MAX Update No. 59: Lies My GPS Told Me

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I had quite a night last night.

My schedule for the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR wasn’t bad — four 11 hour driving days, averaging 60 mph. I could fit in one restaurant meal (I have food and water in the car; yep, still watching my weight) and one fuel stop (MAX is getting killer mileage) a day and still never have to drive in the dark if I didn’t feel like it. The weather is clear and warm all the way, it’s going to be a walk in the park.

Then my face surgeon doctor found an afternoon slot for a follow-up (see MAX Update No. 56), and his office was on the way (Medford), so fine, a slightly late departure so I’ll set the alarm early for the next few days to make up for it, no problem. After my visit to the doc shop, I did a mileage check in Klamath Falls — 84 mpg from Cave Junction — and learned that I’d better be careful when I stop for fuel because MAX draws a crowd and the crowd wants to talk.

I got into Lakeview in the wilds of southeast Oregon (known as the “Oregon Outback”) at about 9 o’clock, where the woman running a motel told me that all of Lakeview is booked up solid (there’s a pipeline construction job under way) and the next town on my route is Winnemucca and that’s 200 miles and the road is … in her words, “No, I wouldn’t drive that road at night. Lots of switchbacks and there’s a cliff on one side.”

So I topped off the tank (only 71 mpg, but I’d been hurrying a bit and they don’t call Lakeview “Tall Town” for nothing — it’s up about 5,000 feet) so I wouldn’t need to stop again until Wyoming, and set up camp at the local fairgrounds, where I slept until 2:30 when the frost woke me up. Okay, it’s supposed to be warm all the way, but apparently not in the high desert in the dead of night. So what the heck, I can take it slow and still see dawn in Winnemucca. I’ll be back on schedule and it’ll be daylight driving all the rest of the way to Pennsylvania. I fired up MAX, turned on the GPS…

Oh yes, the GPS. I’ve never driven with one before and they’re amazing.

It tells me every turn I have to make and every speed limit not to break, and I had it set to “shortest route” instead of “fastest route” because I wasn’t really in a hurry. Yet.

…turned on the GPS, which lead me into town and then onto a dirt road. Huh? This is the shortest route? GPS knows best I guess, and it was a real good dirt road, and the GPS showed me getting off it in not too many miles, and I can turn back if it gets bad … so why not?

Here’s why not: in those not-too-many-miles I climbed past 6,000 feet. Apparently this short cut goes over the mountain, whereas the highway goes around, and the road had some washboards that had me slowed to second gear, and it stopped looking like a well-traveled road so I took this picture, telling myself, “They’re not going to believe I drove MAX on this,” but MAX has a distinctive hood line so they’ll probably believe it. I determined to reset the GPS to Fastest Route once I got though this. And when I got to the turnoff, it was a turnoff onto another dirt road.

Well what did I expect? That would be dirt going up, and pavement coming down? The road it turned me to was called NF170, and it didn’t look nearly as good as the one I was leaving …

No, thank you for asking, I didn’t turn back. I should have, but I didn’t want to waste the half hour I’d already invested, and besides, this one was going down and the GPS said it lead to Highway 140, which is where I wanted to get. Besides, I should have turned around as soon as the first dirt road started climbing, right? Now, where was I?

In the middle of a mountain forest, that’s where. But the GPS said I was halfway to the highway before I hit the first gully that required me to leave the car and scout around it (see photo). After a few more miles of such challenges, I finally reached Highway 140. According to the GPS. According to my headlights, I was in the Oregon Outback.

I shut off the engine and was out scouting for a place I could turn around (yes, Jack, about time), when I heard a car above me. I caught a glimpse of headlight and kept looking that direction so I could get a fix on the next car, which took 20 minutes (not many folks dumb enough to drive Highway 140 at night). Okay, I was close, and my fire road was heading the right way, and from the sound of the jake brakes of the first truck that came by, the highway was coming down to my level. Woohoo, I was going to make it! I hopped back in MAX and pushed on, but as it turns out, I should have made other plans.

I misjudged the next washout, and grunched the nose into the opposite side of the bank. It sounded like a good grunch, too. I backed out, got up a little speed, and high centered MAX on a tree root I hadn’t noticed before. Only two hours ’till daylight, there’s not much I can do but write this blog, and if you’re reading this, it means I got out alive.

Ain’t modern technology amazing? I’m in the middle of nowhere, 4:30 in the morning, writing a blog on my laptop computer. Of course, without modern technology, I wouldn’t be here, I’d have been following a map and I’d be on Highway 140. Wi-fi doesn’t get this far into the outback, so if you’re reading this, then I must have made it out of there.

P.S. I made it out of there. It took a Lake County Deputy Sheriff and a winch to get me off that root wad, and it’s a very entertaining story that I don’t have time to write right now, but I’m back on the road and headed east. See you in Pennsylvania. Sadly, without MAX.

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