There are 26 power poles to a mile along rural county roads in this part of Iowa. I know this because I counted them. It’s no big thing. One day I was just riding along and I found myself wondering how many there were and so I counted…uno…dos…tres. I’ve done it a few times since. It always comes out to 26…more or less.
Anyway, it got me to thinking. Out here in rural Iowa, they have this clever naming convention for county roads. It’s so good that you don’t really need GPS to know where you are. Other states have different but similar conventions. They’re elegant in their simplicity. Our north south roads are lettered starting at the west end of the county with A,B and C. Our east west roads are numbered starting at the north end with 100th Street. Every county in the region does it the same way. It takes the better part of five minutes to internalize them, so that’s what I did. Now I never get lost, even without GPS.
I was thinking about this again the other day because my Garmin 500 conked out again. This is the second time now and there’s not going to be a third time. I’m not replacing it. I’ve decided that I don’t care for GPS. This is not because I’m a Luddite. I know my way around technology just fine, but I have a simple rule when it comes to gadgets and it goes like this:
If they don’t make my life better and fit with my philosophy about the bike, then I don’t want them.
GPS has never made my life better. In fact, it does the exact opposite. It’s like an electronic leash. Routefinding, on the other hand, is pure joy to someone like me. GPS takes all the magic and adventure out of it. It’s much more fun to use the street names and see if I can get to where I want to go than to have a device tell me to turn right in a quarter of a mile. Without GPS, I feel like a sailor following the stars on the high seas. I’m more engaged in what I’m doing. I’m more vested in the outcome. I’m actively leading the ride instead of passively reacting to what a satellite feed is telling me to do. Yeah, I might get lost. So what? I’ll eventually get found again. Always have…
Years ago, I heard a fire marshal recommend that the first thing you should do when you check into a hotel with more than two floors is to find the fire exit and count the number of stairs to the ground floor. His reasoning was that in the event of a fire, there’d be panic and a lot of smoke and you wouldn’t be able to use the elevators (technology) to save yourself. You also wouldn’t be able to see or think very clearly. People who knew how to get out via the stairs would be okay. Everyone else would be in a world of hurt. Knowing how to blaze your trail without a device is kind of like getting out of a high rise hotel without elevators or lights.
I don’t need to justify this, but if I did I’d use the weather as justification. We have blizzards and whiteouts around here. These are not the kind of storms to trifle with. They come up out of nowhere and it isn’t uncommon for the wind to roar and the temperature to fall 30 or 40 degrees in a matter of minutes. In fact, most of the worst winter weather here comes on the tail of unseasonably warm weather, right when people are most vulnerable to it. When a horizontal wind is freezing your eyes shut and taking off the gloves means instant frostbite, a mapping or GPS app is pretty much worthless.
So it makes sense to figure out how to get around these parts without technology. Funny thing is, I don’t feel less safe or secure without GPS. Since I’ve stopped riding with the Garmin, something magical has happened. I feel more free. I’ve found myself exploring more and a new sense of excitement and adventure permeates my rides. To me, at least, that’s the whole idea.