Katie From Alaska Part III: Don't Listen To Your GPS
This is the third and final installment of a multi-part series on my solo driving journey from Alaska to Minnesota. If you missed my earlier posts, check them out.
Don’t listen to your GPS.
Do yourself a favor and don’t take any shortcuts.
Although I never once opened a real, flesh-and-blood roadmap in the more-than-a-week I spent on the road (sorry, Dad), I had done something refreshingly non-dumb when I looked up the directions to Portland, Ore., (my first stop once I reached the U.S. again) ahead of time on Google Maps and screenshotted them so I’d always have them, even when I lost cell service for approximately 1 million hours in Canada. But, when my GPS dangled the tempting carrot of a detour that would shave 30 minutes off of the time Google Maps offered, my brain was addled enough to bite.
In what came to be the most memorable anecdote of my trip, I drove 30 minutes on a gravel road hidden in the trees and ominously marked “Pirvate Porperty” [sic]. My GPS swore it was the best way to go. And who was I to question her? She always sounds so confident, you know? With the “road” growing thinner and the potholes reaching next-level status, and with me uncomfortably listening to Mary Roach’s hilarious but queasy book on death, “Stiff,” I pushed forward. It wasn’t until I reached my first herd of cows blocking the way that I started to question my decisions. I looked around for the cow equivalent of a shepherd, hoping that he or she would gently shoo them out of the way. This was real life and not a Mother Goose tale so no such person existed.
These cows were renegades and knew no master.
They stared at me with giant, wet eyes and wondered what I hadn’t understood about “Pirvate Porperty.” “I know, okay?!” I said to the cows as I mentally scrambled for my next step. “Maybe if I move forward really slowly, they’ll get the idea and budge out of the way,” I thought. After all, the way out of this mess was just beyond the cows, my GPS said. That was when I started my first stampede. I followed the surprisingly swift herd of cows, and then another and another, to the fork in the road where I was supposed to take a right. But there was no right. There was no road. There was only a field, a slightly winded group of cows and me, shouting obscenities at my GPS, which hadn’t been updated since 2011 and had been reminding me to do so for the past year. I swear the cows I had passed the first time were judging me as I slowly, cursing but thankful that there was still plenty of sunlight left in the day, rolled by them a second time and made my way back to the trusty Alaska Highway.
From then on, I stuck pretty much to my Google Maps screenshots, although I did cross-check them regularly with my GPS and the promotional regional maps produced by local Chambers of Commerce and handed to me by friendly, khaki-shorted park rangers (thanks, Amy).
Katie Moritz is a journalist by training and the newest member of the Almanac team at Twin Cities PBS. She helps produce the weekly state news and public affairs show and is loving life in the Cities. No cows were harmed in the making of this blog post.