Last year I went on a cycling trip that required a Garmin GPS unit. I reluctantly bought one but it turned out to be fun and a time saver. When I first landed in Boston and started cycling outside of town I used the Rubel Maps. These are great maps but have the drawback of having to find where you think you are to figure out where you want to make your turns. I did my best to memorize the maps so I could limit the number of times I actually had to stop. This worked for a long time and could still work - I last carried a Rubel map last year - but the Garmin made these redundant. I bought the Garmin 200, which meant I could bring a breadcrumb trail with me. And the Garmin would chirp if I wasn't paying attention. Having the Garmin wasn't life changing but it did make my long memorized routes much easier to change and I did change them. I was already using ridewithgps.com and found great routes and interesting passages between roads that I never knew about and rides were suddenly faster, without having to stop to pull out a map to remember where I wanted to turn. And the Garmin was quite useful on the ride that required it. That ride, to the top of Mount Greylock in western Massachusetts was on many roads that I had been familiar with at one time, although not recently and I'm pretty sure I would have missed a lot of turns if I didn't have the breadcrumb trail.
A couple of weekends ago I did the Diverged ride, planned by Rob Vandermark of Seven Cycles, Honey Cycles, and Ride Studio Cafe. Rob seems to have time to plan interesting, off and on road rides. (Rob is planning an all night ride on the shortest night of the year and I'm hoping to ride it.) I had recently mounted my new Clement USH tires and had a great time off of the road. I missed much of the Diverged ride when I ran out of time and remembered a section near the McClean Hospital in Belmont as something that I wouldn't mind trying. Yesterday I thought of trying it and still had the route for the Diverged ride on the Garmin. Then I thought I didn't have time so I left the Garmin at home. But once out the door I changed my mind and made my way over to Belmont, at the intersection of Concord and Somerset. I found the route I had taken a couple of weeks before, which followed the 2013 Diverged route and made some assumptions about which way to go. I wasn't feeling lost without the Garmin but I was thinking that I would be late to work. I came to a sign in a field that told me Coal Hill was to my left, or east. I knew that the trails that the Diverged route led to Snake Hill Road and Coal Hill didn't sounds like Snake Hill but I took the trail anyway. Once in the woods I only had one thing to guide me, the sun. I knew that the route was largely heading east (I was following the route in reverse from the way it was intended by Rob) and in the east was the sun, which was pretty hard to miss. So as I came to trail junctions, I didn't take the trail less, or more traveled, I took the trail that kept me heading east, more or less. The trail was a mostly single track, not a gravel road. And it did have rocks that made travel harder. I would have felt a lot less confident if I didn't have the new tires, which proved to be a great asset on the Diverged ride. But I was starting to feel like I might be getting late so I had to move as quickly as I safely could and I had to stay on track. If I didn't stay on track I would get funneled down to Trapelo Road, which is busy and would take me out of my way and would make me later than I could afford to be. And, after all, I was just riding to work, not going for a bike ride. I recall the last turn that took me down the last steep pitch of trail to the little turnaround at the dead end of Snake Hill Road - yes, I made all of the right turns that kept me on the Diverged route, or I made enough wrong turns to get me to the right place. That last turn was from a broader grassy trail onto a narrower, steeply pitched, rocky trail (probably ordered by Rob) and it was heading east. It was sort of like the Frost poem, and it led me to where I needed to go. I was only off road for a mile or less but it seemed like a minor adventure on my way to work. And it was a lot of fun to not quite get lost while navigating through the woods without a GPS unit.
A bridge over a small stream somewhere west of Snake Hill Road
The rest of the ride was more prosaic. I found my way back to Concord Ave, which has a bike lane then a bike track, separated from car traffic. After rounding part of Fresh Pond, I used the walk signal to get me across Route 2, which was a traffic jam. I found myself on Vassal Lane, which also turned into a very narrow, very congested parking lot. The congestion was caused by two things - it was trash day and a truck was doing pickup ahead of us, and there was an amazing amount of road construction going on. I eased on past the congestion and found my way through Cambridge and back onto known travel routes.
My return commute wasn't nearly as entertaining but because of an afternoon field trip, I finally rode the new section of path that parallels Alewife Brook Parkway between Mystic Valley Parkway and the Minuteman Bike Path. Overall the side trips added 3 miles to my usual commute. That's not a lot extra for the fun I had trying to find my way with the sun as my compass.
The new path just south of Mystic Valley Parkway