Map Quest

Get­ting lost on the Cal­i­for­nia coast, with the help of a TripTik

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Pasha Malla

Get­ting lost on the Cal­i­for­nia coast, with the help of a TripTik

On a flight from Toronto to San Fran­cisco last ­Au­gust, I kept look­ing up from my book — ­ Va­le­ria Luiselli’s ­Side­walks — to mon­i­tor the an­i­ma­tion show­ing our progress on the seat­back in front of me. ­Mo­ments later, in an un­canny ­con­fla­tion of worlds real and imag­ined, I found my­self read­ing about that same ­ex­pe­ri­ence. “No in­ven­tion has been more con­trary to the spirit of car­tog­ra­phy,” Luiselli writes, “than these air­plane maps. A map is a­spa­tial ab­strac­tion; the im­po­si­tion of a tem­po­ral di­men­sion — whether in the form of a chronome­ter or a minia­ture plane that ad­vances in a straight line across space — is in contradiction to its very pur­pose.”

This res­onated while plan­ning our holiday: a two-week road trip that would be­gin in San Fran­cisco, trace the ­coastal high­way down to Big Sur, and then zip back up through ­Napa Val­ley and the red­woods be­fore head­ing north into Ore­gon. Back in Toronto, book­ing camp­sites and bed and break­fasts on­line, Vanessa had men­tioned that, years ago, her fam­ily had blazed a sim­i­lar trail us­ing some­thing called a TripTik. I’d never heard of such a thing, as my own fam­ily va­ca­tions had tended to in­volve rented ­cot­tages (fun) and cul­tur­ally ed­i­fy­ing vis­its to In­dia (less so).

TripTik, she ex­plained, was a ser­vice pro­vided to mem­bers of the Cana­dian Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion. Back when Vanessa was a kid, her dad would head to their lo­cal CAA out­let with a holiday plan, and an agent would plot a route for him in high­lighter on a series of coil-bound maps. The TripTik was ­sup­ple­mented with ­rel­e­vant TourBooks, which de­tailed ­re­gional ­at­trac­tions, ac­com­mo­da­tions, and restau­rants along the way. I was­­in­trigued: like many ­quintessen­tially Cana­dian ­ex­pe­ri­ences that of­ten elude the kids of South Asian im­mi­grants (hockey, sloppy joes, sun­burns), this seemed like some­thing I might re­claim now, as an adult.

One of the great ironies of the coast around Sil­i­con Val­ley is that the re­gion hosts a num­ber of wireless dead zones. So, faced with the prospect of be­ing tech­no­log­i­cally ma­rooned, we de­cided not just to TripTik our route, but to forgo satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion en­tirely — no GPS, no ­Google Maps, no smart­phones. Maybe free­ing our­selves from vir­tual me­di­a­tion would foster a more en­gaged travel ex­pe­ri­ence; maybe it would be in­con­ve­nient and ­ir­ri­tat­ing. But for the sake of nostalgia, both real

(hers) and in­vented (mine), we thought we’d give it a shot.

In the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, as the au­to­mo­bile be­gan pop­u­lat­ing the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion and road­ways of North Amer­ica, re­gional mo­tor clubs formed to lobby for driv­ers’ in­ter­ests. In 1902, nine in­de­pen­dent chap­ters in the United States banded to­gether to form the Amer­i­can Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion, and eleven years later, an equiv­a­lent fed­er­a­tion formed north of the border, of­fi­cially be­com­ing the Cana­dian Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion on March 8, 1916.

A hun­dred years later, CAA counts ­roughly 6.2 mil­lion driv­ers as mem­bers. ­Af­ter al­most seventy years of guid­ing ­in­trepid Cana­di­ans around the con­ti­nent, the as­so­ci­a­tion stopped hand­ing out their hand-drawn of­fer­ings last year. ­In­stead, they now di­rect road-trip­pers to their ­on­line TripTik Travel Plan­ner, ­ac­cessed by about a mil­lion peo­ple a year. So our trip to Cal­i­for­nia, we like to think, was guided by one of the last hand­made TripTiks ever.

Although CAA was phas­ing out the ser­vice, the Brant­ford, On­tario, of­fice agreed to put to­gether a pa­per ­pack­age for us: “­Pic­ture a snow-clad ­moun­tain­side,” ­in­structed the au­thors of the ­North­ern ­Cal­i­for­nia TourBook. “A man and a woman in ski gear swoosh down an ­alpine slope. Cut to a sun-washed beach hours later. The same two­some strolls along the shore, water lap­ping at their feet. Then, at a swank ur­ban bistro that evening they sit across from each other savour­ing a sump­tu­ous din­ner.” (Yes! Swoosh! This would soon be us!)

The TripTik seemed du­bi­ous: its coils were flimsy plas­tic, its pa­per only a grade or two thicker than newsprint, and our route, drawn by hand in green marker, wob­bled from one sec­tion to the next. I was re­minded un­com­fort­ably of what travel used to be: a voy­age into the un­known. There’s been a huge on­to­log­i­cal leap from poorly ­folded roadmaps stuffed into glove­boxes to the im­mer­sive en­vi­ron­ments of ­Google Earth and dash­board nav­i­ga­tion that ­re­sponds to traf­fic and weather in real time. Now that car­tog­ra­phy in­cludes a fourth di­men­sion, map­ping is no longer a guide so much as a project of perfection: the best route, avail­able im­me­di­ately, up­dated live as you drive it. That we were head­ing to an­other coun­try with­out that sort of guid­ance felt as fool­hardy as it did lib­er­at­ing. What if we drove off the page?

Our first hu­man in­ter­ac­tion in Amer­ica was at the San Fran­cisco air­port’s rental-car desk. For forty-five min­utes, the man be­hind the counter per­formed a be­wil­der­ing dance of legalese and hid­den charges, in­clud­ing a $150 pass to tra­verse Cal­i­for­nia’s toll roads. But, help­fully, our TripTik in­formed us that we would need to pay a to­tal of only $6 (US) to cross the Golden Gate Bridge be­fore fly­ing back to Canada. Sales­man thwarted, we got our car and hit the road.

The CAA TourBook’s al­lit­er­a­tive claim that the SR-1 high­way “snakes along ... in a seem­ingly end­less series of sin­u­ous S-curves” didn’t pre­pare us for the jaw­drop­ping beauty around al­most ev­ery twist and turn. And though it was cir­cled on our TripTik as a sin­gle lo­ca­tion, Big Sur ac­tu­ally en­com­passes a broad swath of stun­ning coast­line, bor­dered by Carmel in the north and San Simeon in the south, from which the Santa Lu­cia Moun­tains heave in­land. We stayed that first night at a semi-rus­tic, crip­plingly ex­pen­sive re­sort nes­tled in the woods off the high­way; like many Amer­i­can restau­rants, the af­fil­i­ated “road­house” seemed to as­sert its pa­tri­o­tism via por­tion size.

TripTik aside, on our daily ex­cur­sions up and down the coast, we were of­ten so flabbergasted by the views that we over­shot ex­its and missed turns. And there were lim­its to its purview as well: a few days in, head­ing back in­land, we trawled ev­ery inch of the numb­ingly non­de­script town of Gil­roy in a pan­icked at­tempt to buy Vanessa a rain jacket (never worn). And in Ash­land, Ore­gon, we wan­dered the down­town for forty min­utes be­fore lo­cat­ing the Shake­speare Fes­ti­val, where we had tick­ets to see Per­i­cles — a play, it so hap­pens, that’s about be­ing cast adrift and suc­cumb­ing to chance.

Once, we even got lost in time. Hav­ing suc­cess­fully TripTik’d our way to Shel­ter Cove, which marks the southerly start of the por­ten­tously named Lost Coast Trail, we thought we’d do a por­tion of it as a day hike. Since the route skirts the ocean for twenty-five miles, much of it is pass­able only at low tide and re­quires strict ad­her­ence to tide charts unless you wish to be swept out to sea.

Com­par­ing the map and a newly ­ac­quired chart, we fig­ured we had a cou­ple of hours to get out to a point about four miles down the trail be­fore the surf came in and we’d have to turn back. A spot on the hori­zon seemed to cor­re­spond to this ­marker, so we set out for it with one eye on the ocean and the other on our ­watches. The walk, over loose stone and wet sand, was gru­elling, es­pe­cially with our match­ing his-and-hers bum knees (MCL and ACL tears, re­spec­tively). On and on we trudged, and that lit­tle promon­tory grew no closer. An hour passed, then an­other. We stopped for water; we hur­ried past a bear and her cubs lum­ber­ing around in the trees up the bank. And still our goal seemed un­reach­able.

Then Vanessa looked back. “Um,” she said, “do you think maybe we’ve al­ready passed it?” She seemed to be right: about a mile or two back, the waves were hun­grily “lap­ping,” as per our TourBook, at a jut of rocks that re­sem­bled the one on our map with re­mark­able pre­ci­sion and over which we’d scam­pered an hour or so ­prior. Af­ter wad­ing back to the trail­head and ­re­treat­ing in drenched shame to our ­ho­tel room, we re­al­ized that if we’d gone any far­ther, our only op­tion would have been to bivouac up into the woods, where that bear and her cubs lay in wait.

It can be kind of nice to get lost — for a lit­tle while. “Leave the door open for the un­known, the door into the dark,” writes Re­becca Sol­nit in A Field Guide to Get­ting Lost . “Get­ting lost is not a mat­ter of ge­og­ra­phy so much as iden­tity, a pas­sion­ate ­de­sire, even an ur­gent need, to be­come no one and any­one, to shake off the shack­les that re­mind you who you are, who oth­ers think you are.” In these wired-in times, that seems eas­ier said than done. You’re of­ten ­only a cou­ple of clicks away from res­cue, be it in the form of so­cial me­dia’s salve for lone­li­ness or an ­escape route plot­ted on your phone.

The thing is that I don’t ac­tu­ally need to lose my way to feel lost. I’m lost any­where that I don’t know what to ex­pect around the next cor­ner. When I kept com­par­ing an­other hike in the Red­wood Na­tional Park to the Green Gar­dens walk in Gros Morne Na­tional Park, Vanessa re­marked on this con­stant need for ana­logues. It seems a hu­man enough ten­dency to com­pre­hend through as­so­ci­a­tion, but I had to con­fess: the un­fa­mil­iar makes me anx­ious un­til I’ve slot­ted it into some pre-ex­ist­ing ­cat­e­gory of un­der­stand­ing.

So when I travel, I re­quire an an­chor. And though the TripTik was just a few sheets of pa­per, it started to serve as a sort of ­cul­tural touch­stone. CAA has al­ways struck me as one of those in­trin­si­cally na­tion­al­is­tic ­or­ga­ni­za­tions, akin to Canada Post, the CBC, and the CFL. The TripTik be­came my link to home. I be­gan to en­act a sort of archetype of Cana­di­an­ness: at a cof­fee shop in Eureka, for ex­am­ple, I asked, “Where’s the milk ’n’ that, eh?” which caused ­Vanessa to won­der when I had started speak­ing like an OHL as­sis­tant coach.

Our triptik wasn’t just a guide to our va­ca­tion; it pro­vided a va­ca­tion in ­it­self. Trav­el­ling a route sketched for us by hu­man hands, lib­er­ated from tech­nol­ogy’s me­di­at­ing in­flu­ence, I ex­pe­ri­enced less a per­sonal eman­ci­pa­tion than a re­ver­sion to my more ba­sic in­stincts. A pa­per map has edges; a vir­tual map sprawls ­lim­it­lessly over the sur­face of the globe. The spa­tial lim­i­ta­tions of the TripTik cre­ated a sense of fini­tude and con­straint; you have to trust your­self a lit­tle more, es­pe­cially when you find your­self be­yond its pages.

We’d booked our fi­nal night in Cal­i­for­nia at a Bavar­ian-style inn on the ­Russian ­River, plan­ning to go out for a nice meal and re­lax be­fore a leisurely drive back to San ­Fran­cisco the next day. Af­ter we checked in, Vanessa fired up her phone to pre­pay our toll across the Golden Gate Bridge and asked me the date. “Septem­ber 8,” I said with con­fi­dence. “And we fly out Septem­ber 9 at five in the morn­ing.” With dawn­ing hor­ror, she looked from me to her phone and back. “But that’s tonight !”

There’s a spe­cial kind of in­ep­ti­tude that treads the line be­tween ad­ven­ture and an­noy­ance. I will not claim to have been happy about rac­ing down High­way 101 at 2 a.m. to catch our flight home. Nor would I sug­gest that a mo­bile de­vice, pro­grammed with some sort of alert or alarm, would have en­tirely pre­vented such a thing. Those were a ­silent, tense few hours in the car, each of us blam­ing our­selves and the other equally. But by the time we got to the air­port, our moods had light­ened. “Well, we made it,” said Vanessa, and kissed me on the cheek. I smiled, kissed her back. We had, ­in­deed. This, too, had al­ready be­come just an­other story.

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