No Sense of Direction

Not the place to get lost

I lack a sense of direction. It is not a hindrance, but a handicap. And it is often terrifying.

People laugh when I share tales of going to a restroom in a friend’s house, then walking out afterward and being clueless as to which direction to move to get back to the party. They buckle over and spit guffawas when I tell of borrowing a bicycle and heading to a neighbor, then ending up where I began.

These stories bring chuckles. Howls of laughter.

Plotting a map route

Lacking a sense of direction is akin to a form of dyslexia. Others once laughed at such ‘different’ individuals.

My mother, in her older years, was wary of leaving home by car or foot. I now understand why. Likely she was also terrified about being uncertain of how to return  home.

Sunrise is east

If I don’t memorize land marks and street names in a city, or consciously consider the direction in which I’m heading, I get lost. Seriously.

And it isn’t funny, and never was.

Having a hand held telephone GPS lets me navigate over fresh terrain with ease and the ability to explore further. I can forget about decades of being terrified when entering new terrain.

GPS is a life changer. It’s like providing eyeglasses when sight is poor, or building a bridge across a raging river. It’s like having warm layers of clothing during the cold nip of winter.

Lost in a dark alley

I carry two (often, three) backup batteries for my iPhone. This is as sensible as packing spare eyeglasses.

Some articles insist that putting away GPS will help improve our own sense of direction.

Excuse me, but it’s not so simple.

I used to teach mountaineering courses in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, long before GPS was publicly available. I became rather proficient in wielding maps and a compass. But now, out of the mountains, having GPS has improved my life dramatically. I have no desire to regress. In my case, GPS does not cater to laziness as much as it helps to dismiss fear.

Sure, we can improve our sense of direction by turning off the GPS and being more alert. But that effort can require significant effort, and be distracting.

We can also improve mental arithmetic capabilities by discarding calculators. Yes?

Why bother?

Ignoring automobiles to improve horsemanship skills was likely a noble, yet eventually useless, objective.

You can also substitute devices such as a hat that vibrates when you face north.

I think that appears to be très gimmicky.

When navigators circled the earth and had to create maps

What I lack in having a sense of place, I make up for by having a sense of time.

I can mentally calculate, often with ease, the amount of time it will take to perform tasks—whether the duration of a rock climbing trip, or a visit to the supermarket, or constructing a water supply system in a distant country. You want to have dinner with five friends tonight who will arrive from four distant towns? I’ll tell you when they all need to leave home in order to rendezvous on time.

Seriously. I can factor in quantities of people and transition times and estimate, quite accurately, the time it will take to accomplish many tasks.

Just don’t ask me to estimate how long it will take me to move from A to B without a GPS.

Okay. Time for reading!

Here are some great books about navigation.

Kon-Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl

Endurance – An Epic of Polar Adenture, by Frank Arthur Worsley

Longitude – The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, by Dava Sobel

The River Of Doubt  – Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey,  by Candice Millard

The Lost City of Z – A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann

The Long Walk – The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, by Slavomir Rawicz

Undaunted Courage – Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West, by Stephen E. Ambrose

A Voyage for Madmen, by Peter Nichols

The Discoverers – A History of Man’s Search to Know his World and Himself, by Daniel J. Boorstin

The Odyssey, by Homer (Robert Fitzgerald translation)






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