Please enjoy the original writing, Christian travel journal, and photography by a hapa haole named Gail Rhea.

Original Writing & Photography

by Gail Rhea




From: "The Hapa Haole Journal"

Sent: Friday, March 30, 2007 9:25 PM

Subject: The HHJ: Mapping a Course


Back when I was married and living in Texas, I was invited to attend a Wives' Day at the NCO Academy at Fort Hood. It might have been interesting to do the same things the soldiers were doing, but frankly, the only thing that I remember, other than the food being much better than complaints about Army chow had led me to expect, the only thing that I thoroughly enjoyed and that stuck was the navigation class.

There we were, a few women in civilian clothes brightening up the male sea of olive drab green in a huge classroom. There was an instructor at the front with assistants roaming the room to help students learn how to find and mark coordinates on our maps, then plot a course from point A to B to C and so on using compasses, protractors, and rulers. We also learned how to find ourselves if lost or disoriented and make our way back to the base camp. 

The test consisted of our being given "You are here" coordinates and being instructed to go in a specific direction for a specific distance. From that point, we were given more directions and distances. At the end of the series, we turned in our maps to be graded to see if we ended up at the right spot which was impossible for those who didn't start at the right place or who went astray somewhere along the intermediate points.

My results were the fourth highest in the entire class which pretty well bummed out the majority of the men when our instructor told them that they, professional soldiers, had been outscored by a visiting female civilian with no prior experience. Yes, their groans and mutterings were audible and I saw many heads turn to look at me. A few of them were gracious enough to come by later and congratulate me.

My then-husband, who had scored higher, came back to tell me the others were impressed that I did so well and looked pleased as he left to talk with the other soldiers again.

Fast forward over the years to when I realized I was going on this road trip. I searched for suitable maps, then gave navigation lessons to an interested friend who had been in situations where she found herself disoriented, not knowing in which direction to go. One session was in a large city park where I had her navigate to various points using a topo map I printed off the Internet.

She did great. 

Last week, when I stopped at REI to get more freeze-drieds and learned that they were having an introductory class on maps and compasses on Wednesday evening, I decided to attend.

The instructor for "Intro to Map & Compass" first passed around a variety of compasses for us to examine, from mirrored to hiking base plate to electronic, before introducing us to datums and explaining declination and features on topographical maps. He showed us how to take bearings on visible landmarks that are also identifiable on the map and triangulate our position on a map if lost or disoriented. His third line didn't intersect with his first two lines and he was left with a triangle.

His explanation was that while the intersection of all three lines is possible, it's not usual. Normally, there is a triangle, maybe so small and narrow that it's almost as if the lines intersected, maybe larger and broad if the bearings are inaccurate or if a declination error was made. Your position should be somewhere within the triangle, but depending on the accuracy of the bearings you take, may be somewhat outside. The main point is that you get a good idea about where you are and are no longer totally lost or merely disoriented. 

Of course, three lines (triangulation with landmarks about 120 apart) are more accurate than two lines (biangulation with landmarks about 90 apart), but triangulation is not possible for a woman kayaker in the class when she has only the shore on one side of her to use and can pick out and identify only two landmarks on her map.

What was disappointing for me was that the instructor didn't spend much time on plotting a course and we didn't get any hands-on practice. For me, that's the fun part. However, I think he spent enough time on map features and triangulation to help neophytes find themselves if lost or disoriented if the class didn't overwhelm or confuse them too much.

What I really appreciated was that he pointed out that a GPS receiver (GPSr) can be used in conjunction with a map and compass or as backup, but shouldn't be relied upon in lieu of a map and compass because it can be dropped and broken or the batteries can run out and render it powerless while a compass can still work adequately even if dropped and broken with the liquid draining out.

This latter point was evidently not grasped by a self-proclaimed easily disoriented woman photographer with whom I spoke after class. She showed us an expensive-looking whistle-compass combination that's good only as a backup to a good compass or as a travel aid should one get disoriented by the narrow, high-walled, twisty streets of Rome or any strange city. 

She explained how she used it when she and a companion encountered a three-way fork in a trail with only three posts remaining. Evidently, a vandal had made off with the trail name signs. Using her little compass, she and her friend were able to correctly "guess" (her word) the right trail for them to take. Her next step, she said, was to get a GPSr.

I was alarmed by her statement. Reiterating what the instructor said about dropping and breaking GPS receivers and batteries dying (not mentioning carrying spares), I told her that GPS units also won't work if the clouds are too thick or the tree canopy too heavy or ravine walls too high because all can prevent satellite signals from getting through to the receiver. Even geocachers in cities have problems with highrises creating urban canyons with the same effect of blocking satellite signals as do natural ravines.

She looked with dismay at the instructor who was listening and who nodded in agreement.

After a pause, she asked me, "What's geocaching? Is it very complicated? Should I even ask?"

"It's basically a treasure hunt," I replied. "Some people use it as a reason to get out and about and many get addicted to the fun. When the GPS signals were made available to the general public in 2000, some guy up in Oregon said, 'Hey, let's have a treasure hunt' and cached some really neat, expensive stuff, gave out the coordinates and said, 'Go find it.' The game spread across the U.S. and overseas. The only hard-and-fast rule is if you take something from a cache, you need to leave something of equivalent value."

Indicating the map features the instructor had drawn on the white board, I went on. "Usually, the harder it is to get to a cache, the more valuable the prize. Easier caches are family-oriented with less-expensive treasures in the $1-$5 range and some people just move prizes from one cache to another or simply sign the logs because it's the thrill of the hunt that they enjoy. McDonald toys are really discouraged."

The instructor nodded.

I continued, "You can go to for cache locations and information. There are some premium features that you have to pay for, but the basic stuff is free and I haven't had to pay for anything I needed from the site. As a photographer, you might find more suitable because it has places you can go see like scenic places instead of caches that are hidden. Whatever you do, I recommend you get a good compass and learn how to use it with a good map. There are a few geocachers that don't even use a GPSr; they go only by map and compass."

Poor woman. She was looking for an easy way to go farther afield and neither the instructor nor I were giving it to her. From the compass she showed us and the anecdote she related about being caught on a trail after dark and using her hiking staff like a blind man's cane to stay on the trail, I doubt she was ever properly prepared considering she didn't have even a keychain flashlight good enough to shed some light on her path. However, I didn't want to overwhelm or discourage her further by going there. If she keeps going to REI for classes and information, she should be exposed to enough information to keep herself safe.

What slammed into me during the class was how a few degrees of error will cause one to become lost. For example, because an error of 1 in declination or bearing results in 92 feet per mile of error on the ground, if one makes an error of 5, a person will be less than a tenth of a mile off-course after traveling for one mile which really isn't all that bad and it's possible to compensate in case such an error is made.

However, an error of 10 after ten miles of travel will throw a person nearly two miles off-course and intervening terrain over that distance could make a person totally lost.

Additional distance and/or more degrees of error, make it even worse.

I already knew this, but what slammed me was how wonderful an example of religious error it is. No wonder there are so many groups calling themselves "Christians" with so many differences in beliefs. We are so distant in time from Jesus of Nazareth with such a small percentage of us studying the Bible to verify what is being taught in our churches.

A preacher friend once told me that it's better to err on the conservative side than it is to err on the charismatic side, but from the scripture I know and as "Intro to Map & Compass" so aptly illustrated, an error in either direction will make us miss the heavenly goal completely.

How many people calling themselves "Christians" will end up like those soldiers missing their marks in the NCO Academy's navigation class? Consider that all the students received the exact same instructions and that those of us Christians who have access to the Bible can read it for ourselves. How many don't?

Acts 17: 11.  These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

2 Tim 2: 15.  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that  needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Matthew 25:
 1.  Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
 2.  And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
 3.  They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
 4.  But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
 5.  While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
 6.  And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
 7.  Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
 8.  And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
 9.  But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
 10.  And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
 11.  Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
 12.  But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
(verses about false prophets and comparison with fruit and trees)
 21.  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
 22.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
 23.  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Mat 7:
 13.  Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
 14.  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Eph 4:
 11.  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
 12.  For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
 13.  Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
 14.  That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.






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