Recently, I finally entered the GPS universe. I had resisted for years, having always felt that riding did not require me to know with the precision of a cruise missile where I was headed. Even when I did have a destination and a schedule, I was good to go with just a map and compass. If dead reckoning was good enough for the old timers, it was good enough for me. Besides, the more I ride, the more I see it as a way to get away, not to get to somewhere. I have never been lost, but even when I do get slightly misplaced, I always find new cool roads and places. A perfectly workable situation: just head out in the general direction and enjoy the journey because the journey is the best part.
So, why did I buy a GPS? Well, there are two different reasons. One is that I enjoy hiking; living in the Blue Ridge Mountains offers many such opportunities and a GPS is very helpful. The other, more relevant reason is that I have become increasing curious about all the different little roads I see. Here in the mountains there are so many routes that look great at their junction with the main road but quickly prove to be dead ends or to dwindle out into gravel. More often than not there isn’t any “No Outlet” or “Dead End” sign; you just find out the hard way. Paper maps of the region show a traveler’s level of detail, but I wanted more. I wanted an explorer’s tool.
So I tried Google Earth, and found that the satellite views are not all that recent; the same applies to other satellite view services. Then I looked into computer map programs, which offer some pretty good detail, but the cost of highly detailed map quadrants adds up fast. Besides, the computer stays home. I finally found a GPS unit with multiple maps that gives me the ones I need, along with a tool to log interesting roads as waypoints for later research on the computer. I can even look at them on satellite view so I can plan adventures. This is a new level of fun.
So the other day I put it all into use and laid out on the computer what looked like a cool ride, connecting several new roads, and then I downloaded it to the GPS unit and told it to start navigating. Unfortunately, it kept telling me that it could not do turn-by-turn with this map and these waypoints. After some time on the phone with the help center in India, I finally figured out (on my own) that I had to be a lot more precise in placing the waypoints for the route. When I did that, it worked. With the unit mounted on my handlebars, I was ready to explore.
Everything was working fine, but I did note that using a GPS for the first time can be distracting. I will have to develop the discipline of watching the road, not the unit. Several turns into my ride I came to a road I had been seeking for years, which was to be the high point of this trip: old US Route 70 between Black Mountain and Old Fort, NC, replaced long ago by Interstate 40. Well, guess what I found? It is there, but it ain’t a road anymore—it’s a gated paved bicycle and walking trail. And right at the start is a gravel road that, according to the map and GPS, wanders around and down the mountain to intersect with the other end of this trail. Since I know all too well that an 800-pound tour bike is not a dual-purpose vehicle, especially on unpaved mountain roads, I had to turn around and go back to dead reckoning to pick up the route further on.
It seems that progress, in the form of the interstate highway system, made the old route obsolete. Since it was no longer maintained, it was ultimately closed. Over time, a new use was found for that old roadbed and it was paved as a bike and hike trail. Yet people still wanted another way around, which is natural since the interstate, being limited access, doesn’t connect the little places in between exchanges. The roads in that area have evolved and devolved with the passage of time. I have seen it before around here: eventually, the gravel road will get tar and stoned, then after years of growth it will get paved. Some time in the future I will ride that newly paved old road, and sooner than that I will hike that new trail. In both cases, I will be traveling on evolutionary road.