Thursday, July 21, 2011

Direction Needed, Now Found II

In one of my previous GPS posts, I wrote about a Christmas present from my wife that is quite useful for those of us who have a propensity to get lost, but who won't ask for directions.  I fit in with most men on that last point, I'm told, but technology came to my rescue.

As I related in the first post, it is not immediately evident how to get a special route you work out into the unit so you can follow it in your travels.  Garmin has a program called Mapsource (and later, Basecamp), but my unit didn't come Mapsource, and Basecamp is difficult to learn and clunky.  I searched for an alternative. 

You can enter a route directly into the GPS device, but that method is cumbersome.  Most of us who ride our bikes for pleasure and sightseeing would rather program some circuitous route instead of the most direct, like the GPS always picks. 

You may know that I frequently use Google maps to lay out a route.  There are two examples below.  Google's website seems to be simplest to use for that, especially when you want to alter the route it automatically selects to get you from, one point to another.  I almost always want to do that because I like to devise those circuitous routes. 

I wanted to be able to transfer the Google route into a turn-by-turn guide for the road, but surprisingly, Google does not directly export a file that a GPS can read, so I had to find another way.

But first....
Disclaimer: All information given here is thought to be correct, however, it is YOUR responsibility to make certain that they work correctly, work with your GPS, work with your computer, and so on and on.  Routes generated in various ways may cause you to be routed in the wrong direction -- maybe off a cliff.  That, too, is YOUR responsibility.  Do not fiddle with your GPS while riding. Always stop in a safe place before attempting to manipulate your GPS screen. There are no warranties on anything here whatsoever, express or implied.

OK.  Here is how I get my on-line route from Google maps into the Garmin 765T that I have. 

The method described in this posting no longer works.  Google Maps changed their format in early 2014 and destroyed the functioning of the conversion website referenced here, called GMapToGPX.  See this posting to learn a better method that works.  

This is a good example of a simple route between Easley, SC and Rosman, NC, mostly on US-178, one of the favorite motorcycle roads nearby. 

Click here to view a larger map that you can manipulate and move around in

The route above is the one that Google found, and it is the most direct.

Now, let's modify the route to use a road further east, SC-135, for the first part of the trip.  

View Larger Map

Note that there is a little circle on the route about half way up the SC-135 portion.  That is where I dragged the route from the original that had been selected by Google maps. 

You can try doing that yourself by clicking the "View Larger Map" link beneath either map, holding down the left mouse button, and dragging some part of the route to a different road.  It is quite easy.  That is why I use Google maps most of the time.

Next, we'll break for a few definitions:
  • Route - Shows how to get from one location to another.
  • Track - A record of where you’ve been. 
  • Waypoint, Placemark, or Point of Interest (POI) - Terms for specific locations that have been marked on your GPS.
OK.  Understood.  Let's go on to the procedure for getting the map into the GPS as a route. 


What you will need:
  • A computer with Internet capabilities
  • A compatible Garmin GPS Product (one that accepts custom routes)
  • A USB cable for the GPS
How to do it:
  1. Bookmark the GMapToGPX site as described on its opening page. 
        Firefox: Drag the GMapToGPX link to your browser’s bookmark toolbar.
        Internet Explorer: right-click on the GMapToGPX link and “Add to Favorites”.
    (Do this only once per computer.)
  2. Enter your desired Route into Google maps
  3. Click on the GMapToGPX bookmark in your toolbar.  A GPX file should be displayed over the map.
    Note: If your route contains more than two pushpins -- say the beginning pushpin, an intermediate destination pushpin, and an ending pushpin -- GMapToGPX will create a route from the first pushpin to the second, from the second to the third, and so on.  If that is what you want, proceed, and treat each route as described below. 
    (If you want to make one long route, there is a procedure for removing intermediate pushpins described later.) 
  4. Copy and paste the text into a Notepad or other text editor file on your hard drive and save it as a plain text file with a short filename you can recognize, but with a  “.GPX” extension instead of  ".txt". My route was to Rosman, so I named my file  rosman.gpx.
  5. Go back into the file and look for some code like this at the beginning of the file, in particular something like the circled "routeO", as in the top half of this graphic:

    Change "routeO" to another short name -- with no spaces -- to be able to identify this route amongst the custom routes that you may already have loaded into your GPS.  For my Rosman route, I changed the line in the file to "Rosman", circled in the second half of the above graphic.
    Save the file again, overwriting the original. 
  6. Plug your Garmin unit into the computer via USB.   Your computer will recognize it as a USB flash drive. 
  7. Copy the file you just created -- rosman.gpx in my case -- into the X:\Garmin\gpx folder (where "X" is the drive letter your system assigned to the Garmin when you connected it to your computer). 
    (You will probably find a file called  "current.gpx" already in the same folder.  This is the file that shows where you have been since that last time you cleared your tracks.  It does no harm to delete it or move it to your computer if you don't mind not being able to see those tracks on the GPS.  A new version will be generated as soon as you begin moving with the GPS turned on.) 
  8. Use your operating system's procedure to safely remove the Garmin [USB] drive. Disconnect the GPS from the computer.  
  9. Restart the GPS. 
  10. Go to  "Tools, My Data, Import Route from File".  A list of routes will appear.  Amongst them will be the one you created, identified by whatever you replaced "routeO" with -- again in my case "Rosman".  Select it, and press "Import".  The screen will show "Calculating route", and a percent complete, then "Data imported successfully".  Press "OK". 
  11. Press "Back" a couple of times until you are at the main screen.  Press "Where To?".  Scroll down and press "Custom Routes".  Your new route will show as one of the items in the list.  Press it. 
    The screen will display the distance and travel time.  press "Go!". 
  12. The GPS will ask you if you want to "Navigate to the start of the route?".  Press "Yes" if you want to do that, but be aware that it will direct you back to the starting point even if you are already beyond it along your route.  If you are already on the route, press "No" and it will start you out from wherever you are on the route.
If the route you created in Google maps contains intermediate pushpins (destinations) and you don't want the file generated by GMapToGPX to be broken into several routes, go back and edit the file to remove each of the following crossed-out example sections of code (easy to find because they begin with lines that have no indent compared with the other lines of code):  


There may be several points in the route generated by GMapToGPX that show up as flags along the route display and are announced by "GRTP" with successive numbering as you pass them.  These are essentially meaningless and can be ignored. 

The route may also contain U-turns here and there or have minor errors at changes in direction at some intersections.  This is usually caused by slightly misplaced route adjustments and destination locations you selected in Google maps.  Being careful where you place the pushpins and how you alter the route helps minimize these.  Enlarge the map view to assist in doing this while generating your route.  .

While you are following your route, if it tells you to U-turn or routes you in a direction that you suspect is wrong, many times you can continue the way you think is right and it will allow you to skip the U-turn or minor error in direction. 

If you are generating one route where you are intentionally coming back the same way or nearly the same way you came, the GPS may become confused about which way to tell you to go if you stop or backtrack to see something along the way that you missed.  For example, if you are headed along a road that you will later be taking in the opposite direction for your return, and if you stop along the way, the GPS may think you want to go back already, skipping some of your two-way route. 

Look here: My recent weekend in North Carolina included a route I selected where the road to the furthest point is close to the road back from there, in fact, crossing at a several points. 

View Larger Map
A couple of times, when I had taken a minor detour toward the return side of the route, the GPS thought I wanted to use that return route immediately instead of continuing to the far point and returning from there.  Talk about going in circles!  

Rectify this by creating two separate routes, one to get there, and one to return.  

However, if you are already following a route that uses the same or close-by roads for both the out and the back routes, and you have the above problem, do this:
  1. Get yourself back onto the route, 
  2. in the direction you want to go, 
  3. stop the current GPS route, 
  4. reselect the route you were on, and
  5. press "Go!"
Do not press "Yes" if the GPS asks if you want to "Navigate to the start of the route?". 

The GPS should now direct you along the route in the desired direction. 


Well, now you should be able to create a route in Google maps and transfer it to your Garmin GPS.  Pretty easy, don't you think?

Enjoy your new capabilities, but watch where you are going -- not at the little screen -- when you are riding that scooter of yours: Your GPS can't watch the road for you!   

Other GPS Postings:



Friday, July 15, 2011


I learned a little about myself the other day.  In particular, I learned about one of my motorcycling skills.

You may recall that I have been riding a little over three and a half years now, starting late in life, on a sporty motorcycle.  I took the MSF Basic RiderCourse before buying the bike, and tested for my South Carolina motorcycle endorsement about nine months afterward (and passed the first time). 

One of the things we had to do both during the Basic Course and for the endorsement test was to weave around a series of cones set in an offset staggered pattern.  Like this:
Ah.  You remember them, right?  You hated both the exercises and the test related to them, I'll bet.  They told you that you had to keep your eyes up, and not to look at the cones.  ...and you have to weave through them the hard way, not just a lazy wobble!  (I drew in a few cones in my photograph so you would remember better.)  And you just knew that later on, it would be absolutely impossible to weave through those cones on that big bike of yours. 

Almost all of the students had difficulty with their slalom around those infernal little cones.  We practiced and mostly missed, some of us giving up and plowing right down the center of them in frustration.  Those poor cones experienced both our ire and a lot of physical abuse that day.

I remember having built up a bit of technique and doing pretty well during practice, then tensing up for the testing at the end of the class.

Anyway, most of us got the technique down well enough to pass the MSF test, and rest is history, so far more than 25,000 miles of riding for me, year 'round.

I went to take the DMV test for my motorcycle license endorsement at their office in nearby Pickens South Carolina.  I had practiced on their lot there quite a bit, but was as nervous as I had been when I tested for my first drivers license at the age of seventeen or so in a lumbering '59 Chevrolet Biscayne without power steering.  (Did you notice that I have continued a tradition of being a late starter -- first driving, then motorcycle riding?)

I recall the motorcycle examiner's admonition that if you had to dab a foot down they took off points and if you dropped the bike, they failed you on the spot.  That was no help to my nerves.

Well, I passed all the tests -- including the cone weave -- and I have since returned to that same lot for periodic practice of the various exercises on many occasions.  I almost always find that I am a little rusty at first, but improve with some repetition. 

Almost forgot: I also took a Collision Avoidance Class at our church, put on by several motorcycle cops from North Charleston South Carolina. 

Now, back to what I learned about myself.

I was following along after a delivery truck in some heavy traffic at a speed of around twenty-five miles per hour, bunched up a little tighter than is usually comfortable, though I was certainly not tailgating.  I noticed the truck in front of me move over just a few inches to the left, but didn't see a reason.

That reason very soon became quite evident.  His little detour was to avoid running over an automobile wheelcover.  He had straddled it instead.  This artifact from some earlier traveler along the road was still fully formed, not yet smashed flat by traffic, so it would have been a significant impediment to me. 

I was headed right for the shiny bauble, and there was almost no time to think about the action to be taken.

My low peripheral vision identified the object in my path, and I did a swerve to the right and back to the left, drawing a neat, close arc around the obstacle.

And that was it.  An automatic response.  I surprised myself.

It dawned on me a few seconds later that my actions had been without conscious thought, and I hadn't fixated on the object in my path.

Hallelujah!  I did something right!  That training and practice undoubtedly helped.

I think there are a couple of lessons in this.   One is that everyone should be trained, since handling a motorcycle well is not intuitive.  Second, practice is always a good policy, even for those with quite a bit of riding experience. (But don't go to Georgia to practice.) 


While we're talking about training and testing, I should fill you in a little more about that examination area at the DMV.  It must have been conceived to intimidate the test taker.  First, there are steep slopes down from the pavement on both sides.  You can see one side, on the right in the photo above.  For added interest, there is a fence at the bottom of that slope.

The other side looks like this:   
Yep.  That is the other slope, from the vantage point of the bottom, maybe three feet or so below the test lot, this time with some culvert outlets for added spice.

It is very easy to look at and worry about those nearby slopes -- and to go right there as a result!  Remember that target fixation works perfectly, even when -- especially when -- the target is somewhere you don't want to go. 

The other thing about the test lot is that there is a raised concrete storm drain cover directly in line with the end of the cone weave.  You can see that in the top picture.  It causes the rider to worry about hitting it -- and tempting him to fixate on it -- just as he is trying to concentrate on avoiding those infernal little cones.

Did I forget to mention that the parking lot is usually filled with cars and beginning drivers when the office is open, so the test taker has to watch for them too? 

So, no matter which side of the test course you look at, there is an obstacle tempting you.   Clever, those people over at the DMV.  Well, maybe this helps them evaluate the examinee better, and helps them assess his ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

Actually, the low speed tests they administer are good -- and maybe the distractions are part of the test -- but I wish they would add a real road test to the examination for obtaining a motorcycle endorsement.  That would help determine whether the new rider is ready for the real world of riding -- like avoiding stray wheelcovers in the roadway. 



Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day!


Take some time off.

Go for a ride...

...but remember why we commemorate this day: this country's escape from the tyranny of oppressive government.

Some interesting information you may not know, from Archiving Early America, Wikipedia, and this blog:

Enjoy your weekend! 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Let Somebody Know -- and Give Them This Critical Instruction

When out riding, it is always a good idea to let someone know where you are going and for how long.  That way, if you are significantly delayed without word from you, they can send out the search party.

It is also a good idea to give your contact information to fellow riders in a group.  If you get separated, or one has a mishap, you may be able to contact the others to let them know what is going on.

Beyond that, when riding with others, exchanging names and phone numbers of their families is a good idea, so they can be contacted, especially if there is an emergency. 

On that last item, there is an important detail that must be completed by all riders beforehand.

Ready?  Here is the critical detail: 

Make CERTAIN that whomever
is at home while you are out,

answers the phone,

EVEN IF they do not recognize the
caller's telephone number.

I have had some first-hand experience with this.  I arranged to meet up with a fellow rider, and we diligently exchanged our contact info, including our emergency contact phone numbers.  He had the misfortune of running off the road and into a guardrail during our ride.  He was wearing full gear (Haven't I heard somewhere about that being an excellent idea?), but needed a trip to the hospital to patch up his injuries. 

I pulled out my cell phone to make a call for help, but there was no service.  Some others had stopped to help, but their phones were also without service.  One of them drove to a place where he could make the 911 call for help.  Once the help arrived, I found a place where I could just barely get cell service, and called my buddy's emergency number.

I got no answer. 

His emergency contact did not make it a practice of answering calls from unknown numbers.  In this day and age of prank callers and unwelcome solicitations, that isn't unusual.  However, as a result that day, it was about an hour later that his family was notified of the accident.

I had never given a thought about instructing my emergency contact to answer the phone -- no matter what -- while I am out riding. 

I have now.  How about you?