No, the toughest thing about dealing with maps is not folding them up. It is choosing the right one for the occasion.
The right map depends on the form of travel: walking, driving, rafting, climbing, biking, sailing, riding a train. A world atlas is fun to peruse, all but useless for getting from here to there.
I set out to drive from Hyannis, Mass., to mid-town Manhattan using a Michelin tourist map for New England. It showed cranberry bogs and historic churches, the Myles Standish Monument and lots of covered bridges. It showed some routes and some cities. It also showed vast empty spaces between Boston and Providence, New Haven and New York, chunks that I knew to be strewn with towns and hamlets. Still, I thought I could wing it.
I missed highway exits because none of the names listed was on my map; I lacked information about shortcuts, scenic options, one-way streets. I circled Newport twice before I found the bridge out of town; I may have circled Rhode Island.
I ended up in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Connecticut Turnpike, being funneled into Manhattan in the fumes of 5 p.m. I was stuck for miles behind the high-bed truck of a hunter, the eyes of the deer he had slain upon me.
I was so eager to escape that I veered at the first chance to exit. I've never been in gridlock in Harlem before. It was dark and I was exhausted by the time I'd fought my way through a maze of one-way streets and into the Hertz garage on West 55th.
I'll never again just follow my nose. Instinct is not enough in a big city, with its constant change and construction.
For any trip, one should read a map and read it carefully.
As my husband was plotting a New England drive, he shouted:
"Hey. We drive through Quebec between New Hampshire and Maine. Terrific!"
I peered from the kitchen in puzzlement. He was staring at the Rand McNally Road Atlas. The left page ended with New Hampshire flanking Maine. The right page began with Quebec flanking Maine. But it was upper Maine. The maps were not contiguous. There was a pesky white margin that my husband did not see. Sure, he was disappointed.
In my zeal for shortcuts and discovery, I have led us down private lanes near Lake Geneva and had to back out with apologies to the farmer. I've insisted, from my perch in a Jeep, that the map of St. John showed a dirt road that snaked over the island and dropped again to the sea. When the shrubs closed in and the trail ran out, I saw that the only connection between the map's dotted lines was the printed name of the peak.
My record has improved with reading glasses.
I love the country maps of England, where the scale is one inch to four miles. I like to scan historical maps, which outline pre-Columbian trade routes of jade, cacao and quetzal plumes in the Yucatan.
I confess that I'm wild for the lore-laden map of the U.S. Southwest, from the National Geographic Society. That's where I espied, near the Mogollon Rim, a site marked Perry Mesa.
I suspect there's a city map that leads to Della Street.