Monday, August 19, 2013

Getting Lost

One thing that's going to be a given while out riding in a new area is that you are sure to make a wrong turn.  Even on an established ride, that is reasonably well marked, a missed turn is bound to happen.  I had it happen to me recently, and it got me to thinking of how to be better prepared, especially when leading a group.

The ride was simple, and one that I had done previously.  Leave from a well established start point, and ride ~60mi up to the top of Ceaser's Head Mountain.  My wife and kids had gotten extra water and some snacks to bring, I made up a gallon of home made drink mix that I'm experimenting with, and I met a few friends for the ride.  Everything went well until I missed the turn off the well established "Wheels for Meals" route to head up to Ceaser's Head.  It took several miles for me to realize we were off course and heading to Calahan Mountain instead.  We took a break and I pulled out my phone to get my bearings, and we adjusted the route to get back on track.  We then made it to the top without incident.  We knew we were dealing with shifting weather, and the rain clouds peaked the mountain just as we were leaving.  The trip back was going to be dicey, and we needed to be quick if we wanted to remain somewhat dry.

At the top, with clouds coming over quick

The route back was a different story.  I missed the turn to put us back onto the return route (it's the same road I missed on the way out, btw).  By the time we realized it we were prety far off course.  We decided to follow a busier than we'd prefer road back, set our course and went.  We then found the original route back, and decided to change course.  We did okay with that, until the final "major" turn, where we once again missed the marker and headed right back up towards Ceaser's Head.  We tacked on another ~5 miles before we realized where we were, and at this point we were going to get rained on no matter what.  I was tired, upset, concerned, and mostly emotionally drained.  I actually called my wife to have her come pick us up, but she was already pretty far back towards home.  

I consulted my phone's mapping program, and selected the route that I thought may get us back safely, while in the meantime working to set up a place to intercept my wife just in case.  I made the decision to keep the route my phone had set up and not deviate even if we got into familiar territory.  It added a few extra miles once we were back closer to the start point, but they were definitely easier miles than the "direct route".  We got rained on, although it wasn't as bad as it could have been.  It seems that the storm was at it's worst where we had started our journey, and since it blew over us along the way we dealt with the results more than the storm.  As we rode back on the Swamp Rabbit Trail for the last couple of miles, we encountered a lot of water and saw several down limbs.  By the time we made it back to the cars the rain had mostly passed as well.  

This event left my confidence more than shaken, and I am still determined to improve on knowing my routes and determining the best way to make sure I'm on track.  I always have my Garmin GPS with me when I ride, but the mapping features on the Edge 305 are very rudimentary.  The mapping feature is a "bread crumb" style map, with no streets or directions overlaying the map.  I need to spend more time to get used to how it displays routes, and it doesn't adjust automatically very easily.  An obvious solution would be to upgrade to the new Edge 810 that Garmin released late last year.  It has full mapping and turn by turn navigation, as well as connectivity to your phone so that your friends can know where you are.   At a retail price of $499, it's an expensive upgrade for me to justify at this point, though.

The other options are things that I can definitely do better on personally, without the need to spend a lot of money.  First is to know the route that I'm leading people on.  This means spending more time on the roads personally, without having others on the road.  After reviewing the Ceaser's Head trip, I knew that the area around Dacusville was where we had the biggest issues, and it's an area that I can ride to after work pretty easily.  I crafted a route, and decided to go up and explore.

I did manage to miss a turn, but I corrected for it and spend a lot more time getting a feel for the area.  This is going to be the biggest gain for me as I'm looking to lead out groups:  If I know the area, I can tailor the ride to accommodate the group better.  The original route back is challenging, as the climb back into Traveler's Rest is a lot of climbing.  After riding for 50 miles, having a few hard climbs left in your legs is often times rough.  As I'm learning this area near Dacusville, I'm finding new roads that may be more appropriate for this leg of the journey.

Secondly is that I can trust my instincts more.  Way too often I get to a place and I start wondering if I've missed a turn.  Things look almost right, but I have a sense that I'm not where I should be.  I second guess that instinct and just believe that I've not remembered the route properly, or that I've just zoned out some and I'm not clear on where I am exactly.  Whether this is pride or insecurity, I need to make a better point of making sure I'm confident on where I am and that we are on the proper course.  If that means a couple of extra water breaks, I don't think this is a bad thing.  Also, having the breadcrumb map on the Garmin at this point would help confirm where we were on the route without having to pull out my phone.  

Lastly, and as a big part of the other points, is to be more prepared.  While I typically work out the route on Garmin Connect, I need to make sure that I craft up route sheets more, so I can mentally work out all of the turns, and have them clearly marked.  Even if I don't use the bread crumb map on my Garmin, I should have it uploaded to use as a reference.

The ultimate goal is for me to become more confident and more capable as a ride leader.  Being able to keep my cool and overcome issues without losing confidence in myself, or causing others to lose confidence, is going to be a big key in this.  The more I can utilize tools that I have available today, as well as keep on the lookout for new tools in the future, to improve my experiences, the better off I will be.

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