How Google Saved My Life (kinda)

I spent a couple of days over this Christmas weekend at Mount Laguna, just east of San Diego.  Most people think of Southern California as a beach place – which it is – but we are surrounded by some pretty  nice peaks, including this one at about 6,000 feet in places.  I took Homer, the dog, in search of snow and adventure.

Unfortunately the temperature got no lower than 35 degrees so our snow adventure turned mostly into mud.  Nonetheless, when the clouds parted and the first sunbeams came through on Christmas Eve, we decided to take a little hike.

We’d been out the day before, slogging through the soggy woods in a drizzle  to a lovely mountain lake.  At one point we came around a little stand of pine and found ourselves 100 yards from a rather large coyote.  He stopped for a moment – as did we – and stared.  He and Homer seemed to communicate by nose and I felt my guy pulling at the leash.  The coyote took a few steps up the slope, away from us, then stopped and stared again.  We held our position.  He continued this dance, taking a few steps, pausing, looking, all the way up the slope and disappeared into the tall grass.  I tightened my grip on the leash, remember that coyotes, like dogs, are packing animals and where there is one, there are likely others.  Truthfully, they’d almost never attack when a human was present, and certainly not during the day – but the thought of a hungry pack bearing down on my best friend caused me to quicken my own pace back up and out of the woods.

This day, I pulled the Jeep off the road, parked and took to a trail heading up-slope.  It wasn’t marked and I didn’t have my trail map with me, so it was simply going to be a late afternoon walk in the woods, nothing special, no destination.  We made steady progress up and up on the trail, Homer a few feet in front of me and off leash, enjoying every smell and sudden movement we encountered.  Thirty minutes later we came to a marker for the Pacific Crest Trail and took it north to Foster’s Point- a wonderful rocky ledge with a panoramic view to Anza-Borrego State Park and stretching to a hint of the Salton Sea beyond. The rain had stopped, but big dark and sometimes white clouds raced across the crest of the peak we were on and made shadow play on the desert below.  The wind was howling and it was cold.  I took a few pictures and turned to go.

Soon we were back at the marker sign for the Trail and I followed the adjoining trail off to the right, figuring to be back at the Jeep by sunset . . .  but this is where the problems began.  We’d hiked about ten minutes when we came across a fallen oak tree across the trail.  I didn’t remember it.  This concerned me but I rationalized that Homer and I had been having so much fun on the upward hike that I probably just spaced it.  We continued on, but now I was watching the trail closely, looking for my own footprints going in the other direction.   Here is a great hiking truth:  Hiking boot footprints are very similar; sometimes you think this one might look a little like yours, and sometimes . . . not.  Ten minutes later we were on such a steep slope down that I became certain that we hadn’t come this way.  I decided to return to the Pacific Crest Trail marker and look again for another trail, hopefully the one we’d come up on.

It was a hard hike uphill and we arrived at the marker out of breath.  As cold as it was I removed my hat to cool off a bit, and looked around.  I could see nothing in the way of an alternative trail, just a continuation of the one I had been on, continuing on in the other direction.  I walked down a bit anyway, then turned and walked back, hoping it would seem familiar.  It did not.  Therefore, the last path, the one that didn’t seem right, had to be the correct one.  I passed my confusion off as failure to pay attention, and headed back down the path I’d just left.  Once again it didn’t seem familiar but I pushed on.

The sun was getting quite low by now, and I had my first thoughts of being lost in the woods – not a good thing to happen on Christmas Eve when anyone who might help is probably home by the fireplace.  Homer dashed off the trail in pursuit of some small creature and I immediately thought of the coyote we’d seen the day before.  Sunset . . . this is when they come out to hunt.  I chased after him, calling in my sternest voice.  It took a moment, but being the good dog that he is, he came back and allowed me to put him on his leash.  We continued on.

By now, the temperature had begun to drop and, with the wind, I began to feel cold . . . and lost.  I plunged my hand into the pocked of my jacket and met my Android Phone.  I grabbed it.  Maybe, I thought, Maybe.  I turned it on and in what seemed like a long minute, it revealed . . . a weak signal.  I pushed the Navigation App – which is part of Google Maps – and quickly zeroed in on our location.  We were horribly off course.   The trail we were on went nowhere, just down to the valley, and certainly not near the road.  Darkness was falling and we had to get back and on track quickly.

I used Google Maps all the way back up the mountain and then, at the Trail Marker, I used it to locate the previously non- apparent trail back to the Jeep.  The right trail had been there all along:  it was the continuation of the wrong trail that I’d dismissed on my second trip back up.  Homer and I nearly ran all the way to the car.  By the time we got there, it truly was night . . . but we’d made it, thanks in no small part to Google Maps.

It’s easy to dismiss the importance of technology in our daily lives, to see it as a frivolous waste of time, and to yearn for a simpler time.  But ten years ago?  I think my little Christmas Eve tale might have had a different ending.  As we approach the end of 2012, I am very, very grateful for Google, for smart phones, for the Internet . . . and for the Future.

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