LESSON 3 Your GPS, Software, Links

Navigating around your GPS - One of the common questions I get is "What does each screen mean on my GPS?" Unfortunately, I can't answer that. Each GPS model is slightly different from each other. But, I can give you a starting point. We now know what a waypoint is and what a route is. So the first thing to concentrate on is setting a waypoint. I have a Garmin E-Trex Legend. I have 5 main screens, they are,

Satellite - Shows how many satellites my GPS is using
Map - Shows me where I am
Navigation - A compass like screen
Trip computer - A bunch of information on how many miles I traveled, and etc.
Main menu - Find

To set a waypoint I go to the "Mark" feature on the main menu. The second I touch the mark button the GPS takes a reading of my Coordinates (where I am), Latitude and Longitude at that moment. HOWEVER, I can edit these coordinates, THIS IS WHERE I CAN SET A WAYPOINT ANYWHERE I WANT. So, having looked up the coordinates to an intersection somewhere in Anytown, USA where I have to make a turn, I enter the coordinates, name it, and save it.
After I made a few waypoints, I now go to the "Route" function on the main menu screen. I now enter each waypoint from the start of my journey to the end of it. In that order..

When I activate the route function on my GPS it pops me to the navigation screen. The screen looks like a compass, To follow the route I made all I have to do is keep the arrow on the compass face pointing straight down the road out my windshield. I prefer this arrow and compass face instead of a electronic voice talking to me like some GPS's have. Although, the purpose of the voice is to keep your eyes on the road instead of the GPS.

SOFTWARE: Although I told you about using the internet to get longitude and latitude, there are several stand-alone software packages you can buy. I bought the cheapest, Microsoft Streets and trips. It has a "location sensor" in it which will give me the longitude and latitude of any place I put my cursor. Going with a stand-alone mapping program is almost a "must have" if you have a laptop and take it on the road with you. To be honest, the only mapping program I tried is Microsoft's Streets and Trips, there may be better ones (or worse) out there that I simply don't know about.

PC to GPS connection - There are several shareware programs out there to hook your PC up to your GPS. With these you can upload and download waypoints, routes, and tracks from your PC. It can be helpful since you can save data from places you have been and reload them when you want to go there again. It is also helpful in loading a bunch of waypoints. It is easier typing in the waypoints on a PC and uploading them instead of entering them manually on the GPS. Also, one of the neat tricks I can do with Microsoft's Street and trips is to import my downloaded track data and plot it out on a map. I then see a trail of where I been on a map. Very neat!
The program I use is Garmap2 by Fukuro, a basic rudimentary program. I recommend you do a "google" and search for GPS software. There are several programs out there for a PC to GPS interface. You will have no trouble finding one.
One other important thing to mention is that Microsoft's Street and trips can interface with your GPS (if you have the cable for a PC hookup). You can turn on your laptop or PC and your GPS and your position will be shown exactly where you are on the map. And, as you drive, your position it will move along the road on the map. It is a very cool feature. But, I must add, not a necessity, the GPS is enough to navigate. Personal note: When I was exploring in Maine, I hooked up my laptop to the GPS to see exactly where I was on the map. It didn't work right, my laptop got all weird acting and my mouse wouldn't work right so I never did see where I was. I later found out that it worked alright when the laptop was on AC power but it screwed up on battery power. I had a strong urge at the time to toss the laptop out the window of my van and run over it a few times. (yes, a computer nerd like me gets pissed and frustrated too) However, when I have managed to get it to work, it was neat seeing me move along the map, it even left a trail of where I been, very cool because it insures you won't go back over places you been.

LINKS: I am not going to waste a lot of time typing down GPS links that I found. You can come up with the same links I found, and maybe more and better) by doing a series of "googles" on GPS information. I did find one site worth mentioning and that is http://www.mytopo.com . This is a topographic mapping web site, not a road map site. It is great for hikers and explorers. The best way to explain it is to give you an example. I was looking at a map of an area near where I live. I was just looking around and saw that there was a waterfalls on a river near me I never heard of, or been to. I could tell it was off the beaten path. So, I put my cursor on the falls and clicked. A little red cross appeared over the falls and the longitude and latitude was given. I wrote it down and entered it on my GPS. I could see on the map there was a trail or dirt road to it, so I clicked and wrote down the longitude and latitude's. I then made a route to it. One late spring day this year me and my daughter wanted to go for a drive and get out and enjoy the nice weather. So we took the GPS and decided to go exploring the waterfalls. I turned the GPS on and started driving. I came to the first turn and it was on a dirt road I would never have thought of driving down, but since it was the first waypoint to the falls, I went down the road. We drove couple of miles down the dirt road and was getting closer. Soon the dirt road got too bad to drive on, so we parked, the GPS said the falls weren't that far away so we walked the rest of the distance. Soon, we came upon a clearing in a beautiful place with a lot of boulders and a series of waterfalls. This was a great place. I could tell it was a place only used by locals and hard core hikers. There wasn't a soul around. I only wished I had brought my fishing pole because I knew not many folks came this far off the beaten path to fish, and it certainly wasn't fished out by people stopping in their cars and throwing a line in. Anyway, it was a real fun thing to do.

At one point there was a site called "maps on us", it was a like mapblast except you had the option to return the directions you were looking for in terms of longitude and latitude, instant waypoints! But, switchboard.com bought them and changed it to a lousy mapping site, absolutely awful. I wrote them to complain they had something unique and good and changed it to something bad. Their reply was thank you for your interest blah blah..blah.
Corporate dolts! Fools!

Summing up: OK, there are a lot of things to learn. You betcha! But, I believe you will get a lot from it if you succeed. One of the things you should know is that it also takes time and practice to use your GPS while driving. Why? Because you aren't always driving down straight roads. You may be on the right road driving along merrily and look at your GPS and it is pointing to the left or right and not straight out your windshield like it is supposed to. Why? Roads twist and turn. There is a place on route 8 North where you are actually driving south for a while to go around a mountain. You just have to trust that your next waypoint is 30 miles away and in that distance the arrow will pointing the way it is supposed to, out your windshield.

But, all the learning aside, a GPS is fun and liberating tool. On my recent trip to the Westies at Watkins campout, I made one route for going and one for returning. I've been out to Watkins Glen several times and I just couldn't bear the boring drive down the thruway which, having lived here, I did a thousand-bazillion times. So, I created a route that took me off the thruway and down roads I never been on. And, usually, after a weekend camping, you just want to get home so you simply reverse your course. But with a GPS and a pre-programmed route, you can take another route home from the one you took to get there. And, being such a beautiful warm day, I drove my leisurely route home making sure "Danzer's" German restaurant was on my route where I stopped in and had a delicious Rueben sandwich.

This is the route down to Watkins Glen. The trail closer to the lake was my route home where I wanted to do some sightseeing along the lake.

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