Maps, waypoints & Garmin

I can’t quite decide whether I love or hate this part of the preparation and I have, over the last two years, cultivated, what I can best describe as a love-hate relationship with Garmin. I love my Montana 650T GPS navigation device most of all my kit, except perhaps for my trusted, battle-tested Salewa thermos flask. It would, I think, be fair to describe my affinity to technology, as impatient at best and at worst bordering on psychotic aggression. The stuff has to work. And it musn’t be too complicated to operate and it must interact with me on the assumption that I don’t care why it works. Just to give you a few examples of my attitude to technology: I don’t know or care what sort of an engine I have in my car – in fact I don’t even know if it really has one, I just assume that it does. I don’t care whether it runs on petrol or diesel and don’t know the difference anyway (the only way I know with which substance I am supposed to fill it up, is because of a large label on the fuel cap which says “Diesel Only” in red, which leads me to believe, that I am not the only person on the planet with a car who neither knows nor cares); I don’t know what operating system my Mac runs on (how I love my Mac – it never makes me feel like a dwork, because I don’t know these things. That’s why I divorced from Microsoft so many years ago). You get the gist.

With my Garmin, I am not allowed to interact with the same level of detached insousiance, that I habitually bring to the relationship with my electronic slaves. This wretched instrument demands my attention. It insists on my studying its tortuous manuals and has me scurrying into the deepest recesses of YouTube, looking for tutorial videos, fronted hopefully by friendly outdoor types with beards and gentle, midwestern drawls, to guide me through the forest of menues and gorges of options and settings and synchronisation techniques and lead me to believe, if only in my desparation, that other human beings have indeed navigated through the verbiage and the technical terms and actually, eventually, got the damn thing to do what it was supposed to do.

And it is not just the Garmin technology that requires a dedication of study last encountered in my early twenties whilst cramming for exams. The websites Garmin has artfully constructed for our interaction, feel as if they were designed by Escher with help from the people who devised Matrix. I wont bore you with the details, but there are at least three different sites, you need to register with, the sites work differently depending on which your country of origin is (and I need hardly add, that doing anything from Ireland gives any interaction an extra layer of sophistication), the sites don’t work with Google Chrome (but you don’t find that out until you have tried to download, synchronise or otherwise hook up your device, by which time you have wasted another 20 minutes) and woe betide you should dare to want to talk to another human being from support, effectively hoisting your little white flag in surrender. You are presumably routed to the call centre from hell, to which all support calls in the world are eventually dispatched, and there, caught in an endless cycle of oral waterboarding, menu options and genuinely concerned young female voices ensuring me that “an agent will soon be free”.

Unfortunately, it is all worth it in the end, as the little hand-held gadget proves to be worth its weight in gold, once properly loaded up with OS maps, waypoints and route plans, saving hours of time and energy, usually at critical junctions on the trail and allowing for accuracy of up to 5m on a 1:10.000 scale map. Added to which, if you handle the thing properly, it will allow you hours no years, of pleasure after each section, by capturing every footfall, every twist and turn of the journey, so as to form a perfect multi-dimensional record of the whole adventure.

I write all this today, having tried since last Wednesday to purchase (successfully) and to download (horriby unsuccessfully) a high resolution map of middle Italy, upon which to plot and plan my Francis Trail route. I have been nursing a little book which describes the route in detail, along with providing excellent vade mecum-like tips and inspirations for the would-be pilgrim and found, at the back of the book, to my delight, a code coupon to redeem a complete GPS track catalogue of the entire route, replete with waypoints for shops, B&Bs and POI. Downloading those was a doddle and I even managed to import them into my Garmin and have, during the process, discovered a range of new things that my little device can do, but for which I am not yet qualified to fully reap the benefits. At least not until I have slogged my way through another hour or two of tutorials.