I’ve often told people I’m cursed with having, in my head, a GPS-like sense of direction and location. I call it JPS (Jimmy’s Positioning System). It’s great in that I’ve never, ever been lost in my entire life and have no idea of what that must feel like. But it’s a curse in that I always know where I am, and I suspect I lose some sense of adventure from that. It also pisses people off when I tell them where to go and I’m typically right, even if I’ve never been there. I’m better than your car’s GPS 100 percent of the time, and I’m better than Google Maps or MapQuest, especially if I’ve been there. Sure, I’ve made a few mistakes in navigation, but who hasn’t (all the silicon-based devices included)?
Where this leads me is into riding by GPS—I’ve never needed one. If I’ve been someplace, I remember it pretty well and can go back. In fact, I can come back to a location I’ve been before from a totally different direction, a way I’ve never been or seen on a map, and “feel” my way there. I guess it’s like pets can find their way home when being abandoned? I can do the same. I attribute some of my rally racing success to that sense. I was the fastest man to Timbuktu, the second time I went there!Now everyone can spend a few hundred bucks, attach a GPS unit to their bar and not get lost (sort of, wait until I explain). They can have a track log of where they’ve come from, maybe follow a track log they got from someplace to a place they’ve never been. The GPS will lead the way. In fact, you can show up and ride a totally new area without knowing a thing about the trails as long as you’ve downloaded a track log from someone on the Internets (yes, plural, there are a lot of tubes out there with informations). OK, boss, go riding!But wait just a second. Do you know the terrain? How difficult the trails are? Is the information you got correct? Are the trails open? Are they cleared? Is it legal? There are a lot of things a GPS can’t help you with or even know. Sure, some guys who post track logs of rides try and inform you about the difficulty or nature of the ride, but is that even accurate? Is what he calls “expert” really expert? Or is it really triple black diamond? Oops!I was one of the first guys using GPS because I wanted to see what it would do and I needed it as a tool for rally racing. I was worried about what this new technology would do in possibly spoiling little-known areas, and making hard-to-find trails easy to find. It seems the less you have to work to get somewhere, the less you appreciate it when you get there. I’m seeing that a little bit on some of the riding gems I know about, and I’m bummed someone so easily gave up that information. Just like there are fewer and fewer secret surfing spots due to the ease of information transfer, the same is happening to our trails. Some of these technological advances are idiot-o-fying us one skill at a time; the GPS is a perfect example.I’m amazed what a crutch for common map reading skills, knowing direction, judging distance and making people figure out where they are the GPS has become. On the street and out in the trails. I wouldn’t go someplace, ever, if I needed a GPS to tell me how, as my only tool. I see more guys out riding places they have no idea about (or seem to care about, as in trying to keep the areas open and/or working on the trails), just following a cookie crumb line on a GPS screen. And more often than not these are the same guys who end up bumming gas, getting stuck or needing Search and Rescue to come and get them. The GPS is a great tool for helping out with a ride and logging your own rides, even assisting in learning a new area. But don’t let your GPS be a know-all, end-all. Good thing there is another crutch for people who mindlessly follow their GPS around, and it is called a SPOT device. Just pay for the SOS insurance, you’re going to need it.