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  • Navigation Tips

    As I'm in the midst of getting the 2017 route files up and the 2017 description written I thought I'd take some time to give you an idea of how to use all of the information on MoJazz to help you navigate the route. The good news is that it's easier than you think - and fun to boot. The better news is that you can do a lot of preparation from the very computer at which you are reading this.

    Normally when I ride the Tour I don't use my gps that much (to follow a route anyway) because I'm creating the route as I ride. What I do use GPS for are basemaps for reference and capturing the ride.

    The very first two Tours I didn't even have a GPS with me. What I used instead was an aluminum surveyor's map case that I mounted to a rack on the back of my XR600R. In both cases I studied maps all winter and used 3D software to follow the route I was planning to ride so many times that I had it mostly committed to memory. Even though I had every 7.5 minute quad along the route with me I rarely had to use them.

    In past years I'd go ride the route I intended to create for the Tour in either Fall of the year before or really early in the current season (while out sawing). As folks started showing up earlier and earlier (way too early in many cases) the pressure was on to do the exploration work in the Fall and use that route the following spring. It's less than optimal (because things change from season to season) but it's the way that it has to be done now that the route is getting popular.

    Everyone on Social Media has been exposed to stories in their newsfeed about travelers following Google Maps navigation into a lake or something similarly crazy. Well, in the last few years a lot of folks showing up for the Tour had about the same level of sophistication and dependence on electronic aids - even though they were planning on spending 9 days in the middle of nowhere (where GPS is even less reliable than in your car in most places). If the line they were following on their GPS went off a cliff you could just about bank finding lots of cheap used parts at the bottom. Most people, it turns out, have little idea how GPS actually works (look for a MoJazz article on this subject in the near future). Curiously most of those same people have no idea how little they actually know and are curiously resistant to acquiring any new knowledge.

    In the past I've used my track files and maps to create routes that consisted of lots of waypoints - a trail of breadcrumbs. The result of that was that less and less riders were showing up having actually studied the route with maps in any detail because they planned on just following a line on their display. This led to some epic adventures and a lot of DNF's that could have been easily avoided (at one point a rider's software created a route from a waypoint at the top of a set of switchbacks straight down to a waypoint at the bottom and he tried to ride straight down that line instead of taking the obvious road down the mountainside - I kid you not) . Good advice only does good with a receptive audience so a lot of those failures were straight up pilot error. But be that as it may I work on this every year to see people succeed, not to see them fail. So this year I'm trying something new. I'm going to force everyone to at least learn the rudiments of navigation by creating routes that contain pretty widely-spaced waypoints accompanied by maps and a detailed written description. You'll have to create your own route using my waypoints.

    In the next few days I'll go over how to do this but in the meantime I recommend the following for the Tour: A Trail Tech Voyager, any high-quality backpacking GPS with an antenna and base maps for the area and a DeLorme inReach SE with Earthmate on your smartphone. Lot's of redundancy and each of these can help you in different ways. The Delorme is also your beacon. You'll, also need the Butler maps and routebook.

    Stay tuned. I'll continue with this in the next few days.

    Cheers all


  • #2
    OK, episode 2 - down to brass tacks. Here's the best way to use the waypoint files I've created for the Tour of Idaho. But first a brief rerun of last week's show...

    The Tour of Idaho is somewhere in excess of 1400 miles in length - depending on the year. It is beyond irrational to think that in all of that length of trail things don't change from season to season. It's also improbable to imagine that one may navigate that far through rugged and remote terrain simply by following a line on a GPS screen with no other knowledge of terrain, escape/bypass routes, etc. and not have a few unpleasant and unplanned adventures - potentially terminal. Yet that has never stopped many dozens of parties (that we know of) from setting off with little more than optimism and an iPhone for navigation. It's like setting off to climb Mt Everest with stuff you bought at Walmart and lots of good vibes.

    This year I've reduced the density of waypoints to encourage even more than in the past (ok, force) everyone to overlay them on maps, Google Earth, etc. to gain a real understanding of what's going on. There is nothing like map study to improve any outdoor adventure. I have never been lost on the Tour of Idaho, even in the early days when we were inventing it on the fly. I always knew what was over that next ridge, what nearby valleys had a trail or road that I could use to escape should the need arise - heck I even knew the best way to go if I had to start walking. Forget about the Zen parable of the caterpillar forgetting how to walk as a result of over analyzing it. That's bullshit. As far as the Tour goes knowledge is power. I can almost assure you that the more you know about the route in the geographical sense the better you'll enjoy yourself while you are out there and the more empowered you'll feel when things get tough.

    So to start planning this year's route you'll want to take the waypoint files on MoJazz and upload them into Google Earth. Google Earth is great for allowing you to actually gain a feel for the terrain and see the trails (in most places) on which the waypoints are overlayed. You'll note that in some places I put a waypoint at each end of a trail and that's about it. Again, the reason for this is that trails undergo constant revision to keep up with weathering and deterioration through use. Trail heads usually don't move as much. Once you are on a trail all you have to do is ride until it ends or you turn off onto another trail. That's nav made easy! No need to muck that up with waypoints that may not be right by the time you get there. The written description will have mileage and other wonders of interest along the way. In places like the desert, where the track is more difficult to follow, the density of waypoints is much greater. They are where you need them.

    After you've examined things in Google Earth you'll want to create your own GPS route from the waypoints. There are dozens of mapping programs that will do this. I like Garmin Basecamp, G4 Maps, National Geographic TOPO and RideLeader (among others) but there are numerous programs that will do a more than adequate job for you so choose what you like. Just make sure that the program that you choose uses current trail data or you'll end up doing a lot of work by hand.

    You'll import the waypoints I provided into the mapping program of your choice then use the program itself to "snap" or fill in the routes between the waypoints into existing trails (where they exist). Some programs are better at this than others but I've not noticed a significant difference between the ones that are web-based (and generally free) and the ones that are not. I've also yet to encounter a program that does this with 100% accuracy so you'll have to make some adjustments. All of this is a benefit to you because in the process of working things out you'll become more familiar with the Tour route.

    Once you create your GPS route you'll upload it into the GPS unit of your choice. I use three: a Trail Tech Voyager, a Garmin GPSmap 64 ST, and a Samsung S7 with Earthmate paired to my Delorme inReach SE beacon.

    The TT Voyager, even without the external antenna deployed, is a remarkably accurate and reliable backcountry GPS that also provides distance, bearings and lots of bike data. It's meritorious nearly beyond belief. The screen is clearly visible in any light, it's easy to operate and it is bulletproof in terms of durability. It just works. I use mine zoomed way out on my route so that I can see the direction between one waypoint and the next. Over the years the TT Voyager has been my most reliable GPS. Unfortunately there are no base maps available with the current model. But it's incredibly useful nonetheless because of all the things that it does well.

    The Garmin is a standard backpacking/mountaineering handheld GPS unit. I've only used it for a year but so far it's been super accurate (in all conditions) and absolutely reliable. You can get 24K base maps to upload and with these I can navigate just about anywhere I need to go. I zoom this unit way in so that I can see the topographic details of the terrain in my immediate surroundings.

    My Samsung S7 has an IP68 rating, i.e., Ingress Protection 6 8. The 6 is for dust resistance (the best there is) and the 8 is for water resistance (pretty darned good short of water ballet). It's a rugged enough phone that I feel comfortable carrying it in one of the pockets on my KLIM vest and using it as a backup GPS. I've dunked it a couple of times in stream crossings and there was no moisture penetration. The nice thing about Earthmate software running on the phone is that one may download a wide variety of maps (including topos) to a phone and have current position displayed within a few meters in most conditions. It's not as good as either the Garmin or TT in terms of accuracy, but it's very, very useful as a backup - as long as you understand the limits of accuracy for cellphone-based units way out in the boonies. I'd never mount a cellphone on the handlebars of my dirt bike (I'm even nervous on my street bikes - they are just too fragile and vulnerable compared to more rugged and less expensive alternatives) because when you do eventually nuke it you won't be able to either call for help or to commensurate about losing a phone. Replacing all of those apps sucks as well.

    That should be enough to get you started. The best part is that you get to experience some of the thrill of riding the Tour in the comfort of your den or office (Google Earth images are pretty good these days). Have fun.


    • #3
      The waypoint names are descriptive. "1D26" is day one, waypoint 26. "2C3" is the challenge section for day two, waypoint three. "4DB5" is day four, variant B, waypoint five. Occasionally there is a waypoint that is descriptively named such as "1DSUNNYSIDE."

      If you use a program for route creation that allows sorting of waypoints the best way to sort them is by time and date. They'll fall into the correct sequence if you do.


      • #4
        By now, hopefully, some of you have downloaded my waypoints, imported them into the mapping software of your choice and are creating your own routes and basemaps. It's a great exercise that'll set you up just right for the Tour. One bit of advice. Even if you create a lot of your own waypoints to go along with your track I'd make sure to keep the ones that I created. I think that you'll find these very useful both when planning the route and in the field. Have fun. And start getting ready.