Finding the limits of technology in a place called Tate’s Hell
Google Earth is great, but when it comes to a huge swampy forest in Florida, it's not perfect.
Technology can create the illusion of perfect knowledge. Last month I was planning a ride in Tate’s Hell State Forest in Florida (the origin of the name, which dates to the 1800s, is worth 150 words alone.) It’s 200,000 acres of swamp and forest criss-crossed by dirt and gravel roads — a perfect escape from the flat, straight highways that border it.
I’d been there before and recalled roads that stopped abruptly at the edge of drainage canals. So I did what everybody does today before riding an unfamiliar area like this: I checked Google Earth. I’d done some early recon and found some logging trucks using some of the roads. I thought that would pack the road and make it easier to ride, but it had the opposite effect. It made the sandy soil even looser.
So I picked Tower Road to Buck Siding Road to West Boundary. The parts of Tower I’d ridden were hard-packed and perfect. I zoomed in on the full route using Google Earth. None of the roads were split by canals. Or so I thought.
Tower Road was perfect and the pictures at ground level seem so different from the satellite view. There was no traffic other than a a deer and a snake — and a few bear tracks. And then I came up to a pool of water completely across Buck Siding Road. Deep enough to have a current. My rule on these rides is to not cross anything unless I’m prepared to cross it twice. I turned around.
On Google Earth I didn’t notice the dark spot in the road where water had gathered previously.
Here’s what the ground-level view looked like.
As good as it is, the satellite imagery isn’t real-time and you can’t distinguish between pristine hard-packed gravel and almost impassable sand. And that’s probably as it should be. Maybe we shouldn’t have the answer to everything right at our fingertips.