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It's all downhill from here

Riding Red Tricycle IMG_3870photo © 2009 Steven Depolo | more info (via: Wylio)Lately I've been doing a lot of reading about (and shopping for) new kinds of wheeled vehicles to ride. I haven't made up my mind yet about what to ride. There's just too many choices; maybe another time I will blog about new bike tech. But though I don't yet know what to ride, I do know where to ride thanks to the USGS Map Locator.

Don't let their "store" name fool you, lots of USGS stuff is available for free. I went online searching for topographic maps, expecting to be able to buy some fresh paper topo quads like I sometimes take on camping or canoe trips. They still have those, but even better they have downloadable PDF topo quads with seperable layers, for free!

The separable layers make this the most awesome map product I've ever owned. Like magic I can just peel away things and put them back for different views of the terrain and/or the human infrastructure on it. The best part is that the bottom layer isn't pen and ink, it's an "orthoimage" made of a mosaic of aerial photos (satellite and/or plane). That means I can easily tell not only where a riding route will be flat or hilly, but where it's likely to be shady or sunny as well.

These PDF maps are kind of like a pocket Google Earth, but without needing a browser plugin or even needing to be online at all. With a tablet or smart phone, you can take the PDF with you and use it even in back country areas with no reception (though I'd like a paper copy too in those conditions). Now to find a commuting route that is downhill in both directions...

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