Field tripping

Posted: Sunday, July 19, 2009

Raise your right hand if you wish summer would last forever.

Uh-hummm, that would be your other right hand, that is if you are directionally challenged like me.

I truly admire those people who seem to have been born with an internal compass.

"Take a left at pharmacy and then head south-west till you hit the nursery."

Not me, I can't even find our GPS, much less use it.

Even driving in Anchorage scares me. I need a map and a block-by-block narrative explaining my anticipated routes and even then, I can still manage to get lost.

I think my directional deficits are due largely to my Alaska upbringing. I learned to drive in Juneau. So, there you go. All I ever needed to know was which mountain or glacier I was looking at and I was on my way.

"Hey look, I see Russia, I must be close ..." (kidding).

Now that I've driven around the Kenai Peninsula for the past several years, I can usually meander my way around without making unintentional circles or driving the person behind me bonkers. Most of the time that is, unless I am out field tripping.

Field tripping is another story. Matter of fact, I'm still recovering from the end of the school year field trips. Don't get me wrong, the kids were absolutely fantastic. I learned a lot and nobody got car sick. It was the directions that about did me in.

For example, "The picnic will be at the park right before the bridge between here and Anchorage," hardly registers on my reality map. I need specifics.

Nor does, "Oh, go about about six miles past Johnson Lake and hang a right." Help.

Field trip No. 1, an excursion to the Seward SeaLife Center, went better than I expected. As it turned out I was able to follow a mom who was following the big yellow cheese wagon and I had phone support.

Field trip No. 2, an outing to the Annual Salmon Celebration, first stop, Whisper Lake -- or was that Elephant Lake? -- didn't go as well. Somehow, I didn't catch the part that mentioned an access road before I went the six miles past Johnson Lake. By the time I landed in Clam Gulch, I knew something was seriously off. Because the bus was crowded, I was transporting lunches for two classes. No pressure, only 40-some starving children depending on me to find my way through the wilderness and deliver their chow, lest they face certain starvation.

I was determined to make it on time so I called for cell backup. Right -- or was that left? No. Right here? Hello? Hell-oooo?

This is a long story with many twists and turns and dead cell phones but the short of the long before I run out of gas is this: I was two hours late for the beginning festivities, but only five minutes late for lunch. My stomach was about shot; I wanted a note so I could be excused and go home for the afternoon.

Field trip No. 3, destination, Anchor Point with the Boy Scouts, was an awesome trip, except when we couldn't find Patrick. We feared he was lost. I panicked. One of the scariest events any parents can go through. Good news: he was playing a game of hide and seek and he knew right where he was. Whew!

Now that a few weeks have passed and I am mostly recovered from the field tripping, something has been nagging at me. I should be happy, I should be excited for the upcoming adventure, but I am not. You see, I am going to America to and I am terrified. I will need to steer my way out of the Minneapolis Airport and drive west for three hours until I find the lovely little farmship of Ortonville -- or was that Appleton? I wrote my friend for clarification. Here are the revised directions:

"OK, here we go. Take 494 out of the cities to Highway 7. Go west on 7 till you get to Correll. Turn right on the ONLY blacktop in town (the term town is used loosely here) You go about 9 1/2 miles to County Road 10. Take a left and we are the first house you come to on the left side of the road. There are tractors and other machinery along the driveway, but there is a house eventually."

She lost me at "Take 494 out of the cities."

Eventually, we will travel onward and sort of northeast to Mora, then to Duluth. On the final leg of our journey we'll basically shoot for Canada, stopping for a family reunion when we hit the town of Embarrass.

Yes, there is a place called Embarrass, Minnesota. Try putting that on your birth certificate -- I'm not even going there as I could easily get side tracked and go off on a tangent, so I'll hang a conversational U-turn. I can only hope I don't end up in Utah. I want to take a little dog with us, so I can turn to it and say, "Were not in Kansas anymore Toto."

Where was I?

I'm concerned that Tom-Tom will not be a patient guy. I'm more than suspicious that MapQuest lied. I'm positively convinced that my atlas will be lost with the rest of my luggage and I will blank when it comes to reading the compass. I'm also afraid that I will drive too slow and I will get run over by a stampede of road raging cars.

I was thinking of making a big bright pink sign to put in the back of the window declaring, "Caution, Alaska Driver" or maybe, "Naturally Blonde, displaced Scandinavian, please point me in the direction of the farmland of my ancestors."

Here's the thing, my greatest fear is not taking the opportunity to experience the trip, so bon voyage, I'm on my way -- uh-hummm, is that first turn still a left if I am facing south?

Jacki Michels is a freelance writer who lives in Soldotna. She hopes to write another column next month -- if she can find her way home.

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