Many years ago, I was traveling from Dallas, Texas to Norman, Oklahoma. It was the familiar interstate route, a straight shot north. It was also dull and repetitive, so I decided to hop onto the local roads and find my way across the state border at a new unknown spot, a pioneer in a Plymouth Fury. The Texas blacktop led me through small cow towns where experience told me my New Jersey accent would not be an asset. I double-checked my fuel gauge to ensure I could make it into Oklahoma without incident. I attended university in Oklahoma, so I felt a small extra measure of security within its bosom, despite my decidedly east coast bearing. Just get across the state line. That was all I wanted.

The north Texas towns were increasingly sparse. As I wound through the emptiness, road signs became a memory. I had a sudden fear I was not heading towards the border. Although I knew with the sun on my left I pointed north, the lack of any tangible proof I was going the right way was disconcerting.

I passed a road sign with information that was useless because I had somehow ended up on a road too meager for the cartographers of the Rand McNally atlas to chart. I again reassured myself that as long the sun stayed to my left I was northbound. If I were northbound the Red River, which formed a natural border between the states, would inevitably appear.

Late afternoon quickly passed into an early evening that advertised encroaching night. I failed to account for this. Darkness suddenly fell with the determination of a sheriff’s posse chasing a horse thief.

Night is wholly different where electricity is a myth. Until that moment, nighttime was peppered with the soft glow of streetlights and table lamps, or the simple reassurance of headlights from passing vehicles. Not now. No cars shared the road and no buildings punctuated the landscape. Not a 7-11, not a small ramshackle house, not even a lean-to. At some point, the asphalt had turned to dirt and rocks, a thin mysterious vein through a dark heart. I melodramatically imagined it led to a future out of Deliverance. I wandered through this labyrinth in desperate search of a wide enough berth where I could turn back, although I had no idea how that would help. The chaotic complexity of backwoods Texas totally disoriented me. I was in a thicket of trees and brush. The only available sky was directly above. Not that it mattered since the sun had long abandoned me. I resigned myself to the harsh truth: I was spectacularly lost. I felt sudden nostalgia for the impersonal interstate with its speeding traffic and brightly lit truck stops and reflective mile markers.

I ventured carefully forward with weak conviction the road would magically circle back to something resembling pavement. Instead, it stopped dead at the shores of a muddy and foreboding water. This was not the Red River. It was too wide, too big, too much. I snatched the atlas, turned on the interior light, and discovered I was probably looking at something called Lake Texoma. The good news was the state line was obviously close. Why else would the lake name be a mashup of Texas and Oklahoma? The bad news was it ran through the middle of this demon cesspool, one that no bridge crossed. Amid my not so silent outbursts at the injustice of it all, I was thankful for my happy, but soon-to-be short, life. Then the wind rustled through the trees and something wonderful happened.

I suddenly realized there was no need for despair. I purposely left the security of Eisenhower’s highway system for something different and that was exactly what I got. Did Lewis and Clark abandon hope as they blindly made their way west? No, they did not. Anxiety turned to excitement. Surely, I could find my way out of this little mess and reach a border crossing. When that happened I would experience the same level of jubilation Columbus did when he first spotted what he thought was India. And he was 9,000 miles off-course. The worst I could do is stumble into Arkansas.

Off I went with a new attitude, although when I passed a sign that read “Private Property. Trespassers will be shot” I strengthened my resolve to pay closer attention to all the nuances of the twists and turns. Eventually I spilled out onto a county two-lane with an actual road number. I gave myself the kind of over-exaggerated self-congratulations that only comes when you correct stupid, self-inflicted mistakes.

***

Last week Caryn and I headed to a town 35 miles away for a nice brunch. I rode shotgun and consulted my phone the entire trip to ensure we made the correct turns at precisely the right places, despite the fact most of the ride was on major roads. As I alerted her to an upcoming turn, I suddenly recalled my north Texas adventure. I realized how grateful I am now that I did not have ready access to such detailed information on that late autumn night long ago.

Today it has become difficult to get lost when driving. Maybe a GPS guides us, maybe a map on our phone, maybe a detailed printout from the web. Whatever tentacles of technology accompany us from A to B, we will most certainly arrive at the prescribed time with no fuss, save the actual drive. That is sad. By denying ourselves the chance to get lost, we have actually lost something far more precious. We have lost the possibility of unforeseen adventure.

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Comments
  1. I loved the story, John! Having said that, a man alone on an unforeseen adventure may be a fabulous thing. A woman in the same situation? Not so much. I would panic being lost in the middle of nowhere, especially in the dark. Never was I happier than the day I got my first GPS – make that my only GPS, I still have it – a Magellan I named “Maggie.” I always prefer the scenic routes to any highway and the freedom to drive like a local in an area I’ve never been to while “Maggie” guides me is not only comforting but keeps me safe. Rock on technology! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rangewriter says:

    Oh I’ve missed your delightful voice! I was right there with you, have been right there with you, lost on a desolate, dusty strip of dirt that seems to unroll endlessly into the future. Trust me, it can still happen. Out here, the geography and spotty technology spell disaster for anyone foolish enough to think their phone can get them out of trouble! I’ve felt that same gnawing worry as a road I thought should bend right, bent left instead, then dead-ended at a “posted” cattleguard or gate. I curse my stupidity every time this happens. Then off I go the next time to make the same perilous mistakes! Ah, adventure. What is life without it?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dina Honour says:

    My husband and I spent one New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas. On a day trip, we headed out to view the Hoover Dam. On the way out, the traffic heading back toward Vegas was atrocious. Surely there’ll be a turn off somewhere soon if we head off in another direction, my husband said. No point sitting in all that traffic.

    We ended up in Arizona–straight line, no turns. We came across what could have been a shortcut, down a bumpy, dirt road. Oddly, it had a road sign, though now I can’t recall the name, but it was something innocuous. Oak St., Maple Rd. , something like that. We read the map, trying to figure out if it led anywhere.

    We made it as far as the trailer parked–where I was suddenly convinced a serial killer with two remanning teeth was holding some poor unsuspecting soul hostage before I begged my husband to turn back toward the tarmac. 2.5 hours later we were back in our hotel room on the strip.

    It makes for a great story, but holy shit, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so scared in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

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