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Adventure Series#2: Navigation and Route for our MABDR Backcountry Hiking and Overlanding Jeep Trek

If you've taken a peek at our Adventure (Series) Doesn't Wait, Come Along for the Planning of Our 10-Day Overlanding & Hiking Trip blog post, you know that we're in the process of planning an outdoor adventure in the Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland backcountry. And we talked a little about the steps we're taking to navigate the planning process for heading into the backcountry to marry Overlanding and hiking.

 

Our MABDR "Work in Progress" GPX File (as of Feb.2022, Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route)

This is the current working draft of our game plan with tracks, route, and waypoints included.

MABDR-May 2022 Adventure_downloadablefile
.gpx
Download GPX • 805KB
 

You might be asking yourself, what in the world is Overlanding (Overlanding: A Quick Rundown of What It Is, and Why It’s Cool (motortrend.com))?

"Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road-capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries."

And we're combining Overlanding with a grade-A hiking adventure up the Mid Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route (MABDR) Map & Information (ridebdr.com).

A Jeep, a shorthaired pointer, our team, and building of a plan. Before we get too far into nitty-gritty details or equipment and stuff, we're forming our route. This will drive a number of decisions including:

  • Reservations needed at Campgrounds v. Dispersed Camping v. Boondocking

  • Food and rations, especially for our Chief Snack Officer

  • Equipment needed to successfully camp and survive 10-days outdoors together

I flippantly say 'survive' since the Chief Snack Officer is also in charge of morale and she's a ninja at handling spontaneous changes that I may throw at her. But it's important that we level set expectations and general trajectory. And let's be honest sometimes, 'you don't know, what you don't know' when pulling everything together. So we'll be nimble and adjust accordingly. In this series post, we're going to talk about Navigation & Route Planning.


How Are You Approaching Navigation & Route Planning?


The MABDR website has a wealth of information for our trek through the George Washington National Forest (primarily this is where we'll be), and we've started with the website. In most cases, you won't have the luxury of having a site with resources that are rich in information. But we'll take what we can get. Think about this as a framework for planning your very own adventure trip.

  1. Committing to Navigation Platform: Although it's early, we're really deciding on which platform we're going to commit towards using as the primary for navigating in the backcountry. OnX Hunt will be the hiking platform with Garmin riding Shotgun for InReach and Dog Tracking, but the offroad component is still TBD. And we'll discuss why.

  2. Deciding on the Route: Start and finish. On the MABDR website (Download Tracks - Backcountry Discovery Routes), there is a link to the GPX file for the route. That's the GPS route that can be used by multiple platforms. Think of a GPX file as the universal map for you to import into OnX OffRoad, Garmin, Google, and many other software tools.


 

1 | Committing to Navigation Platform - The Tools and Resources to Use


The core of your game plan, the single most important aspect of planning an adventure is deciding where you want to go. Yes, that's obvious. But in this case, we're combining a trek over 400 miles over 10-days with hiking each day, campgrounds, dispersed camping, and limited access to resources. We need to really dig in and understand the map and route.


A| Software Mapping / Program for Determining the Route


For planning, you can get out a map and start a AAA Triptick (kidding) or start with software like Garmin or Google Maps. For our purposes, I choose to use Garmin's Basecamp (Download BaseCamp | Garmin) for planning the route, Google Maps for aiding with waypoints, and OnX Hunt for coordinating campgrounds and hiking trails.


When I started, I ran into an issue with the Garmin software not having all the roads at the level I needed to start planning. The Garmin Topo 24K only has major roads and does not have the backcountry roads populated.

  • After downloading the Garmin On The Trail Maps - TOPO map for Virginia

  • Loaded the map on a MicroSD card on the handheld

  • Plugged into the computer for Basecamp to read the map

This was an important learning. In order to view the actual road, I had to purchase the TopoActive Americas, North Map. There are a number of open-source websites and other maps that could be used, but for purposes of ease and learning - I started with Garmin. OnX also has an exceptional map that I believe should work with this software.


TIP: The Garmin device must be plugged into the computer for the map to show in the software from the file menu 'Maps.' There is a workaround for loading the map on the computer (check out YouTube for the video).

Garmin TOPO U.S. 24K Northeast v3 (left) vs. TopoActive Americas North (right).


B| Start with the GPX File

After downloading the GPX file from the Ride BDR website, you are able to load this universal file into any number of tools. Garmin Basemap allows GPX file imports with the ability to drop waypoints through the trip, re-route, and build everything that is needed.


Steps

  1. Went to the Ride BDR website, downloaded the GPX file

  2. Imported it to the Garmin Basecamp software (File > Import)

As I said, we were lucky to have this. If you were absent from the GPX file, you'd have to build it manually. Which you would essentially be building TRACKS on the map.


Once loading the GPX file, I can edit and change it to meet the needs of our trip. In our case, the trip was already broken into segments (but they were +100 miles and we need to be closer to 40-50 miles per day). Below, you can see some of the changes that we made.

  • The map has broken the trip into segments for each day between campgrounds

  • Color-coded for each segment and built as TRACKS in Basecamp

TIP: In Garmin, there are two line types, ROUTES, and TRACKS. Routes are used for the Navigation system when you are ready to Hit "Go". Tracks are for the handheld and designed for building the trip. Once the trip is built, then you would convert it to a Route, then sync with your GPS device.


C | Deciding on Navigation Platform When on the Trail


While I'd like to rely on a pencil, paper, and a map - we're much more technologically advanced than that. Part of the joy with these trips is the tech component. And this one presents an interesting challenge given that we have a predefined route and we're using a number of backcountry roads and trails.

  • Google Maps: While the platform allows us to plot the map and download offline capabilities, the app on your phone does not allow you to use it for Navigation. We could technically follow the line on the map, but there would be a limitation with knowing the remaining miles, etc.

  • OnX Offroad: This software is great (OnX is a favorite of ours) for visual borders, roads, routes, however, unless the trail is loaded in the database - all the user can do is track where they have gone. And to load the trails, you need to be an OnX Offroad Trail Guide.

  • Garmin Tread GPS Device: Maps in the Basecamp software and loads on a device for navigation. However, requires purchasing a Garmin handheld device, which in this case is a Tread or Overland model that comes in 5.5", 8", and 10" form factors. The device has exceptional functionality but requires another technology purchase.

Over the next few months, we're going to be testing a number of methods for navigating this route in the backcountry. For now, we believe that Garmin Tread is the option for us, but stand by, we still have a lot to learn.


 

2 | Deciding on the Route - Where We're Going


Since we're springboarding from the Mid Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route (MABDR) Map & Information (ridebdr.com) map, we have it a little easier than if we were starting from scratch. But leverage the platforms that exist to find adventure routes.

  • Google (GTS): Search the internet for common trips that you can take, search hiking and road trips, and other combinations of search terms

  • OnX OffRoad: Offers a Discover function on their platform that allows for you to search for trails and can be used for planning

  • Magazines, Books, and Blogs: Search for websites and blogs that have suggested trips that could include suggestions from National Parks to local options

A | Deciding on Mileage using a Little Math

Once we had the map loaded, it was about looking at the entire 430 miles to determine how you divide the trip into segments.

  • Total Mileage: The MABDR is over 1,000 miles long, but we're only doing Sections 1 to 3. So over 10-days at 40-50 miles per day, we're pretty much going to a new spot each day

  • Breaking the Adventure into Segments: With 4x4 engaged, we assume that we can travel at about 30mph on average. So if we're good with 1-3 hours in the car each day, we can plan for 30-60 miles or maybe a little more if the segment is faster

  • Pace for Driving: So our baseline is a stop each day or if we stretch the segments further, we can spend 2-days at each spot. We felt the 2-days at each location was a little better for us.

So that pushed us towards creating segments that were between 50-80 miles. The last segment is well over 100 miles, but that's the day that we'll be on the road to go home. The first stop will be set up the night before, so we'll be able to lean in for all 10-days. For now, a typical day for us on this trek will look like:

  • 8:00 AM, Coffee

  • 9:00 AM, Strike Camp

  • 10:00 AM, Trailhead

  • 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM, Depart for the next campground

  • 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM, Setup Camp

  • 6:00 PM, Dinner

And the trek is starting to shape up as a couple of days we'll get to do 2 nights, but this is fluid and could change based on how the navigation works and where we land on for final destinations.

  • Day 1: Damascus - Creekside Campground, VA

  • Day 2: Hungry Mother State Park, VA

  • Day 3: Dismal Creek Campground, VA

  • Day 4: The Country LCC Campground, VA

  • Day 5-6: Douthat State Park, VA

  • Day 7: Shaws Fork Campground, VA

  • Day 8: Brandywine Campground, WV

  • Day 9: Big Bend Campground, WV

  • Day 10: Return Home

As you can see, it's an aggressive trek, but all stops are currently up for discussion with our Chief Morale Officer. Stand by.

As you can see at the bottom of the map folder view on the left side, there are 7 segments (BDR1 to BDR7). Whether we land on these segments being the final plan, this is the starting point based on the GPX file.


 


This is where the trusty OnX Hunt came to the rescue and a little bit of backdoor mile by mile view of the map with Google Maps (TrailHack#101: Mapping: Finding Trails on Your Own and the Apps to ‘Lifehack’ Your Adventures (pixelsandpointers.com)).

  • OnX Hunt: Used this software to view the hiking trails and campgrounds along the trail. Yes, I had to go mile by mile to see what was available and where we wanted to potentially go. We have campgrounds nearly squared away, hiking trails are TBD

  • Google Maps (My Maps – About – Google Maps): To load a GPX file, you have to use My Maps in Google. I used this tool for finding gas stations, grocery stores, and stops that could be made along the way. One tip that I will tell you is to use your credit card every chance you can to leave a digital trail of your trip (morbid, but reality)

So once I had the three software programs loaded and ready to go, I needed to get everything on the same page. That meant importing the GPX file into Garmin Basecamp, OnX Hunt, and Google maps.

Side by side from left to right, you can see OnX Hunt, Google Maps (My Maps), and Garmin Basecamp with the GPX files loaded. And here is where the tedious task of scrolling up the route to see what was available and where we could stop.


For OnX Hunt, you can see the Hiking Trails.


For Google Maps (My Maps), you can see the Gas Stations and stops that could be made when you use the search bar.


And for Garmin Basecamp, I needed to load these WayPoints on the map one by one. Some of them existed from the prior GPX file downloaded off the Ride BDR website, but this was a starting point.


This is a long process and time-consuming, but important. Especially with Overlanding where the critical components are gas and food. And having backup options with Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C will be important and by the time we get on the road, there will most likely be a Plan D through G also.


For now, use the tools in hand to allow you to plan for the trip. Combining an adventure with hiking will not only be fun, but the planning on the front end will be rewarding. We have so much more to get under our belt, but for now, we have a general idea. We're going to take a few test runs in the George Washington National Forest with the software tools to test the trek on the navigation systems.


We'll keep posting more of the planning process, but for now, enjoy the route and navigation planning and we'll keep you posted. Happy hiking and enjoy the journey!


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