Friday, June 01, 2007


I bought a GPS a couple of months ago. This particular Global Positioning System is supposed to be the best on the market. It's certainly one of the most expensive! It's hard to think of my GPS as an "it". She has a wonderfully sultry voice and is ever the cheerful companion and navigator. I have used her around town and within Florida, with success. It got to the point where I felt that GiPSy was more accurate than Map Quest! So of course I brought her with me when I left on vacation for North Carolina last week. My friend "Rick" very kindly programmed her for me, putting in both my destination and home address.

At first GiPSy was fantastic! We had driven into Georgia (and were in the thick smoke from the forest fires) when suddenly she silkily announced "At next exit, take immediate right!"

My son (SaurKid) and I glanced at each other in surprise, but I obediently took the exit which was right there. We pulled over to consult a map: This didn't seem right.

Suddenly GiPSy stated "When possible, make a U-turn!" A U-turn would take us back onto the interstate! We were confused.

"Perhaps she's developed a glitch due to all the smoke," I suggested, "because I think we still need to be heading north on the interstate." SaurKid disagreed: He thought any GPS would see through smoke. Still, we had little choice but to take a chance and follow her corrected directions.

I returned to the interstate.

Sure enough, we re-entered the interstate and all was as well as before. GiPSy acted as if nothing had happened. She calmly guided us out of Georgia and throughout the exits and roads that took us up into North Carolina.

As the roads began to get a little steeper, and the drop offs on the sides grew deeper, I grew more nervous. Being a Floridian and living in a flat world, I have always fought a neurotic fear of heights, and I don't enjoy looking to the side where a simple turn of a steering wheel could plummet us to our deaths. Never the less, I was determined to make it to our destination near Maggie Valley.

As the incline increased, my little Floridian rental car groaned a bit louder. There was no where to easily turn off, and I was afraid to change gears while driving an automatic (I am much more familiar with my stick-shift). Although I was tempted to change it to "3", which seemed to be a good idea for more mountainous areas, I held off until I reached the small town my parents' vacation home is in.

We entered the town, with GiPSy continuing her helpful directions: "Turn left!" "Turn right in 500 feet!"

The town itself was relatively level (being located in a valley) but as we progressed, it was apparent that GiPSy was directing us toward a nearby mountain. At this point, I was supposed to pull over and call my parents. However, when I picked up my cell phone, I discovered that it was dead.

"Ah well," I said to SaurKid, determined to appear fearless, "It looks as if we should just go on up to Grandma and Grandpa's place. There's no sense trying to find their number: Why don't we surprise them?"

"How bad can it be?" I privately thought. Studies show that if you show a child your fear, it's quite possible that he can also develop that same fear. I was hesitant to display this, even though SaurKid is almost 14. SaurKid was OK with whatever I chose to do, so we continued our journey to the foot of the mountain.

When we reached the mountain, I decided to switch to "3", and was glad I did. The car complained less as we progressed on the narrow mountain road, with the incline getting ever steeper and the drop-off to the side getting ever deeper. I kept my eye steadily on the road. The only way you could've told that I was nervous was if you'd glanced at my hands, which gripped the steering wheel, white-knuckled.

The incline had grown to a 30 degree angle, with some turns that were 45 degrees, when GiPSy chirped sweetly "Turn left!" At this point I was facing a paved road on the right, and a dirt road with gravel to the left. I told SaurKid a little nervously that it was certainly getting farther and farther away from civilization, but I swallowed, steeled myself, and continued.

We soon left the paved road far behind, as the road continued to angle upwards. It also grew increasingly narrowed, and we soon found ourselves proceeding on a dusty, slippery dirt road at mostly a 45 degree angle, with barely any road on either side of the path, before a half-a-mile plunge straight downward on the left. I drove slower and slower, terrified of making any wrong moves, as we wound our way onward, following GiPSy's commands.

Suddenly GiPSy warbled demonically, "Turn left!"

"Turn LEFT?!" I said incredulously, looking to the left and straight down the mountain. I had reached a slightly wider area of the road and stopped, smack-dab in the middle of it. I pulled up my emergency brake. SaurKid's eyes were as wide as saucers. "There's something wrong with the GPS!" he said breathlessly.

"Oh NO," I howled. "I can't do this! I can't go on!"

Just then a white car approached us, coming down from above. It slowly proceeded around us. "Stop them!" I screeched to SaurKid. "Stop them NOW!"

SaurKid jumped out of the car and frantically waved them down. The car stopped it's downward progress and SaurKid hollered to him that we were lost. The man cheerfully replied that he'd been lost too, and was going down the mountain.

"NO!" I said. "Don't let him go! Tell him I'm having a panic attack!" For, indeed, I was. At this point SaurKid gesticulated frantically, and the driver parked his car and struggled back up to us. It was an older gentleman, who peered into the driver's side window at me.

"Sir," I said, "PLEASE help me. I can't go an inch up or an inch down, any more. I'm freaking out!" It was probably most apparent: I was very pale and in a cold sweat.

The gentleman said "Would you like me to drive your car for you?"

"Oh YES!" I replied. "Yes! Thank you VERY much. But who will drive YOUR car?"

"My son's with me," he replied easily. "He'll be able to handle it down the mountain. I admit, it's a very scary road! I've never been up here, though I live at the base of the mountain. We got lost, or you never would have met us. Why don't you get out of the car, and sit in the passenger's seat?" I quickly complied.

We all got in, he turned on the car, and proceeded forward, up the mountain! "Why are you still going UP?" I asked, nervously.

"Well, we obviously can't turn around HERE, and I don't relish going down backwards," he stated. At this point, GiPSy said slyly "When possible, make a U-turn."

When we reached a point higher-up, where it was possible to barely turn around, he did (as I stared straight down into the bowels of the mountain through my passenger-side window). We proceeded down the mountain behind his son, carefully, as GiPSy warbled homicidal sentiments at us: "Turn right, NOW!" and "When possible, make a U-turn!"

"Can you turn that thing off?" asked the man, who (although very kindly) was obviously growing slightly intolerant of our version of H.A.L. I fumbled with the thing, then handed it off to SaurKid to shut down.

We returned to the paved road, this time taking the right instead of the left. Within a short time, we had found my parents' house which, although located on a steep road, was at least perched above a PAVED one.

We left GiPSy off until the return trip, when we were well off the mountain.

Tomorrow: Pictures from our trip


The Lazy Iguana said...

Who makes your GPS? I have a Lowrance IWAY 250. It sometimes has problems. The place I like to go to by my house that makes their own beer is one of them. I just go down a road I live close to (lets just call it Miller Road) all the way to the UM campus, turn right, and the bar is only a few blocks away. Pretty simple huh?

The GPS tells me to take Miller to the expressway, go south to Sunset, take sunset to Red Road (crossing US1) and then Red Road to Ponce De Leon. I get there either way, but my way is better.

And for one downtown address I wanted to find the GPS kept insisting I get on I-95. And then it would say "turn right in 200 feet" but there is no exit there - just an overpass for the Miami River. But I knew something was screwy so I was already off the highway and found the place. This is probably similar to what your GPS did.

Also the GPS does not seem to know the difference in a bad area and a safer area.

But for the most part it works well.

That sounds like a cool mountain road.

By the way, you can shift on the fly with an automatic. but using a lower gear on steep inclines actually makes it easier on the car. The low gear makes turning the wheels easier for the engine - at the cost of requiring higher RPMs for any speed. But when going downhill the engine will hold the car back. This is known as "engine braking" and really helps your brake pads.

It is just like a 10 speed bike. The large cog on the rear wheel makes it easy to pedal, but limits your top speed.

Next time feel free to shift from 2 to 3 anytime. And going downhill shift to 2 so you do not have to ride the brakes.

And ALWAYS remember this - it is a rental car. Who cares if you drop the transmission? They just send you another car. Rentals rule.

Herr Krokodil said...


Welcome Back, I missed you so much.

You should try those mountain roads in the ice. You need to rent a Mercedes next time, a high-end car makes the drive a lot more fun.

I decided it was time for a name change. Kinda like your head changes, aren't you due for one?

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, A "COOL" mountain road it wasn't.

Well, it was LITERALLY cool, but very UNcool when it came to driving it. My parents had to drive it up and down the mountain for the rest of the trip - it gave me the heebie jeebies!

GiPSy is a Nextar Q3.

Next time I'll "shift on the fly" like you recommended. It's been so long since I drove an automatic (I love my stick shift for the most part) that it's almost relearning how to drive at times.

I should've called you. ;o)

Saur♥Kraut said...

Herr Krokodil, you and your name changes. ;o) I'd like to change my head, but everytime I do, everyone fights me on it. So, I'm leaving it alone.

ICE! ICE! Just the THOUGHT of ice on mountain roads gives me palpitations!!! I don't know HOW they DO it!!!

I missed you too, actually!

Anonymous said...

GPS's are not a perfect science, the GPS can actually be confused as to which road you are on if there is an overpass, etc. Also very thick cloud cover or in your case the very thick smoke can cause it to have problems as it does not have line of sight of the satellite. You will find this if you ever get satellite radio too. Also if you are next to a tall building, or on a mountain, it can block the line of site of the GPS.

But in your case on the mountain, the map on the GPS may not have been updated to include all of those roads, dirt roads are usually a 50/50 as to whether or not the GPS will have that information.

I do not have a GPS as I have this crazy sense of direction nine times out of ten I can get where I am going even if I am not sure where it is at. My boyfriend on the other hand has a horrible sense of direction and as a police officer him owning a GPS is literally a matter of life and death.

It is actually rather odd to me that you have such an extreme fear of heights, to me you are like wonder woman, seriously, it really surprised me.


Saur♥Kraut said...

Ange, I'm hardly Wonder Woman. I have my flaws just as anyone else does, and this one happens to be my Achille's Heel. You know those action movies where we see the hero or heroine dangling from a steel beam, a hundred stories above ground? I would die INSTANTLY of a heart attack or my hands would get so wet I would slip off immediately. There would be no chance for Superman to save me. I'd be LONG gone. In fact, my hands are sweating at the very thought of it.

Anonymous said...

Of course I realize that we all have flaws, but you definitely have it together better than a lot of us.


Hans said...


Welcome back and thank God for the kindness of strangers.

I haven't made the move to GPS yet. It's my paranoia of "THE MAN" tracking me. The same thing that kept me from getting a cell phone for so long.

Anonymous said...

hans- Well in terms of "The Man" tracking you, did you know they can track your cell phone even if it is off? That is of course if they really want to.

Hans said...

That's why when I head out to my cabin in the woods to work on my manifesto I leave my cell phone behind.

michelle said...

My school bus ride use to be on the side of a mountain like you described. You get use to it.

Let's have a happy hour soon.

The Lazy Iguana said...

Nextar huh? Never used one of those. Never really even heard of em.

I like the Garmin Nuvis. They have bluetooth capability and they can receive traffic updated in areas where the service is available. The service uses a FM radio frequency. They also have FM transmitters.

With bluetooth, your cell phone can connect to the GPS. With this you can dial a number using the GPS, or answer the phone. The GPS speakers turn into cell phone speakers, and there is a mic to pick up your voice. Hands free.

The FM transmitter allows you to use the car speaker to hear noises from the GPS - voice directions or otherwise.

The GPS plotter for the boat is still much cooler than the GPS for the car.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Ange, oh, notsomuch. I just have age and experience on you, that's all. What most people lack is a mind that reasons, and that's purely a choice. ;o)

Hans, I understand being paranoid, but as anon pointed out, it's easy to track us no matter what, if they wish to. Sad, but terribly true. Of course I understand your reluctance completely, as I held off getting a "check cashing card" for years. ;o) In the end, I gave up and got one. And you're right, thank God for the kindness of strangers!!!

Michelle, I'd love that! I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to call you back. My initial call had been to tell you that I was going out of town for a week, that's all. ;o) Anyway, email me and we'll figure out a time!!!

Lazy, You are wayyyy ahead of me technologically, I fear. But ANYthing to do with boating is cooler than ANYthing to do with cars. ;o)

The Lazy Iguana said...

I love my check card. It is my friend. All the goos things about a credit card (signing your name is less painful than forking over ca$h) and NO BILL so you never have to think about it again!

By the way, you never did see my mose recent boat photos did you? Search the blog for "Jimbo". Also see Friday's post.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

Aren't machines wonderful.
On most automatics, you don't have to shift down going up the hill, but you are damn fool if you don't do it coming down. I watch the commercials for GPS and I don't think I could tolerate it. I have enough trouble with Janet backseat driving. (Though she has probably saved our lives a couple of times.)

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Bryan said...

Glad to hear you made it back alive! I know the feeling of "white-knuckle" driving on narrow mountain roads and it can be quite disconcerting to flat-landers like us. I’ve been to Colorado and Montana. Need I say more?

Ed Abbey said...

From this, I think I will stick to using Mapquest and common sense to find my way to new locations.

And like 3 Score said, you don't have to shift going uphill, your vehicle automatically shifts down provided you are going slow enough. The reason you have to shift going downhill is that the sensor thinks you are going fast so you need to shift to a bigger gear and you have to fool it to get the engine braking effect that Lazy referred too.