From Where I Sit – Show Me The Way

Do you feel the lure of the open road? Whether you drive for work or for pleasure chances are you’ve relied on the work of a cartographer or map maker.

If you’re a professional truck driver you rely on every image, particularly the first time your work takes you into a new area. The degree of dependence on maps and atlases increases incrementally with the distance from home. I can drive the hour to Edmonton without a map. I’ve done it thousands of times. I’ve got landmarks, road signs and experience on my side.

The same was not true a few years ago when three artist friends and I flew to Ottawa for the big Rembrandt show at the National Gallery. We then rented a car to drive to Montreal and the Charlevoix region of rural Quebec. We needed to be able to find our way there. And back.

Likewise when I accompanied Roy on a whirlwind drive through 4 provinces and 13 US states. It wasn’t a pleasure trip. He had deadlines, commitments, a schedule to keep, and miles to make. I acted as something of a co-pilot, no mean feat in my pre-bifocal days. After dark, a map-reading magnifier with light saved me from those tiny fonts.

We’ve got hundreds of dollars invested in road atlases, including a $30US one-inch thick Texas altas. The $80US laminated truckers’ atlas has all the weigh scales, truck routes, interstates, speed limits and height restrictions identified for each state and most major cities. It includes mile marker and exit road numbers, toll roads and ports of entry. It also weighs about 8 pounds and is roughly the size of a small snack table. Hardly a handy dandy, pocket-sized number. The street atlas for all of Alberta is 266 pages. The Houston / Galveston street atlas is 550 pages.

I loved the nifty “Dist-o-map” from Rand-McNally that boasts 11,000 mileages between major US cities, with just the turn of a dial. It was a welcome toy for a bored co-pilot. The pop-up maps may be fun for kids.

A good-sized atlas could keep you reading for months. The obvious information is mileage and time traveled charts; identification of capital cities; rest stops; tourist attractions; provincial, federal and state parks; and First Nations’ reserves. A detailed map will show cumulative miles between points; types of roads; and the location of golf courses, information centres, airports and ferries. Most will also provide a simplified street map of larger centres.

Only a truly devoted (or is that desperate?) map reader will notice statistics on elevations, tunnels, mountain peaks, swamps and deserts, county names, time zone boundaries, population, largest city stats and land area in square miles.

And don’t forget the free highway and attractions maps from info centres and rest area offices. Neat, portable, light-weight, very site-specific. Refolding them is another thing.

Whatever your directional need, cartographers have you covered. That’s a good thing, from where I sit.

*Reprinted with permission

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