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I'm Lost !! Where Am I ?
By Buck


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     There have only been a few times in my life that I have been lost, although my wife would disagree with that statement. While deer hunting in the deep Michigan woods, I always carried a compass, but rarely had to use it to find my way back to camp.  I never stop and ask for directions. I just forge ahead based on a “Feeling” I have, and I'm usually right. 

     Last year, while motorcycling some of the back roads in Northern Michigan, I GOT LOST ! Not just a bit mixed up, but truly lost ! This was an uncomfortable feeling for me, and the map I had did not help me a whit!  Sure, its fun to get lost on a bike, but passing the same landmark twice in thirty minutes is uncomfortable. 

     A compass was the answer, so I asked my fellow riders on an internet forum ( forums.delphi.com/1602 )
what they recommended. Not too surprisingly their united answer was “ Compasses don't work on a bike – get a GPS.”  A GPS ? What the heck was that ? 

     A lot of research later I did purchase a GPS and can now say that I will never again travel without one . 

     GPS ( Global Positioning System ) is a satellite based navigation system installed starting in 1978 and managed by the Department of Defense . A full system of 24 satellites was completed in 1994. An earlier  “Forced Error” was removed from the system , allowing civilian accuracy down to 20-50 feet ( I frequently see accuracy down to 14 feet! ). The “Birds” orbit in a very high orbit (26,600 km ) that gives them an orbital period of 11 hours 58 minutes . This shifts their position by 4 minutes every 24 hours. Timing information is transmitted to the Birds from a Master Station in Colorado. A minimum of 3 Birds must be acquired for operation. I usually pick up at least 4 satellites and frequently 7,  increasing accuracy. 

     My search for a GPS first directed me to an inexpensive ( $100 ) unit manufactured by Garmin  Corporation, the “eTrex”  basic unit, which provided a “Compass Only” function. This was all I wanted –
until I started looking at some more sophisticated models, and what they offered. I ended up purchasing a Garmin eTrex “VISTA” model for approximately $300. 

     The VISTA is an extremely small unit, 4.4”H x  2”W x 1.2”D.. Weight is 5.3 oz. , including the two AA batteries that power it. The screen is a high contrast, high resolution ( 160 x 288 pixels ) LCD just 2.1”H x 1.1”W . This is not a color display , which is available in a much more expensive unit.  I found the monochrome display to be easily read while in the “RAM-B-149Z-GA5 U “ bolt on handlebar mount. 

     Here is what the VISTA provides: 

--A “State of the Art” 24 channel parallel receiver – older units multiplexed between channels and were slower and less accurate. Receiver ( and all readings ) is updated once each second. 

--24 MB of storage – which allows downloading local street maps from a PC to the VISTA. Up to 540 “Map Sections” ( usually Counties ) can be stored by downloading the information from a PC serial port. 

--A built in Map Database containing all National and State highways!! It seems that a lot of State County highways are also included, enough to easily navigate coast to coast. 

--Built in electronic compass, accurate to 1 degree,  that does not require being in motion , as most other units do. 

--Built in Barometric Altimeter accurate to 10 feet. 

--Elevation Profiling that draws a graph of elevation over time, with ascent/descent rate and other readings.

--Built in calendar

--Connection to a PC – for map upload/download and for updating the internally stored program.

--Trip Computer indicating exact current speed, average speed, max speed, trip timer (running time/stopped time ), trip odometer, exact position in any format .

--Automatic map rotation, North up or Track up (toward your heading).

--500 waypoints may be entered to note locations of interest to you. Also 20 reversible routes , with 50 waypoints each, may be stored. 

      Many other features are provided with the VISTA, but are too detailed to be covered here. For more information I suggest you do a web search using the criteria of “ GPS and Garmin” . There are many other manufacturers of quality GPS units. My choice was the Garmin VISTA because of all the useful features it provided  for motorcycling.

      At first the VISTA seems complicated to use, but just a bit of reading and experimenting will show it to be extremely easy to use – once it is set up to your preferences. 

      On powering up, the unit searches for satellites, locks on to what it can receive, indicates which ones they are, indicates their individual signal levels, indicates your current position, and also indicates the current accuracy it has obtained – all this on the opening screen. This “Lock Up” process usually takes about one minute. Most GPS units have trouble locking on to satellites while under a roof because of the extremely high frequencies being used. My unit generally acquires 4 Birds while inside the house. As I walk around, it may gain or lose a Bird, and sometimes it receives none, at which time the VISTA informs you it has lost all Birds and asks if you want to continue without a “Lock Up”. Out doors, on the bike, I generally lock up with at least 4 Birds, and frequently see accuracy of 14 feet or less ! 
A press of a button takes you to the next screen – the Map. This screen if fully configurable, and information such as speed or time, can be added to the display. This is the screen I generally have displayed while traveling. Mine shows time of day and current speed, as well as the map. 

       The map can be “Zoomed” in or out with two convenient buttons. Max out shows all of North America and South America, with NO DETAIL. As you zoom in , roads become visible , and more detail shows as you continue the zoom. At max zoom , only a small portion on the road you are on shows up, and with good satellite locks you can actually see where you are in your lane !!!! 

       I use the “Track Up” display, and as I travel, the road map scrolls up and off the screen. My position is indicated by an arrow in the center of the screen, and rotates according to my direction. Highway numbers are displayed  if the map is zoomed in close enough , as are city / community names. If zoomed in close while traveling on an expressway, it is amazing to see a crossroad overpass come up from the bottom of the screen and pass out to the top of the screen .

        At a comfortable zoom level, upcoming turns are easily spotted . A touch of a zoom button will show a larger picture of your position. If set up ahead of time, way point symbols will show you where to turn.

       Last year I traveled to Star Days in Bowling Green, Kentucky. My GPS registered 497 miles at an average speed of 67.6 MPH and moving travel time of 7 hours and 24 minutes (as I recall). Stopped time was 4 hours and 15 minutes.  If I did not reset these figures, they would continue the next day. 

       For this trip, I used the Garmin MapSource CD ( about $90 ) to load  over 70 county maps along my route into the VISTA GPS. This covered all counties surrounding my route, plus many more in case we did a side trip to South Carolina ( The Dragon ). The 70 + counties used a little over 7 MEG of the available 24 MEG in the VISTA, indicating the enormous amount of data that can be stored ahead of time. I currently have all the detailed maps of Michigan and surrounding states stored. The  local maps show virtually all the local streets in the city of Detroit  and surrounding cities. An even more detailed Mapping CD  (MetroGuide) is available for the entire USA. I believe this indicates hotels, restaurants, points of interest and more. 

       An interesting feature is the ‘Pan’ setting. This allows the display to pan around the indicated display that is normally locked on your current position. This feature is operated by a “Joystick” button on the upper left of the unit. If combined with the zoom feature, you can examine maps anywhere in North or South America, or simply look at the surrounding area. 

      If configured, the VISTA will show the route you have followed by overlaying a gold colored plot line. This allows you to follow a return route exactly. When you get home, using the Garmin mapping software provided with the MapSource CD, you can “Upload” this information from the GPS to your PC, and then print out a plot showing your exact route, indicating all roads you traveled !  I have , saved on my PC,  a series of favorite rides we travel in North Carolina. A print out will help remind us next year of the best routes. 

      If you travel into an area for which no maps are stored , as I did on a side trip through the Kentucky outback, the VISTA simply plots your track, in effect “Drawing” the road you followed. If you are lost and want to return via the same route, just backtrack following the route that was recorded. Our plot continued until we came to a larger highway that was on the basic map, which we followed home.

       Data stored in the VISTA is in non-volatile RAM. Run the two AA batteries dead and no information is lost. Battery life is approximately 11 hours ( with compass turned on ). I use a 12 volt power cable ($12) to power the unit while traveling, which is the reason I installed a power outlet on the bike.

Many other features  are built in,  but I will not cover details here. 
Here are a few:

A “Find” function allows finding of waypoints, addresses, favorite places, cities, expressway exits, points   of interest, and intersections.

Walking through the woods, a button is pushed to mark a series of waypoints along the way. The GPS will then show you the “Most Direct Route” to any stored waypoint or “Back Home”. 

The screen can be illuminated for use at night. 

Setup screen is used to configure you preferences. 

A Sun Moon predictor, calculator, and “Best Time To Fish and Hunt” .

As mentioned before, a Compass display which can be tailored to size.

Garmin offers an “On Line” update facility that will install the latest internal code directly to your unit, and it’s very easy to use.

      I strongly recommend you search the internet for more information on GPS’s. Look at the features on various brands and make your choice. I recommend the Garmin eTrax VISTA as an excellent buy. 

      I strongly recommend Garmin’s  MapSource software CD (approx. $89) for detailed maps, although this is not necessary if you travel only on main highways, which come already installed on the VISTA.

      The “Cigarette Outlet” power cord ($12) is also recommended. 

A real “Must” for bikers is the RAM brand  handlebar mount  P/N RAM-B-149Z-GA5 U  ($31 ).

      After determining which GPS you want, search the web for the best price from the many GPS dealers available. I purchased mine from  www.gps4fun.com  . 

      My experience with this GPS has shown me just how invaluable this unit is to a biker who is traveling unknown roads. You actually do not have to carry paper maps anymore. How many times I have looked down at my wet map on the tank bag, only to find it on the wrong fold ! No more my friend. 

      And remember: It’s a hell of a toy and conversation piece that fits in your shirt pocket!  You’ll love one!