Creating the Ultimate Adventure Tracking App: The Inspiration Behind Pebbls

Welcome to the Pebbls Blog

Hello! I’m excited to welcome you to the very first Pebbls blog post. In this series we’re going to delve into all aspects of adventure travel, bringing you useful tips, inspiration, and stories from those who have taken the path less traveled. I hope you’ll enjoy coming along on this journey.

In this first post however you’re not going to be reading about how to build a DIY shelter using only palm fronds and elephant dung, and I’m not going to be giving you 5 top tips on what to do if you think you’re being stalked by a mountain lion (apologies if you came to this page from an urgently typed Google search 🐾 – try waving your arms – that might buy you enough time to get to the next page on the list). Instead, I’m going to share with you the story of where Pebbls came from.

In August 2017, a few days after the drizzly Friday afternoon on which we got married in our garden, Lucy and I left home on a 3 month bicycle and wild-camping adventure that would take us through the lush countryside and sandy bays of France and the foothills of the Pyrenees. From there we explored the cultural and gastronomic treats of the Basque and Catalan regions before climbing to explore rural villages of the Valencian mountains. Eventually we descended back to sea-level and cycled across the airport runway that bounds Spain with the quirky rock that is Gibraltar. And then, that inevitable anticlimactic feeling that sometimes accompanies the end of a long adventure. You might know the one – the feeling of having had the experiences of a hundred lifetimes and having seen more things than you can begin to describe – while back at home, as if life is crawling along on the inside edge of a curve in the fabric of space-time, things haven’t changed a single bit. With a traumatizing jolt you shatter that most beautiful connection that has been forged between your body clock and the rhythms of nature – you replace it, all too suddenly, with the shrill screams of an alarm clock and the mundane monotony of being aware of which day it is. Before too long the adventure has become little more than a collection of hazy memories and an inexplicable craving for altramuces and olives.

Just a few days before setting off on that trip, while repacking our panniers for what felt like the hundredth time, and simultaneously sending out Facebook updates to remind our wedding guests not to forget their rain jackets and the most mud-proof footwear they own, I decided that when we leave we should try to record a detailed GPS track of our whole route and combine it on an interactive map with photos and notes that could capture particular moments in time. Not only would this help us to remember the magical (and not so magical) experiences of our trip as the days and weeks start to blur into each other, but we could also share our map with envious friends and family. They could follow along, day by day, saving us the regular task of having to reply to numerous WhatsApp messages reassuring concerned loved-ones that we are indeed still alive despite the [not so] nearby recent spate of wild-animal attacks/wildfires/riots (delete as appropriate) that have somehow made it into the news headlines back home.

The Evolution of the Pebbls Tracking App

Originally I had a pretty lengthy section here containing some technical details about the process I went through developing the Pebbls tracking app, but to save your sanity I’m splitting that out into a separate post (now available here). So just imagine I’ve waffled on for a bit about various prototypes I built after we returned home from our adventure, the mistakes I made, and lessons I learned along the way.

Actually, no need to strain your imagination too much, here are some images of the progression:

The name ‘Pebbls’ was inspired by the fairy-tale of Hansel and Gretel, who left a trail of white pebbles as they walked through the forest to help them remember the route that they had taken. In the same way I wanted to leave a trail of Pebbls to remind us of our adventure – I just hoped that the finale of our journey wasn’t going to involve hatching a plan to escape from a crazed witch with a taste for human flesh (spoiler alert, it didn’t). I decided to drop the second ‘e’ from “pebbles” to try to make the name feel a little more tech-chic (and also because the full domain name wasn’t available).

Pebbls in the Real-World

By now it was late 2019, we had grown restless to get back on the road, and we had some pretty exciting plans. Lucy was working out her notice at school and our arms were sore from the yellow fever jabs. We had set a leaving date for spring 2020, to make the most of the weather as we pedal east across Europe. Our tentative plan was relatively simple – to continue east as far as we could – Turkey, Georgia, the Stans, Southeast Asia, and beyond; by road and by cargo ship, until, by one means or another we would find our way home again. But then it was 2020 and all of a sudden priorities changed. Good fortune got us through the lock-downs with our health intact and we made the most of our 2 hours daily exercise window by walking the lanes and coastal paths by our home – a chance for some quality time together and a chance to collect some quality data for Pebbls.

Buoyed with inspiration from the likes of Ed Pratt and Hels on Wheels we eventually set out on a heavily abridged 6 month version of our trip in summer 2021. It seems surreal now to look back on it – the thought that under our own steam we crossed a continent, cycled over mountain ranges, and bisected our way through so many communities, cultures, and landscapes – it would be easy to say it was the trip of a lifetime, but with luck and some more good fortune I really hope that it isn’t, and when we head out again you can be sure you’ll be able to follow along on Pebbls!

The Pebbls Community – Feedback Driven

Before I sign off I just wanted to ask a favor of you. Pebbls is a new Platform – I’m adding new features and updates 7 days a week – every day the experience is going to get ever better (unless I make a mistake that might temporarily break something for a short while). Although I’m working alone, many of the feature updates and the inspiration that drives this thing comes from you, the community who use it. I am really keen to hear from you – if you have any feedback to share or would like to make a feature suggestion please get in touch or drop an email to [email protected]

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