Into The Great Unknown

Sometimes it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to get a story together, sometimes a story just falls into your lap, but even then that doesn’t mean you have it easy.

I was visiting a local business to cover the change in ownership there. I had completed my interview and taken photos of the new owners doing the obligatory “passing of the torch” handshake. As I was preparing to go, a man stopped me to tell me how much he appreciated some coverage we did in his township a few months back.

If you have ever been a news reporter, you quickly learn that you will never remember every person you have ever interviewed. You meet new people weekly, sometimes daily, and then they disappear and you don’t see them again for a long time. Well, I had interviewed the man who stopped me once, and it took me a while to recognize him. Needless to say, this is awkward, though I have learned how to speak to people in a way that is appropriate for strangers or former interviews just for this purpose.

Well, this man said that recent rains in our area were doing a number on roads in his township. He asked if we were interested in doing a story. I gave him a noncommittal answer, but hopeful (because it could be a good story). We arranged to meet at his town hall later in the day when he went to work on a “road closed” sign in the boonies.

When the appointed time was looming, I used my phone’s GPS to chart a course to the town hall. I set out on the shortest path, and it was going well most of the way. Eventually, however, I found myself crossing large mud holes that would have stopped lesser cars (I have a Subaru) and while still on the path laid out for me, I found myself looking down a “road” that looked like a very narrow, very long grassy pasture leading through the woods. There weren’t even tire tracks going through the two foot tall grass. I backtracked and found an alternative route with more muddy ruts and eventually found my way to the township hall where my interview was waiting.

He informed me we were going down a minimum maintenance road and should leave my car behind. I hopped in his truck (more afraid of my GPS leading me astray than of getting my car stuck) and rode along with him to photograph a couple roads that had been almost destroyed by recent rains and flooding. At the second road the adjacent lake had overtopped the road and converted a cow pasture into a lily pad pond on the other side. The water covered the road for quite a distance, and the center was as black as a lake dropoff. I was told it was deeper than two feet there.

Now, I got photos of him doing some work on the road closed sign and we started back to the township hall. I thanked him, and I set off. Having still not learned from my earlier mistake, after leaving the hall and going the direction that would take me back to Pine River without travelling the roads I used to get there, I set my GPS.

The GPS lead me down one road, then another and onto yet another minimum maintenance road. After some distance I found myself again facing a road that was completely overgrown with pasture grass, but this one had some signs of having been used as a road at one point. Frustrated, I followed the road, and when I came to a section that turned to gravel again, instead of lawn, I felt very satisfied… until I realized my GPS had lead me in a loop that was bringing me back to the road where the township hall was located. It apparently thought I should have taken a right out of the hall parking lot instead of a left and didn’t know how to tell me to turn around in a driveway. I knew where I was, but I also knew that between me and the township hall road was one of the washed out roads we had looked at earlier in the day. This one did not have water in it, it just had many places where the class five had been washed away and it looked like sugar sand on the road.

Thanking my car for being a little bit more rugged than my old Toyota Tercel, we powered through and found our way back with little more inconvenience.

This isn’t the first time my GPS has lead me astray. As a matter of fact, it does this regularly, and I, being impatient and stubborn, never dig out the map or platt book I have to chart a real course. I can only guess that some day my GPS is going to make me take a wrong turn in Albuquerque and I’ll have crazy adventures in the middle east or the arctic circle with my duck friend and some crazy abominable snowman. Hey, it could be worse.

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