Turn Off the GPS

by Vince Illi


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by.

-Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”


Today’s society is incredibly fast-paced.  We are always rushing to finish tasks, rushing to get places, and complaining when things aren’t “moving fast enough.”  In my opinion, the now-ubiquitous GPS device is a perfect illustration of this.  It takes us the Fastest Route to our destination.  It displays the Estimated Time of Arrival in bold, clear numbers so that we know just how much more of our time we have to “waste” getting to our destination.  It makes us fixate on Getting There as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Even if you just turn the GPS on to see the roads scrolling by, it shows you the current time, scowling at you as though every minute clicked by is another wasted opportunity to Get Things Done.

I was in the San Diego area recently on a multi-week business trip.  On one Saturday, I had nothing to do, so I decided to recreate the lost art of the American Road Trip TM by getting a paper map, picking a destination, and just driving there, without the GPS.  Why did I not want to use a GPS?  Well, first of all, I wanted to enjoy some of California’s famous back roads, which the GPS would simply ignore in favor of Interstate highways in an effort to achieve the fastest time.  I also wanted to exercise my long-dormant navigation abilities, atrophied by years of relying on Garmin to tell me where to go.  But mostly, I wanted to enjoy the drive without being reminded of what time it is and how much longer I had to wait to “get there.”

My first order of business was obtaining an honest-to-goodness paper map of California.  Remember the ones your father used to curse at trying to refold so they could be stuffed back into the glove box?  I drove to the corner gas station, because every gas station sells maps, right?

The girl behind the counter seemed utterly nonplussed when I asked her where the maps were.  She stared at me for what seemed like a geologic age before finally saying, “We, uh, don’t have any maps.”  So I went across the street to the slightly-larger gas station, thinking surely that was simply an anomaly.  It wasn’t.


Are these things going extinct?

I finally located a map at a big box store, after asking an associate where the maps were located, only to be told, “There might be some with the magazines.”   There I found it, shoved on the bottom shelf below car magazine buff books and vapid fashion rags: the Rand-McNally California State map, in all its hundreds-of-folds glory.


Pandora's Box: A map once unfolded shall never be folded again.

Armed with the map and a highlighter, I pored over the areas of Southern California within easy access from San Diego, looking for a curvy road that simply looked fun to drive.  I found a few of them, but the one that really caught my eye was California State Route 78, which left northern San Diego County on a curvy little path through the mountains east of Escondido, through Ramona, and bisecting the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

I left my hotel first thing Saturday morning, paper map on the passenger seat, camera bag on the floor, and GPS banished to the glove box.



Unfortunately, I was on a business trip three time zones away from home and Project Mustang 5.0 (my weapon of choice for canyon carving).  My rental car—a 2014 Ford Focus—would have to suffice.  At least the dual-clutch automatic could be manually shifted…

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Friday, August 28, 2015 5:20 AM
When I was in high school there were some wonderful backroads about 10 minutes away from school. I used to drive out with a full tank of gas and get lost for hours, wandering around aimlessly till I found a road I recognized and headed home. It was wonderful and a '95 Integra with no VTEC was the perfect car to bomb around in. But then adulthood set in and I couldn't blow all of my money on gas driving around aimlessly. Silly responsibilities...

Since I moved to Kentucky and got Project VehiCross I've started doing the same again. There are tons of two lane roads connecting tiny little towns. Best of all, in the VX, I can even go looking for dirt roads, which adds a whole new dimension to aimless motoring. BTW if you take your GPS and tell it to ignore highways and tolls, you can get the same results. Driving from Baltimore to DE is something like $10 in tolls (might be more now), so I used to do that to save myself some cash, but I also ended up exploring a lot of Eastern Maryland that way too. Just make sure you change those settings back before you go on a long road trip with friends. They may not find it so amusing.
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Friday, August 28, 2015 5:34 AM
A friend of mine just "flipped" a sweet 2000 Impreza RS. I was so tempted to pick up that car and explore dirt roads around the area.
Friday, August 28, 2015 2:03 PM
"A GPS is great when you’re trying to get somewhere, but a map is better when you’re just trying to go… somewhere. Paper maps always seem so full of… unexplored possibilities. A GPS will just take you somewhere as quick and direct as possible. With a map you can pick whatever route you want, based on whatever criteria you want. You’re a lot more likely to get lost, which is kind of the point. You’re never really lost if you’re not going anywhere specific. Just going to see what you find. There was a period of time where that was called exploring."
Sunday, August 30, 2015 6:58 AM
This summer I drove and camped in my Miata across the US and Canada as a last hurrah before my first real job. I drove most of the way using only maps, with the GPS being there for two reasons.

1. To get me somewhere as fast as possible. Saskatchewan and Nebraska are incredibly dull, and I'd hate to miss a turn. Or in LA. In Seattle it was more a hindrance than help.
2. To function as a sort of rally co-driver. On some of the tightest, twistiest roads it's nice to be able to glance at the screen and see roughly what's coming at you.
Monday, August 31, 2015 9:51 AM
If you thought the 78 was good, try out the 243 from Idlewild to Banning, the 74 from San Juan Capistrano to Lake Elsinore, or the 76 to Palomar Mountain.
Wednesday, September 02, 2015 8:56 AM
If you find yourself on 78 again, just after Julian, turn right on 79, then left on S1 Sunrise Highway, which will take you over to I8, head west, then exit Japatul Rd, turn left (south), continue on to Lyons Valley Rd, then left at Honey Springs and follow that all the way down to Highway 94, then head west to get back into San Diego area.

Just keep it reasonable on Lyon's Valley Rd, or one of the locals (me) will come out in his underwear toting a shotgun and scream at you. ;-p

BTW, while on Sunrise highway, pay attention on your left for Kwaaymi Pt. It's a quarter mile detour that takes you along the old Sunrise Highway route to an epic viewpoint where you can see all the way down to the desert floor from about 5000'.

Another fun route if you've got a 4WD truck is Oriflamme Canyon, which takes the same basic route you did down 78 to the desert floor, but all off road on what used to be a pretty hairy fire trail.

In case you haven't figured it out, I like to wander aimlessly. Bought a $600 Cherokee that has taken me to many interesting places...
Adrian Avgerinos
Adrian Avgerinoslink
Wednesday, September 09, 2015 6:54 AM
Great article! Since I live in the San Diego area I thought it was particular entertaining. With that said, I've lived here for 8 years now and never thought to adventure out into east county simply because I wasn't aware of what was out there.

So on Labor Day I rounded up a group of friends and we went for a cruise. Thanks for the route suggestion, Rockwood. We started in Ramona, had brunch in Mt Laguna, and ended up finishing the trip near Lower Otay Lake at a new brewery in Chula Vista (NOVO Brazil).

Despite the warm weather (and distinct lack of working A/C for all vehicles involved) we had a great time. Kwaaymii point does indeed offer a pretty fantastic view:

Wednesday, September 09, 2015 7:46 AM
Glad I could help. :)

I grew up in east county. SER + 90s fuel prices + high school/college student = loads of exploring. There are plenty more roads down there that are an absolute blast if you've got time and want some adventure.
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Wednesday, September 09, 2015 9:02 AM
I've got to go out to Bakersfield, CA on another trip in a month or so. Any good roads out that way?
Monday, September 21, 2015 1:05 PM
This is the "paper" map you needed to use: http://www.redhotriders.com/images/ride_map.jpg

I keep a printout in my trunk.

http://www.pashnit.com/ works for the rest of CA.
some dude
some dudelink
Monday, October 12, 2015 12:26 AM
while the west coast doesn't have a monopoly on the coolest roads, we do have an absolute shit ton of them. the sierras are pretty much my back yard, but you can find great roads in almost any area of CA, and highway 1 above san francisco gets absolutely epic.

while some gps' can be kind of a buzzkill, technology can be you friend if you don't want to track down a paper map. poking around on google maps can find all kind of interesting roads (morgan territory road, near livermore,ca, and CA hwy 130, between san jose and patterson are a couple)...print the relevant maps, and go. this is pretty much obligatory for any trip i take...plan out some fun routes, hit what i can, and turn to GPS if time runs short.

Dusty Duster, look into hwy 178 to lake isabella, and hwy 155 to kernville. can also follow 155 down a bit and cut across some back roads (woody, bakersfield/glennville, tule, and famoso) to not have to go WAY out of the way. If you have a weekend in between, hwy 58 west of I-5 gets fun on the way to the coast too.
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