If walking as a hobby or a holiday pursuit seems a little too pedestrian, by which I mean lacking in vitality, imagination, prosaic or dull,then perhaps I have the solution.
Walking, or hiking, as our American cousins like to say, has gone high tech. The Americans, driven by military objectives, developed the worlds first GPS, Global Positioning System. This technology allows you to accurately pinpoint your exact location within 1 metre anywhere in the world by communicating with satellites orbiting the planet. Many facets and uses of this technology have deadly implications with missiles directed to their targets by onboard GPS systems.
Fortunately more enjoyable uses have evolved from these systems including handheld GPS systems for walkers. I have enjoyed being a low-tech walker for over 20 years but even so, I decided to set myself the objective of learning how to use GPS to add some high tech to my explorations.
Researching the internet provided a variety of information and in business tips about the many GPS systems available but the forum technical discussions were way beyond my novice status understanding.
The main players in the market emerged to be Garmin and Magellan both of who manufacture vast ranges of GPS not only for walking but also for cars and marine use. I opted for Garmin’s latest model, because it had a good range of features and easily connected to a computer. it also had good reviews and sounded very high tech. Next issue was price. Searching the net for suppliers offering the lowest prices, I tried Amazon but they were unable to ship the product to Spain. This led me to think that perhaps it was impossible for any American supplier to ship to Spain. This proved to be wrong and I placed an order with J and H Products. Michigan USA, who offered to supply and ship for 281 dollars, around 193 euros, 260 euros cheaper than a local Spanish supplier. Convinced I had the Internet bargain of a lifetime I eagerly waited for my GPS to arrive in my buzon. However a letter arrived from the Spanish customs, Aduanas, requesting a copy of my invoice so that they could calculate my import tax. Fearing I would have to pay some exorbitant amount I had no choice but to send them the details. My cynicism was unfounded and I was delighted to pay only 36 euros tax and take delivery of my new toy. .
I tore off the paper from the box like an excited child at Christmas and examined the contents. Much to my relief it contained exactly what the supplier had promised and, despite its long journey, everything was intact. My detailed technical knowledge of maps is extremely limited. Who ever wrote the set-up instructions had obviously assumed only very map savvy people buy GPS. Nav Units, Map Datum, Co-ord system meant nothing to me that was for sure! Feeling a little dejected it was back to the net for the clues to solve these complex mysteries. Little by little, I unravelled some of the necessary information to start to get some results from my little magic box. Realising Amazon did have a role to play I ordered a book entitled Getting to Grips with GPS which promised to reveal all the secrets of the GPS world. The book was brilliant, well written and illustrated; it explained the technical terms and how to set te unit up. I would thoroughly recommend it for anyone who does not want to spend the rest of his or her life unravelling the intrigue of the GPS world. Next it became apparent that detailed topographical maps of Spain needed to be loaded to get it fully working. This was a serious investment at 150 eoros but provided digital maps for all regions of Spain from a CD to be stored on my computer and downloaded into the GPS unit as required.
These digital maps can only be used with one GPS unit controlled via an interna! security number, similar ti cell phone SIM card technology. So you can’t loan them to your friends! The drawback with digital maps is that they require a huge amount of memory far in excess of what the GPS was supplied with. So the only solution was an upgrade to add a further 2GB of memory storage, available for a very reasonable 45 euros. My model has a card slot to allow upgrades and when I worked out which way to insert the memory card I was in business.
The Internet had also led me to discover the world of Geocaching. A new pastime born from GPS technology. Imagine a conventional treasure hunt, add downloaded clues from the Geo caching web sites, use of a GPS and you are ready to become a geocacher and go searching. directed by tbe GPS, to the hidden caches. Google “Geocaching in Spain”.
Over a coffee I always try to peruse the informacion, the province daily Spanish newspaper. By a very timely coincidence they were giving away free walking routes detailed with Waypoint map co-ordinates with every Saturday’s edition.
I dashed round to the local papeleria the next Saturday to obtain the first route card and entered the route map details into my PC, loaded with Garmin software and then downloaded them into the GPS. You can enter them directly into the GPS but the PC keyboard offers a quicker input option. Now my project was really on a roll and I was ready for my first high tech walk.
I press-ganged a friend into accompanying me. After all what is the point of going high tech if you can’t impress your friends? Being someone who always likes to have a Plan B the paper-based route was stowed into my rucksack as backup. We set off on a brilliant clear sunny day. The walk, proved to be a challenging 13 kms. The GPS performed exactly according to the book showing our location and giving directions throughout the route and onto the end point of the walk by communicating with satellites thousands of miles away.
Deciding it was a total success and feehng highly pleased with my bargain technology and my newly acquired technical prowess my bewildered friend enquired why didn’t we just follow the route way marking signs. Sorne people just have no appreciation of technology I replied.