How Having a Map Collection Can Inspire a World of Possibilities and Crazy Ideas

Some of my old favorites, representing adventures past.
I have the coolest map collection ever...or at least, the more I add to it, the cooler it gets. I used to tack maps up on my wall after trips. But only after trips. Never before. They had to be crinkled, stained, highlighted, covered with pen marks and creases the map makers never intended to be there. They were trophies. They were reminders of where I'd been, where I was proud of going, and sometimes, where I hoped to go again. My map collection is a tangible set of reminders that adventure is real. 

I may have lost a few over the years, but for the most part, the collection remains in tact. There's the waterproof, tear-resistant map of Denali that I bought before I moved to the park in the summer of 2006. Then, there's one of the same material for Bryce Canyon National Park, which I was lucky enough to visit for work. It was the first trip I'd taken to a place so beautiful I could hardly imagine going to sleep for fear of wasting a minute of the two days I was there. The paper map of Alaska and Northwest Canada helped my partner in crime and I get from Fairbanks to Dawson City, and from Dawson City to Whitehorse. We have an entire set of paper AAA maps for the roads between Fairbanks and Philadelphia.

I have two of Joshua Tree and two climbing guides to match, all acquired before or during the first-ever Joshua Tree Tweetup. There are two matching copies of the Mohonk Preserve Trail Map in addition to two matching copies of the Ralph Stover State Park trail guide, all reminders of climbing trips past. The Appalachian Mountain Club's Catskill Mountain Trail Map has seen better days after three trips to Devil's Path. The copy of the Hibernia County Park map, marked with checkpoints from my first adventure race, is still safe in its plastic bag. They've all been used. And loved.

Memories of climbing trips, backpacking trips, and more!
Then, there's the few maps in my collection I haven't used yet. The set of maps for the White Mountains. A National Geographic Destination Map for Yellowstone National Park. A giant fold out route map for the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier. A collection of USGS topographic maps for Witherbee, Wilmington, Deerland and Schroon Lake, New York I acquired at a library book sale. The youngest of the four was printed in 1997. The oldest? It was printed in 1978. They represent adventures (hopefully) forthcoming, and hopefully soon.

In the age of Google maps, phones with GPS capabilities, and the ability for any human being with two thumbs (or without) to tell a device where they want to go, printed maps seem more important (and antiquated) than ever. Using maps forces you to pay attention. To make decisions about what direction to take when you don't have the omnipotent voice coming out of your phone to tell you what do to. Maps force you to notice the little things. The small peaks and valleys of a mountain range that can help you figure out exactly where you are. The roads Google doesn't know exist, or does, but won't tell you to use. With a map, you can choose to not stay the course, or to get off course, or to figure out how to get back on course. They're full of symbols and lines that each have a significant purpose, and if you miss one, it could completely alter your course. They force you to problem-solve. To be creative and inventive.

So  much more than just route-finding tools, the maps I keep are tangible reminders of all of the possibilities in the world. True, you can punch "Dallas, TX" and "Deadhorse, AK" to find out exactly how far you'd have to drive (4, 294 miles) to get from one to the other, and how long it might take (89 hours). That's pretty cool. But there's something special about spreading out maps of all the places in between and charting your own course.

Future adventures, hopefully.
Seeing the map of Hibernia County Park as I was rummaging through my collection the other day inspired an adventure possibility that, as of today, I've turned into a reality. I'll be competing with a good friend in The Edge, a 6 hour adventure race hosted by the GOALS Adventure Racing Association in a month. Between the two of us, we have next to zero experience as adventure racers a nd next to zero time to train.

I did The Edge the first autumn I lived here, pre-Adventure-Inspired, with the goal of finishing in the allotted time and having fun. She's biked Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and is an avid whitewater kayaker. We both have (some) mountain biking experience, a lot of experience reading maps, and a passion for playing outside. We figure that's enough. Our goal is to make it through the race as a team of two and to have a blast doing it.

I love that just looking at an old map from an old race was enough to prompt me to make good on what seems like a crazy idea.

Do you have a map collection? Has looking at a map inspired you to go on an adventure? How do you use maps in your adventure life? And most importantly, any tips for a n00b adventure racer? Leave a comment!


Katie Bou√© said…
I love my map - it's a huge old Atlas road map of the US, and I track every road trip on it - using a different colored highlighter (or pen, I've begun to run out of colors, haha) to track my journeys. It's the best keepsake from adventures!
Katie @advinspired said…
I was actually thinking a lot about you when I wrote this! I imagined you and Niko sitting around a table with maps spread all over the place planning your Simply Adventure excursion :) I love that you have an atlas like that! It's really like a journal of all of your trips...super cool.
Darren Rettburg said…
I Love it when I pull out my Green Trails maps of the Pacific Northwest (WA & OR). They are all wrinkly and sometimes faded from being wet. I even keep the park passes with them that I may have needed when I used them.

I have done the devils path twice now and my map for the Cats' still looks great. It got a lot of use the first time. The second time I did it in a day and it ended up staying in my pocket the whole time. I remembered where everything was. My maps have different stories to tell that my pictures do. I love my maps! 8-)
Katie @advinspired said…
ahh yes, the crinkly, worn maps are the best, and so are old park passes. I found the weekly vehicle pass from Jtree when I was looking through my collection.

And so cool that you've done Devil's Path twice! It's so brutal, I always figured once would be enough for anyone :) did you do the whole thing in three days or four? thanks for sharing, Darren!
Darren Rettburg said…
I first time I backpacked it in 2 and a half days. After that I said I never wanted to touch that trail again. Just Last month I did the entire trail in one day 13 hours 45 min. Afterward I told everyone at camp I was never hiking again. Now I'm thinking I can do it with a better time. :P
Bryan Pavell said…
I could not agree with you more. This summer I was able to get to see some very wonderful places and as I look back at the maps and parking passes it just brings back all the great feelings of being outside! Great post!
Beth said…
I'm pretty sure Forrest and I started dating because I had maps on my walls. It was clear early on that we need a "map box" for all the maps we acquire because you just never know when you'll need 'em.

I learned early the importance of a nights we've spent pouring over a red Delorme Gazetteer. My dad and I spent hours and hours with the Washington one. Forrest and I have ended up with um, many. (What? A Missouri one at a garage sale for $2? Of course I need that!). They're all coming in the van with us because what's the point of having an open adventure calendar if you can't crawl in bed and dream of where tomorrow (or next week) might take you?