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Routes and maps

12 apr 2020

Everything on the page is about rural and long-distance driving. I use Google Maps on my phone as routinely as anyone (and more than many), even on routes I know, because it knows about traffic, closures, etc. None of this page is about that sort of use.

I did a couple of moderate length trips (one and two days) explicitly comparing route-via-phone vs. route-via-paper. My emphasis was on the aeasthetic and psychological, internal effects, not 'which is better' in any objective way. I just don't give a shit about tradition or faster or easier, I'm concerned more about strategic thinking, how it affects my layout of the day in the car, distraction while driving, that sort of thing.

It was interesting... I had my Pixel 3a in a bracket on the instrument panel, and a good collection of maps and road atlases, and I was driving familiar territory, but pre-selected some roads I'd not taken.

One instance in particular is illuminating: fairly early into the first test trip, along the eastern side of the Angeles Forest, on 138 near Muroc, I pulled over to decide the next segment, at which the road atlas is "better", in that the sheets are 13" x 16", folded open it's a hell fo a big screen, and in full bright sunlight, a hell of a lot easier to see when flopped onto the hood of the car. Worked out about how far up I had to turn left, what it might look like when I got there, etc. Back in the car and drove off.

With next-event in mind ... I found myself looking at the phone on the panel, and not out the windshield or the open sides and rear. I realized my inner dialog was muttering "where am i? ... where am i now? ..." as I drove. My eyes moved from open sky and land, to squinting at the tiny screen, flipping visual contexts.

Wondered if there was gasoline in Adelanto. Road atlas? RIGHT! Phone instantly useful.

What areas "look interesting" to drive? Paper. Google Maps is really an advertising tool, if there's no traffic and business, the maps have zero detail and great swaths of the west are blank unless you zoom way in, which completely negates the point of browsing maps.

Google Maps is great at high-density driving, sucks at low-density.

But there are times when you simply need to know is this the turn? Or the next one? And unfolding a half pound of flapping sheets is a frustrating nightmare -- phone again.

I frequently drive where there is no data (which is different from no phone signal) and once in a while, I'll plot ahead and download offline map data. But relying on the phone in the open west is just plain foolish, in 2019 (2020 so far is so weird all bets are off.).

On my 6000 mile Hot Rod Power Tour, 2018, Los Angeles to the southeast, I kept off the interstates as much as possible. I'd done lots of RideWithGPS "planning" (anticipating fun, more accurately) and explored (with sattelite view) which highways looked interesting as well as vaguely efficient, time-wise. (Rule of thumb: staying off the interstates adds about 25% to travel time.) Driving through mostly the midwest I used foldout AAA maps, and scrawled highlighter (badly) as I drove. Because route-recording for six days in a row in an open car is just too much tiny-gestured fiddling on a handheld device, too error prone, and not the sort of attention-focus I'm interested in -- it breaks the spell.

Which is best? Both and neither -- I plan ahead for strategy, then don't use either if I can possibly help it, and enjoy the drive.

Electronic route planning and mapping

When I'm not driving I'm plotting routes. Google Maps is great but RideWithGPS.com is even better. I'm paying for Premium to get all the route and cue sheet editing but the free tier is great. It's targeted at bicyclists but it's great for my use.

Here are my RideWithGPS collections, roughly arranged. Here is my profile.

RideWithGPS distinguished between "rides" (rides/drives *recorded* with some GPS device) and "routes" (pre-planned routes/maps, later ridden/driven). Many cyclists produce a route, they ride it, record the results for fun, competition, etc. Sounds great, I don't do that; I use it for planning, and deviate without hesitation.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. -- Dwight Eisenhower

I rarely take a copy of a planned route with me. A huge exception are things like the SoCal TT, Fool's Errand 2019, organized sports-car runs where we have turn by turn cue sheets clipped to the instrument panel etc. On road trips I use paper maps or bound road atlases for impromptu strategy sessions on the hood of the car, parked along some desert highway. Want lunch in Prescott? Phone. Ideology is stupid.

Printed maps