want to chat about maps, collaborations, or go for a socially distant uphill jog in LA shout at me on Twitter @camkruse.
Here is how I built it:
Now the first trick in running all the stairs of Silverlake is finding all the stairs. Mapbox is the perfect tool for this. Using the Mapbox studio I started with a Basic base layer, and navigated to one of staircases near my house. Because these are public, they are listed as stairs in the Mapbox data already on the map. The problem is, most people are looking for ways to avoid stairs so they’re not often highlighted. This is where the studio comes in handy. We can take the data type “road-steps” and modify the styling to make it extremely conspicuous. In this case I made the stairs a dashed yellow design.
With a few other tweaks to highlight elevation, our map readily highlights the stairs that we will need to climb. You can actually find public staircases in your neighborhood using this map as well.
Once we have the stairs highlighted, we need to draw the boundaries of our neighborhood. I used the LA times boundary data set to find the official perimeters of my neighborhood. I then imported this through the mapbox tiling service, added the perimeter as a layer in the map, and styled it with a dashed red line.
Now that the map was designed I did a back of the napkin travelling salesman problem on a print out and set out on my way.
When I returned from the effort, I was exhausted. But also faced with a new challenge: how do I share this experience in a way that does the journey justice? So Mapbox has a solution for that too. They recently launched a storytelling template that allows users to create map based scrollytelling experiences with minimal coding experience. I used this template and added photos, thoughts, and the gps tracks from my journey to put together a writeup on my backyard adventure.
In Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie he says there are two types of people: map people, whose joy is to know where he is pin-pointed every moment in terms black and red lines, in dotted indications and squirming blue of lakes and the shadings that indicate mountains; and those that were born lost and take no pleasure in being found, nor much identification from shapes which symbolize continents and states. While Steinbeck is the latter, I am the former. It’s not that I am hiding behind a map too timid to explore the world around me, it’s just that I enjoy the companionship a map provides.
Looking at a map before I set out on an adventure, I can only imagine what such a line might look like in real life. A simple carat may be my life’s work to summit or a rolling hill I would never notice. On my journeys a map becomes a good friend - someone you can bounce ideas off of, or look to for advice. But most of all maps help me organize what I see in a story; punctuations in the run-on sentence that moving from one place to another can feel like.
Cameron Kruse is a creative technologist with Booz Allen Hamilton working on forward learning AI projects and developing their technology scouting practice. He also moonlights as a National Geographic Explorer making films, shooting photos, and creating map based storytelling experiences. In his free time you’re likely to find him struggling to climb large rocks in Yosemite or on an uphill jog somewhere in his neighborhood. You can find him on Twitter @camkruse.