Not so long ago I planned a solo backpacking trip, three days in the woods. It seemed like a simple thing. My wife would drive me out to the trail head one morning, then return a couple of days later to take me home. I looked at the trail maps and planned out the days. I googled the directions and we headed out.

I packed my bags with the usual supplies and provisions. I had a map for the trails, with my camp sites picked out. The three of us saddled up, my wife driving, my son on his booster in the back seat. I called up the map on my phone and off we went.

The windy roads took their toll quickly and we had to pull over so that my wife could get sick. Yes, she has the miraculous ability to get car sick even when she is doing the driving. We kept down those rural roads and followed the directions that Google gave us. We left cellular phone coverage, but thankfully technical wizardry kept doling out a route.

I should have realized that the sign was a bad portent. A poorly painted sign warned that our destination wasn’t ahead, that we should turn back and take a different road. Only my stubborn belief kept us from turning back there. We continued on, up narrower, unlabeled roads. It took time, but eventually I realized that I’d been a fool and I had no idea where to go.

My Google maps had failed me. We turned around and started back. Along the way we stopped and my wife asked for directions. It turns out that we were miles from where we wanted to be. I hung my head and called it, we were too lost and too late. Even if we managed to get to the trailhead now, I had already lost a half a day of hiking. There was no way that I’d be able to keep up my intended schedule.

So we drove home. The windy roads claimed another victim as my son got car sick. I felt defeated and worse, I had made the rest of my family come along for the ride and get sick.

The following few days, as I stowed my gear and placed it in the basement for the season, I pondered the lessons of this failure. I had fallen for the lure of the gadget. Using Google maps had never steered me wrong before, but I had heard all the stories of poor GPS directions. I should have been carrying a road map. Without one, once we were outside cell coverage, we were flying blind.

There were other small failures in my planning, but they meant nothing compared to the catastrophic fail of not being able to locate the trail head. Lessons have been learned and next year I will adjust. I’ll research the driving better. I’ll make sure to have backup maps. I’ll be a little better prepared.

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