The GPS Escape Plan: Preparing For Travel Emergencies

The GPS Escape Plan: Preparing For Travel Emergencies

Gregory Han
Mar 24, 2011

That's me up there, taken a few days ago inside our cozy vacation cabin in Big Sur, trying desperately to connect to wi-fi access in the middle of a significant last-days-of-winter storm, wondering if the rest of our vacation was going to be spent indoors under a biblical deluge. Besides my DSLR for travel photos and the trusty iPad for some ebook reading, I had all intentions of packing light and living an unplgged life outside amongst the towering redwoods and dramatic coastline...a long weekend without emails, IMs, Google Docs and any prolonged sessions in front of a computer screen. Alas, fate had different plans, but I thankfully equipped myself with just enough tech options to help us escape a possibly dangerous situation...

Packed fairly light in the tech department, armed only with the DSLR, a couple lenses, a spare battery, a micro-USB cable, the iPad and a car-outlet charger.

Emily had a few projects she had to keep tabs on during our escape up north, but my plans were to mostly abandon online life and just partake in the joys of hiking while fooling around with a new ultrawide lens out in the field (and what better place than Big Sur?). I made sure to book accommodations where wi-fi access was available, yet made it clear it was mostly "just in case" rather than out of necessity. Time online was to be limited strictly to checking the weather or scouting out trails and their conditions; what I wanted to avoid was staring at screen for more than just a few minutes.

And for the most part, I was able to achieve this goal for the first half of stay. Those first two days were spent gloriously and joyfully away from nary an IM message, a browser window or mouse click, exploring splashing waterfalls, walking alongside raging rivers, climbing over lichen covered boulders, ascending to eagle's eye mountaintop views of verdant valleys that could be described as "WWW" flipped upside down and huddled around the crackle of a firepit in the starry evening.

Then it started to rain.

A little at first. Then a whole lot. Then more than a lot. Like, "build an ark, Noah" amounts.

Up north a 60 ft. swath of Highway 1 had already slid down into the ocean, blocking us off from traveling any further north. This was an issue because I drive a diesel car and the only nearby diesel stations were located north of us in Monterey; fortunately, our clean diesel ride gets near-Prius mileage on the highway, so it didn't end up being an issue. But we did become worried when we heard reports that the rain would only worsen, a bigger and badder crying cadres of clouds accompanied with gusts, flash floods and all sort of Mother Nature's hijinks that might block us off from our few escape routes. The once pleasant, almost placid Big Sur River near our cabin went David Banner-into-Hulk on us, transforming into a brackish green and foaming white furious force of such volume, I initially thought it had come right up to our doorstep. We knew we had to get out and get out quickly, unless we planned to stay well into the next week.

So out came the iPad, Google maps,, local news reports, the California State Highway website and the GPS unit...a symphony of tech gear and online resources working together to form an escape plan (as usual AT&T iPhone coverage was spotty, but considering where we were, this was understandable). Utilizing all of these resources, we were able to plot the safest and quickest course out of the area, departing early the next morning when the rain let up just enough for us to risk a drive back southward.

The dangers possibly awaiting us were daunting, knowing one part of the highway had already fallen into the Pacific, with the promise of rockslides likely and miles of highway barely clinging onto the side of sheer cliffs. In fact, we did end up dodging a small boulder that hurtled down at rocket speeds from a crumbling cliffside, and on numerous occasions we had to swerve around fallen debris of various size during the 10 hour drive back, hugging the serpentine coastal highway through heavy rains that reduced both speeds and visibility.

But thanks to all the modern conveniences of our digital devices, notably GPS and traffic reports, we traveled notified of warnings ahead of time (knowing the "what" and "where" can especially be valuable in dangerous weather conditions), planned safer detour routes, and ultimately returned home unscathed. Despite all the intentions of leaving tech behind, it was thanks to the aid of our trusty digital devices these city mice were able to escape the harsh realities of country living. One can easily take for granted how important access to information is during an emergency and how online access trumps just about any other medium when it comes to up-to-date news on demand.

Of course, we're already planning a return visit. Just during less precipitous conditions. And definitely with the iPad and GPS again.

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