When I was growing up there was, under my parents’ bed, a massive flipbook with maps of the towns of Maine.
While I’m certain it started its life as a useful aid for planning trips, it didn’t keep that utility for long before my brother and I ruined it. With markers and crayons and whatever implements we could find, we sketched our fantasy trips – on and off of roads – around the state.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a bit of an obsession with maps. Guides to places real and imagined line my office. Give me a novel with a map in the endpapers, and the rating instantly goes up a star. As much as I love the writing in the AMC’s Maine Mountain Guide (and I do, really), the maps are what live in my glovebox. And I’m not alone. Cartographers, historians and travel stores have reported an increased interest in maps in recent years, even as digital maps and smartphones become ubiquitous.
While it’s one thing to look at a printed map, it’s another to find one that actually inspires you to travel. I’ve recently found this inspiration in the Portland, Maine, Bike Map produced by The Vigorous North Publishing. It’s a beautiful piece of work that’s inspired me to get out on my bike in and around Portland.
The map was designed by Christian MilNeil, the Portland-based writer and designer behind the blogs Vigorous North, a guide to wilderness in cities, and Rights of Way, which advocates for better civic design in Portland.
After serving for half a decade on Portland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, MilNeil took on the creation of a local bicycle map. With the aid of local designer Sean Wilkinson and a grant from Healthy Portland, the map was produced in 2011. In writing this piece, I discovered the map is an analog version of the Portland Maine Bike Map on Google Maps, a resource I’ve used for years.
The printed version is an elegant piece of work that looks good without losing usability.
One side covers the Portland area from Falmouth to Scarborough, helpfully color-coded to show the most and least risky routes for cyclists. Along with shared roadways, it denotes routes with wide shoulders, bike paths and planned bike paths. While smaller side streets aren’t named on the map (I wouldn’t suggest using it to find a friends’ address), it’s stellar for its primary purpose of aiding cyclists around the Portland area.
The other side is dominated by a detailed map of Portland, from Libbytown and Oakdale to Casco Bay. It helpfully notes bike routes around Portland, and red circles highlight dangerous intersections, like those around exits 5, 6, and 7 of Interstate 295. The rest of the sheet contains helpful reference information, including Portland Transit Services that can accommodate bicycles, a bike shop directory, a safe riding guide, and mileages around Portland, Westbrook, Scarborough and Falmouth.
The map retails for $6 and is available at a number of stores around Portland – there’s a full list at www.vigorousnorth.com. A portion of proceeds benefits the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and Portland Trails.
It’s not just a good map – it’s inspired me to get out on my bike and explore the city. My favorite route is a loop around the Eastern and Western Promenades, but more ambitious riders can easily make their way to Saco, Windham or Sebago Lake with the aid of the map.
Vigorous North isn’t alone in the world of local cartography.
Peaks Island’s Steve and Angela Bushey founded Map Adventures in 2004, and publish maps covering Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and California. I featured them in this column years ago, but will again recommend their excellent maps. The Peaks Island map in particular is great for cyclists visiting the island, and the Portland Trails map covers the trails for hikers and bikers that make up the urban network.
And of course I can’t forget the behemoth DeLorme. Founded nearly 40 years ago by David DeLorme, the company that started with the essential Maine Atlas and Gazetteer now produces printed atlases, maps and topographic software, and boasts expertise in communications and GPS technologies. As a lifelong map lover, it warms my heart that one of the world’s premier mapmakers is right in my hometown.
As we reach the final days of summer, I encourage you to revisit the analog world of paper maps and atlases. It’s a tactile way to look at the world, and fuses art, science and utility. And at their best, maps inspire us to go out and explore, and what’s better than that?
Also, if you’ve discovered a surefire way to refold maps correctly, please let me know. That’s one skill that after years obsessing over maps, still escapes me.
Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. He can be contacted at: