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Most outdoor travel, whether hiking, biking, or skiing, generally follows an established path or route. A bolder type of outdoor excursion involves leaving the beaten path and exploring off-trail. One simple way to introduce yourself to the joys of exploring uncharted territory in your own backyard is to do a beeline hike, using the GoTo function of your GPS unit.
Pick a nearby state park, or the equivalent, and peruse a map of the area. Look for a spot where you can park your vehicle and access an established trail. Follow the trail out about a mile or so and note that position in relation to where you parked your car. Draw a straight line from the chosen spot on the trail and your car. That's the beeline hike that you will attempt. If the line passes through a lake, river, or another obstacle that you do not want to negotiate, then choose another area of the park.
One of my first beeline hikes took place in a small Ohio state park east of Cleveland. With my nephew in tow, we randomly parked near one of the park's many multi-use trails. It would have been wiser if I had followed my own advice in the previous paragraph and scouted a line by map beforehand. However, I dropped a waypoint at the car and off we waltzed into the woods and around a boggy lake. About a mile or more out, I randomly picked a spot as the departure for our beeline back to the car.
The waypoint that you drop (mark) on your GPS unit is what your unit will use to navigate you back to your vehicle. Once you have hiked to the point where you want to begin the beeline, initialize the GoTo function (see sidebar, for specific steps). On the GPS screen, a large arrow will appear and will point directly toward the spot where you dropped the initial waypoint. And off you go, keeping the arrow centered in the screen. If you deviate from the prescribed bearing, the arrow will falter left or right depending on which you deviate. To get back on track, just stand still and orient yourself until the arrow realigns to center and points straight ahead.
We pushed through tall grass, then scrub, followed by dense briars and some scraggly trees. Cattails led into a mushy muck, which degraded into a knee-deep wade through water lilies. Keeping true to the beeline, though, on we slogged, unable to see more than a few feet ahead. I suppose the wisdom of doing a little map research ahead of time is beginning to ring clear.
The water deepened, and as we began to sink ever deeper into the foul muddy bottom, it became apparent that a major departure from the beeline would be necessary. We zigzagged a bit and then hit dry land. A single glance at the GPS unit and we were off again, now on a new beeline that we were able to successfully follow directly back to the car.
(1) Introduction (2) GPS Technology (3) Planning a Trip (4) Navigating and Gathering Trail Data (5) Analyzing Trail Data After the Trip (6) The Future of GPS