Years back, I decided to plan my road trips using a paper map. Some may see it as an antiquated process in an age where any route can be effortlessly vetted with the click of the mouse. I see it as a method that has inarguably stood the test of time. One that requires effort and focus, but in the end, opens your eyes to all that awaits just beyond the fold.
The topography. The waypoints. The routes that appear so easy to navigate in theory, yet always prove unpredictable in practice. The map becomes just as much of a companion as the people you meet along the way. And often, once the adventure becomes a memory...the map becomes a catalyst for recollection. Valued and revered by those who used it as their guide.
The local map shop - an institution in my town for as long as I can remember–is stop number one when I decide on the next trip. Intending to step inside in search of the one map that will prepare me for the upcoming journey, I almost always find myself thumbing through several others...spanning the far corners of unrelated continents. These visits have inspired several unexpected adventures themselves. Nevertheless, once I have the intended map in hand, the real journey begins.
The map is there every step of the way...and for years to come after that.
My collection sits in a small box on my desk, stacked chronologically less by design than by organic placement. The deeper I dig, the more tightly they are guarded by a timestamped layer of dust. A simple glance at each worn and weathered cover has the power to transport me back to the place and time where it served as my guide.
ROAD MAP OF UTAH–THE BEEHIVE STATE. I remember picking this one up ahead of a solo trip out west on the late end of an Indian summer. Markings show my route through Navajo Nation where I spent a couple days with a Native American family in the shadow of Bears Ears. Kanab is starred and circled... the small town where I made camp for a night to explore the sites and sets used for filming in countless classic westerns. Fort Apache. The Outlaw Josey Wales. The Lone Ranger. All commemorated along its streets, and subsequently on my map. The hasty pen line heads north past Zion National Park, through the Cedar Mountains, and further still to banks of the Great Salt Lake. IRELAND ADVENTURE MAP–NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY. This one will forever represent the benefits of a trusty co-pilot. Two close friends and I spent over a week charting our course on this map, choosing our next destination as we went. 1,475 kilometers traversing the Emerald Isle with only one wrong turn. The notes in the margins remind me of the unique places we found to set up camp along the way. One night it was a small room above a busy pub, the next it under the turret of a 600-year-old castle. To this day, whenever we open this map, the unmarked regions stir up a desire to return. NEW ZEALAND NORTH ISLAND–TE IKA A MAUI AOTEAROA. The Māori inscription reminds me that this map was picked up in Auckland at the start of a serendipitous road trip. After crossing paths with a travel and humanitarian photographer who became a dear friend, we aimed south while attempting to stay off the beaten path. Intending to head inland towards Lake Taupo, we followed what we thought was the correct route from the Waitomo Caves. One wrong turn landed us in the coastal town of Mokau, nearly 200 kilometers in the opposite direction. What we found instead were legendary black sand beaches, a local who offered us fresh baked muffins, and a treasured memory that lives on to this day.
The aged tears and worn corners. The scribbled notes along flatlands and coastlines. The scratch-drawn routes along byways and backroads. Not one of these paper maps is antiquated. They all continue to serve a very real purpose...reigniting memories while inspiring a sense of exploration. Fueling a desire to explore what awaits just beyond the fold.
Photography by Paige Steele