A sense of place
I love maps, whether they are of the neighborhood, the world or Mars. Maps answer questions like, “How do I get there?” or “What can I expect when I arrive?” But they can also be reflective. A map of past vacation travels, for example, triggers memories and a collection of maps reflect one’s interests and path over a lifetime.
For me, one map creates a unique sense of place because I’ve worked on it for over 30 years. I’ve researched it, tweaked it, overhauled it and published it. When I look at it, I see lines and names, but I also see segments of roads as experienced from the seat of a bicycle.
Pleasantville Road, for example, is projected as a red line near the northeast shore of Lotus Lake near Chanhassen, Minnesota. When I look at it on a map, I see a tree-lined road where the first glimpse of the lake is from 50 feet up and looking down through a canopy of tree leaves. The road drops to near shore level, crosses a seep spring that keeps it perennially wet and rough, then turns left and makes a deceptively steep climb. All of this happens on a stretch of road that is less than an inch long on the map.
When I first moved to the Twin Cities, I went looking for bike routes. The known options were limited, so I recorded routes as I found them. It was a time of discovery with dead ends and detours punctuated by hair-raising stints in traffic. But I also encountered cool public art, pocket parks and stretches of tree-shaded roads.
Each ride was followed, in those pre-computer days, by the tedious process of applying tape to layers of acetate. The lines I laid down with ruler and an Exacto pen triggered images from the road that I had just ridden and locked them in my brain.
The context for exploration
The routes and technology have changed, but the basic process remains the same: Ride the roads, take notes and translate them onto the map. I bought a GPS unit and discovered both its advantages and limitations. GPS is a great tool for recording routes and proved especially helpful for mapping trails. It could also guide me through a pre-planned ride, but I lost interest in that feature. Without the context of a map, GPS is just a set of instructions: Turn left in 100 yards. Continue straight, etc.
I need context. I need to know where I am in relation to the world through which I’m riding. Stopping mid-ride to study the map slows me down, but it also locks in where I am and creates a direct association between my image of the road and the line on the map. Context allows me to plan my next ride or make a mid-course correction. Mid-course corrections can change a routine bike ride into an exploration.
The entirety of Doug Shidell’s account of producing Midwest bike route maps appears in he July 2015 print edition of Silent Sports magazine. To ordera copy,call 888-706-4045. Or avoid missing another issue and subscribe online here.