Getting lost – Some of the Best Fun You’ll Ever Have
Some of the best rides I’ve ever had have been off-piste, away from those well-worn trails, the Strava laden tracks and the ‘epic’ routes plastered into every corner of the Internet.
I’m fortunate to have ridden in some pretty awesome places. From the fire roads of rural Vermont, to skidoo trails in snow-bound Finland; from the holloways of Cornwall, to the Way of the Dead across Harris in the wilds of the Scottish Outer Hebrides. My most memorable rides have been planned on paper, with a map and highlighter pen, and generally got a whole lot better for getting a little lost somewhere along the way.
As a grit.cx aficionado you’ll know that a solid, drop-barred ‘crosser can take you across the most varied terrain. Yes you might have to bail in the rock gardens and on those gnarly, steeper descents, but for eating up the miles on single-track, gravel roads and by-ways there’s nothing better.
The explosion of Strava and the like has been a great thing, bringing cyclists together, sharing routes, building communities and challenging us as individuals, but it’s arguably sanitized the two-wheeled experience, diminishing exploration, wonder and discovery.
Think about where you regularly ride. The chances are that most of the roads, trails and tracks have been ridden, recorded, categorized and competed upon over and over and over. Think of a visitor coming to your patch, it’s quite easy for them to work out where to ride, what’s do-able ability-wise, what’s popular and what to expect.
Where’s the fun in that?
I love maps. Always have…always will. Cartography is as much an art form as it is a science. The fastidious recording of every twist turn, feature and change in elevation appeals to my sense of aesthetic and worldly order. Their inherent beauty is in those intertwined lines and the promises that each and every carefully documented detail might bring.
I get a real buzz from having the opportunity to ride somewhere new. I’ll buy the local map as soon as I’m able, no matter how detailed or downright sketchy. I’ll pour over it looking for promising routes, stitching tracks and trails together, not knowing whether they’re maintained or even passable. It’s that sense of adventure, the promise of an astounding view, a dilapidated building or a random conversation with a stranger that fires my imagination, the newness of every vista, the not knowing what’s over the next brow.
The GPS-enabled bike computer is a technological marvel. It’s probably got more horsepower than the computers that launched the Apollo space missions, but following an ever shifting arrow on its tiny screen is soulless, the cycling equivalent of listening to streaming music versus going to a gig.
The paper map promises everything within its folds, but it’s just as fallible as that beeping bike computer. Maps aren’t always right. The real world changes and of course, as map-readers, we’re all human.
Getting lost is some of the best fun you’ll ever have. I don’t mean not being able to find your friend’s house three blocks over from where you thought it was, but losing your way in a new landscape, relying on your instincts to find your way back to somewhere recognizable. I’m not suggesting for one minute that being so lost you’ll be eaten by bears is a good thing, but honing your natural navigational skills, seeing things that many others haven’t is surely what ‘adventure’ bike designers really had in mind?
The next time you get the opportunity to ride somewhere new, beg, borrow or steal a printed map. Use it to do something different, use it to give you and your bike a new perspective. It’ll help remind you why being off-road is best, and ditching the technology will bring that experience to life.