Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Deliberately getting misplaced while driving

I had a meeting out in the woods today in a location about an hour and a half from home.  It was raining when I left home and since the news had been forecasting a foot of snow at 4000 feet and snow going down to 2000 feet, I was prepared for snow.  The area I had to go to doesn't have a large population.  Some areas may see only two or three vehicles may pass by there all day.  In order to get to where I was going I have to cross a large river.  There are only three crossings within a 20 mile stretch.  When I drove out there I went the quickest way which was the middle crossing.  I wasn't going to have time to travel indirectly on the way home either because I had to be home early.  At least that was the intention when I left in the morning. 

I was supposed to meet three or four people who were fairly local (as I considered myself, being only 1 1/2 hours away) and three people were coming from about 3 or 4 hours away.  Those three carpooled.  They didn't listen to the weather reports.  It was raining when they left their homes in the morning but I guess none of them figured that going into the mountains may bring something other than sunshine.  They drove up the mountain in a little car without chains, winter emergency supplies, or even proper clothing for the weather.  They got to the meeting place and instantly cancelled the meeting because they were afraid they would get snowed in.  I was about five minutes from the meeting place when I received the call. 

Whatever,  I'm just there to provide expertise, I wasn't in charge.  I turned the truck around and decided to deliberately get misplaced on the way home.  I had time now since my two hour meeting was cancelled.  I had a full tank of gas, emergency supplies, clothes, food, tools, the normal that I carry.  It was adventure time!

I turned on the GPS but put it into the backseat.  I wanted to track where I went but didn't want to know exactly where I was.  I also put the map book away.  My challenge to myself was to take roads that I hadn't been on, or at least wasn't real familiar with.  This area is really hilly and curvy so it's easy to get misplaced since I'm not all that familiar with the roads.  The roads are all numbered, and they don't go in order.  400 may be right before 430 but right after 450.  It doesn't make sense.  The better to misplace myself! My challenge was to get to the first bridge, which is the least traveled. 

I tried to make a mental note of the landmarks.  I didn't take notes, which I normally would do.  I decided that at each four way junction I was going to turn.  No going straight for the river.  It was really great fun and a couple of times I was really confused.  My goal was to not go around in circles but to somehow zigzag my way to the river.  It was really a test of not panicking myself.  Of course it was daytime, and at any time I could have gotten the GPS out of the back and instantly known where I was.  

Once I got out of the mountains and down in the ranch lands, it was harder to figure out which direction to turn, since I still tried to turn at each junction.  Sometimes I couldn't because it was really obvious the road was going to nowhere.  Doing this you get a good sense of which roads are the more traveled roads, when it's dry you can see the dirt on the roadway.  Decisions are made by which road is narrower or which has paint markings.  You can also look at the road signs along the sides of the road.  Around here if there's a drainage under the road there is a road sign listing the road number, the distance from the beginning of the road (the south or west end of the road).  Even if you don't know where you are, if you find a road it's pretty easy to get relocated.

When I returned to the office I downloaded the GPS route I took onto a quad map.  I printed up the topo and wrote notes about some of the places I'd seen.  I did this from memory, although if I was doing a real recon I would have been writing notes and tracking myself (map and GPS) the entire way.

You should be familiar with the roads near where you live and where you travel.  If you normally work or visit or shop and hour or two from home you should be able to take every possible route to get yourself back home.  It should all  be familiar.  If it isn't then perhaps you should deliberately misplace yourself too.


  1. Isn't it fun! A couple of my friends and I do this once or twice a summer. We have a gold dredge we put on top of my Land Rover grab an old map of old mining towns, the GPS and just hit the road/trail/wagon ruts. I have my brother fly over burned out mining areas to get a general idea of where we want to go during the can see whole ghost towns marked out after a fire: really cool.

  2. When the children were younger and some time to spend/kill we would play a game, Left-Right-Straight Ahead. When we came to and intersection I would say "Left-Right-Straight Ahead" and a child would get to pick which direction we would go. Next intersection, next child would pick. We would zig-zag our way through the countryside and eventually get home. They saw new parts of the county and I got to travel out a bit.

    Have you ever been to Santa Barbara? It took me a while to get oriented there. When at the coast I always use it as a landmark, knowing it was on the west. But in SB the ocean is on the south. Finally figured it out.

  3. After working in the mountains above Santa Barbara it became really easy to navigate the city. Yes, it is disorienting to have the mountains on the north since around here everything is oriented to the mountains on the east but I was raised with ocean on the south.

    Just today one of the grandkids and I drove around the city in a part I've never been, although we've lived in the area for the past 14 years!