Retracing steps to move forward

Thursday May 10, 2012

I never get lost. However I sometimes don't know how to get where I'm trying to get to from where I am. The difference being that I can almost always retrace my steps and find my way back to where I started, but that is not always a particularly viable option.

This past weekend I found myself in such a situation, twice.

Flo and I were coming back from Albany on Friday night. I had taken her to the circus as a finishing the semester/transferring to Smith celebration.

It was one of my better attempts at surprise, as I managed to avoid revealing the nature of the event we were attending until we actually walked into the Times Union Center and saw the arena had clowns and elephants warming up.

After two hours of hopping tigers, bicycles on tightropes and men being set on fire and launched out of giant crossbows, we headed home.

In leaving the stadium, we attempted to cross the Hudson River and meet up with Route 43, however the network of Escher-esque over passes, underpasses and forward passes soon turned us around and had us heading north.

We rode this to Troy where we could have easily driven home with no fuss, but we were hoping to stop at a particular store on our originally planned route and so attempted to find our way back down the other side of the river.

While the west side of the river possesses a sleek and modern, circa 1970, highway, the eastern bank meanders through woods, empty lots and residential areas with expensive cars parked outside cheap houses.

After the second time a road which should have run parallel to the river abruptly crossed it, we found ourselves back on the same highway that had brought us north in the first place.

We retraced our steps and crossed the river at our intended bridge, roughly half an hour after we had first missed it.

We believed we were in the clear at that point, however, in the dark, I missed a turn and instead of following Route 43 essentially to our doorstep, we found ourselves wending our way up a mountain along a twisting road with no signs that might have indicated where we were and which way we might be headed.

While there weren't any directional signs, we did encounter a panoply of useful yellow signs with black figures telling us that we were near an area with people walking, horses walking, people riding horses, and people riding snowmobiles.

Added to this were a number of contorted arrows which telegraphed the upcoming bends in the road. We began to wonder if perhaps we had somehow driven into the showroom of a road sign factory.

Still we pressed on, hopeful in the knowledge that the road would eventually either come out somewhere we recognized or cross another, better marked, route that might give us a direction to follow.

Thus, of course, the road abruptly terminated at a Tjunction, completely unmarked with the exception of a helpful double arrow pointing in opposite directions so that drivers would understand that the road split in two and there were now two viable options with driving forward into the trees being at best an unviable third.

We sat there for several minutes attempting to navigate by the moon and debating if we should just turn around and concede the 25 minutes of driving that had gotten us to that spot.

Human nature and the sunk cost fallacy made the latter a less palatable option, but just then another car appeared behind us. The driver stopped to ask if we needed help as cars parked at an intersection are typically either in distress or waiting to make a deal for guitar lessons.

Unfortunately our Samaritan, while aware of our current location, didn't know how to get to where we wanted to go, which was anywhere else. The state of Massachusetts being too vague a destination for her she went on her way.

With the expertise of local directions exhausted, we turned to technology. A short download and an exorbitant data fee later we were in possession of a phone based gps system. It loaded directions back to Berkshire County and we set off!

Only for the first turn to take us down a dirt road which ended at a gate.

At this point we threw up our hands, drove back to the intersection, made a slightly educated guess and drove until we stumbled on to Route 22 and could find our way home.

On the drive that remained, I wondered about my own sense of direction and if the positions were reversed at the crossroads I would have been any more helpful.

I like to think I know Berkshire County fairly well, even if I tend to forget it goes beyond Great Barrington. But I'm pretty sure I could direct someone to neighboring states.

Then again if I ran into someone lost on top of Mount Greylock I don't know I'd be able to be any more helpful.


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