I have always been a staunch proponent of a simple life principle: Use your GPS when travelling, and trust it. When people get lost, or give a ridiculous route option, I shake my head and wonder why they don’t use GPS—specifically the navigation app Waze—to get where they’re going in the most efficient manner.

Just recently, while attending a camp for the day in Prescott, Arizona, I had these same little scoffs go through my head as we fielded calls from folks who had taken wrong turns. “Why don’t people just use Waze? I never get lost. It always works out fine for me.”

Pride, meet fall.

As we were leaving the camp, Waze was telling us to head right down the fairly well kept dirt road we had used to arrive. “Didn’t we come from the other direction?” But Waze told us to right, so right we went. My wife, Maria-Renee, and daughter, Celia, were in tow, with Celia on the brink of a much-needed nap. The dirt road wound through the pine forest, and eventually we reached the side of the mountain. There were gorgeous views of sweeping valleys and towering peaks. It was lovely. Eventually, we reached a fork in the road, with options to continue straight, head to the right, or follow Waze to the left. But something felt off. None of the choices looked as well maintained as the current road, and we could not fully catch a glimpse of the road Waze was mandating us to use. “Well, this is the Waze said to go.” So we turned onto FR-53.

As we crested the hill, we descended a sharp decline onto a road littered with enormous rocks jutting from patches of dirt which had been washed out by rainfall and snowmelt. The narrow path allowed for no wiggle room around the rocks, which made horrendous scraping sounds on the underbelly of our Chevy Equinox. The steep grade we had just descended would have been nearly impossible to ascend, even if we could find a place wide enough to turn around. The only option was forward.

Fear gripped my heart. How the hell had this happened? Why had Waze betrayed us? And with my family in the car? As I navigated the car around the most treacherous portions of the path, the shocks and struts went to work to keep our car from jostling and collapsing. Scrape after scrape. Flirting with the edge of the path in order to avoid washed out ditches. It was then I realized neither of us had cell coverage. So we just had to keep pushing ahead.

Finally, we rounded a bend and the rocks became smaller for a moment. Ahead we spotted a man and a woman with their two dogs. They spotted us, and looks of pure bewilderment overtook their faces. Maria-Renee rolled the window down, explained how Waze sent us this way, and asked, fearfully, if the path was any worse ahead. “You guys definitely are through the worst of it. So you should be alright. You’ve got four wheel drive right?”

“Oh, yeah, totally,” I replied. Sometimes in life, you tell a white lie, usually to spare yourself from the pain that accompanies the truth. I couldn’t bear to see their reaction if I had said we were on two wheel drive, in a car that only goes through mountain paths on BS commercials that make viewers think, “No way in hell am I ever going to encounter a road like THAT.” Well guess what, folks, you just might. Later, I came to learn from my mother that it was most likely an old fire road, used by firefighters a few years back when that part of Arizona was being ravaged by a wildfire.

The rest of the way was relatively smooth, with only a few minor scrapes from boulders. We even happened on a beautiful clearing lined with lavender, with the sun cutting through the canopy and illuminated what amounted to a gorgeous hiking path in the mountains. The fear subsided, and confidence set in. We had to get out. There simply was no other choice.

Finally, we came upon campsites, with the bullet-hole ridden signs which I assumed marked the presence of the highway home ahead. We passed through a gate, and there lay the final summit. It had the most rocks yet, one of which was even painted red, likely with the blood of the tires and undercarriages it had vanquished. I had to navigate around it, all while building enough speed to crest the summit. In the final few feet, the tires began to spin, and the light popped on the console showing that I the tires were hyper-rotating. Finally, I turned the tires to angle where they caught traction, and we jutted out onto the shoulder over the highway. I had visions of clambering out and kissing the pavement, but I was too scared to stop our momentum. The rubber hit the blacktop, and we were homeward bound.

Celia was still asleep in her carseat. I was still hyperventilating. And Maria-Renee was shockingly nonchalant, stating, “I knew we could do it.” The descent back into the valley of the sun was gorgeous, all the sweeter knowing that we had endured our crucible that Waze forced upon us. It seems there is merit in forgoing the need for optimal efficiency and just going back the way you came.

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