I can't tell you how many times I get asked if I have GPS (GPX, KML, etc.) files for one of the many trips I've posted, or specific coordinates for a cabin or petroglyph site.
I totally understand why - I've been lucky enough to see some really cool stuff. And, when I see cool stuff posted by others, I too often wish I could just wave a magic want and know exactly where to go to see it myself!
And so, since I understand the feeling, I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about why I don't share them, generally. Or rather, I always share them, sort of. There are two key factors in my strategy:
- Planning a route can be a lot of fun, increase safety, and make for a more fulfilling trip.
- I don't really know what will happen to GPS data after I share it.
Let me talk about each of those...and then about solutions.
Planning a Route is When the Trip Starts!
One reason I don't share raw GPS data is because I've come to realize that figuring out the route is actually part of the adventure. Just going to a place can net you a nice photo, but understanding that place - and finding places around it to explore as well - that's what really makes for great memories and an adventure!
So often, as I'm planning a trip, I start with a single place that I want to see, and by the time the trip is over, the highlight turns out to be something else entirely - something I'd have never discovered if I didn't plan the route myself, understanding the roads and landmarks that were in the area. And how big of a bummer would it be to miss the highlight?! A big one.
Planning a trip also means that you'll better understand what you're getting yourself into - at least, more than if you have a GPS coordinate and tell your favorite mapping app to give you directions. Folks get stuck in places they shouldn't be all the time because mapping apps are dumb. But if you plan the route yourself, you know beforehand what you are getting into. Headed over a 10,000' pass on a dirt road? You can make that decision before you end up there in your sedan.
I Don't Really Know What Will Happen
What I mean here is that I don't know how anything I share electronically is going to be used - and by who. The person who asks me for GPS information might seem totally cool in all of our online interactions, and may promise not to share with anyone else. But then, they take a buddy along on the trip, and that buddy posts pics to Instagram and later shares the route to someone else on a forum. Eventually - the route is floating around all over the place in various "trail" sites and Android/iOS mapping apps. A special place is now less so, even though the original person never physically shared it themselves. Ugh.
See - in this day and age of the internet - it's so easy to find information on a location that many, many, many places are becoming overrun with people. Many of these people are folks who haven't grown up learning how to respect the outdoors, and what they find there. People who have never heard of "leave no trace," and so don't even know that they are doing something harmful when they leave a square or two of toilet paper, or a new fire ring, out in the wild. The situation is not unlike the children's book, If Everybody Did.
Why am I picking up after you, again?!
It's not their fault. No one ever helped them to learn. But it doesn't matter - the damage is still taking place, because with GPS coordinates it's easy to just go, and the endorphin rush of getting that photo for their @Instabook is just so enticing.  
I (Almost) Always Share My Routes
As I've thought about it, there are several possible solutions to my sharing dilemma. A couple of early ideas I had were to:
- Charge a one-time fee for the coordinates - a large enough fee might dissuade the casual requestor, or make someone feel that they didn't want to share with others who hadn't paid.
- Setup a subscription - I've seen others make Patreon subscriptions where you pay some amount per month over the course of a 6 month period, and then, if you remain a subscriber, you get to request a couple specific locations over the next 12 months - the idea being that you aren't just in-and-out for a quick bit of data.
But those don't sit right with me either. I don't own these places, they aren't mine to make money from. I needed another solution.
After noodling on it some more, I realized that I could share the routes - right out in the open. But to do that, I'd need to camouflage them a bit - so I wasn't just giving away the keys to the castle. The solution - I realized - was to give anyone the the ability to make their own keys. A set of keys that I use to build my trips as well - the Keys to Route Planning.
The Route Planning Series
So, if you're looking to follow in my footsteps or see just a slice of one of my adventures - you can! Most of the "tracks" are all there in plain sight, described in the trip report. Road names, natural and man-made places, relative directions of travel - all of these things are spelled out*. A trail of breadcrumbs for the eager explorer. Grab your favorite beverage, a chair, and some maps. Read through the trip report carefully, make note of the landmarks, and follow along on your map. Enjoy the process of building a route, the satisfaction of knowing that you've solved a puzzle.
Because, if you're not willing to spend a bit of time solving a puzzle in order to experience the natural wonders of our world, it's probably better that you don't find them.
Ready to Go Somewhere Awesome?
* There are a few places that aren't spelled out and show up in a trip report like this: ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ . These are cases where the place in question is extremely sensitive, or where others have asked me not share specific names/locations. In order to show my appreciation and maintain their trust, I've redacted the content.