Saturday, July 27, 2002

The Scale of Things

George and I are getting caffeinated and fueling up at the Yellowstone Lake campground restaurant which overlooks the lake. We're examining each other's maps planning our route to our first destination of the day, Argyle, some six miles to the southeast.

Why, you may ask, do we have separate maps? Aren't you going to the same place?

This is a good question and deserves an answer. My preference in maps, as you may remember from my Des Moines trip, is the DeLorme series of Gazeteers, one for each state. I carry the appropriate Gazateer bungeed cross the top of my Bob bag in a waterproof, transparent bag. Admittedly unwieldy for bike touring, my wife asks me why I just don't xerox the pages I will need. She misses the point of the maps. For one thing, suppose I find myself somewhere I hadn't anticipated? If I don't do this at least once on a trip, I figure I've over-planned. And Xerox copies are ugly. All the beautiful and subtle colors are reduced to grainy line art. These maps invite me to explore places I wouldn't find if I used a AAA map like George.

He says my maps are overkill. So when it comes time to make a route decision, we take out our respective maps. If there has been any tension between us these last five days, it has revolved around our differing interpretation of the landscape based on the view presented by the scale of our maps. His shows the big picture, the most direct roads deemed worthy of the automobile. Mine shows the detail, the little-used country roads, the twists and turns. Due to its large scale, it has the added benefit of portraying our progress, inch-wise, in a much more favorable light. He says my maps offer a confusion of roads--too many choices. I say his are made for people in cars needing to "get somewhere." Goal-oriented versus process-oriented.

But I cannot discount the opinion of someone who has pedaled 75,000 miles over a period of 25 years. I have learned that every detail of his bicycle and touring equipment, from his rear hub to the precise arrangement of his panniers, is the result of a long trial and error selection process. Presumably, his choice of maps evolved similarly. So I pay attention when he talks about maps and routes.

But not once on this trip has George given me any unsolicited "advice" on how to do things, despite the vast experience gap between us. Even on the road, he lets me set the pace, and not once has my somewhat lesser speed capability become an issue. Last Thursday morning, as we were leaving our second campground, adjacent to the Mr. Sippi bar on a backwater of the River, I consulted my DeLorme and discovered a shortcut to highway 35. George was skeptical, but went along with me anyway. It turned out to be a dead end, but George took it in good humor.

But now, here at the Yellowstone Lake restaurant, he's taking a more serious look at my DeLorme because according to his map, we have to backtrack five miles to the park entrance to get on Highway G toward Argyle. My map shows an alternate exit to the east following Lake Road to Highway N, which connects to G, then highway 81 right into Argyle, saving more than five miles. We took the back route and encountered one of the most beautiful roads so far on our trip. We're having smoothies and savoring the morning's ride on the town square in Monroe, having already put in 25 of the 75 we plan to do today.

So the truth is that both maps serve a purpose. The secret is on knowing which to use when.

There must be a lesson in that, somewhere.


Sitting with George in Monroe, Wis. on what may have once been a large green town square but has been reduced to a pathetic remnant surrounded by four concentric layers of parking which I am sure pleases the merchants, which is what counts.

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