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Narrative-driven walking tours

Abingdon, Virginia's wolf sign

Announcing a new tour in Abingdon, Virginia!

We’ve been experimenting with the format of the traditional walking tour. Blasphemy, surely.

For all the puzzle elements we layer into the Traipse app, walking tours are the heart of what we do. Main Streets, Historic Business Districts, and more hire us to create tours of their area, highlighting what’s interesting about the place, whether it be powerful history, a thriving foodie scene, trending-setting breweries or whatever other tasty flavors an area may be known for. Traipse gives these localities a digital component to their interpretation, which, at its most mundane, saves them on the costs and upkeep of paper brochures. At its most exciting, our tours present these organizations as innovative and forward-thinking and give visitors a new way to explore. The Traipse team goes out and develops location-specific puzzles for each stop along the walking tour to ensure a deeper level of engagement from visitors, but also just to add a little extra fun.

What if we could inject a little adventure too? Traipse Founder, President, CEO Darren Smith wanted to try something new, specifically creating a walking tour with all the usual trappings, but this time with a fictional narrative arc. I had a notebook of ideas but my mind kept coming back to an article I read about Jedediah Hotchkiss, a Confederate mapmaker whose ability had a enormous impact on the Civil War and whose maps were used for decades afterwards.

Jedediah Hotchkiss

Here was a brilliant person with a tremendous love for the natural world, for educating children, and yet, he served a cause whose main purpose was to sustain the practice of human slavery. How could he justify such a thing? After the war Hotchkiss settled in Staunton and died there. After spending quite some time perusing the massive collection of Hotchkiss’ maps and journals at the Library of Congress I had my hook for a fictional adventure. You would be an intern at the Library on Congress, bored by endlessly cataloging materials, but suddenly awakened by your discovery of a (fictional) secret code hidden within Hotchkiss’ materials. While on the Traipse tour, as you visit real locations of historic interest in Staunton, you’d unlock more of the code and more pieces of the story. We were very happy with how it all came together.

Writing the story for these sort of narrative-driven walking tours has been a fascinating exercise. We know that when people are out on a Traipse tour their attention span for reading blocks of text is fairly short. I’d have to keep my story exposition as limited as possible as I’d still need to include interpretive information about the stops themselves; I couldn’t forget that as much as I love my story, the main purpose of these tours is to introduce visitors to locations of interest. Massively long walking tours aren’t particularly fun either. The story would have to resolve itself in ten or fewer chunks of text (or at least end with a cliffhanger that wouldn’t be too infuriating to someone who put in the time to finish the tour). Finally, the stops on the tour would need some kind of connection to the story at large-- we can’t just throw any old location in there simply because we need to inject another story beat. The stops on the Hotchkiss tour, for instance, all connect to him in some way.

One of our client cities is Abingdon, Virginia, a historic crossroads whose mascot is a wolf. Legend has it that while camped in the area that later became Abingdon, famous American frontiersman Daniel Boone’s dogs were attacked by a pack of wolves who emerged from a nearby cave. Boone named the place “Wolf Hill”. Throughout Abingdon you’ll find wolf iconography, including many wolf statues from a public art campaign from a few years ago (we LOVE city-driven public art campaigns!)

Diving into the history of Abingdon I came away with the seed of a new story-driven adventure.

Our NEW tour has you exploring historic locations throughout Abingdon while enjoying a fictional romp about a broken magical axe that once belonged to Boone. It was a lot of fun to write and I hope that shows through to the tour. Plus, you know, the tour ends at the renown Wolf Hills Brewery so you can’t go wrong there! Go enjoy the tour using the free Traipse app, and rest assured that roaming wolf packs haven’t been seen in the area for over a century.

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