A Little Bit Western


GPS or GP-No

Sep 9, 2014

Technology is a marvelous thing. In the last century, humans have been able to accomplish more, understand things better, and share and transmit information at an almost unfathomable pace. That’s good, right? Right???

I had a tech-savvy co-worker who employed a GPS to navigate his route on trips, apply herbicide to invasive plants, mark out pasture trails and important landmarks. I learned a lot from his methods and through trial and error, I soon learned what a valuable tool the little handheld device could be. A year or two later, my colleague quickly learned that a GPS is only as accurate as the information it receives, and will correctly navigate you to the town you specify…even if the town you specify is incorrect. Typing ‘Carnduff’ into a GPS and expecting it to take you to ‘Carlyle’ is optimistic.

On another occasion, I was headed to a winter work meeting in the beautiful Cypress Hills. I wasn’t travelling with colleagues and had some extra travel time available, so I chose to make use of the two hour “short cut” between our ranch and the park. This route doesn’t take you through any town at all and I didn’t make this choice lightly. I ensured I had a full tank of gas, a fully charged cell phone, winter survival gear, and I actually wore my chore clothes, mainly because I had already gotten in an early morning of pre-work calf-tagging. People at both ends of my departure and arrival locations were aware of my plans and route and I had my trusty grid road map in case my Spidey Senses weren’t tingling.

The trip was beautiful. At -30C, it was chilly and rather desolate, but the sun was bright and the snow crunchy and sparkly, and I was enjoying the trip. After the first 45 miles, I did not meet another soul on the road. Things were going a little too well, in fact I was even running a tad ahead of schedule and anyone who knows me knows that is pretty uncommon. I headed around the correction line and made note of a little coyote trail that veered east that I had taken the previous summer while working with a women’s range workshop. And I quickly did a double take. There, impossibly far down the road allowance completely blown full of snow, was a tiny silver SUV. It was more than a little stuck. Accompanying the immobilized vehicle was a man, clad in a nylon windbreaker and loafers, futilely scraping snow away with an ice scraper.

And so it came to be that I met Dan from Wisconsin. Normally, as in my first example, I would change or omit the name of anyone who may be implicated in a story. In this case, however, I doubt that Dan from Wisconsin is a subscriber, and in case he is, a refresher on winter travel safety probably wouldn’t hurt. Dan had been travelling from Saskatoon to Frontier in his rental vehicle that brisk February day. Dan confidently left all the navigation up to the GPS on his BlackBerry, which deviated in and out of cell service. When Dan finally trudged up to my truck parked a long distance from his puddle-jumper, we exchanged pleasantries and I had a couple of questions I just had to ask.

“What possessed you to drive down this trail packed four feet deep with snow?” I asked. Dan sheepishly replied, “Well, the GPS told me to go this way.” “Didn’t you know you would get stuck?” “The SUV had four-wheel-drive. Plus, I didn’t know how else to get there without following the GPS,” Dan countered.

Friends, GPS navigation can be great, some would even argue it is a time- and marriage-saver. But if a GPS told you to jump off the quintessential bridge, would you do it? No amount of technology can or should ever replace common sense. Had I not happened upon Dan, he would have eventually walked to the nearest farm, or someone else would have found him, but he took a heck of a risk driving through unfamiliar and unrelenting country, relying solely on technology.

Technology is amazing, and takes humankind places we’ve never been before. And that’s the problem.

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