It was Sunday, December 7th, 2014, exactly 73 years after the Pearl Harbor attack, when we drove to Carlton, Oregon and took Meadowlake Road into the foothills of the Coast Range Mountains, the southern section of the Tillamook State Forest. We soon passed the McGuire Reservoir as we had at least a dozen times before and the weather was cool, mostly dry.
We normally carry emergency supplies such as matches, flashlight, flares, extra food, water, gun, extra shoes, socks, heavy blankets, coats and extra long sleeved shirts, etc, and let someone know where we we're going. But today we told ourselves we'd be gone for only a couple hours, so why bother packing all that stuff?
About 15 miles south west of the Reservoir we saw an unpaved road we'd never taken on our many trips up this Nestucca River road area. One road led to another, narrow logging roads around steep mountains, through a few patches of clear-cut, logged out areas with steep dirt roads with sheer drops to the distant canyons below. This was one such road. We loved the idea of going somewhere we'd never gone before. You know the feeling.
There was no cell phone coverage here and we had no emergency supplies.
Because we had gone so far, my plan now was to come out of the forest somewhere just west of Forest Grove. I kept a good eye on our Garmin GPS map. The odd thing about Garmin GPS maps is that when in the country, they are nearly useless, at least pretty inconvenient. Just zoom out a few ticks to see where you actually are, and all those little roads disappear and you're sitting in the middle of the country with no map detail, as if stranded in the middle of the pacific ocean. It's horribly myopic and ridiculous. Garmin should have an optional setting to give more detail. I mean, it's there. Just display it when needed. For me, this makes Garmin horribly flawed.
We took many turns twisting turns where the scenery looked interesting, forks in the road led here and there. We had no worry because with a good full-sized GPS system in the car, we could always find a way down the mountain from just about any road.
Or so I thought.
Near some summit somewhere, on some lonely mountain, surrounded by clear-cut former forest, our dirt road ran a few feet from a vertical drop-off of perhaps 1200 feet to the bottom, and further down if you don't count a few boulders.
Did I mention I hate high places? I had little problems when younger but as I aged, my fear of heights has increased to the point of being ridiculous.
I slowed to a crawl our SUV moved around the corner of the narrow one lane mountain road on my left, leading to the ravine below. Something was pulling me toward that dangerous edge, to certain death. My fear was unfounded I knew but there it was, in my face, nearly uncontrollable. I mean, was the side of the mountain going to suddenly fall, was I going to jerk my arm forcing us off the road? No, of course not. Seems I was a prisoner in my own stupid mind.
As my fingers dug into the steering wheel, I kept telling myself, in some kind of mad mantra, "just keep straight and slow. No sudden movements. " I concentrated, asking my wife not to talk, not to move. No one said a word as I drove two miles per hour around the steep corners, too afraid to look to my left downward, adrenalin pumping.
We finally got around the curves somehow and I relaxed. Damn, afraid of a few hundred feet below! My wife was fine. She even asked to drive. It was just me. I hated it, hated that I couldn't control the relentless fear of careening over the edge.
When it was over, I told my wife I'd rather walk home than drive back over that ridge again, and there was no way in hell I'd ever let my wife drive over it. No way! Period. Not that she couldn't. I know she could. But having someone else drive with me in the car would be more unnerving. Yeah, I could walk behind as she drove but I'd never be able to stand straight again. As it was, I was leaning pretty heavily to the right, a position quite different from my feature articles.
Anyway, I viewed the map and entered a destination for the Trask River Road, thinking that was a well known area and we'd surely find a way home down the mountain via that route. But a few seconds after entering the new route, my Kenwood / Garmin GPS told me in a crazy audible voice, "Make a U-Turn in 1/4 mile."
A U-Turn? No way. I've heard that one before and it's nearly always followed by a voice stating a new course had been calculated and the destination would be outlined in violet.
I drove a few hundred feet beyond where the U-TURN arrow on the Garmin map indicated and saw that according to the map, I was off the road by a hundred feet or so.
What the hell!
The indian trail we were actually on had long tree and brush limbs trimmed and were sticking into the road a bit, forcing me to drive slowly as not to scratch our SUV. Deep pot holes filled with rain lined the road everywhere. I was still confident because we have four-wheel drive.
The Garmin GPS map indicated an intersecting unpaved and unnamed road to the left. But there was no turn, no road. Garmin was wrong again. Suddenly the road ended in a pile of brush. There was no exit. No intersection, just a dead end, as were my hopes of winning the Pulitzer.
I had no choice but to make that U-turn to return to the road of a few minutes earlier, but certainly not as far as the sheer cliff drop off. I was not about to venture there again, not in my lifetime.
I had never seen such a deceptive GPS message from Garmin before and wondered why, at this incredible moment, would such a message suddenly appear. Of course, there was no way to update the map here so I turned around and drove another few hundred feet. Suddenly the Garmin GPS system again told me to make U-Turn!
I kid you not. The Garmin system indicated I should return to the very dead-end location we had just visited when I was urged to make a U-turn. This was now a vicious circle. A strange feeling began creeping up my yellow spine. I knew what was ahead and behind us. My wife and I spent the next 20 minutes looking for some possible road intersection we may have missed.
But there was none. I looked at my wife and she at me, both of us feeling like a rat trapped in a cage, no way out. I little smile cracked her lips as we realized we had absolutely no other choice. Some day I'll need to ask her about that smile.
Inevitably, I had to drive back over the steep mountain road I had swore I'd never drive again, where the sheer cliff dropped hundreds of feet next to the dirt road around the curves to the valley floor.
Perhaps it was because I was now further from the edge that made my drive around the cliff a bit easier, which is pretty silly because if the car was to slide off the mountain, we'd both be inside no matter what.
But we made it, finally, as dusk began to eat us up.
Now, all I had to do was select the HOME button for a destination and Garmin should take us there nearly as fast as Dorothy's return to Kansas. So, destination punched in and we were on our way, navigating the many turns we'd taken, or perhaps some different route Garmin had chosen as the fastest way home.
In a few minutes a voice on my GPS Garmin System told me to "Make a U-Turn in 1/2 mile".
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
[Paraphrasing Ernest Thayer, Casey At The Bat]
What was going on? Have Garmin programmers no idea how to control map navigation? I had a sudden vision of our decomposing corpses found in the spring, forcing our relatives to sue Garmin for their silly maps so cleverly contributing to our death. Of course, Garmin would counter saying I should have updated their inadequate map.
I found a road that seemed to head down to the general direction I thought was southeast. Then after a while the Garmin GPS system stopped working completely. There was no indication of any road anywhere. We were lost in translation, heading down to who knows where. I imagine it had something to do with being surrounded by mountains, not enough satellites to coordinate our movement. But there was no warning or indication from Garmin that such a situation existed. Brain dead. Has Garmin ever thought of a class action lawsuit?
After a long while, our rock road turned into the paved Trask River Road. I felt pretty darn good about that. Before too long we came to a truck along the right side of the road filled with teenagers trying desperately to climb a large rock pile with their F150. I didn't ask why they were attempting to get on top of a twelve foot rock pile because my wife and I had just taken our SUV on top of a larger pile.
I asked for directions and was told the road to Tillamook was 20 miles further down Trask River Rd. Our GPS was working again, and, apparently, all was well. We had enough gas to get to Tillamook, which is where we gassed up for the long trip home. We listening to Christmas music and made a promise to stay home for a while, or at least update the GARMIN Map before we ventured out again to the mountains.
Photo: Garmin Map U-Turn logo.
Photo 2: Coast Range Mountains. Photo by Aubra Salt.
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