Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lost in the Urban Jungle part 2: Always have a backup plan, or at least a backup map.

I got lost multiple times on this trip, but the incident that takes the cake happened on Saturday.  I read the birding in the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Slidell was pretty good and had a small population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.

So on Friday evening, I typed in the location on the Navigation GPS in my phone and was pleasantly surprised to see it appear on the menu. I clicked on the location and the directions immediately popped up. Up to this point, Navigation had not let me down (I didn't count the difficulties I had with it while walking, because the unit was meant for cars, not human legs). Unlike Danno's Tomtom, Navigation did not attempt to steer me into a pasture or take me through the worst part of town. I made it to City Park and to the highway with no problems earlier in the week. I was so confident in this Navigation GPS application that I did not look up the Refuge on my laptop to double check the address or directions.

I got up early Saturday morning and hit the road in a good mood. I was about to hit the bayou and potentially see a new bird to add to my list, and an endangered species no less. But even if I didn't see the bird, I wouldn't be disappointed. It was always fun to explore a new place.

The drive to Slidell was uneventful, most of it being highway. I drove a few miles on a two lane road that paralleled the bayou so I was graced with occasional glimpses of tall trees or grasses within a stand of water. I drove past flavors of the town's culture; churches, small houses, a marine and independent food stands. I had no inkling of the trouble I was in until the last 1/2 mile. Navigation had me turn down a gravelly road and initially I thought nothing of it because I had been to several wildlife refuges or other parks that were at the end of a gravel road. However, what I did find unusual was the lack of signs indicating the presence of the refuge. But Navigation told me I was traveling in the right direction so I continued to drive....until the road ended at a pair of gates in front of a large house. Navigation told me I had arrived at my destination. No, I was not at my destination, I was in front of someone's house. I hit reroute and Navigation stubbornly insisted that I was at my destination.

With a sigh, I turned around and went back the way I came, past all the houses, churches, the marina and food stands. I pulled into a small gas station and hoped whomever was inside could help me find this elusive national wildlife refuge. This was a small town, how difficult could it be?

Regretfully, the woman running the gas station could not help me in my quest. In fact, she had never heard of this wildlife refuge. We poured over a map and indeed, saw the refuge, but no street leading to it. She suggested a few streets to try that were supposedly near this hidden refuge and told me that I could stop and ask someone in the neighborhood for directions. Surely someone knew where this refuge was located.

I was thrown 2 more curve balls when I left the gas station. At some point I hit the mute button during all the poking and swiping on my phone and couldn't figure out how to unmute the Navigation application (like most GPS units, the machine talks to you, giving you enough notice when to turn) and despite the fact my phone was plugged in the charger, it was nearly out of power (I later discovered I didn't have the phone plugged in all the way). Panic had been hovering over me like a cloud since arriving at this stranger's house, but I had managed to keep it at bay by deciding to get directions from the gas station. But now the cloud had burst and panic rained down over me. I texted Dan and relayed the story, finishing up in telling him that I was low on battery power and didn't know what to do. I continued to fiddle with the settings on Navigation to see if I could unmute the GPS when Dan texted me a link to the park. I was in the wrong town. Granted, the refuge was about 20 minutes away, but the refuge was no where near Slidell.

Despite the fact that the GPS was muted, I decided to give the refuge a try. I whipped a u-turn and the GPS went sailing from its place near the dashboard to a spot under my feet. When I went to hit the brakes to pull over, I stepped on something plastic and heard a crack. Great. I pulled into a parking lot and found the cradle in pieces. That's when my brain shut down. I was tired, lost and discouraged. I couldn't deal with another obstacle, even one as small as a broken cradle that held my phone (and the GPS in my phone). The thought of trying to keep my phone near the dashboard so the GPS satellites could bounce their mysterious rays down to my phone, while trying to find this refuge with a muted Navigation, while my phone was low on power was more than I could handle. It wasn't safe to drive and balance and stare at a map and worry about my phone dying all at the same time.

I was on the brink. I felt stupid and didn't know whether I wanted to cry or scream in frustration. I didn't like this city, it made me feel uncomfortable and I just wanted to go home. I was tired of all the noise and commotion that was New Orleans. I was tired of getting lost, having people bump into me, worrying whether or not I was going to get hit by a car when I crossed the street, tired of the loud music, and of the trash and graffiti that was everywhere I looked.

Tired and dejected, I headed back towards the city. When I returned to the hotel, I looked at the refuge's website and saw they had another location on the western edge of the city. I went to this bayou on Sunday. And didn't get lost.

The moral of the story. Have more than one set of directions when you decide to travel to a new place.


  1. Well, I'd say another moral would be to stop taking that MAYHEM insurance guy with you on your trips.

  2. Ohhh I didn't even think of that guy. Yup, I'll bet he was there riding on the roof of my car laughing maniacally.