“I am an agnostic on most matters of faith, but on the subject of maps I have always been true believer. It is on the map, therefore it is, and I am.“ – Tony Horwitz, One For The Road, An Outback Adventure.
”Like guns and crosses maps can be good or bad, depending on who’s holding them, who they’re aimed at, how they’re used, and why.” – Mark Monmonier, How to Lie With Maps.*
Competitors on Mavic Trans-Provence get a lot of maps during the week. They get five or six pages a day, lovingly prepared for them. They’re in order and in a swish plastic sleeve so that they can be taken out into the mountains with them every day. These maps are aids that support and/or confirm the signage that is attached to posts, bushes and trees along the entire length of the route. The maps have intonations that can help the savvy map reader work out where they are, where they should be, or just confirm that yes, they’re lost!
There’s also an explanatory page of icons and symbols (called a legend) that tells you what the symbols mean on the map. Handy thing such as: where mountain staff are, where you can refill with water, where the feed station is and so on. If it’s useful to you, it’s on the legend.
They also get a route profile once a day. This looks as if you’re looking at a comically compressed range of mountains in profile. Many riders that look at these peaks turn them into a set of metaphorical peaks that must be conquered that day.
Yet somehow all of this mapping and information never quite seems to gel with the country in front of you. People often overestimate how fast they’re travelling. The number of kilometres a day that’s written on the profile each day doesn’t seem to equate to having spent eight hours out in the mountains. The hike a bike will take them across a scree slope and however closely packed the map contours are it still doesn’t really prepare you for the feeling of empty air and long drop to the right of you once you reach them.
Maps also don’t really tell you how much fun a timed stage is going to be. Or how a liaison stage might give you some of the best views of your life. Maps can tell you a lot but they’re just a bunch of theory until you experience them in person.
Today, not one of the riders had ever ridden these trails before. Neither had the TP Mountain Staff included. Every rider encountered everything on-sight, no one had any advantage. The Spirit of Mavic Trans-Provence is alive and well!
*Could easily have been written about Ash Smith, Founder and Director of Trans Provence (serial map-sniffer and the Man with the Plan).