Urban Tracking Exercise

23 September 2016

On  a recent morning I took an early walk to our local coffee shop. After getting a cup of coffee, I continued on my walk to another destination a few blocks away. But as I rounded the first corner and was about to cross the street, I noticed a coin at my feet- a dime. I thought”I should pick that up”… and then I noticed another. Next thought, “I’ll pick up both f them.” But then I noticed something else shining out in the middle of the street. Scanning the area, I picked up 4 or 5 more shimmering coins in the early morning sun. I picked them all up and stood pondering some 55 cents in my hand and why the coins were there: there was a parking space nearby- perhaps someone getting out of a car dropped them? But they were scattered, too far from the parking space, out into both directions of traffic. My tracking exercise for the day had begun.

While nearly all of my tracking training takes place in the bush, and most of it in Utah, I will take any challenge I can get. Not only did a few coins on the ground offer me an opportunity to track, but it offered a mystery to ponder: why were coins scattered in the street? It didn’t make sense that they were dropped exiting a car; how did they get distributed as they did? And why did someone not pick them up after dropping them?

After pocketing the coins I walked off towards the west, down the middle of the street (I was still in a small parking lot), scanning carefully, looking for more “sign”. I quickly picked up more dimes, and a few nickles. Standing at an intersection in the parking lot, I had lost sight of sign ahead. West lead to an empty stretch of road for a while, then to another small strip mall. Instead I turned around toward the east and walked in the direction of many blocks of apartment buildings.

Urban tracking exercise- beggining of sign.

Apartment breezeway where sign trail began.

To shorten what could be a long and detailed story, I spent the next hour slowly walking down streets- usually close to the gutter and sidewalk, and with traffic for me, crossing the street a couple of times, down sidewalks, through apartment parking lots, through breezeways, and even through a play area and around an apartment’s pool area. By the time I arrived at the east end nearly an hour later I had two pockets full of change. This end- which was undoubtedly the beginning for the dropper-of-coins, was at a staircase in a breezeway leading to 4 upstairs apartments in one of the complexes. I confirmed the lack of further sign by casting out in all directions from my last definite sign, essentially doing a lost track drill from the base of the stairs, not once but twice. Not a coin was to be found. Next I backtracked, double-checking, finding a couple of missed coins, all the way to my western-most point. I cast out from there and found the trail once again. It only lead me a little further along the road just across from the strip mall, and essentially to the front of a small shop that sold cigarettes.

Urban tracking exercise- coffee money for the week.

The outcome of my exercise- about $20.38- coffee money for the week.

My conclusion about my exercise: a person had left their apartment building possibly in a time of limited light (the reason they may not have seen the dropping coins) and/or because they had ear buds in their ears and couldn’t hear the coins dropping. They either held the coins in a bag (a plastic shopping bag perhaps as they always come with a ready-to-tear seam in the bottom), or more likely in an unzipped pocket, or pocket with a small tear, of a backpack. They likely rode a bicycle (many were found locked at the bottom of the apartment stairs) towards the strip mall end-point. The bicycle theory is based on the winding trail of coins, the fact the more coins were found where the quarry rode off a sidewalk onto the street (the bounce forced more coins to fall), and the path staying on concrete or asphalt, and when in the street, close to the gutter and in the direction of traffic. There were plenty of places where a person walking would have cut across grass, or between parked cars for example, but a bike would go around which it clearly did.

All in all it was a great morning walk, and a welcome and unexpected chance to do some tracking. And in the end, with $20.38 in coins in my pockets, I was set for coffee for the rest of the week! For more on our tacking endeavors visit the Desert Explorer tracking pages and be sure to see our recommended books on tracking.

 

 


Tracking Update- A Weekend of Training

22 June 2014

I always start any post about tracking by stating that I do not consider myself an expert; it is just something that I enjoy doing. After a recent weekend in Wyoming with Joel Hardin and his team of instructors, and 26 other students of all tracking abilities, I can now safely classify myself as a novice tracker. My abilities have been put in perspective. But as I heard Joel say again and again, actual tracking never goes beyond the basic level. This means, in essence, that if you can see the sign, you can follow it. Joel’s entire philosophy is built on this- it’s all about “learning to see sign.”

The tracking weekend started Friday morning at 8 am. Friday ended for us at about 10 pm after a long, cool, wet day. And part of the night. After a morning classroom session, we tracked all afternoon, ate dinner in the field, then continued tracking in the dark. I have looked at tracks in the dark before, lying flat and examining them in oblique moonlight, or using my flashlight on them, and have clearly seen them better by moving myself or my light around at different angles and heights. But the exercise, and the entire weekend, took it far beyond any tracks that my son and I have “followed” before. In Joel’s courses you follow your sign, and you find every track. Not nearly every track, not most tracks, but every one. Joel and his team are proficient experts, and professionals. They train trackers to act the same way, to represent all trackers by being accountable professionals. Part of being a proficient, accountable tracker is found in “continuity of sign.” It means that if you are asked, in court say, to prove that you connected someone from Point A to Point B, you can do so. It means finding every track. In training, especially in the beginning, the idea is that you may be on your stomach, or moving around the sign line on your knees, taking as much time as necessary to positively identify each track. Eventually you are hunched over a bit doing the same thing. Then, some day, you are walking upright and following the track at a faster pace, one that allows you to close the gap between you and the person you are searching for. This is the ultimate goal.

Saturday found us in the field again, hunched over, on our knees, staring into the grass, and at times straining our eyes to find that one blade of grass that connected one track to another. There can be as many as 1800 “clues” per mile, that is, 1800 footprints or other pieces of sign connecting Point A to Point B. In Joel’s courses you are out there finding every one of them. A little excessive maybe? At the end of the day, or really at the beginning of the next day’s tracking when the mind and body and especially the eyes are fresh, it really begins to make sense. Even in the course of three days of tracking like this, my ability to see sign, at least on the surface we were operating in, increased greatly. One thing I did notice however, was that when our team transitioned from one tracking media, aka ground surface, to another, our tracking slowed considerably. It was like starting over again. To clarify, we were tracking across fairly level terrain, with fine-grained sandy soil covered by short grasses, bunch grasses, a bit of lupine and pasture sage. After a number of hours we started downhill and came to a wash lined with pine trees. The ground surface immediately changed to a deep bed of decomposing pine cones and pine needles. This was our first problem point, and where we had to “start over” learning about what to look for. My point here is that tracks and sign change with the terrain, ground surface, and slope of the ground. It is necessary to learn to see sign in all possible situations to be able to follow it.

By Sunday we were more confident in what we were seeing, whether it be in grasses, pine needles, or climbing up a slope. And on Sunday we were viewing sign that was now three days old and really seeing the difference from one and two days before. This was something that Joel and the other instructors really stressed to us- to watch the sign as it aged. They stressed “aging of sign” to us, and made it clear that sign ages visibly every 4 to 6 hours. Yet another factor that the mind has to process! By Sunday it really made sense though, and it was much easier to see that the tracks were 3 days old. Even a single blade of grass shows signs of aging- perhaps a small bruise where the edge of a boot has bent it. There may be a darkening, healing bend in the stalk of a pasture sag. And even with all the moisture, the very small, drying blades of grass that had been pulled up in the treads of the boot on Thursday afternoon were clearly visible. It is all there to be seen; you just have to look for it!

If you are interested in Joel’s classes, you can visit his website and learn more about tracking step by step. For those in the Boulder area interested in tracking, take a look at the Rocky Mountain Trackers, an organisation dedicated to keeping tracking alive. And as always, you can read more about us at the Desert Explorer website, including our own tracking thoughts and endeavors.