Until last summer when I travelled from Sweden down to Spain to import my Ducati Monster I was almost totally ignorant when it came to maps. Usually I ride with friends going to specific places, on my own not bothering where I’m going or following a familiar path. Well, not entirely true, I did travel in Australia on my own some years ago, but there is not many roads so weak map reading skills isn’t such a big issue.
Anyway, last year I had to learn, and literally on the road. Of course I try to stay away form cities at almost all cost but I also had made pre arrangements for all my stays. This not needing to stress about not finding a place in the end of the day. Now I was stressing about finding my stays. I guess if your that kind of person who gets stressed easily, there will always be a reason.
Well the Netherlands and Germany went quite al right. I did arriwe very late both these days, and finding my stay in a village outside Trier was hard. Generally mistakes like that and many more like it later on is caused by not having a map detailed enough, being to tired or not wanting to ask for help. Or possibly all of that.
Later on in France I noticed after a day of riding that my problems reading the road signs were due to the colours of them. In Sweden a white sign would have no significance, instead you look for yellow signs for villages, blue for cities. When cracking this sign reading code I did much better. Another thing is that in Sweden signs towards places always displays the distance. For some reason we think that it is reassuring to know this on regular basis. There fore the road signs are put up regularly along the way so you can confirm that your on the right path. Most other countries don’t have this, and since I’m used to it I do miss it.
While riding a bike it is time consuming to have to stop and check the map. If you have a memory like a goldfish, like I do, you stop ridiculously often. To look at the map while riding is not something I can handle, even though I seen it done. I generally break down my planned route in road numbers and cities/towns/villages that I will pass or ride towards. The when I somehow get it all wrong, I just recalculate, like an GPS but manually.
While getting totally and utterly lost in Luxenbourg this summer I cursed my map reading and swore not to return there without either a GPS or a map reader. The problem though was that my map wasn’t detailed enough. It seemed like it would be an easy matter of following the road passing through the city but instead I ended up circulating the city for nearly 2 hours.
I got lost around Bonn in Germany for the same reason. And last year in the French Alps I asked for help showing the old man my map of the whole country of France and he sighed. I was on a road that didn’t exist on my map. So I had actually tried to learn form last year, but finding detailed maps are hard, there is not much between the country map and the super detailed road atlas. Bringing an road atlas for every country is hardly an option, at least not with my luggage possibilities.
This summer I got the possibility to experience riding with an GPS. I had high expectations. But it wasn’t as easy as it would seem. The GPS kept redirecting us to the highways and we had problems to sticking to the roads we wanted. In the end we went back to my system of writing down road numbers and names of places.
For some reason England and Wales seamed easy to manoeuvre in. The road numbers were clearly marked and places signposted. Something I found amusing was their road markings. I’m used to roads marked with white lines, no road markings means no lines at all. In Britain the roads had the white lines and in addition to that arrows to prepare you to turn left or right and encouragements to slow down. When occasionally entering a city it was just as difficult as anywhere else though, reading signs, realising to late the turn I should have taken etc. Quite possibly it was harder than most places, since it was all done on the left side of the road.
Navigating on smaller roads and countryside I seem to have a quite good hang of now. I use photo copies of a road atlas taped to my tank when I ride out around Madrid and I always prepare it with road numbers to make riding more smooth. Riding in cities I don’t know if I ever learn well, since I get so stressed when many things are happening at the same time, then I would still prefer a map reader whispering in my ear where to turn so I can fully concentrate on the traffic.