I recently read Cheryl Strayed's fantastic book 'Wild, which sat atop the NY Times Best-seller list (For Non-fiction at least) and in which she details her journey from southern California to Oregon on the Pacific Coast Trail. She describes wonderful wilderness and the great feeling of adventure her trip engenders. At one stage she also talks about losing her bearings in the snow and feeling utterly lost. Coincidentally, when I was in the process of reading this book, I took a trip that made me feel exactly the same. At this point I will point out that the distances, terrains and environments involved were rather different. Strayed was in the American wilderness and on foot, whilst I was in French wine country in my car. But, I could empathise with the feelings she experienced.
Since the advent of ever more advanced pieces of modern technology, it seems like it is almost impossible to get lost. You have GPS. You have Google Maps. And, you have scores of websites that can offer you directions to your destination of choice. It is easy, right? In major cities and on highways, I would argue that it is. I recently went to play golf in a village close to the town of Valbonne and Google Maps got me door-to-door (or, more accurately, door-to-tee) without the slightest of blips. However, if you factor the French countryside into the equation suddenly modern technology begins to look rather inadequate. My recent trip into the Var showed me that. It was as though we were not only getting extremely lost, but were also fighting a battle against modernity.
You may have read an article I wrote last year about a journey I took to a cricket competition in the village of Entrecasteaux when my friends and I got magnificently lost and found ourselves taking a tour of wine country. This year, mindful of the previous year's chaos, I decided to be extra prepared. Not only did I download Google Maps, but I also printed the directions it gave me. As well as this, I had one of my friends bring his GPS enabled mobile-phone in case of problems. I was sure that nothing could go wrong. I was confident modern technology would do me proud. Sadly, I was wrong. Despite having two Iphones and a Blackberry in the car and a hard copy of the directions as back-up, we still got lost.
Our journey into the Var started on the A8 highway. This proved to be easy enough as the directions were easy to follow and the GPS and Google Maps worked well. The same was true when we turned off the highway and took one of the main roads. However, as we got further into the countryside, we encountered two problems that really stopped us in our tracks. The first was that our phones ceased to work as we moved out of range. This nullified my Google Maps app and voided my friend's GPS. This left us tapping and clicking our devices in the vain hope that they would yield direction.
Sadly, they did not help. So, we went to the instructions that we had printed out. For the first few kilometres this worked well as we passed along relatively large roads and through small towns. However, as the roads began to get thinner and towns began smaller and more sparse, we began to find things more difficult. This was because the signs that had heralded places and roads began to disappear and be replaced by small road-side stones that gave directions and distances. These stones were far more difficult to see and did not give road numbers. So, we were in trouble. The directions given on Google all used road numbers. Without these, we had no way to navigate.
So, how did we actually get there? We had to go old school. We had to ask for directions .