Big Brother Takes a Hit in the Maine Woods

Kittery to Fort Kent MapIf you are a map person like I am there is no substitute for an evening spent flipping through the pages of the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer by the DeLorme company.  It’s better than any television or magazine and it rivals most books for hours of continuous entertainment.

Topographical maps are even better . I can spend long hours lost in the minute details of the terrain of Holeb Township or Round Pond on the Allagash.

Sadly, these paper icons are slowly giving way to digital imagery.  The U.S. Geological Service is discontinuing production of its paper map series. And I suspect that the DeLorme company’s modern sales of digital mapping data and GPS systems far outstrip the receipts for paper maps.

Nobody could have suggested to me a few years ago that mere computer images could capture my imagination in the same way that my tattered paper map library does. But then I discovered aerial and satellite photographic  imagery on the internet via Google Earth and other websites.

John McPhee wrote in Coming Into the Country that low-flying bush planes were such a common experience among Alaska outdoorsmen that they often could discuss having “flown” a particular pieces of wilderness in almost as much detail as someone who had experienced it on the ground.  Anyone with access to the world wide web can now “fly” to any point in Maine, or anywhere else for that matter, and see the terrain in unsettling detail.

If you would like to frighten yourself with thoughts of Big Brother simply go to Google Earth and type in your own address for a bird’s eye view of your home. Then to get truly scared —  switch to street view mode and see your home from the public roadway.

The satellite images are a huge asset for backcountry travel. And DeLorme and other companies supply GPS devices that allow us to carry the images in tiny hand-held units that also pinpoint the traveler’s exact current position on the digital image via satellite contact.

I find this all very useful in planning my self-propelled trip but I have learned that all the super-duper science and technology has its limits in the Maine woods. The street I live on in Farmington won’t change much over the next twenty years. But many of the woods roads in northern Maine will be unrecognizable after that much time has passed.

Last summer my son Ben and I planned to explore a fairly major woods road near the Moose River by mountain bike.  The Google image from 2007 looked like this:

The reality on the ground looked like this:


Take that Big Brother.

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About jimandrews

Jim Andrews is an attorney, Registered Maine Guide, writer, husband, dad and sixth-generation Mainer who grew up in the hills of Oxford County and now lives in Farmington. He is a monthly columnist for the The Maine Sportsman magazine where he focuses on muscle-powered travel in the outdoors and specific applications to fishing and hunting in Maine. Late in the fall of 2010 Jim suffered a mid-life crisis and decided that the cure would be a self-propelled trip from Kittery to Fort Kent in the summer of 2012. The preparation, planning and execution of that trip will be covered here -- as well as his own ongoing attempts to reintroduce physical effort back into the increasingly-motorized world of fishing and hunting in Maine. Find Self-propelled on Facebook: