Posted on March 24, 2015 at 3:00 PM
Many of you have been following our progress on the website through the live GPS tracker! That is awesome! I thought I'd give you all an update on how we are navigating this whole thing and a little behind the scenes of how we choose the roads you see us running on.
In planning the route, the first thing was that we had to connect the 7 colleges we'd be stopping at. Then we considered major cities along the way–some of them were avoided entirely (such as Philadelphia) and some of them we carefully routed through (Atlanta, Washington DC). After that, the goal was to choose roads that would be safe for running. This meant staying off major highways, looking out for wide shoulders, grass to run on, and safe bridges and intersections. We worked with RIT Public Safety during planning to ensure the safety of the route. We had so many edit points that Google Maps couldn't handle it all in one map, so that's why you see 7 different maps on the website! It is nice to break up the distance that way though, at least mentally.
We programmed the maps onto navigation software called Delorme Street Atlas. The men's Coast to Coast team of 2004 recommended it to us; they had used an earlier version, and noted the useful re-routing feature. As they firmly told us, "you WILL get off-route!" Even though we had gone through the route meticulously (and many times over, at that), they were completely right. On Monday afternoon, for example, we came across a detour sign and had to add on a few miles to bypass a bridge that was out of service. You might notice a small square shape on the GPS tracking map that looks out of the way–that was the detour!
Though the route was completely programmed into the software on all three computers (one in each vehicle) prior to the trip, we had yet to install the GPS system on the computers and test that out. During a long stint of waiting at the airport, I tried to do this and failed to get a signal from the GPS. Jeri and Kelly were very helpful as I was freaking out; I was so worried I had missed a key step in how the software and GPS functioned together, and that we wouldn't be able to start the run the next morning! We called Delorme Technical Support, and Scott G. assured me that I had done everything correctly, but that the GPS just couldn't get a signal inside, especially in an airport. He was very patient and helpful. Sure enough, a few minutes into the ride from the airport to Auburn University we got a signal and the software tried to navigate us to the route. I breathed a sigh of relief and shut off the computer, confident that it would work out in the morning.
Now for some RV logistics–I know you have been wondering how exactly the handoffs have been working. To be honest, I didn't really understand it until yesterday, either (and yes, we are on day 3…). There are two RVs and one chase van. Each RV is broken up into two groups of 4. To complete a full rotation (with our current pace, it is 45 miles in about 6 hours), the groups of 4 take turns in the chase van, each completing 12 miles total. The RVs drive ahead of the chase van to get to the next point where we switch out the groups of 4. We use the odometers in the vehicles to determine where the switch points will be. We have our eye on them all the time, but frequently the switch point has ended up being on average 0.2 miles off. Sometimes we are really off, and the last person in the rotation only runs 2 miles, or runs 4! But we suck it up and go with the flow!
Yesterday RV1 reached the switch point, but RV2 was nowhere to be found!There were a few tense minutes of conversation on the phone where the RVs tried to convince each other that they had followed their odometer to a tee and that the other had made a mistake. Then we realized we were on completely different roads. Our map (RV1) had been changed, and no one had noticed. We contacted the chase van and determined that they were running the same route as RV1, so that meant RV2 had to find a way to RV1's location pronto. We sent them our location using our fancy smart phones (thank heavens for those) and they were able to navigate to us using a combination of the re-routing feature on the navigation software and google maps on their phones. Then I quickly got RV1's map on a flash drive and transferred it to the computer in RV2, then to the chase van when it arrived. So you'll notice that the portion of the route leading up to the South Carolina - North Carolina border is different between the tracking map and the planned map further below on the website page. This has so far been our biggest alteration to the planned routes, but it ended up being no problem; the roads on the altered map turned out to be easy to navigate and quite serene. We even met a very very nice family in the evening on the altered route! Everyone who wasn't sleeping was outside talking to them while we waited for the chase van to catch up to us.
In general, the navigation software has been working great, but sometimes it starts centering at random points on the map without our direction. Scott from Tech Support again saved the day and told us that this is probably due to us having the voice recognition setting turned on. Possibly the computer is picking up our voices and other noises, and interpreting them as commands, then trying to satisfy those commands by moving the map around. We made sure the microphone is turned off, so we will see if that improves! Before we knew this though, the GPS tracker came in very handy for us when the software had issues. Originally we just wanted it for you all to be able to follow along at home, and thought it would be a pretty cool feature to the website. However, there was a large chunk of time on Monday when we were relying on it! When the computer wasn't working in one of the RVs, that RV would watch the GPS tracker on the website to determine the route the chase van was taking. Then when the chase van was almost at the switch point, the RV would play catch up and pass the chase van to make it there right on time. Shout out to Spotwalla.com and the iPhone app SWconnect for the great GPS tracking. It relies on wifi but even when we lose a signal it still tracks, and then uploads all the lost data once we have a signal. So no worries if the site hasn't updated in awhile–the run hasn't stopped!
Navigating was definitely stressful the first day, but now we have it down to a pretty good rhythm. At first I was the only one who really knew how to use the software, but everyone quickly learned. Keira found a way to plan out our exact handoff points through Atlanta and have them show up on the route, which really put their RV at ease as they navigated through the city. There is always someone sitting up front with the driver in all vehicles, both navigating and making sure the driver is awake and aware and has enough to eat and drink. So far, everyone has been very thoughtful, accommodating, and adaptable throughout the trip. We have been working well together to sort through navigation issues. If you were to check everyone's phones, the call history is filled with calls to each other. About a third of the way through the trip, this is encouraging, and we are looking forward to the rest of the run.
Keep your eyes open for a photo gallery, which should be available early this week. Alex Shipman has been documenting the trip with photographs of our progress, so be sure to check back!