Tag Archives: Satellite navigation

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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Sat Nav to the Rescue

Map of Interstate 40

We realize now that all the exits off the scenic parkway have similar looking, unobtrusive tourist signs, not INTERSTATE 40 LEADING BACK TO YOUR TRAILER signs, so we didn’t think too much of it when at the bottom of the (wrong) exit ramp it looked a little different than we remembered and we couldn’t turn left as we both thought we should. Jimmy simply turned right and then executed one of his customary U-turns (first perfected over solid lines on a bridge in Toulouse, France where he was stopped by two scarily-clad-in-black-leather French motorcycle cops). After ten minutes of suburban touring along a five lane road with big chain stores looming over us, he finally said, “This doesn’t look familiar, does it?”

Compass (Photo credit: Roland Urbanek)

No, it didn’t look familiar and a quick glance at the compass prompted me to say, “We’re going south-west. I would have thought we should be going north-east.” I might just as well have spoken Japanese to him. For a man with a good sense of direction and the ability to find places by following his nose, he has never gotten his head ‘round the points of the compass. And we needed a town plan, not the state map that I clutched on my lap as a security blanket.

After shooting me a look of incomprehension, Jimmy suggested trying the sat nav. We pulled off the road into a strip mall parking lot, fumbled around under the seats, in the door pockets and finally in the glove compartment for the sat nav disk, dusted it off for its first outing in two years and popped it into the radio. The only instruction on the screen was to read the manual . . . which was in French. (Ha, ha, ha. So Teddy, the car salesman, had the last laugh. When we bought the car, he had tried to sell us the disk “at a really good price” but we had refused to pay for it as the car had been advertised with a sat nav and we contended that it wasn’t much good without a disk. Teddy magicked the disk out of the used car lot and the manual came from . . . . France?)

This is not our sat nav. We'd never get there using this method.

At a loss as to what to do next, we did what anyone in a similar situation would do and started jabbing the sat nav screen and swearing.

“What’s the ****** address where we are staying?”

“I don’t know. The zip code is 28778.” But of course that would be too easy. We couldn’t find anywhere to enter a simple five digit code. “Try Swannanoa, the suburb of Asheville where the campsite is.” The computer screen wouldn’t accept the second  “n” in Swannanoa. It blanked it out.  “Try Patton Cove Road. That’s near enough.” After the first few letters the computer suggested Patton Camp, Patton Hill, Patton Hollow and Patton School but wouldn’t allow Patton Cove as an entry. Jimmy jabbed back, back, back.

Swannanoa River at Asheville, North Carolina.
Swannanoa River at Asheville, North Carolina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There. Look. Phone number. Try that,” I blurted, my desire to articulate now gone. The sat nav wouldn’t accept the 800 free phone number I had looked up in the camping directory which came as no surprise as we were trying to pinpoint a location with it.

“Put the interstate in.” After much heated discussion as to whether it was I40, I-40 or I_40, the in-car computer refused to accept any variation of Interstate 40, faltering at the “0”.

“Here’s a phone number for the RV dealer next door to us! Try that!” I exclaimed triumphantly. The area code and first five digits of the phone number went in a treat but the contrary computer refused the last two digits. After three aborted tries, I snapped at Jimmy, “Oh put anything in for the last two digits. See what it comes up with.” We then had directions to First Presbyterian Church.

From memory of the directions we’d followed originally to the campsite the church was near where we wanted to go. Guidance Gertie now helpfully instructed us in her slow parlance for lost dummies, “Move out onto the indicated highway and verbal instructions will begin.” (Kind of sad and a little creepy that I’ve named the sat nav.)

“Well if we knew which highway to get on and in which direction, we wouldn’t be asking you, would we?” I yelled at Gert. Somehow it seemed slightly less

We weren't this far off course. it just seemed like it at the time.
We weren’t this far off course. it just seemed like it at the time.

deranged to bellow at a talking computer that couldn’t hear me, than my usual state of affairs – at a silent computer that couldn’t hear me.

As Jimmy pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway in the opposite direction to which we had been traveling, I glanced at the compass. It said NW.  “Yes!” and I punched the air gleefully.

“Proceed along the indicated road for five miles,” Gertie told us.

“Let’s see if she takes us to the church, shall we?” I suggested.

“I was intending to,” said a newly confident Jimmy. And she did. And she took us to Swannanoa with two n’s along I-40 with a zero and straight down Patton Cove Road past our campsite.

Can you find your way around with technology or is there some IT disconnect in just our brains?