A 40th Anniversary Google Maps Misadventure: The Story and the Reflection

The Story

            Even three weeks later, retracing where we went wrong on Google Maps is painful. It was approaching our 40th—yes, 40th!—Anniversary, and unlike so many other anniversaries that went by in the blur of end-of-the-school-year activities related to work, or before, to our children, THIS TIME I proposed to my husband that we dignify the occasion and get away for the weekend.

            Granted, this was May 2021, and we had been operating in a diminished radius from our home since the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020, but now we were fully vaccinated, public mask mandates were expiring, and businesses were opening up again, so the prospect of any travel seemed glamorous.

            My husband said he wanted to go to a botanical garden, so I remembered that our friends, another interracial couple, had honeymooned at Calloway Gardens “back in the day,” so I commenced the online planning.

            We finally took off at 4:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon, after requisite delays—our own pathology, but that is an entirely different story. Calloway Gardens was only three hours away. I searched Google Maps for the exact address plus zip code, but found nothing, so returned to search for “Pine Mountain, GA.” (And unbeknownst to us, THIS was where the misadventure began. Did your own navigational skills get a little rusty since the pandemic? I had to think hard just to get to familiar places around our area I hadn’t been at in months.)

            Google Maps took us through the mountains of north Georgia through Ellijay, where we lost phone service, but somehow kept the bewildering turn-by-turn directions, which we felt forced to follow, since we were unable to verify any other way.

            Daylight was waning when we reached Clayton, Georgia. Right before that, we reached Lookout Mountain, Scenic Highway 76, which was a spooky moment, since we thought we had somehow made a loop back to our home in Chattanooga, which is at the foot of Lookout Mountain and Scenic Highway is the through road, but this was an entirely different place and highway.

Totally unmoored, we were relieved that the clerk at the gas station convenience store in Clayton, Georgia was black, the first black person we had seen in miles. He did not know where Calloway Gardens was—a bad sign—but said that if we continued up the mountain road, next to the gas station, we would get to Pine Mountain, and eventually, South Carolina.

            That should have tipped us off right then, but ever-hopeful, devoid of a map, and ignorant of the lay of the land, we headed up the mountain road and took Warwoman Road as instructed. After untold aimless miles on a winding two-lane road to no-man’s land that was only frequented by hunters and fishermen in weather-worn Jeeps, we got to the South Carolina border and turned around. Google Maps had handily declared miles back that we had “arrived” at Pine Mountain, which was quite literally in the middle of nowhere but a pine forest.

            Tensions were mounting by the time we trekked back down the mountain into the welcome of streetlights and phone service in Clayton, Georgia at 9:30 p.m. We inquired again about Calloway Gardens, and a local man filling up his white pickup truck told us it was 600 miles away. Despite our blunders thus far, I suspected hyperbole. I was now wary of second-hand information. I wanted the truth.

My husband declared in exasperation that we were going HOME now. I switched over to a different navigation app, WAZE, and reluctantly plugged in our home address. We were three hours from home. I struck a bargain with my husband that if Calloway Gardens (the OTHER Pine Mountain, Georgia) was closer than home, we would proceed to our original destination. Mercifully, when I typed in the exact address of the hotel, the two locations were nearly equidistant from our present location. Our planned Anniversary Get Away was saved.

As we bypassed Atlanta all lit up at night, I wondered aloud if God wasn’t taking us on a little field trip, which our sheltered-in-place stagnant senses had long been deprived of. We would never have hazarded the back roads of the North Georgia Mountains, or seen Atlanta by night within the same day otherwise. Now that we knew where we were going, we could take a breath, listen to an audio book and have our anxious fears allayed with the sign posts of our progress along the way…

We fortified ourselves twice at pit stops for caffeine and snacks, and finally arrived at the intended destination at 12:30 a.m., 8 hours after we started out. And, yes, after we decompressed from the stress of our Google Map misadventure, the rest of the weekend was lovely just being present to each other and celebrating the gift of 40 years of shared adventures and misadventures.

The Reflection: “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now, I see.” What I learned:

1)Unused skills attenuate. 2) I probably impatiently input inexact information, though I tried to do it right (The old adage: Garbage in, garbage out comes to mind.) 3) Knowing the big picture (the whole route) before embarking on anything important prevents gross navigation blunders.

4)The only constant turn by turn instructions we needed was from the Maker of all things, not the maker of our phones! We may shut ourselves off from our power source, but God, unlike internet, is ever-present and intervened.

5) Sometimes, existential experience can lie, like the spooky recurrence of Lookout Mountain and Scenic Highway in a completely different location.

            6)Being lost is no fun. Admitting we were lost felt like death, in the moment. It was mortifying, and we kept looking for vindication. The longer we stayed in denial, the further we strayed from our intended destination.

7) In conflict, compromise and logic saves dignity.  Sometimes, just the perspective that we’ll out live the hurt, and get to a place of being able to laugh at ourselves helps. And let’s face it: God has a sense of humor, so even though it was hard to laugh in the moment, later on, these stressful experiences make for great stories.

8) Owning, instead of blindly outsourcing, the oversight of the journey to a dumb app helped us track our progress. It kept us from further conflict, and finally got us where we wanted to go.