This post / review is strictly on navigation and GPS. You may read my full write up here Tour De Chequamagon 101 – Things I Learned From My First Bikepacking Multi Day which covers food, packing, clothing and such. I separated this post on navigation because it F*!#$d up the first day of my trip, and needs to be covered in depth, so you may enjoy your trip.
Okay- I’m addressing this to greenhorns like myself. I assume those of you with more experience under your belt could have averted this problem.
I live about 5 1/2 hours south so I left home around 3:30AM and promptly arrived at the Brick House Cafe around 9AM (I had enough stuff on my mind so I just went with Fyxation’s suggestions on parking and breakfast). After a delicious chorizo breakfast burrito I headed back to my car and geared up.
Upon liftoff things were rolling smoothly. I passed a CAMBA trailhead and briefly regretted not bringing my mountain bike. Further down the road around mile 4 the GPS barked at me to notify me I was already off-route. Hmmm, isnt this thing supposed to notify me, I thought. I promptly did a 180 and headed back to my missed turn.
For the next hour or so I pedaled at a leisurely pace taking in the changing of the trees, the cool swampy bogs, and the isolation from vehicles. All this peace and serenity however was abruptly lost around mile 13 when my GPS barked that I missed yet another turn.
Doubling back I re-rode the last mile or so; heading back down the steep ass hill I just pushed my bike up. It’s got to be the fresh logging road back there I thought, but arrival back at the logging road proved I missed the rode again. WTF Is going on I thought? Why am I not seeing this turn?
At this point I activated RWGPS (Ride With GPS) on my iPhone in hopes for more assistance. I tried zooming in closer on the Garmin but it’s doing that thing where my actual position is nowhere near the purple GPX line. I was warned about this by “Harold” on MTBR forums– (this guy’s knowledge on GPS and Nav causes me jealousy issues, but his willingness to help us noobs is not taken for granted.)
Okay, armed with two devices guiding me back up the trail I pedaled through some up and downs and the one steeper hill I now call f*$%!n $h!tbag hill. Still no luck. This fire road, if that’s what it was, does not exist, at least not on paper.
So at this point my frustration levels have peaked, it’s past lunchtime, and I’m getting hangry. common sense and everything I have always read dictates that I should have stepped off the bike, rested, and consumed some fuel, but humans are stubborn and predictable, so down the trail I went once again.
Determined, eyes peeled for any type of road signs, I headed back yet again toward the fresh logging road. Passing a fire road sign on my left, I thought aha, that’s got to be something, so I pulled out my trusty paper forest service map (kindly sent by the local forest ranger), and began searching. As I stood, middle of the trail, map in hands, and fully playing the part of “lost tourist”, two guys showed up on fat bikes also riding the route. Trying not to look too desperate I casually flagged them down. “How you guys doing?” I asked. “I’m having a little trouble finding the next turn, mind if I tag along till I’m back on track?” Being members of the best community on earth they kindly welcomed me to their party.
Locking away my pessimism and pedaling with a new found hope the three of us pedaled onward. About quarter mile later all hopes dwindled as I heard one say to the other “hey, I think we missed the road”! So after some pondering and more map gazing they decided to head back and look for it. Aloud, I said, “Guys, thanks and good luck, but I can’t do this anymore, I’m heading up to Hwy M and am going to skip night one campground and go to Day Lake Campground.”
After heading north to Hwy M I should have turned right, heading back south on FR203, but it seemed much farther at the time. Looking at it now it doesn’t appear to add more the 4 or 5 miles.
Sooo, here I am at night two Day Lake campground. Had the place mostly to myself save for a few fisherman.
The next day went well. It drizzled for most part of the AM but I had rain gear and was determined to have a better day than the prior. I arrived back at my car around noon with no other setbacks.
Final thoughts- I went with the 108.8, because it always came up first when you search RWGPS routes. The bikepacking.com route was listed as 106.7 so I figured they were the same route. I only blame myself for this mishap, however it wold be nice for us rookies if bikepacking.com or the 108.8 route had some trail notes about the mile 13 turn so that we could be better armed.
Overall I had a great experience and learned a lot. The nice thing about bikepacking is I had all of my gear and if worse came to worse I could have just pitched my tent and started fresh in the AM. In the end I am not all that upset and the fact that I did not complete the route will push me to go back again.
Revision – I just pulled up the 114.4 TDC route on RWGPS and there is a note at mile 13 stating the ghost road is called N10 Glacier trail. Looking back I think I remember seeing this marked trail. I just wish I would’ve seen this trail note before the trip.
You may use an iPhone or Android for navigation, and some say they do, but I honestly don’t see how without bringing a couple external battery packs for piece of mind. I was running my iPhone in my pocket on airplane mode, with the RWGPS app running, and could see the battery depletion every time I stopped to take a photo. Battery life is problem #1.
Service is problem #2- I read numerous times I would not have cell service. With a basic $5.99/mo RWGPS pay subscription you may download maps and routes to run them offline – even on airplane mode. From what I understand airplane mode stops cellular service and wifi, but other apps such as RWGPS may still run. That said, your phone will still need to talk to the satellites, and in turn use your battery.
****Final thoughts on GPS and Nav**** I feel I have only cracked the tip of the iceberg and the term that goes something like “the more you learn – the less you realize you know” couldn’t be more fitting. All I can suggest is bring as many resources as possible; paper map/s, phone, GPS device…