== Bike-Walk Alliance of NH ==
"Beware of the Beta!"
experience of using the Google bike mapping service in 2010
by Kenneth A. Colburn
Don't get me wrong; the inauguration of bicycling directions in Google Maps was one of 2010's highpoints for cycling. Maybe even the highpoint of mobility in the U.S., given our otherwise fossil-focused, four-wheeled, texticulating transportation system.
BUT, Google characterizes
its bicycle routes as "in beta" for a reason. And I recently found
out why. (See
my map and cue sheet here.)
I scooted out the door of my Meredith, New Hampshire home at about 3:00 PM on a recent summer Friday afternoon, heading northeast to Conway Lake about 40 miles away. I was bound there to visit my vacationing brother-in-law and his spouse at a shorefront campground. My wife would be driving up to meet us when she got out of work, and - after we all enjoyed a rare dinner together - she would cart me home.
At 57 years old, I'm just a recreational cyclist, but a reasonably serious one, putting about 2,000 miles on the road each year. Because I work out of my home, though, commuting by bicycle isn't an option. As a result, coupling rides with errands is particularly enjoyable for me, and I was overjoyed at being able to undertake a purposeful ride at the end of a long workweek.
I knew the first
25 miles of the route well, because they coincide with one of my favorite century
rides: Meredith, New Hampshire to Freeport, Maine - the home of L.L. Bean. But
having never been to Conway Lake, I didn't know the secondary roads northeast
of Ossipee at all, so I tapped into Google Map's bicycling directions. I was
a little anxious about the unknown route sections, but far more worried about
outracing the incipient rain heading toward Meredith from the northwest.
Apart from several hundred raindrops, I managed to get clear of the showers, riding east on Route 25 to Ossipee and Madison and averaging over 17 mph for the first 30 miles. Anyone who knows me knows this isn't usual - I'm normally more of a 14-15 mph kind of guy. All the more so here, because my route included hills in Meredith and Moultonborough.
rain? Averaging 17 mph alone? Was this a great day or what!?
In Madison, I turned to my cue sheets and started up Mooney Hill Road. And like all New England road names that include the word "Hill", they meant it. That's OK, I figured. That's why I rode my trusty, 15-year-old Klein -- it has a triple crank. (That and the prospect of rain, since it's no longer my "Sunday-best" ride.) So up the hill I went.
Then, just over a mile in, came the highway warning sign I half expected and wholly feared: "Pavement Ends". Oh well, I was running on pretty hard-packed gravel, so I figured I'd give it try. The option -- going around -- was about a 10-mile detour. That wouldn't be a huge problem, really, but I was on an errand, not just out for a ride. I had some cleaning up and visiting to do once I got there, after all.
I wasn't surprised that when I turned north onto Modock Hill Road, it stayed dirt. And that "Hill" thing factored in again. But the road surface still was serviceable. Just past Colby Hill Road, however, I was startled to run into a cul-de-sac. (Or, since it was a dirt road, I guess the proper label would be a "dead end" instead of a "cul-de-sac".)
Whatever it's called, it certainly wasn't supposed to there in the middle of my already marginal route. A Class 6, overgrown, double-track carried on ahead, but I was on my roadie, after all! I whipped out my iPhone to find that its GPS had blessed - albeit slow - reception. Sure enough, I wasn't lost, darn it! (Consider how often it is that you actually HOPE you're lost!) OK, I figured, I would tentatively try the double-track. Backtracking would cost me 15 miles at this point, and I had even less daylight left.
Having committed to the double-track, naturally, it rapidly eroded into a delightful, washed-out heaven -- IF you were a superb mountain biker up for a single-without-track challenge. That's not me on a good day, let alone when outfitted with road gear. So, I was reduced to walking -- if you can characterize slipping and stomping through uneven rocky riverbed in stiff, cleated road shoes as "walking". Along the way, I also made the amazing scientific discovery that cranks and clusters somehow magnetically attract tall grasses and other vegetation. Never had a green cluster before!
After about a mile of exciting ambulation, I came out at the "other end". I was delighted to see a real dirt road ahead (ah, one's perspective is all relative, isn't it?). The dirt road looked like a darned rollercoaster, but hey, at least it was identifiable as a road.
Now, however, the problem was that it was a newly graded road. I couldn't tell which was worse: slogging uphill - one crank forward; two spins back - or the near-death experience of slip-sliding-away on the downhills.
After another mile or so, I came to an unsigned intersection and stopped to check in with my iPhone GPS. (Perhaps the state's budget cuts included trimming back on road signs.) Sure enough, Dollof Hill Road headed off north, and I still wasn't lost. I saddled up to sally forth on the remainder of my journey. Clipping in left, I pressed down hard, and instantly ended up face down in the loose gravel. "How the heck did that happen?" (Well, no, that actually wasn't the FIRST thing I said.)
It turns out that the fresh grading had pushed a thin, light cover of dirt into a good, deep pothole, and my stop had positioned me right on the lip of it. Mounting up, my 23x700's sunk about 5 inches down and instantly hit the other side of the pothole; one pedal stroke's momentum was enough to upend my increasingly beleaguered apple cart.
Enough of this, already! I had to be getting close to the end! At last, it looked like a reasonably gentle downhill awaited.
In accordance with Murphy's Law, however, or the old saying "Cheer up, things could get worse", sure enough they did. Just as it occurred to me that fresh grading provides the opportunity for all kinds of sharp rocks to be aiming up at a rider rather than flattened into the dirt by vehicle traffic over time, one of those very stones reached up to offer me a classic snakebite pinch flat.
It was good one too; I could hardly find the leak at first, because the tube wouldn't even inflate enough to locate it! Desperate for good news at this point, I cheered myself up by thinking "Hey, at least it was the front tire." I swapped out the tube on the shore of Dollof Pond, teasingly within sight of Nirvana (aka, asphalt).
After three more uneventful miles (one more on dirt down to the campground), I pedaled into my targeted campsite shortly before dark -- 3 hours and 40 minutes, 43 miles, a slightly skinned knee, and one adventure later.
The moral of my story, obviously, is "Beware the beta!"
Google took a giant step forward by adding bicycling directions capability to Google Maps. But like any major new development, it'll take some time to perfect - including help from us about where problems are encountered. In the meantime, riders should double-check Google Map's proposed routes with their own experience, and/or keep a good "Plan B" at the ready!