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between our steps 03 11 20 double
I like paper maps. I like being able to see the whole picture. Before a road trip, I will unfold the map on a counter or table and get a good look at the whole journey. Then, I fold it incorrectly so that the first part of the journey, or the part that I need help with, is showing. Once in the car, you can't unfold the whole thing.

I will use a computer mapping app as well. Poking in the starting point and the destination gives me a guess at how long the trip will take. That helps planning. I may glance at the suggested route, but I don't necessarily follow it. Sometimes that's because there are roads I've taken before that I prefer or don't like. Sometimes it's because I have a plan for where to stop for meals or for the night. Sometimes it's because I want to avoid rush hour in a city. I don't let the computer decide for me.

In late fall and winter, there are also weather considerations that the mapping program doesn't know. The weather program and the map don't talk to each other. I have to do the comparison in my head.

My love of paper maps is aided by the fact that I don't take road trips alone. There is someone else in the car so that we can check the map as we go.

My daughter likes the GPS on her phone. Guiding me in Toronto to get to a friend's place, she turns on the voice that will tell me what to do, when to change lanes, where to turn. I find this frustrating. I want to know ahead of time if I have to turn left or right so that I can decide which lane to be in. What if there is a big truck beside me when the voice tells me to change lanes? When being directed by GPS I ask a lot of questions so that I have some idea what is coming up.

The app on my phone has been useful when we run into a slow down. The map will indicate a problem and predict how long it will take to get through. Although, I have found that if the accident just happened, the first prediction of a five minute slow down quickly becomes fifteen minutes or thirty.

When the phone tells me that there is a problem coming up, I wonder whether we can avoid it. Out comes the paper map. The phone shows just a small section of road. My passenger can zoom out a bit, but by the time we get a sense of what the alternatives might be, the image is too small to get clear details. The paper map will show the angles, the type of roads, the rivers and lakes that are in the way, what might actually be an alternative to sitting still on a highway.

The paper map also provides context. When I pull it out, I know which way is north. I can tell what is around the route that I will take. When I pull up a location on the phone or computer and it zooms in, I can't tell which direction is north or east. I get disoriented until I zoom out and get some perspective.

This desire to see the whole route, to get a wide perspective on the journey, is fine for a road trip. But in life, there is no paper map. Whether we think of a personal goal like training for a vocation or a social goal like mitigating climate change, we have a sense of what we are trying to achieve, but the journey from where we begin to where we are going is not given to us in detail. We work it out step by step. It's more like following a GPS than reading a paper map. And there isn't even the phone app to let us know how long it will take to get through a slow down or how to avoid a blockage.

Maybe I should practice letting my phone tell me what the next turn is so that I get used to not knowing the shape of the journey just keeping in mind the destination I am reaching for.

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay

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