How Taking a GPS is Like Taking a Lover
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Editors’ Choice: February 2014 Symposium on tech gadgets on the trails
Photo by BigStockPhoto
Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared at Vanessa Runs and was our top pick among entries into the February Trail Runner Blog Symposium: Are tech gadgets more help or hindrance on the trails? To see other submissions, check out our February Symposium highlights.
In my mind, I am running fast and free in my short-shorts, thunder thighs and glorious glutes. My dreads are flowing behind me in the crisp mountain air and my mind is free of mileage estimations.
I am rocking California’s Mount Baldy summit, a favorite of Southern California’s elite trail runners and the grandest summit of the San Gabriel Mountains. Old Baldy (10,064 feet) stands as the third highest massif in SoCal, behind San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499 feet) and Mount San Jacinto (10,804 feet).
Dr. B.H. Fairchild and Fred Dell built this particular trail in 1889. The men had visions of a great observatory at the summit—a dream that never materialized. The Devil’s Backbone Trail came along later in 1935 and took its well-earned place as the main route to the summit.
In my mind, this is child’s play—a jungle gym of sweeping vistas and stunning rock formations. The smells of oak, bay, fir, cedar, and pine are intoxicatingly inspiring.
In reality, I am slogging, hands-on-knees, and yelling up ahead for my boyfriend to tell me how much further we have to go. He’s the one wearing the GPS and I desperately need him to feed me some data. And how is he walking so damn fast?
Technology is complicated. So is love. I don’t claim to fully understand either, but after thousands of trail running miles all across North America, I’ve collected some general guidelines about each. They are surprisingly similar.
Taking a tech device out on the trail is similar to taking a lover: The idea seems great in theory but there’s a chance you’ll end up miserable.
A good GPS is like a good romance: reliable but not promoting obsession, motivating but not overly demanding, and consistent while still allowing for spontaneity.
A bad tech device is a bad lover: screaming at random times for no particular reason, making you feel terrible about yourself and your abilities, and confusing you with incomprehensible buttons and triggers.
As enamored as we are with the ideal image of that powerful and gadget-less trail runner bounding nearly-nude over mountains with his beard flowing three feet behind him, chances are we have more in common with the huffing mid-packer trying to decide which hills to walk and glancing nervously at his beeping GPS while he scarfs down yet another gel.
A tech device can only take away from our transcendent trail experiences if we allow it to. Our tools should propel us forward, not hold us back.
Running technology should worry about the details so we don’t have to, clearing our minds to drink in the scenery and stay in the moment. It should help us share a particularly beautiful route with friends and help us plot our next adventure together. It should teach us to be more aware of our bodies and motivate us to do our best.
If your tech device does none of these things, it’s time to consider a new relationship. Kick it to the curb and run away without ever looking back.
If you are lucky enough to have a healthy relationship … err, GPS … then you already understand that these things are not surgically attached to you. Every once in a while, let out your hair and go alone. Take a day where adventure trumps athleticism and speed bows to solitude.
I don’t care what your projected pace is—there’s always a day to watch the sunrise, turn over a rock, and forget what time it is.
Vanessa Runs is an avid ultrarunner and author of The Summit Seeker. She lives and travels full-time, running trails across the country. Follow her at vanessaruns.com.