Touring in a connected world

Some cycle tourers I greatly admire, including Dervla Murphy and John Devoy, are very clear in their derision of taking tech along when cycle touring.
That’s OK – what makes the world such a fantastic place is the fact that we’re all different, with different views and opinions.

I’m just about a digital native, having been an early adopter of technology, when as a young teenager I had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, with a massive 48kB of memory to feed that beast of a Z80A processor, running at a blistering 3.5MHz. 

Today you get watches with processing power many thousands of times better, but I loved my Spectrum. Crucially, I used it to build my very first network (of sorts) which actually worked around half the time. Given my early experiences, it’s perhaps no surprise I ended up working in IT.

I’m not a fraction the cycle adventurer that Dervla Murphy or John Devoy are, and even if I was, it isn’t for me to dictate to them how they should go about doing things, just like it also isn’t for me to dictate to you what you must or mustn’t do. What I will do, however, is share my views and experiences with you, because I live in a different world to the one Murphy and Devoy did their really big rides in.

I live in a connected world, where so much of what I do is reliant on being online. My day-job consists of cloud-computing, supporting machines and infrastructure that aren’t physical things, and which exist out there on the Internet. My social media usage, my navigation (though this one’s different, as I’ll explain later) and even this blog you’re reading are all elements of my connected life.

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I’ve always been clear that, although I’m very capable of navigating with a map and compass, I prefer digital navigation. I’m aware of the pitfalls of digital navigation, and I know how to mitigate against them.
My advice is always simple: use the appropriate tool for the job, and when it comes to navigation, that tool nowadays is digital.

Of course, navigation is just one aspect of cycle touring – another is communication. Keeping in touch with your loved ones, or perhaps live-sharing your location are just some examples.

It’s entirely up to you whether you become a slave to the tech you carry along, or if it’s a tool that helps you. While the idea of a digital detox sounds good, in practice – to me, your needs and thoughts may be different – doing so while cycle touring would mean giving up too much functionality.

Online navigational tools, such as Google Maps, Waze, or similar, are great in that they can also give you near real-time traffic alerts and more. Those can be exceedingly useful when driving, but less of an issue when cycling.

When cycling, especially along traffic-free paths, or forest trails, there’s a strong call for offline navigation, so that finding yourself in a valley with no data signal won’t be a big deal. I use both my aging Garmin Edge 500, and the RideWithGPS app on my phone for navigation. With the app, I predownload the route I’ll be cycling, which also downloads the map tiles covering that area.

I’m a strong believer in being prepared, and having redundant, offline digital navigation options available to me makes a lot of sense.

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Having said that, I don’t always use a navigational device, and sometimes just follow my internal compass. And yes, I’ve gotten it wrong before, and undoubtedly will get it wrong again, but usually, that just adds to the adventure.

When Dervla Murphy had to use her revolver to shoot a feral dog, and scare off the pack of dogs attacking her, being able to make a phone call there and then wouldn’t have helped her much at all. However, the world has moved on over the last almost 60 years.

Whether it’s updating your social media with photos from your ride, or being able to call 999 in case of an extreme emergency, I strongly suggest you always take a mobile phone along on your ride. 

I tend to take a lot of photos when out riding. I don’t post most of those to social media, but I do revisit them from time to time. Some of those I end up using on here.
When Dervla Murphy cycled to India, she took a camera along, but often found she was out of film. With my mobile phone, I don’t suffer from that particular risk, but of course my phone might get damaged, lost, or even stolen.

Quite aside from the disruption of having your phone stolen, there’s the real risk of losing all your photos. To counter against that, I rely on Google Photos, which means photos taken with my phone auto-upload to my Google Photos account. That means that, even of my phone was stolen, I won’t lose the photos.

Not everyone shares their location, or even knows how to do it, but especially when solo-touring, sharing your location can help your loved ones feel more reassured, or it can help others vicariously share in your adventure. I’ve written about location sharing before.

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My advice is very simple: when cycle touring, remember that you live in a connected world, so use that to your benefit. A digital detox is very healthy every so often, but personally I don’t think cycle touring is the best time to do that.

1 thought on “Touring in a connected world”

  1. Hi again Will, I left an earlier message and thought, while I was on your site to have a look around and then saw the above. Yes indeed points well made. I agree. and to add, that I am no way near the level of derision Dervla has for carrying along various tech pieces. Not at all really, in fact I think in Quondam I even suggest to stuff ones phone deep in a pannier for safety and security etc and on that I agree totally with you. The point being to not let technology (as I see it constantly) get in the way of a deeper connection with people nature, landscape and all else. Its subtle but sadly its there. One guy telling me how he enjoyed listening hour after hour to his favourite Irish band while riding in Zambia …totallu disconnected with the immediate bids song, landscape and so on. With some its a sad story. Many, (mainly young men,) ask me for tips and when they are on the verge of heading off on big trips and when I ask why? – more often than not they try to express the deeper reasons for doing so, ie. to try discover the deeper layers in themselves…but then I might point out, ‘well, if you are going to be skyping your girl friend everyday or getting on to your mother when you get lonely , or constantly uploading your blog …to be careful that that does not cut across a wish to discover those ‘layers’ in the solitude they seek, Many riders, not all, but still, many, want something else from their long trips but forget that bringing a lot of tech often militates against achieving that which they unconsciously wish for ….especially if they have grown up with being ‘always connected’ That’s why many go off wishing ‘to disconnect’ but my experience is that they don’t know how, or even, some need permission ‘not’ to bring every gadget bar their phone. Thankfully, this is not just me saying this, but several cyclists have got on to me to say they were glad to limit their connection when on the long road, that that allowed connection to happen which wouldn’t have otherwise …Its a very subtle thing and complex and as you rightly say…it all depends, everyone’s different and it’s everyones own ‘call’ at the end of the day. Oh, dear, just realised I’ve dropped a longer message here than I’d bargained …hope you don’t mind.
    Finally, got news from Gardners, the UK book wholesalers, to say Quondam is in all UK bookshops now. It wasn’t all along or difficult to get, so am happy with that.


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