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Garmin, Googlemaps and the Internet

It’s day seven and the final day of our look at using an inexpensive GPS on the motorcycle and today we’re looking at interacting with Google Maps. Based around an inexpensive trekking GPS and open source maps, we’ve looked at how to use Garmin’s free Basecamp software to download tracks from, and upload routes back to, the GPS.

As I mentioned, Basecamp isn’t the most intuitive piece of software I’ve ever encountered and creating routes isn’t as easy as it could be. An alternative to using Basecamp that many people will be familiar with to create a route is to use Google Maps. Head to www.google.co.uk and click the ‘Maps’ tab.

The neat thing about Google Maps is that you can create a route with just a few mouse clicks. Try it – find Charing in Kent (it’s about 5 miles north east of Ashford), zoom in on the road map, till you can see the A20 / A252 roundabout, hover the mouse over it and right click. A menu pops up, select ‘Directions from here’ and click again – you’ll see a green A has appeared on the map, and there’s an empty box in the panel on the left with a B in it. Now type Pluckley into that box and you’ll see a route appear between A and B.

You can continue to extend the route by either right-clicking on the map or typing the name of your next location, which can be a postcode or a more complex search – try Sainsbury and you’ll see an option for a Sainsbury in Ashford pops up. Select it, click get directions and you’ll see the following route appears:

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Now, we need to get that route onto our PC, but first we need to convert it to something the GPS understands. There are probably a bunch of places on the net you can convert a Google route to a GPX file understood by a Garmin but try this site as it’s easy to use:

What we need to do is “provide the URL of a file on the web” and we can get that from Google by hitting the chain icon (top right next to the printer icon in the left panel next to the map), clicking on it and copying the URL that appears in the pop-up box. In this case it’s a rather long one but begins with: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?saddr=Maidstone+Rd%

If you’ve followed the instructions so far, copy the link and paste into the box on GPSVisualiser. Make sure you select “force data to be this type: route points” from the drop down and open advanced options and select 50 route points. Click convert and you can now download a finished GPX file. I’ve saved mine with the name Garmin Week.gpx.

Now, open up Basecamp and import the route, via ‘File / Import’. You’ll see a new list added to your Library. Now you’ll note two things – first, it’s imported as track, not a route and second, there are two tracks – the first ends at the midroute waypoint at Pluckley. If you don’t use a waypoint, there will of course only be one track.

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Now, if you wish, you can simply drag these as tracks to the All Data area of your device (or the memory card if you have one) and then disconnect the GPS, and access them as two tracks.

Or you can convert them to a route using Basecamp. First we need to join the two tracks – so highlight the two tracks, right-click, select advanced and ‘Join the selected tracks’. Make sure they are in the right order, then do the conversion and they’ll be replaced by a single track. I’ve renamed it Charing to Ashford, and now to convert it to a route. Right-click, and choose ‘Create route from selected track’ (or do it from the button on the properties box as we did before), remember to select a maximum of 50 points and make the conversion, and we’ve now got a route we can upload to the GPS.

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But that’s not all Googlemaps can do. Head over to http://www8.garmin.com/products/communicator/ and grab the Garmin Communicator browser plugin and install it.

Now, make sure the GPS is plugged in, clear the route on Googlemaps and type in a search for a location – for example, try looking up Ashford police station – you’ll find it’s a Tufton Street. Click the ‘Link’ icon and you’ll notice there’s a small green ‘Send’ link available top right. Click on that and select ‘Send to: GPS’. You can rename the waypoint here, then select ‘Garmin’ and add any extra notes you want, then ‘Send’ to the Dakota.

Disconnect, start up and select waypoints. Start typing Kent Police and you should find it’ll pop up quickly. Select it and you’ll see a map with it highlighted with a big green GO button, but if you click on the info box at the top of the screen you’ll go to a page that gives you the full longtitude/latitude coordinates as well as the notes you made.

And of course, when you reconnect the GPS, you’ll find the waypoint available to edit in Basecamp.

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Remember I said that the weakness of the open source map was that postcode routing didn’t exist? Well, this gives you a quick and easy way to put the places you need most frequently onto the map as a waypoint. If that’s too fiddly or you need to re-route to new addresses on the move, then you probably need to upgrade the mapping to the full Garmin Navigator software. But for most people, this would be adequate for putting the location of a friend’s house or a hotel on the unit before setting off.

Finally, we’re going to upload a route to the internet, perhaps to share with friends. Open up http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/ and we’re going to use the ‘Upload a GPS file’ on that page so press the ‘Choose File’ button. Navigate to the ‘Garmin / GPX’ directory on the Dakota (or the memory card if installed on a compatible device) and select your route. I’ve picked one running from Whitfield just outside Dover to Chestfield on the north Kent coast. There are a variety of different map options but I’ve chosen Google Maps as output and pressed ‘GO’ and after a couple of seconds I get the following map appear:

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There’s a link immediately above the map to save the route to everytrail.com, although you’ll have to create an account to do that – there are other places you can do the same.

At some point I’ll do a follow-up with some extra tricks and tips (including a use for the “man overboard” function) but for the moment that concludes ‘Garmin Week’ here on Survival Skills and our look at what a budget waterproof GPS can achieve. Quite impressive, I think you’d agree?

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