As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I suck at navigation. Whether by land or by sea, I have challenges. It’s not that I can’t follow a map, it’s more about not paying attention to where I am on that map. I tend to have a one track mind, and if I am talking or lost in thought, I can ramble for hours without paying attention to landmarks, mileage, etc. So my intentions lately have involved “being more aware of my surroundings.” Paying attention to landmarks around me, being able to transfer those landmarks to the paper map, and figure out how to get back where I started.
While in Mittry Lake, Jim was kind enough to loan me an android phone with the Backcountry Navigator app. I loved using it to map our hikes, but I seemed to use it more as a backward-looking tool. How far had we gone, how long did we hike, and how did our route compare to the previous day, since we were making up our own routes. Also, I found out repeatedly, it doesn’t really work well unless you remember to charge it the night before. 😉 And turn off the cellular functions. And turn on the GPS. And download the maps. So although it was a fun exercise, I didn’t have confidence that it would enable me to “stay found.”
I am still considering a hand-held GPS, but those are a big investment to get the kind I want. After playing with the color touch screen of Backcountry Navigator, it’s tough to get excited about a toggle switch. But I am still shopping…
The Black Canyon kayaking trip with John and BJ (who was at one time, a big backpacking enthusiast) also peaked my interest about backcountry camping. To be able to pitch our tents on the banks of the river with no other campers was nothing short of heavenly. I would like more of those experiences. So where does a left-brainer like me, who loves education and instruction go for this information? Well, REI of course!
Having a look at the REI website, I see that their Outdoor School offers a “Map and Topo Field Course” at their Phoenix location. To sweeten the deal, the course is being held at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, what seems to have become my “home away from home,” as this makes my third visit since December! I will be arriving on a weekend with no reservations during high season, but they have a nice roomy overflow section where I have stayed before.
The course meets at the trail head of the North Trail, a 2.5 mile loop. There are eight other class participants. We are each given a laminated map, a marker, and a baseplate compass, and off we go in lock-step down the trail.
First, we focus solely on the map. One of my objectives is to learn to read and interpret topo lines, and recognize the contour intervals. McDowell is the perfect venue for this, as there are quite a few hills all around us to be able to orient ourselves according to the map.
Next, we begin the compass work, with instructions on how to adjust for declination, the difference between True North and Magnetic North. I get this part, no problem, after my sailing Coastal Navigation courses. We take several compass headings, and discuss methods of navigation when the compass is the only available tool.
Finally, we come to Triangulation, which is the toughest part, but also the part I need most…being able to find myself! We practice finding two points on the map such as nearby hills, taking the headings, and finding the spot on the map where those two intersect, i.e. “staying found!”
It’s a helpful course using terms I can remember, like “Put Red Fred (compass needle) in his Shed (outline of orienting needle.) The REI guys are interesting and engaging instructors, so it also ends up being a fun way to spend a Saturday in the park!
But I had another motive for coming to Phoenix! My dear friend and sailing pal Nancy was in town for a business conference. I have spent more hours on a boat with Nancy than anyone else. We spent the day together swimming in her resort pool, soaking in the hot tub, drinking Bloody Marys, riding bikes to lunch and back. We laughed about old times, and talked about our dreams for more fun times to come. I love my friends I have met on the road while full timing for the past two years. But there is no substitute for spending time with someone who has known you for almost twenty years. A great “True North” orientation in of itself!