Monday, October 31, 2011

Take a walk on the wild side

“I’m not lost, I’m on an ‘adventure walk.”

The above tagline would have suited this blogger well on Sunday. Peering intently into her smartphone during a one-mile stroll, some passersby seemed poised to offer directions — not knowing that this blogger was not lost, but gathering clues on a Sherlock Holmes-style “adventure walk” through the streets surrounding the convention center. (And this wasn’t just any “adventure walk,” but one created just for her.)

Far from being up for running in Sunday’s Marine Corps Marathon, this middle-aged couch potato embarked on the one-mile, treasure hunt-style romp to see exactly what the Annual Meeting’s official physical activity was all about. Sponsored by APHA’s Physical Activity Special Primary Interest Group, the walks offer meeting-goers opportunities to break away from scientific sessions and take a walk on the wild side. All you need to participate in the walks are some comfy shoes and a curious mind. But unlike the master sleuth himself, your indispensable tool will not be a magnifying glass, but an iPhone.

Using a free iPhone app, Mobile Adventure Walks turns walking into a game. A cross between a treasure hunt and a neighborhood stroll, the app uses GPS coordinates to guide players along a one- to three-mile walk, all the while solving clues that will unlock their next stop along the route.

Created by San Francisco-based Shinobi Labs, the walks are intended to reach people who aren’t exactly regulars at the gym.

“That is really the whole goal,” Physical Activity SPIG member Ernie Medina, who co-founded Mobile Adventure Walks with Julie Price and Aaron Dence, said in a recent phone call. “We are trying to motivate inactive, sedentary people to be more physically active.”

A perfect fit for the project’s target audience, this blogger braved Sunday’s colder-than-normal temperatures to attempt a 0.97-mile jaunt with Price and Dence, as well as with Brendan Sinatro, an MPH candidate at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Sinatro created all of the walks that are available to meeting-goers. Also on hand for the walk was Physical Activity SPIG member Karen McDonnell, an associate professor of prevention and community health at the university. (Joe, a rabid Baltimore Ravens fan, also tagged along, choosing to get some exercise over sitting on the couch and watching his beloved team.)

In creating the customized walk, Sinatro agreed to incorporate this blogger’s four requests: That it be no longer than a mile and not too strenuous, and that it originate near the convention center and culminate at APHA’s headquarters at 800 I Street, N.W.

True to his word, Sinatro’s custom-made “adventure walk” began at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., directly across the street from the convention center. With Price’s iPhone in hand, this blogger clicked on “Take a Walk” and the fun began. The first question to appear on the smart phone’s screen read: “What is the name of the park where the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., sits?” A map then appeared, with a blue dot revealing the group’s coordinates and a route to follow. The route led the group to a blue sign in front of the building, and then three multiple choice answers popped up on the screen: 1. Convention Center park. 2. Mount Vernon Square. 3. Walter E. Washington Park. (We found the answer to the question — Mount Vernon Square — on the blue sign.)

As the group wound its way down 9th Street, other questions popped up, such as “Who sculpted the statue of the boy on a bucking blue horse at the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery?”

“We want to reframe how people feel about exercise,” Price said, adding that searching for clues and exploring their surroundings can help people “stop and smell the roses” without even realizing that they’re getting in some much-needed exercise.

Throughout the walk, Sinatro reaffirmed that it was a “real treat” to watch the group follow his creation. And speaking of treats, don’t miss the official “APHA Halloween Spooky Walk” tonight, which starts at 8 p.m. in front of the convention center. There will be another guided adventure walk on Tuesday at noon — meet at the taxi stand outside the convention center. And hey, if you don’t have an iPhone, no worries — there will be plenty of folks who do.

To download the free Mobile Adventure Walks application, visit As many as 12 walks ranging in length from one to three miles and encompassing a variety of themes are available for free to download. Players can earn points for prizes, as well as create their own walks through a user-friendly interface provided by the app’s developer. For even more info on Mobile Adventure Walks, visit the Physical Activity SPIG's booth at the Public Health Expo.

See you on the streets!

— T.J.

Above top, Mobile Adventure Walk guides; above bottom, our trusty APHA blogger goes on her Mobile Adventure Walk. Photos courtesy Teddi Johnson


Anonymous said...

Hi TJ!!This sounds so cool. Can we do it in other cities? Will you be doing another one at the convention?

Anonymous said...

Great blog! What fun....

michele said...

@Anonymous: Meet outside the convention center at the taxi stand at noon tomorrow. There'll be another guided walk!

Julie said...

Thank you, Teddi, for the wonderful review of our walk! Yes, the app is available for walks around the world. Anyone can download from the iPhone app store and start taking or creating walks. Because we are new, we might need your help to create walks now, but soon enough, you'll be able to take walks everywhere! Feel free to contact us at with any other questions.

- The Mobile Adventure Walks Team

JV said...

This sounds like a lot of fun! I hate getting bored while walking.

alivaux said...

Had SO MUCH FUN on the Spooky walk tonight. Wish I could go on tomorrow's walk, but work calls. Go Mobile Adventure Walks & APHA!!