Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Ludd's Latest Stand

Like fish, we are being slowly, inexorably, reeled in.  An inevitability that has a well-scripted conclusion.  We fight it with vigour, diving deep into the weeds and tangles of Luddite stubbornness and cantankerous argument.  It's ordained in the scriptures of progress that we'll end up floundering on the riverbank outside a techno-despot, purchasing a crap-nav or one of its too-clever smarmy-smart half-cousins.

Our predicament is in direct response to an all too familiar conundrum.  To see where we've been, to find where we are and where we want to be, a map is a neat tool, its use a useful skill, yet both are fast becoming redundant.  The best, the only, that we found is a state-wide sheet, crammed with a spiderweb of numbered roads that bear little resemblance to the reality on the ground.  We've been here before, and there's two ways of tackling the problem.  Either follow convention and end up riding down the edge of busy two lane highways that have a habit of depositing their cargos directly on to a 'cyclists are banned' freeway.  Or head for the tracery of backroads that may or may not have a desired destination.  The former offers assurances and gas-station coffee; the latter a frisson of unpredictability, a distinct taint of adventure and no road signs.  To help even out the odds, we try to use local knowledge, which can be of variable quality.  Sometimes it's an opportunity for a casual chat and chance to sign the visitors' book, but offers little of consequential information.  Other times, it's a fistful of glossy visitor guff, or single sheet of printed, explicit instructions.  This last was how we ended up negotiating a series of dirt tracks on to the top of a mountain, in the dark, in the desired place. Ludd drops his first shot, love-15.  A lucky point, as there´s always that soupcon of crap-navity, on this occasion the gremlin suggested that we turn left down Duck's Nest Motorway. Visions of eight-lane macadam that in reality turns out to be eight feet of muddy logging track.

Our second serve with progress exposes another aspect of local knowledge and just how auto centred all human culture has become.  We're possibly fifteen miles out from another state park, when we start asking for directions.  The official information is vague and is for access from the interstate; only we, on the other hand, are being perverse and attempting to arrive by the back door.  We're both convinced that it should be possible.  The local disagrees.  From complete ignorance of the park's existence, to being sent on a wild goose chase that would have added half a day to an already full one.  So we resort to hypocrisy and the Kindle, calling on Mister Google once again.  There is a back door, it could, even should be possible.  We place our trust in 'progress', or at least a machine's intrepretation of a satellite picture. 

It's another dropped point, though I feel it is more a McInroe: 'you can not be serious' disputed line call.  For herein lies the difference between cartography and a random collection of letters.  A map is a picture, a construct of a thousand words, full of fascination, information, confirmation, whilst the sparse words on the screen are thin, lacking in assurance, ripe for misinterpretation. Technicolor versus black and white.  It's a new language, one that requires new interpretation and evaluation.  One instruction requires that we turn left after 3.8 miles; we still refuse to reconfigure into imperial; Napoleon's measure is much nore gratifying. So mathing in fives and eights we cycle for a little over 6kms.  There is a left turn; how clever of 'progress'!  Only there are two left turns, one to a cemetery, the other to a locked gate.  We check out both, broaching the gate and riding off into the sunset, or at least down a fast depleting path.  Backtrack, curse technology, to discover that our left turn might be a left bend in the main drag.  It's a neat learning curve, and we use each new reinterpretation to our advantage.  What the use of a quality map would have shown was that graveyard, the pond, the power line, all the insignificant details that you use, almost subconsciously when mapreading.  We found our way to the park, despite the mandatory 'gremlin', which was solved when we flagged down one of the few vehicles to pass us.  An interesting choice as it transpired: forest law enforcement, who wasn't offended when I accused his Scottish ancestors of being  a bunch of criminals.  Well, they were Johnstones after all.  He even offered us a lift for the last few miles.

Yet, without that initial draft of instructions we would not have ventured away from the blacktop with it's tame assurances, which would have meant that we would have missed out on another bit of adventure, another smooth red earth road, another tract of majestic woodland.

The fish is not landed, the game is not lost, the ball is still bouncing along, stotting down to the Gulf of Mexico.