In 2009, my sweetheart, a friend and I took a bicycle ride from the California coast to the coast of South Carolina. The guys were armed with cameras to document the post-recession country in between, and I was just along for the ride.
Every new state line we crossed we'd stop at a gas station to buy a map of the area. While stocking up on peanut butter at the grocery store, we'd ask the people around us about pretty roads, odd landmarks, and recommended routes. We'd find their spots on the map and look for more small roads, for blue lines and pools showing rivers and lakes. We seek brown and green patches that marked state parks and BLM land- places we could pitch a tent for the night.
These bits of local wisdom and patches on the map were just the right amount of information to direct us into the wild unknown- to send us out to seek and find. These small lines led us to forgotten roads, hidden nooks and incredible beauty. Our daily job became the seeking and finding of the mystery around the corner, and the excitement of this search brought us miles further than oatmeal alone. We were enthralled with the process of navigation and discovery; a process that enthralls me still and always.
Through this process we were engaged and active explorers of our surroundings. Maps were instruments in finding our own adventure, not tools to find adventure for us.
Recently, we headed out for a weekend ride and stopped at a gas station to pick up a county map. The racks were empty. 'I'm sorry,' said the guy behind the counter, 'with all the smart phones out there, we're not selling 'em anymore.' My heart dropped in my chest. It was like rolling into your favorite watering hole and hearing the well had run dry.
Technology is an incredible resource and it allows for this same approach to charting your own adventure. But it can also allow for you to miss the meat of the experience. Too often, it is easy to plug in an address and find yourself at your destination without knowing the way that led you there. It is too easy, in a new area, to walk around glued to a screen instead of noting street signs and weird yard art- instead, really, of being in the middle part of the journey- the juiciest bit of all.
Whatever your source of information, I urge you to be your own navigator. Choose your own adventure. Let the seeking be the best part, and the finding be yours.
An Ode now, to Maps:
An ode to holding the unwieldy expanse up and open and scanning the vague what-will-be. An ode to the creases lining the page from folding and unfolding, like a well worn love letter. To the compass rose- a true guide if ever I've known one. To the burn marks from campfire sparks, the watermarks from unexpected rain, the dirt stains form a steep scramble.
To the thin lines that encompass mad rivers, the unassuming marks that hold steep descents, and the simple green patches that house very little mankind and very much wonder.
Most of all, to the unknown. And to finding it yourself.