When GPS fails, the real fun begins

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| July 20, 2011

Our phones are a treasure trove of ridiculously cool uses. After all, they’re built to be our one-stop shop for everything we need, whenever we need it. Need to find the local gas prices? Your (smart)phone can do that. Need to keep the kids entertained while you drive? Yep, phone’s got that covered, too. Just need something shiny to stare at for a few minutes to avoid an awkward situation? Handled. Our phones are great, and for those who’ve needed to use their smartphone to actually find out where they’re going, the GPS navigation helps quite a bit. But, as I found out recently, sometimes when it fails, insanity ensues.

With all those great features in our phones, we put a lot of stock in them working. If the phone doesn’t work, then all of those great features don’t really mean much now do they? They sure don’t. And while our GPS navigation may not seem like something that would flake out on us all the time (it usually doesn’t), there are places that we can find ourselves that just cause hiccups to happen in the system, if you will. For me, it was when my GPS navigation failed on me, leaving me to try and figure out my way across a brand new landscape.

I’m someone who likes to get outdoors quite a bit, so when I moved up to Washington State, I didn’t waste any time in finding some local hiking trails. While I’ve been to the area before, that had been many, many years before, so not much actually looked familiar anymore. There were a few points here and there, but for the most part I was in foreign land. But, on the way there, my GPS on my phone was working great, and I had my navigation planned ahead of time. There were some bumps in the road, but in the end my phone got me to where I wanted to go.

The way back? Yeah, nothing happened the way it was supposed to. It began when I decided to take a forest road that I hadn’t originally planned on. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but it looked too good to pass up and I managed to get some great photos. In any event, when I got back on the road, despite having full service and 3G coverage, my phone just couldn’t put two and two together, and it was unable to find me. Sure, there was a little blue dot corresponding to my closest location, but the rest of the map wouldn’t load, and when I tried to type in some directions to get me home, the mapping service just wouldn’t have it. Basically, I was looking at a brown and gray grid, with nothing to show for it except the gorgeous mountains behind me.

So what do I do? I wing it, of course. Without missing a beat I make my way on the road in which I came in on. But, since I had taken a detour to get to where I was now, getting back to where I actually needed to be to get home and not to just more forest roads was a bit of a hassle. But, after some work and navigation, I finally got onto the road I thought would take me home. It was the work of only five minutes for me to realize I wasn’t going the right way, and actually (after taking a U-turn enforced upon me by the highway I was on), I was heading back into the park I had just left.

I couldn’t find a turn-around point thanks to traffic and the road itself for quite some time. When I did, there was another forest road that lead deeper into the park I was in. I sat and stared at it for a few minutes, and rationalized with myself that I was already lost, so going down this road wouldn’t hurt anything. And I was right. Despite being ridiculously lost, I had stumbled upon this forest road and it lead me to something so beautiful that I can barely put it into words. I had been complaining to my phone ever since the device couldn’t find me, and when I came to the end of the trail and saw the waterfall in front of me, with the huge mountain looming before me, I couldn’t thank it enough. Basically, while GPS failed on me about as much as it could, it turned out to be one of the greatest moments that I can remember.

Technology fails. It’s just a part of life that we all have to accept from time to time. Sure, we would love it if it all just worked all the time, no questions asked. But things happen. I had a pretty amazing experience after technology failed on me, and it lead me to a place I’ll never forget. And I’m sure you’ve got a few stories of your own, where technology failed on you and something completely ridiculous happened after. So let me hear your story in the comments below.