Using GPS

Setting up a GPS for Touring: Garmin Etrex Legend Hcx

Over the years I’ve had a few rides where I got myself into trouble by getting lost.  Even when pre-planning and using a cue sheet, the directions either were incorrect or I wasn’t reading them properly.  It was very frustrating on a hot summer afternoon out in the middle of nowhere to not even know what direction I was headed in.

Carrying maps would be cumbersome because of the amount of territory many of my rides cover, combined with the amount of detail I need to find a lot of the backroads I typically ride on.  GPS seemed to be the answer, but I held off for quite a while because of the cost.DSCN1600

Early in 2012, as Garmin was rolling out a new line of units, I picked up a used Legend Hcx with an SD card containing the full North American set, for a good price at the time.  While this is an old model, I’d recommend it as a good base unit today since the prices continue to fall.

Initially, I wanted the GPS to guide me similar to a car unit, which it can do, but I wanted it to follow a pre-planned route that I had mapped out on a computer beforehand and then uploaded.  You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but the basic problem is that you’re coming up against the GPS’s active routing features for what basically is a passive routing exercise.  In the simplest terms, the GPS tries to out-think you and makes decisions counter to what you have planned.

This is a very good article that eventually set me straight on how to use the GPS.  I abandoned Routing Mode, and switched to Track Mode.  By pre-loading a Track, using a typical .gpx file, which is the standard output for most mapping software, I don’t get turn by turn directions and wrong turn warnings, but I do get an accurate line that follows the route that I want to go, because the GPS is not trying to out-think me.  For me, that’s all I could ask for.

Initial mapping: I was using RidewithGPS.com even before I bought the unit.  It is fairly intuitive, can be set to follow roads as I click along at intervals with the mouse, instantly provides distance and elevation data, can be edited on the fly, can print out a separate cue sheet, and can save planned rides to my account.  While I can purchase an account to access various performance features, it’s perfectly functional in the free version.

Uploading: Once the ride is mapped out, I export it to my laptop in the form of a .gpx track.  That’s no more than a set of points that overlay on a map, whether it’s on a computer or on a GPS unit.

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