Sunday, April 29, 2012

Get Lost!

No, not you; you keep reading. 

With today's modern technology it's become harder and harder to get lost.  Car GPS devices and smartphones with Google Maps mean that we rarely leave the house without the aid of a pocket-sized world map.  Of course there are benefits to not getting lost, but we've also lost the excitement of finding somewhere new as we try to find our way.

Prior to yesterday's long run I experimented with Garmin Connect's course creator.  I mapped out a solid 12+ miles on and off road and transferred it to my watch.  It was my second attempt at using Garmin's courses and like the first time it was a failure once again.  What I've come to realize is that, despite having set a specific course, the Garmin does little to help you stay on track; it only tells you whether you are on or off.  Now, for a person with any sense of direction this shouldn't be a problem; admittedly, I am not that person.  

While I'm great with a map and have a solid understanding of big picture geography I am terrible at local wayfinding.  Despite Miami's regular grid it took me years to get a handle on getting around in my former city.  I always blamed it on the diagonal US1 which interrupted the grid, but really it was me.  In fact, my grandparents rarely miss the chance to remind me about all those times early in my college years (before I had a car in Miami) when they came to take me for dinner (and errands) and I took us on unplanned tours of the greater Miami area.
Things are no different here in my new NY digs.  I grew up on Long Island's south shore where things are fairly grid-ish and the overall road network has some sense of order and structure.  On the contrary, the north shore features many windy roads with a much more chaotic organization of the network.  While I'm starting to get the hang of things I tend to keep my runs and rides to a few roadways to avoid getting myself too crossed up.  

Back to my run: once I left the "course" I stopped caring where I was going and just ran.  I stayed mostly on the roads but dipped into the local trails several times for a change of scenery.  As I approached the midway point of the run I started trying to head home.  It was at this point that I realized I didn't know which way home was.  Avoiding the urge to pull out my iPhone and simply check the map I decided to find home the old-fashioned way; well, sort of.  In place of an analog compass I used the electronic one on my Garmin to find North.   I was a bit uncomfortable for a couple of miles because I wasn't certain I was going the right way, but I trusted the compass and my instincts.  What was the worst that would happen: I'd run a little further than I planned. 

After a couple of unsure miles I eventually made my way back to a familiar road and from there the way home was easy.  Despite the uncertainty of hoping I wasn't taking myself too far in the wrong direction getting "lost" was actually quite liberating.  I don't think I'll be heading out without some form of navigational safety anytime soon, but I'll definitely aim to be less rigid about the routes I run/ride. 

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