Thursday, October 14, 2010

Directionally Challenged

For the record, I am most definitely directionally challenged. Over the years, I've been lost a number of times and am usually quite capable of getting myself unlost. Such occasions don't cause me distress at all, except when I somehow got lost in the Chicago projects.

That is a very long story.

Anyway, yesterday (Wednesday), I got a call from Camp Kern, a YMCA camp near Lebanon, Ohio. The entire fifth grade at Nick's school had been there since Monday hiking and petting snakes and learning about nature and getting dirty and dancing around campfires and sleeping in bunk beds. The students were scheduled to return to school early afternoon on Wednesday.

The phone call was from the nurse, who informed me that Nick was sick. I shall not give details, but the poor boy needed to be picked up and brought home.

In all the paperwork sent home about camp, there was a map showing very clear directions. I'd never been past the camp before, but George rides his bike around that area all the time and knows it well. I figured with this very clear map, I'd have no problem finding the camp and picking up my sick boy.

Oh, how wrong I was. You see, it's very, very wrong, when reading a map, to assume that the first interstate you come to is the RIGHT interstate. In fact, one should absolutely and without fail read the road signs and not mistake Highway 42 for Interstate 71. Especially when there is an immediate left just past Highway 42, as there is just past I-71 on the very clear map guiding you to your destination.

That immediate left (the wrong one, it turns out) forks into Wilmington Road and some other road whose name I forget. Anyway, I started by taking Wilmington Road because a big sign with a canoe on it pointed that way. But after driving about five miles, I crossed the the Little Miami River. The map clearly shows that Camp Kern is BEFORE the Little Miami, so I knew I'd gone too far. But as I backtracked, I couldn't find Camp Kern.

At that point, I suspected that I had taken the wrong fork, so I backtracked and took the other fork. After going over four miles, I realized that, indeed, I was hopelessly lost.

My first thought was that, undoubtedly, Camp Kern is listed as a point of interest on the Garmin GPS we bought for our trip to Minnesota in June. My second thought was that this realization was pretty useless to me because the Garmin was in my coat closet at home.

I realized that things had gone wrong back at the "left past I-71" and I needed to backtrack. I was, however, feeling the push of sick son was waiting for me. So rather than backtrack all the way, I pulled over and called George, not really expecting him to answer. But he did. What ensued was several minutes of debate as he searched Google maps and I told him I where I thought I'd gone wrong (without remembering helpful things like street names). I really wish I'd tape recorded this conversation for your entertainment because it was so clear that George and I were speaking completely different languages: he, the language of the former Air Force navigator, and I, the language of the directionally challenged.

Finally, I got to an intersection with street signs, and told him where, indeed and at that moment, I was.

He replied that it wasn't possible for me to be at the intersection of Emmon and whatever the name was.

Yet there I was, hopelessly lost yet still perfectly capable of reading street signs.

Then he asked me if I was heading west or south.


Sorry. You see, all I can do is guess on cardinal directions. The only time in my life when I felt comfortably oriented to the compass was the two year we lived in Wichita, Kansas. HELLO! That's a well-planned city on a grid. Unfortunately, I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Queens Road intersects Queens Road and unless you're in downtown, nothing is on a grid. Cardinal directions were simply no help in navigating in Charlotte, so I never really had much use for them.

George, on the other hand, spent too many years telling military pilots where to go and plotting targets for bombs. Directions HAD to be right, so his brain is hardwired to know where he is in space at all times. To him, asking which direction you're driving is a complete no-brainer. To me, the only answers come from wild guesses and trying to figure out where the sun is.

Do you see where I am going with this?

George had me turn left and found me on the map at the next intersection when he asked if there was an animal hospital on my right. YES! THERE WAS!!!! I fell instantly in love with Google Maps. At this point, he comforted me by saying, "Well, you're not as lost as you could be." He vectored me to the right road and I arrived at Camp Kern an hour and a half after leaving the house.

It took me and Nick less than a half-hour to get back home.

Nick had no problem finding his way to the sofa, where he curled up and watched movies with Daisy Doolittle.

Poor Nick suffered for my directional incompetence, but I'm happy to report that about three hours after I shot this photo, he was fully recovered and running around the house making pewwing noises while pretending to shoot mummies.

Don't ask. He's a boy.

Last night, George had to call up Google Maps and debrief the mission with me. He wanted to know where in the world I had been. We realized that Ennon Road has several names, not all of which were showing up on the scale map George had been using. He was really quite kind about it, though, and I suspect it's because the situation is similar to his comment about Daisy this weekend and how dogs make us feel "superior and loved at the same's a win-win situation." Well, he's directionally superior to me and loved by me. Win-win.

Yesterday's adventure taught me two things:

1. It is good for a directionally challenged individual to a) have a cell phone and b) be married to a former navigator. (Thanks, honey!)

2. It is even better for a directionally challenged person to take a Garmin navigation system with them whenever they go someplace for the first time so they don't get lost and look like a complete idiot to their loved ones and the world.

Care to share a time you got lost? How did you get unlost? Do you get upset when you're lost or are you, like me, rather accustomed to the situation?


  1. Oh, Susan, this was priceless! My husband and I have these discussions in the SuperTarget and the SuperWal-Mart. (I'm the one directionally challenged.) I'm OK in the stores near my home, but if we go to a store in another nearby town (that's laid out opposite to the store near my home), then I'm constantly making wrong turns. My husband wishes that our GPS worked in the store... I'm so very glad that he's (mostly) a patient man with my directionally challenged issues.

  2. thank you for a good laugh! When I was new to this area and would try to find my way home from the local mall, I always seemed to end up in a neighboring town.. how? I still have no idea... well, one day, after arriving home very late while trying to find WHERE I ACTUALLY DID LIVE, I announced that we might as well move to the neighboring town since thats where I always seemed to end up! My husband also has a built in GPS and asks silly questions like George or even worse,tells me to head east or west or someother direction that I can only guess at... at least we can laugh at it! ~ Julie

  3. This gave me a little chuckle today, Thanks! I love that I am married to someone who plans out everything and gets into the right lane for turning about 10kms before he needs to.. not sure that the feeling is reciprocated though and suspect there have been more times of stress wrt directions for him. The time we got most lost was while travelling in Europe - too many lovely little towns to explore and get distracted by and before you know it you have crossed into another country. Even worse when you are driving on the opposite side of the road than we are used to and everything therefore seems roundabout in your head!

  4. Oh! I so know where you were! I take those back roads to 71 to get to my beloved Archivers in Fields Ertel. I have NO sense of direction either. Is it bad to leave the GPS in the car? Of course, that's what husbands and cell phones are for!

  5. Of course there was that time in that cave and then more recently in the woods with my husband, but the roads here all run reassuringly north and south in the valleys and east and west across the mountains. Oh how lovely having large visual cues at all times. Great post. For a moment I almost panicked with you.

  6. I don't think I have ever gone someplace new and not gotten lost! All my friends and family know that it is guaranteed that I will have to make at least one turnaround and try again! And I have always told them....don't tell me 'north' or 'east'....I only know left or right!
    Thanks for delightful story of your 'adventure'.
    Lu C

  7. Oh yes this brings back memories of getting lost one evening after visiting my sister. Being directionally challenged myself, I would have been better off ignoring my sister and brother-in-law's advice that I could take an alternate route home on the freeway. Well, wrong freeway took me very far from home and into a neighborhood I did not want to be at 10 at night. I did not recognize any street or road, ending up calling my husband and he basically helped me figure out how to get to the right freeway. I still avoid that 'wrong freeway' to this day!

  8. Before we were an item, I took DH to the airport. Now, understand, I had only been there a couple of times since the 'new' one had been built. We got there just fine, but on the way back (by myself, of course) there was construction.... Needless to say, it took me almost three hours to make my way home - grateful the whole time that the mountains are in the west. As long as I kept heading toward them I knew I would get home eventually!
    On the other hand, I can navigate a mall with the best of them. DH can't ever seem to find his way out. Which is why Christmas shopping can be so, hmmm, "exciting"! :)

  9. GREAT stories, everyone!

    I don't leave the GPS in the car for fear of its being stolen. (George even had us bring it inside every time we stopped on our vacation in June.) There have been lots of break-ins and thefts targeting GPS in our area. But I'm going to take it out of the closet and put it in the mud room cubbies for easier access!

  10. Oh my. How I relate. Unfortunately, as I've gotten older, my directionally challenged state is getting worse. My DH bought a GPS the other day and at first I was irritated that he would spend that much money BUT, I've soon come to really like her (why are all GPSs all shes?). I usually go over my route carefully on MapQuest and/or Google Maps but "she" makes me feel more confident of where I'm going. However, she does get lost in my mountainous neighborhood but I forgive her for that :>)

  11. My first job out of college was as an admissions recruiter at a university in Northern Virgina. My territory was Northern New Jersey. Now, mind you, I didn't have a car in college, so I hardly ever drove. So here I am, 21 years old, driving around some of the busiest roads I'd ever seen...clueless! I will never forget being on my way to a high school or a college fair and having to pull over and cry because I had no idea where I was. I would pull myself together, read the map, and somehow get where I was supposed to be. To this day, that experience has helped me feel at ease reading maps and figuring out where I'm going. I'll never has the sense of direction my husband has, but I can hold my own with a map!

  12. I call it "geographically challenged" myself! Just last year I was going on a school field trip where I had to drive my car. I got to school at the appointed time and the kiddos were already loaded onto the bus. I pulled out and followed the bus with the three other cars with moms in it and went on our way. I congratulated myself several times along the way that I hadn't gone ahead to the Botanical Gardens and met the bus there since we were headed in the complete opposite direction from where I had thought we were going. After about 10 miles I called the school to ask where the gardens were when I found out I was following the wrong bus. The bus I was following was headed to Lincoln Boyhood Farm in a different state! Once I FINALLY arrived at the designated field trip designation my son was all worried, "where were you, mom??"
    How embarrassing!!

  13. When we moved to Atlanta I got so lost trying to get to an aerobics class. I had no idea where I was, it was terrible. It was long before cell phones and google maps. I ended up in tears thinking I was lost forever. Streets here change names and change direction, making it hard to know where you are.
    And I have to add a funny story about Camp Kern. My brother went there as a kid. My mom still talks about picking him up after a week there. My brother and his all his stuff smelled so bad that they had to ride the whole way home with the windows open.

  14. My brothers went to Camp Kern! (We grew up in Dayton!) Have you ever eaten at the Golden Lamb in Lebanon? Do you know that Neil Armstrong is an insanely-dedicated HS basketball fan and would come to Oxford for the annual championship games?

    (Sorry for the trip down memory lane. :))

    PS: I do have the sense-of-direction gene. :)


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!