Navigation

If The Logging Road Cyclist had a dime for every time someone asked him why he didn’t use a GPS he’d have…well, you know.  But TLRC is steadfast in his refusal to use these remarkable devices simply because he doesn’t want to.

Back in his youth TLRC was an industrial scientist, the “science” in question being geophysics and the “industry” the mining/geothermal/petroleum ones. Put succinctly, it was TLRC’s job to go out and find stuff for capitalists to rip from the bosom of Mother Earth. The finding required TLRC to go out into trackless woods with crews of helpers and make lots of measurements at locations that were as precisely defined as possible. Often measurement lines were constrained to lie between little holes in the forest where a helicopter could be squeezed in so that TLRC and the helpers could be ferried in comfort back and forth. Cases like this required navigating between 15m clearings lying 5-6km apart in dense forest. Navigation was as basic as it gets: compass and chain, aerial photos and maps.  TLRC once figured that probably a quarter of his time in the field was spent locating the crew and navigating. Navigation was a craft that took care and experience. GPS was a pipe dream. Had it existed, TLRC would have embraced it even if added 10 pounds to his pack (which already weighed 70, by measurement, on a scale).

But that was work. Now that GPS is a reality, TLRC won’t use it for logging roads (or anything else for that matter) for two reasons: 1) he thinks that finding your way in the old style is fun, keeps the craft alive to some degree, and helps ward off senility, and 2) there is little enough adventure as it is. The price (so far) has been the occasional bewilderment or FTMO.

Having laid down that marker, let TLRC backtrack a bit. The astute reader will ask : “TLRC, dude, like where do these awesome maps on the website come from, GPS, no?” Yes indeedy, they do, a Garmin Edge 250, that, TLRC patiently points out, has no finding-of-the-way-capability (that he is aware of at any rate, although there is a find-your-way-back capability that TLRC has studiously ignored learning how to use). TLRC (a scrupulously honest individual, by all accounts) admits to an ex post facto use of GPS: After an FTMO, he will look at the resulting track, reorganize his thoughts around that datum, and apply it to his next attempt on the Objective.  Those small minded people who think that this makes TLRC less pure in his motives are directed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:  “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”.

After that little screed,  let us turn to some practical aspects of non-electronic navigation on the logging roads. Here are some tips that TLRC has picked up the hard way. Much of what is written below is more important in the winter, when weather can reduce visibility to the point where navigation becomes vital, and the consequences of getting lost are more serious.

Use maps!

Don’t assume you can head out into the Logging Road Maze and “figure out” the road system. You can’t. Unless you are following some topographic feature that is really too big to get diverted from eg. a big creek that doesn’t eventually fork down so small that you can’t figure out which one you are following, a big ridge, etc etc…you are going to need something to show you where the roads go. Because the roads all look pretty much alike out there. TLRC has a pretty good memory for these things, and it is unusual for him to need more that one ride to fix a given route in his mind. But he has this recurring Bad Thought wherein he has a TIA on a familiar ride and is stuck, staring at a road intersection whose correct branch he used to know to take. TLRC uses the BLM Transportation maps for the Mary’s Peak area (north and south halves), Forest Service maps, Google Earth and lately the National Geographic TOPO! maps.

The BLM maps show a lot of roads, and have the BLM numbering for the roads. But, they do not have any topography (just lines for streams), it is often very difficult to tell the relative importance or size of a given road from the map, and finally, on the ground, the road signs with the numbers are more often than not stolen or so shot up as to be useless. Typically, BLM land is juxtaposed with private land so you can expect to encounter private roads with their own cryptic numbering that are either the same as BLM roads, or not on the map at all.  Most fun of all are the roads that are on the map, but don’t really exist. In spite of all this, the BLM maps are useful and TLRC has planned and completed many a ride with them and them alone.

Forest Service maps also have some serious drawbacks. The wave of road “decommissionings”  that started (at a guess) in the ’90s means that the latest maps do not have many of the roads that still exist (TLRC has both an old Siuslaw map and the latest version, and it is interesting to compare them).  While some of the district maps have topography, the Forest-level maps do not. As always, missing road signs and un-mapped private roads add to the confusion.

Lately TLRC has added TOPO! to his mix of maps, and these have been very useful. The topography can be a huge help, and the road network overlaid on the topo maps seems pretty good. There is a route marking tool that is helpful for planning rides (in that it gives a good idea how long a ride might be), and is also nice for making a map to leave behind with someone who cares enough to wonder where you might be if you don’t show up for dinner.

It almost goes without saying that an evening spent staring blankly at Google Earth, wondering where this or that road might go is better than watching Cops.

Township and Range!

Speaking of maps, educate yourself on the Township-Range-Section way of divvying up the US of A and learn to look for and read the yellow metal tags, (TLRC calls them section markers, probably incorrectly) usually found on trees. Straight up: these can really make the difference between getting hopelessly befuddled and knowing exactly where you are. TLRC cannot emphasize this too strongly.

Bring a compass!

TLRC has an absolute, certain Sense of where north is (or at least which quadrant it is in anyway). This served him well until the first time he got absolutely, certainly lost in a snowy fog in the (really) Spectacular Coast Range of British Columbia. He still had The Sense, it’s just that it was wrong. Being from clearer climes, TLRC had, simply put, never tried to find his way in complex terrain in a fog, and he was, simply put, completely unprepared for how completely useless The Sense was, to the point of internally rationalizing what MUST be wrong with the compass he pulled out after stumbling upon his own footprints going the other way (if the picture is unclear, TLRC had just walked around in a big circle, and The Sense and the compass were in strong disagreement). He set the correct bearing, forced himself to walk it, and got home by-and-by.

Almost all the time, having a general idea of where you are pointed is good enough. But there are those days in Oregon’s Spectacular Coast Range when it’s socked in enough so that there is just no way to know which way you are going. A little compass can make all the difference. TLRC has only used his a very few times over the years, but when he needs it, it really helps (The Sense and the compass always disagree in these situations). We are not talking here about saying that a road has a bearing of 192.35 degrees  magnetic, just “Is this road going sort of west, like it should, or mostly south, like it shouldn’t?” When you need to do this it will likely be so socked in you can’t see much anyway.

Have a Cycling Odometer and a Clock!

TLRC finds it almost impossible to estimate time and distances on logging roads, especially in bad weather. To much up and down, twisty turns and changing surface. No sun. Take and use an odometer. Have a timepiece. It can be vital to know if you have probably overshot that critical intersection, or that you have ridden out 25 miles, it’s late, and you’d better start back.

Do Not Eschew “Bread Crumbs”!

Remember, an FTMO is better than getting lost. As you wend your way through the maze, it it a good idea to keep track of the way back. TLRC has often resorted to laying sticks down in critical intersections, either pointing down the right way home, or blocking the wrong way home, or both. He has even considered carrying flagging, but a) there is already an awful lot of it out there, and b) it does seem excessive, when sticks-in-the-road work just fine.

Stay Unlost! 

An exploratory ride in Oregon’s Spectacular Coast Range can be a really fun puzzle. Or, it can be a grim and pointless slog. It’s up to you. Avoid getting lost by keeping track of your position at all times. Pick waypoints (MARKED road intersections, stream crossings, divides) on your map and navigate to them. Keep your eye out for section markers. When some obvious, marked road or creek appears, stop and find it on your map. Keep updating your position and don’t get irritated if you stop a lot. It is amazing how fast you wind up out in space in the Coast Range in the winter.