Sunday, January 9, 2011

Faith-Based Navigation

For most of my driving life, I've found my way around using gas-station maps (a thing of the past) and the old faithful from Rand McNally. (current version pictured above) I've even done without. I took a short vacation when I was single and living in Vermont that I referred to as my "turn left" vaction - when in doubt, I'd simply turn left. It was an interesting way to see the area and I'm sure that I saw some things that I never would have found otherwise. It wasn't always an effective way to find my way around, but it was fun and I really didn't care where I was.

Since we've gotten married, DW and I have tended to go on vacation in the UK to go visit family and to see some of the tourist sites. Because we're on a relatively tight schedule, we need good maps to be able to get to the places we want to go to. More importantly, we need to be able to get to the places "on time" so that we can make the best use of our limited time. For the last few visits, we've used either borrowed UK road atlases or used our Ordinance Survey Maps. For finding specific attractions, we've downloaded directions from online mapping services like Google or Mapquest - a big change from the past.

On our visit to the UK this summer, we seemed to have more difficulty than usual navigating by map. Two things seemed to contribute to this - one was probably the age of the maps, the other was the resolution of the maps - it wasn't good enough for us to actually navigate in the city of Bath. Ironically, before we left my BIL's house, he had offered us the use of his GPS. We had turned down the offer based on our previous (successful) experience navigating with our maps. Instead, we carried on the family tradition of disagreeing on how to get there and the navigator's competence.

When we got to my MIL and FIL's house, we navigated based on DW's knowledge of the immediate area. One day we were planning to head to North Wales and my FIL offered us the use of his GPS. We accepted his kind offer and used it to good effect. It got us out of a few missed turns and in difficult streets around Caernarfon. The only issue that we seemed to have with the GPS was on our trip back to my MIL and FIL's house - there was a long stretch of stone wall on the left and the GPS kept insisting, "TURN LEFT. TURN LEFT NOW."

I think not.

We were planning to visit family in Southeastern, Pennsylvania at a new house. I know from a visit we took to the area that navigating there was fairly difficult. Roads are narrow and bend up, down and sideways. There also isn't much of a view to let you see where you're going, where you've been or to get landmarks. This fact along with an outstanding sale at a local electronics retailer led me to purchase a TomTom XL350T GPS.

The GPS is pretty neat - it will allow you to find gas stations, restaurants and the like along your way and has traffic updates to help you avoid back-ups. It does way more than I really need it to and will let me load UK maps for future travel.

We left early in the morning with a plan to visit a friend of DW and her family in New Jersey on our way to Pennsylvania for a lunchtime stop. Along the way, we studiously ignored the directions provided by the GPS because "she" wanted to take us though New York City on Route 95 - where we didn't want to go. When we finally left DW's friend's house, it was about 3 PM. We figured it would be another 2 hours to our final destination.

The New Jersey Turnpike had other ideas.

There was a significant traffic back-up on the Turnpike that delayed us for about 45 minutes or more. For whatever reason (probably pay-back for ignoring "her" earlier), we didn't get a warning about the back-up or didn't know how to interpret what we were seeing on the GPS display at the time. For us, the problem was that it was going to get dark before we reached our destination. We finally got out of the back-up and on to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and it was looking like things were going to be fine. When we were nearly at the exit we wanted, the GPS warned us that there was a delay on the planned route and suggested an alternate. We took it.

This was the beginning of the faith-based navigation. It was dark and we were on unfamiliar roads - we followed "her" instructions as they came. It felt like we were careening through the dark on some strange GPS driven roller-coaster as the roads we were on had few signs and fewer indications that we were on the correct path. The GPS told us that there was only 3 miles to our destination, but until we actually made the turn into my family's development, we had no clue that we were anywhere close.

Ain't technology wonderful?


Cat said...

I really like my Garmin GPS. It's not perfect, but it makes getting around Atlanta a lot less nerve-wracking. I can go barreling down the 8 lane highway (just keeping up with the traffic, which is crazy there) knowing that if I miss my exit, Garmin will still get me where I'm going.

I'm seriously considering using my Amazon gift cards (about half the family takes that route) to get a hiking / canoeing GPS for canoe trips.

Canoez said...

Must say that I really would have preferred a "hybrid" GPS that does both road maps and topo maps. However, they're really, really expensive. There is a function in this GPS for being on foot, but I haven't tried it yet.

Also, I wonder if there is a capability of downloading topographical maps.

Still, it is a pretty neat device. I'm pretty impressed with the ability to drive around traffic jams.

Jon said...

Too funny! We bought 2 Garmins recently (one for each vehicle). So far I'm liking it. I took Beth to Framingham 2 weeks ago and spent the day orienteering around the area while she was at a workshop. The only mistake it made was taking me to an out of business Jiffy Lube.