This is Your SatNav Speaking

There's Mt. Shasta! We must be on the right road.
There’s Mt. Shasta! We must be on the right road.

On the one hand it’s a wonder we can find our way out of a cardboard box. On the other hand our navigational skills strangely complement each other so we get by, through or around most obstacles to our destinations.

Who planted these big trees right next to the road?
Who planted these big trees right next to the road?

Jimmy navigates by cities, towns, pubs (sadly few in the U.S.)  landmarks and an innate sense of direction. The last being something that eludes me as I can get turned around in a gas station as though I have been spun blindfolded. I can, however, read a map, use a compass, orientate myself (most days) with directions given in north, south, east and west and navigate by route numbers and road names on a town plan. “Turn left here, take the second right, go half a mile and the campsite will be on your left.” And there it is.

“How do you do that?” Jimmy is convinced a type of sorcery is at work when I find my way around an unfamiliar town merely by consulting a map. But he is quicker to read and interpret road signs, judge appropriateness of road conditions and take decisions. “I’m not turning there!”

“But the map says . . . . oh, no, you don’t want to turn there.” I’ve directed him to turn, trailer in tow, into a junkyard, a muddy farm track, dead end streets, supermarket parking lots and non-existent roads.

If this is the wrong road at least the scenery is spectacular.
If this is the wrong road at least the scenery is spectacular.

So between us and with a big dollop of tolerance for each other’s foibles we have found our way throughout Europe and the U.S.

Yes, this is the right road!
Yes, this is the right road!

Navigating in the U.S. comes easy to me as the road system – interstates and in towns – makes sense to me. I know my east from my west even if do very occasionally fumble my left and my right. Odd numbers on roads generally indicate north and south and evens east and west. In town, if we’re at 4400 Main Street then 5400 Main is ten more blocks. If we’re just passing First Street then Sixth will be five blocks away. Watch out for those pesky Streets vs. Avenues! Fifth Street is an entirely different notion to Fifth Avenue. Add Fifth Street SW and Fifth Avenue NE to the mix and then you really have to think it through before striking out across town but it’s all logical if you’re paying attention.

The grid work of a town plan is a just mathematical puzzle – up two, across three and down one block and voilà, there is the restaurant. There must be a bit of spatial awareness attached to this thinking that Jimmy doesn’t apply to the problem. But truthfully, I think he just doesn’t try. He doesn’t have to. No more than I have to get out of the car when it is raining (and even when it isn’t) and pump gas. By and large the U.S. road system is instinctive to me. I grew up on it. I don’t have to figure it out. It just makes sense to me like speaking English makes sense. Lubbock, Texas is the exception to this where even the locals can’t give you directions.

Generally I can follow squiggly routes on the map and end up where I intended except when under pressure, especially time pressure calling for quick thinking and spot-on decision making. Those are the times I give Jimmy as much information as I can and then let him make the mistake, I mean decision. He seems to think I don’t know is not an acceptable answer when asking me which way do I go here? and insists I say something specific even if when I have no idea.

Jimmy and I navigating our way up Lake Powell. Oh yeah, like that's us.
Jimmy and I navigating our way up Lake Powell. Oh yeah, like that’s us.

Perhaps the issue of blame is important when we are lost.

You thought I was kidding. There I am in the pink shirt under the left-hand arch of Rainbow Bridge. You can only get there by boat on Lake Powell. (I sometimes stretch the truth.)
There I am in the pink shirt under the left-hand arch of Rainbow Bridge. You can only get there by boat on Lake Powell. It was a slightly bigger boat than pictured above.
Córdoba: Back Streets of the Old Jewish Quarte...
Córdoba: Back Streets of the Old Jewish Quarter (Judería) (Photo credit: Jesse Varner)

The road system in Europe still baffles me. Their ancient roads have evolved over centuries, not been planned and laid out coherently like in the United States. Modern motorway systems are logical to someone who likes numbers but cities are often rabbit warrens of narrow lanes. Many streets have origins long before America was a twinkle in C. Columbus’ eye. The Jewish Quarter in Cordoba is one of many places to get lost on claustrophobic winding streets that even a Mini Cooper couldn’t maneuver. And I can’t apply any logic to European country roads.

How we ever made our way through France to the south of Spain and back again – new to RVing – is beyond me.

We even got lost in the Channel Tunnel Terminal and ended up on an empty platform – our departure time imminent and no possibility of a U-turn with a 26 foot trailer behind us. After a panicked phone call a Terminal Land Rover took us on a tour of the platforms, up one and down another, to lead us onto our train.

Now wasn’t that an omen of things to come?

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34 thoughts on “This is Your SatNav Speaking

  1. Good post. As someone whose left and right has never failed and couldn’t get lucky pointing to north, I’m often amused by our different capabilities. And forever grateful for the GPS.

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  2. You don’t want me as a copilot – I can’t even keep track of my own backside, let alone a map. I turn the map around so that it’s facing the same direction we’re driving in – PF takes the Mickey out of me every time, then we end up asking Bigfoot to pull out his singing dancing phone to tell us the way. The worst I have ever experienced was trying to find my way through central Milan – I ended up in a pedestrian precinct 🙂

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    1. My worst booboo was in Jerez. We toured the Tio Pepe bodega, I drank himself’s free sherry samples, sweet and dry as well as my own then couldn’t make any sense of the map to get back to the hotel. We ended up on the moon, at least that was what it looked like. And I didn’t care. Himself was not amused.

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    1. Saw it on a UK travel show many years ago and filed it away in my tiny mind. A boat trip to Rainbow Bridge was a birthday present for himself. It is amazingly beautiful, all the way there and all the way back. If you are in the Page area, go to Antelope Canyon. I should do a picture post of it. It’s incredible. Words are useless. You have to see it for yourself. 🙂

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    1. We have the equivalent, OnStar. It came installed in the truck. It gives directions if you ask it nicely, tells you when your oil needs changing and when your tires need air and calls the emergency services if you have an accident. It does everything but drive. I’m just a map nerd.

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  3. I know the feeling of having to say ” I don’t know” at the crucial moment because the GPS lost satellite connection. If all else fails follow the green signs on the highway. They will usually get you there. The job of navigator can be stressful.
    Ruth from At Home on the Road

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    1. The thing is – himself expects me to know AT ALL TIMES exactly where we are and where we are going. Because I’ve surprised him a few times with my “expertise” he thinks I have a SatNav installed in my head!

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