The Benefits Of Learning Analog Motorcycle Navigation

Expert off-road navigator Emily Miller shares her simple secrets of navigation

Emily Miller navigation
Navigation, Emily Miller says, begins with knowing exactly where you are and where you want to go.Drew Ruiz

Emily Miller doesn't trust GPS maps.
"Maps are really great, but maps can lie," she says. "Or you can lie to yourself and want to believe something on the map is what it is when it is not."

As the driving force behind the Rebelle Rally—a women's off-road navigation rally raid that requires participants to forgo GPS and any tech that connects to the internet—a fair portion of her life revolves around getting from one place to another the old-fashioned way.

plotting a course on map
Emily Miller navigates the old-fashioned way.Drew Ruiz

Navigation, Miller says, begins with knowing exactly where you are and where you want to go. It sounds simple, but few can look at the wilderness around us and pinpoint our location without a nudge from the electronic gadgets in our pockets. It's a dangerous dependence when we're just a small accident away from being cut off entirely. The fix?

“Everyone should understand triangulation,” Miller says.

Simply put, triangulation is the process of using landmarks you can both identify on a map and see with your eye to fix your position in space—and it's as easy as having an understanding of compass basics.

compass
Triangulation is as easy as having an understanding of compass basics.Drew Ruiz

Miller learned the hard way, by taking a Coast Guard navigation course then testing her skills at the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles in Morocco.

“I paid attention to all the parts that I understood, and the second it didn’t make sense, my eyes would cross,” Miller says. But the skills eventually come together, and in the African desert it’s almighty important that they do. “You get out there and realize that, to be the best rider you can be, it’s about knowing where you’re going, how to get there, and how to be smart about it. Often you’re alone.”

reading a compass
Miller's simple rule to navigation: “Just slow down,” she says. “You can only ride as fast as you can navigate.”Drew Ruiz

You don’t need a nautical bent or a trial-by-African-fire to learn traditional orienteering. There are resources all over the country designed to give you an old-school navigation foundation.

“REI offers a map and compass course,” Miller says. “It’s the same thing, and it’s a great way to start.”

Past that, Miller says navigation novices can avoid the pitfalls she’s endured in her years of driving and navigating with a simple rule: “Just slow down,” she says. “You can only ride as fast as you can navigate.”