"The Hapa Haole Journal"
Sent: Friday, March 30, 2007 9:25 PM
Subject: The HHJ: Mapping a Course
Back when I was married and living in Texas,
I was invited to attend a
Wives' Day at the NCO Academy at Fort Hood. It might have been
interesting to do the same things the soldiers were doing, but frankly,
the only thing that I remember, other than the food being much better
than complaints about Army chow had led me to expect, the only thing
that I thoroughly enjoyed and that stuck was the navigation class.
There we were, a few women in civilian clothes brightening up the male
sea of olive drab green in a huge classroom. There was an instructor at
the front with assistants roaming the room to help students learn how to find
and mark coordinates on our maps, then plot a course from point A to B
to C and so on using compasses, protractors, and rulers. We also learned how to find ourselves if lost or
disoriented and make our way back to the base camp.
The test consisted of our being given "You are here"
coordinates and being instructed to go in a specific direction for a
specific distance. From that point, we were given more directions and
distances. At the end of the series, we turned in our maps to be
graded to see if we ended up at the right spot which was impossible for
those who didn't start at the right place or who went astray somewhere
along the intermediate points.
My results were the fourth highest in the entire class which pretty well
bummed out the majority of the men when our instructor told them that
they, professional soldiers, had been outscored by a visiting female
civilian with no prior experience. Yes, their groans and
mutterings were audible and I saw many heads turn to look at me. A few
of them were gracious enough to come by later and congratulate me.
My then-husband, who had scored higher, came back to tell me the others were impressed that I did
so well and looked pleased as he left to talk with the other
Fast forward over the years to when I realized I was going on
this road trip. I searched for suitable maps, then gave navigation lessons to an
interested friend who had been in situations where she found herself
disoriented, not knowing in which direction to go. One session was in a large city park where I had her navigate to
various points using a topo map I printed off the Internet.
She did great.
Last week, when I stopped at REI to get more freeze-drieds and learned
that they were having an introductory class on maps and compasses on
Wednesday evening, I decided to attend.
The instructor for "Intro to Map & Compass" first passed
around a variety of compasses for us to examine, from mirrored to hiking
base plate to electronic, before introducing us to datums and explaining
declination and features on topographical maps. He showed us how to take
bearings on visible landmarks that are also identifiable on the map and
triangulate our position on a map if lost or disoriented. His third line
didn't intersect with his first two lines and he was left with
His explanation was that while the intersection of all three lines is
possible, it's not usual. Normally, there is a triangle, maybe so small
and narrow that it's almost as if the lines intersected, maybe larger
and broad if the bearings are inaccurate or if a declination error was
made. Your position should be somewhere within the
triangle, but depending on the accuracy of the bearings you take, may be
somewhat outside. The main point is that you get a good idea about where
you are and are no longer totally lost or merely disoriented.
Of course, three lines (triangulation with landmarks about 120° apart)
are more accurate than two lines (biangulation with landmarks about 90°
apart), but triangulation is not possible for a woman kayaker in the
class when she has only the shore on one side of
her to use and can pick out and identify only two landmarks on her map.
What was disappointing for me was that the instructor didn't spend much
time on plotting a course and we didn't get any hands-on practice. For
me, that's the fun part. However, I think he spent enough time on map features and triangulation
to help neophytes find themselves if lost or disoriented if the class
didn't overwhelm or confuse them too much.
What I really appreciated was that he pointed out that a GPS receiver
(GPSr) can be
used in conjunction with a map and compass or as backup, but shouldn't
be relied upon in lieu of a map and compass because it can be dropped
and broken or the batteries can run out and render it powerless while a
compass can still work adequately even if dropped and broken with the
liquid draining out.
This latter point was evidently not grasped by a self-proclaimed easily
disoriented woman photographer with whom I spoke after class. She
showed us an expensive-looking whistle-compass combination that's good
only as a backup to a good compass or as a travel aid should one
get disoriented by the narrow, high-walled, twisty streets of Rome or
any strange city.
She explained how she used it when she and a
companion encountered a three-way fork in a trail with only three posts
remaining. Evidently, a vandal had made off with the trail name signs.
Using her little compass, she and her friend were able to correctly
"guess" (her word) the right trail for them to take. Her next
step, she said, was to get
I was alarmed by her statement. Reiterating what
the instructor said about dropping and breaking GPS receivers and
batteries dying (not mentioning carrying spares), I told her that GPS
units also won't work if the clouds are too thick or the tree canopy too
heavy or ravine walls too high because all can prevent satellite signals
from getting through to the receiver. Even geocachers in cities have
problems with highrises creating urban canyons with the same effect of
blocking satellite signals as do natural ravines.
She looked with dismay at the instructor who was listening and who
nodded in agreement.
After a pause, she asked me, "What's geocaching? Is it very
complicated? Should I even ask?"
"It's basically a treasure hunt," I replied. "Some people use it as a reason to
get out and about and many get addicted to the fun. When the GPS signals were made available to the general public in
2000, some guy up in Oregon said, 'Hey, let's have a treasure hunt' and
cached some really neat, expensive stuff, gave out the coordinates and
said, 'Go find it.' The game spread across the U.S. and overseas. The
only hard-and-fast rule is if you take something from a cache, you need
to leave something of equivalent value."
Indicating the map features the instructor had drawn on the white board,
I went on. "Usually, the harder it is to get to a cache, the more
valuable the prize. Easier caches are family-oriented with
less-expensive treasures in the $1-$5 range and some people just move
prizes from one cache to another or simply sign the logs because it's
the thrill of the hunt that they enjoy. McDonald toys are really
The instructor nodded.
I continued, "You can go to Geocaching.com
for cache locations and information. There are some premium features
that you have to pay for, but the basic stuff is free and I haven't had
to pay for anything I needed from the site. As a photographer, you might
more suitable because it has places you can go see like scenic
places instead of caches that are hidden. Whatever you do, I recommend you get a
good compass and learn how to use it with a good map. There are a few
geocachers that don't even use a GPSr; they go only by map and
Poor woman. She was looking for an easy way to go farther afield and
neither the instructor nor I were giving it to her. From the compass she
showed us and the anecdote she related about being caught on a trail
after dark and using her hiking staff like a blind man's cane to stay on
the trail, I doubt she was ever properly prepared considering she didn't
have even a keychain flashlight good enough to shed some light on her
path. However, I didn't want to overwhelm or discourage her further by
going there. If she keeps going to REI for classes and information, she
should be exposed to enough information to keep herself safe.
What slammed into me during the class was how a few degrees of error
will cause one to become lost. For example, because an error of 1° in
declination or bearing results in 92 feet per mile of error on the
ground, if one makes an error of 5°, a person will be less than a tenth
of a mile off-course after traveling for one mile which really isn't all
that bad and it's possible to compensate in case such an error is made.
However, an error of 10° after ten miles of travel will throw a person
nearly two miles off-course and intervening terrain over that distance
could make a person totally lost.
Additional distance and/or more degrees of error, make it even worse.
I already knew this, but what slammed me was how wonderful an
example of religious error it is. No wonder there are so many
groups calling themselves "Christians" with so many
differences in beliefs. We are so distant in time from Jesus of Nazareth
with such a small percentage of us studying the Bible to verify what is
being taught in our churches.
A preacher friend once told me that it's better to err on the
conservative side than it is to err on the charismatic side, but from
the scripture I know and as "Intro to Map & Compass" so
aptly illustrated, an error in either direction will make us miss the
heavenly goal completely.
How many people calling themselves "Christians" will end up like those
soldiers missing their marks in the NCO Academy's navigation class?
Consider that all the students received the exact same instructions and
that those of us Christians who have access to the Bible can read it for
ourselves. How many don't?
Acts 17: 11. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in
that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the
scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
2 Tim 2: 15. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman
that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
1. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten
virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil
4. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and
6. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the
bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
7. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil;
for our lamps are gone out.
9. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not
enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for
10. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and
they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was
11. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord,
Lord, open to us.
12. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know
(verses about false prophets and comparison with fruit and trees)
21. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall
enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my
Father which is in heaven.
22. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not
prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy
name done many wonderful works?
23. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you:
depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
13. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate,
and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be
which go in thereat:
14. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which
leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
11. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and
some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12. For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the
ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13. Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the
knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the
stature of the fulness of Christ:
14. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and
fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of
men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.