Sometimes, late on a Friday, when I’m plotting a course across a digital map, seeking out roads I haven’t ridden, trees and lakes and towns I haven’t seen already, I get the Pogues’ Navigator stuck on repeat in my head. Though I am not certain, at this point, I would assign route-finding responsibilities to Shane MacGowan, the song’s story of British railway building gets me thinking about the history and tools of navigation.
Some of my favorite novels are travel epics (this, this and this, for example). There is a dramatic tension inherent in not knowing where you’re going, of having a goal and not being entirely sure you’re going to make it. Sometimes, as when you’ve bonked, it’s a question of survival. Sometimes, as when you’re meeting someone out on the road, it’s a matter of connection.
As I sit comfortably in my spot at the end of the couch, the dog at my feet, and the computer slowly warming my lap, I cut a far different profile than the million or so sailors who have worried at the treacherous rounding of Cape Horn or the foolhardy adventurers who made for magnetic north.
Of course, my own efforts at navigation have evolved rapidly in recent years. There was a time when you just needed to know your way around. You got lost a lot, so that later you could not get lost.
I have employed the strategy of inviting myself on group rides with older, more experienced riders, people who know how to get to Lost Lake, who know the back way out through Carlisle and Chelmsford, the little nothing turns that yield long rambles through farm country.
And then, of course, I spent time studying maps, both paper and digital, committing turns to memory and hoping the street signs would be enough to get me around the loop. This was an incremental approach, branching off of roads I knew, slowly growing my ride territory.
And finally, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) came on line with practicable cycling applications and devices. I have the Garmin Edge 200. I am a minimalist, but even this entry-level computer frees me from many of the mental and logistical constraints I have been fumbling with for years.
I like it, but sometimes I also wonder if I am removing too much of the experience of riding. Would the Aeneid still be in circulation, if Aeneas had been equipped with a digital Italy-finder?
This week’s Group Ride asks how you get around? Do you Garmin? Do you use some other magic box-like device? Do you tuck cue sheets in the leg of your bibs and cut for sign? How has what you do changed, and do you like the way it’s changed? What have you gained or lost?