By Jill Dunphy
The decision has been made: you are going on a trip. You have a rough idea of your destination and how you’ll get there, but maybe you want to compare available services along various routes, and you also know that conditions can change in an instant… What do you do? Well, you consult the SheADV Route Planning Tool, of course!
Those of you out there who have already viewed or used this tool to help you get from Place A to Place B know what an amazing, unique, and helpful tool it is. Those of you who have not yet witnessed its amazingness – stop reading now, go to the SheADV Route Planning Tool and behold its awesomeness.
So, how did it all come about? And how can you use this amazing tool to its full advantage?
The tool was developed by Jill Oliver, a Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR) Ambassador and SheADV enthusiast. Jill is an environmental scientist in Seattle, Washington who has made a career of conveying a variety of information through the use of maps utilizing a type of software called Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Jill started riding street motorcycles about 10 years ago. Street riding was fine, but after hearing her partner Mike talk about riding dirt, she wanted to explore the idea for herself. Five years later, upon receiving an invitation to a friend’s wedding in Uganda, she signed up for and took a trip through Zambia on lightweight dirt bikes with the non-profit Riders for Health in Africa. She was the only American and the only woman on the tour, yet after this experience she knew that she wanted to further explore off-road adventure riding next. She bought her first adventure motorcycle within a few weeks of arriving home, a BMW G650GS Sertao, went to some local adventure riding events including her first ADV camp training with PSSOR, a well-known ADV training organization in the Pacific NW. Soon after, she met Steph and Shal (who went on to become the project managers at SheADV), and many other women at the same point in their off-road training during this time. They all joined forces to understand the ins and outs of ADV touring and committed to supporting other women in the adventure riding aspirations.
After purchasing “Beastie,” her KTM 1190 Adventure, Jill’s first big adventure would be to ride the Idaho BDR. Although the BDRs eliminate some of the apprehension of planning an off-road adventure; like many of us, Jill wanted to know what kind of conditions she and Beastie were in for. She knew the route she wanted to take, thanks to the BDR organization. She also knew that there were forest fires in Idaho that summer, and that weather conditions like wind dictate how the smoke travels, which could impact her ride depending on the route she chose. She also knew that past events such as floods, mud flows, and snow can affect trail conditions and availability.
In her career working with GIS, Jill is exposed to public data that not everyone knows is available – this information would help her get details on route conditions. She also knows that there is a version of StoryMap, an online mapping application that she uses at work, available to home users, non-profit organizations, and charities. Combined with her knowledge of publicly available geographic information at sites such as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US Forest Service, and ESRI, Jill built herself a personal GIS. She imported the IDBDR information into a what is known as a geodatabase so she could calculate mileages for each potential leg of the trip, how the mileage would deviate from route to route, where she’d need gas, and where to spend the nights.
Coupled with terrain information such as elevation and slope, she was able to quickly tell where her available route options were, which ones to avoid based on forest fires and smoke, and which ones weren’t too steep, twisty, or tight for her comfort level.
After working out the initial bugs by using the tool for her own safety and security on additional off-road excursions, she approached SheADV who had recently launched the website, SheADV.com. Steph and Shal were impressed with the one of a kind route planning tool and felt it had the potential to draw traffic to the new website. Since then, Jill has added all the BDR routes, the ability for users to enter their own GPX files, and locations of medical facilities and other “necessities” such as Starbucks and breweries – because, really, who doesn’t love a nice cold beer after a long day on the trail?
The SheADV Route Planning Tool is also gaining attention from professionals outside of the motorcycling community. Jill presented a poster session about the tool at this year’s annual ESRI conference; they are the developer of the software used to build the SheADV route planning tool.
She said that she was thrilled to be able to present something “outside of the box;” it allowed her to be more creative than what she usually presents in her professional career. She included a QR code that linked to the SheADV route planning tool, and included eye-catching graphics to draw attention to her poster.
Looking ahead, Jill is hoping to make the tool easier to use on the desktop and mobile platforms. She’d like to add a feature for trail conditions, but currently all alerts from the US Forest Service are text-based only. While she is looking to see if these alerts are moving to a spatially-based system, she is working on a feature that would allow travelers to input information regarding real-time trail closings, conditions, or other observations from the trail; even photographs. Jill is also considering converting this tool to a 3-dimensional format, so that users can assess terrain along their planned route. Their hope is that this tool can easily be used on-the-fly for contingency planning, in the event of emergencies, or unanticipated changed conditions due to weather, fire, etc.
The SheADV Route Planning Tool is free for anyone to use, and is an invaluable resource, whether you are planning a day trip or a cross-country excursion, by way of either street or trail. Check back often as new route-planning features are added that will help you confidently plan your most memorable trips yet!