Status Update:

Current location: Bochum / Germany

50 countries, 1226 days, trip mileage: 124200 km

26 Jan 2008

Maps Bonanza

What maps should I take with me? Should I buy them now, or "on the road" to save luggage until when I need them? How much detail should the maps have?

First I went to Stanfords, London's first stop when it comes to any maps & travel guides. If they don't have it, it doesn't exist. I was after a high-detail map of eastern Tajikistan (Gorno-Badakshan), and Stanfords actually had it in stock. Now – I know Stanfords are good, but in this case I really thought I'd have to place an order at least. Tajikistan is likely to be the most crucial map for me to get, as it will be the toughest part of the whole trip. Getting lost isn't much of an issue – there's hardly any 'roads' in Tajikistan anyway. But the high altitude of 12-15000 feet (Pamir Highway, or 'M41'), sand&gravel tracks near the Afghan border and limited fuel supplies mean 'proper planning', which again means: get a proper map.

Next: Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Lots of desert, not many roads. And those roads that do exist look like they've been designed by Alexander Rodtschenko himself: very geometric and straight, with only a few angles. Looks like it's not only gonna be very hot, but also very boring. Now, I COULD rely on the GPS only, even if Garmin's World Map is renowned to be 'out' by a mile or two. But then again: isn't it nice to sit down after a hot & boring desert-highway-ride, have a look at the map and start dreaming & scheming the next few days? I don't think GPS will ever replace the good old maps completely. Maps have got charm, a GPS (although I do use them) can be a right pain in the neck.

To contribute my part towards the old "GPS vs Maps" discussion: I learnt my lesson the hard way last year in May. On my way to the Pyrenees I was happily "cruising" along the French motorways going south from Lyon (thank god French traffic cameras flash from the front). Sun's going down, and I'm still about 1-2h away from my final destination "Moux", a tiny little village with a very hospitable biker hotel called "Maison Les Clauses". Since it's dark anyway, I blindfoldedly follow the GPS, until in the middle of the motorway my 'beloved' Garmin Quest tells me: "Arriving at Moux". Well... I could SEE Moux from the motorway, but the nearest exit was 20 miles ahead (which, of course, I had to go back again on a side-road next to the actual motorway). Next time: use a map, memorize the junction number & be happy. And in case you were wondering: yes, I DID have the latest Garmin MapSource for southern France installed.