Sometimes the Smart Phone is a Dumb Choice: Stuck in No Cell Phone Service National Forest without a Real Map

Stuck on I-80 With No Map and No Clue

Sometimes I’m not sure the synapses are working in the old noggin.

Heading up to the mountains this past weekend along with 499,999 of the other folks in cars from the Bay Area who were also “sneaking out early on a Friday” – we got stuck.

Always Prepared, was once my motto. And back in the old days before these hand held gizmos that have completely changed my life on a basic level around the house, but also with adventure travel and Apps for just about anything for the outdoors just short of turning into a Swiss Army Knife (where’s the retractable spoon on my iPhone???) – I used to plan the route ahead, be organized, think things through, have the alien, Reynolds Wrap looking space blanket packed “just in case.” As an outdoorsman, you were seriously: Always Prepared.

Now I just look at my co-pilot in the car and say – can you Google the next gas station/forest service road/where are we/how long do we have left/what’s our elevation/how far have we gone/ can you find the blue dot/ where’s the closest In & Out Burger for some fries and a water bottle refill??? All of this while we are already driving. Because the horror of getting stuck unprepared is less horrifying – everything is just a beep-boop-beep of a few finger presses on the phone away – information available instantly, where, before, it was a wide-open chasm of the unknown.

So on Friday, when 499,999 of our new BFF-cars on the road and we all got stand-still stuck for three hours on Interstate 80 heading up into the mountains of Lake Tahoe due to a massive, action-movie worthy overturn of a Cement Truck, we all turned to our phones. And, our phones, in turn, turned into worthless bricks of colorful plastic. No cell phone service available… just endless, heart-tugging “searching…. searching…” going on. And, therefore, no map.

Stuck on I-80, somewhere between the Donner Dinner Party and The Last Exit Before Nowhere, we couldn’t look on a map to: a) see where we actually were, or b) come up with a Plan B – escape routes off the highway, alternate routes from 80 to our destination, turn-around loops if worse came to worse. My smart phone had rendered me a total, complete, reliant, unprepared dumb-dumb, stuck in a possibly dangerous situation.

Luckily, as I’ve been mentioning, we were with 499,999 other friends/cars stuck in the same situation. Some more prepared than we were. And they nicely shared their paper-maps and prepared-information.

But lesson learned, my friends. Next time I’m going retro and turning the lazy (and lost?) -man’s gizmo to Off and bringing a tree full of mappage… just like the good old days.

Namaste & Three Cheers. -a


  1. The smart phone have today become the most important for everyone. We can easily found everything in our smartphones with just one click. It was really very nice written post and also interesting.

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    1. thanks, stephen! i just don't know what i'd do without mine these days. but i really, REALLY realized that i was way too reliant on it in some very important areas ----- so back to the compass and map -- remembering THE BASICS-- when heading out on these kind of adventures. (and, boy, am i going to remind myself to teach the kids this lesson as well.)

      glad you enjoyed it! -a

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