Route Planning – Maps

Maps. I love maps. It’s something I actually say on a regular basis, usually as I drool over my drawer filled with country and city maps from all over the world. Maps are amazing, what dreams are made of, or at least the first ingredient.

If you are planning to follow a certain route while traveling (most people do), you are going to want maps. I know there are amazing electronic choices out there which you can use to integrate directly into the GPS you already have mounted on your bike. Then the GPS will just tell you where you need to go and you can ride the line all they way to where ever you are going. Easy.

Terrible.

Get a map for your trip. Spread it out. Look at it. Get a pen (something permanent, like a sharpie) and start marking the places you want to go. Don’t draw lines, just mark the places. You might find a different route appears before your eyes, taking the long way from there to there, so you can ride through that valley, which is twisting and sort of out of the way. The GPS didn’t even think about it. You didn’t see it on the screen because when you zoomed out enough to see the area the route was in, the roads were gone. It wasn’t in the guidebook, which was written for backpackers anyway.

I was in Nicaragua, lost as I often was (being lost is the best thing ever, so long as you have food, fuel, and water – all of which were plentiful), I was stopped by a police officer for making an illegal u-turn. I really did make an illegal u-turn, but talked down the fine. I then tried to ask directions. I couldn’t say the name of the town I was headed for, but I had a map, and pointed.

First I learned I was in a different town than I thought I was. Next I was led on a wild ride through that town – cutting through parking lots, running lights, and riding on the sidewalk – until the officer indicated I was on the right road. On the GPS I was off in nowhere, and the town I wanted to head for hadn’t been listed. No map, no directions. And I wouldn’t have gotten to tear through that town like a madman, complete with police escort.

You can bring a map into a house or restaurant to discuss your route with other travelers, plan a detour or bypass if you encounter a problem, or scrap an entire route and map out a new one with no more than your finger.  Maps are, simply, better at everything.

Now I know what you might be thinking. “You get lost all the time. I don’t get lost, because I have a GPS. I don’t have to worry about missing turns. In fact, my GPS is probably better than yours (I am pretty sure you paid more for it), so I wouldn’t have gotten lost in Nicaragua.”

Well, then you wouldn’t have that story, but it’s worse than that. Far worse.

When you have a GPS and become dependent on it telling you where to go, you stop paying attention. I know, you might counter with “But I have more attention to spend on traffic, because I also don’t have to think about where I need to turn.” Maybe, but I’m not talking about urban environments. Even with a GPS you will probably get lost there, and then you get to have an irritated voice telling you that you just missed your turn, or (worse) have to keep looking at the screen to see where you should be going.

What I’m talking about is those long stretches between places. There are an amazing number of turns you can miss where the crossroads hold no more than a vacant gas station or a town with five or six buildings. With a GPS, you don’t need to worry about how far you’ve gone, where the next turn should be. You can zone out and just ride the line. And not see the dog, the cow, the tope or the pot hole, the truck who never sees traffic on that road and so has no reason to look.

Even worse (in my opinion), now you don’t have any reason to stop in that small town, to try and see where it is on your map, to see if this where you should turn or not, to meet the dog or the cow or the truck driver. Instead, you can just burn through, without even lifting your visor.

And where’s the point in that?

So, maps. I am not going to say I never use a GPS. To be honest, I think I would be late to just about every event I was supposed to attend, if it wasn’t for the little countdown on the screen. But the sound is off, and I don’t look at it for where I am supposed to go. For that, I have a brain – and a map.

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