Last weekend I stayed home and started a new urban hiking project that involves walking all of the streets in Everett, Massachusetts, the town adjacent to us. Walking all of the trails in an area is called Redlining (see Redlining the White Mountains), but I thought it'd be an interesting experiment to apply it in an urban setting. Urban hiking, as you can imagine, is a completely different experience from hiking in a pristine mountain wilderness, but one, with it's own set of pleasures, street-craft (as opposed to bushcraft) and challenges.
You're probably thinking, what? How can urban hiking compare to hiking every weekend in the White Mountains of New Hampshire? It doesn't. But, getting up at 4 AM every Saturday morning to drive north for a hike, week after week, gets to be a little monotonous, and I need a break once in a while. Hiking locally in Everett requires zero driving, costs nothing, and has some novelty value which is hard to quantify.
Why Everett? Well, I've lived next to it for 20 years and never once set foot in it. It's within easy walking distance of my house, so I decided that I'd probably get a good feel for the community if I walked every street from end to end.
The city of Everett is located 4.1 miles north of Boston and is bordered by the towns of Malden, Revere, Chelsea, Somerville, and Medford. It is about 4 miles square with a population of about 40,000. As of the census of 2000, the city was nearly 80% white, with a median age of 36 and a median income of $40,000. A large percentage of the city's population is Italian.
This is quickly apparent when you walk up and down Everett's residential streets, where bathtub madonnas ornament many front yards and wine vines are cultivated out back.
As you can image, walking in a city is very different than walking in the woods or on the trail. First, water is scarce, especially on the weekend when city and state buildings are closed. While you can pop into a convenience store to buy a bottle of water, my goal is to try to hike as frugally as possible, by only drinking from public sources, with a water filter if required.
The next big problem are unleashed dogs. There's nothing more intimidating than to have a dog run up to you and start barking its head off when you walk down the dead end street it lives on. I really don't know how postmen deal with this. I had a bear-sized St Bernard come after me on my last walk and it sort of freaked me out.
There's also the issue of keeping track of where you have walked and where you haven't. This is easy in a national forest with just a few trails, but it's difficult in Everett where the streets are laid out in a tightly packed residential grid. I tried keeping track of the streets and blocks I walked by staying within an area bordered by larger streets, but even then it was difficult to remember which ones I'd done and which I'd accidentally skipped. Next time, I'll bring a street map with me and check them off in real time.
By the end of this first foray into Everett, I'd walked about 4 hours in 8 miles, past some fascinating residential architecture, graveyards with 17th century tombstones, and a historic park. I'm really not sure where this urban hiking experiment is going to go, but my intuition is that it will bear fruit along the way.