Google Maps: adventure travel

Sometimes I wonder what we did before the Internet and smart phones. Sure, I remember having to negotiate trips to the library to find things out (since their reference materials were always more current than the set of 1978 World Books we had at home).

I vaguely recall speaking to actual people to find out the best recipe for leftover cabbage, and sometimes memorizing their phone numbers. (Fun fact: I can still remember my Grand­ma’s phone number. She’s been in heaven for almost 15 years. I have trouble remembering what years my children were born.)

I definitely remember how important it was to know how to read maps, and always keep a current road atlas, plus at least one individual map for each surrounding state. Getting lost could be lethal.

Fast forward to the present day. Don’t worry about catching a ride to the library. Every factoid you could ever want to know is available on the Internet. Ditto recipes for everything, not just leftover cabbage. And you don’t even have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to, let alone do anything as bothersome as memorize a number. Just add them on Facebook or have them send you a text.

Problem solved.

Even those bulky maps and atlases are gone—and you don’t have to learn how to fold them either. Just ask Google Maps to point you on your way.

There’s just one small problem. Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Not every factoid is actually a fact. There is no best recipe for leftover cabbage. And Google Maps may or may not be the route you thought you were going to take.

You’d think we would have learned our lesson last year on a driving trip to New Orleans. We thought we’d mosey down through Hot Springs, Ark., and make a mini-honeymoon out of what was originally a business trip. All fine and dandy.

Hubby programmed our destination into Google Maps and asked it to take us the most direct route. It all seemed normal, and the scenery was, after all, gorgeous. We caught a glimpse or two of some major highway, but never suspected it was the one we should have technically been on.

Everything went just fine until we noticed it was getting dark, we were low on gas, and neither one of us remembered seeing a gas station within the last hour or so. We finally realized that the “most direct route” was the one that avoided the loopiness and apparent meanderings of the main highway—which, by the way, was home to plenty of gas stations. We were even somewhat wary heading through Mississippi, but everything seemed legit that day.

After trusting Google Maps with some smaller trips, we again let it tell us how to get home from a Tae Kwon Do tournament in Nebraska. It had, after all, gotten us there in one piece. Why should we doubt that it would have trouble with the way back? We were all tired and sore, and it was a dark and foggy night. We filled up with gas and headed out. Hubby didn’t even tell it to go the most direct route. We just wanted to get home.

The first miles rolled by uneventfully. We chatted back and forth, reliving the day. The map’s haughtily calm voice directed us which way to turn and when, and we naturally assumed that the way home would be smooth.

Then we were rudely awakened. “Turn right onto 580th Street,” the voice commanded. Hubby did so… right onto a dirt road. We remembered that the last time we were in Nebraska, Google Maps had also taken us down a dirt road for about a mile, but that was on “direct route” setting. We weren’t using that this time.

Not to mention, looking at the route on the smartphone screen instructed us to proceed on this road for another 16 miles! Sixteen miles on a dirt road on a rainy, foggy night, in the backwoods of Nebraska. What else could we do? We began to laugh uproariously.

Darling daughter snapped out of her nap and demanded to know what was so funny. “We’re on a dirt road,” we said.

“SO?” Her response sent us into further paroxysms of laughter. She must really be a farm kid if she sees absolutely nothing wrong with traveling down a dirt road. The fact that it’s in a completely different state at night didn’t faze her a bit.

It turns out that laughing makes time pass faster. Between keeping our eyes peeled for UFOs (Unidenti­fied Farming Objects, remember?), negotiating sharp curves and wondering what strange and unearthly creatures we would find stuck in the grille when we got home (a la Stephen King’s story “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut”), our imaginations provided us with plenty to laugh about. We soon emerged onto a paved road with sighs of relief. Or, in Darling Son’s case, snores. Poor kid slept through the whole thing.

We eventually found ourselves in somewhat familiar territory, and managed to arrive home with no further excursions down unpaved routes.

You may have heard of Googling, the act of looking things up on Google. You may have heard of muddin’, the act of traveling through mud. Hubby and I have decided that the proper term for looking up a route on Google maps and then following it, no matter how far off the beaten path it may go, shall heretofore be known as Googlin’.

If you plan to try Googlin’, make sure you bring a sense of humor. You’re going to need it.

Shana Thornhill lives on farm near Marion. She can be reached at

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