In Maine, Even With A GPS, You Can't Get There From Here : All Tech Considered Once a standard fixture at every gas station, paper maps have all but folded in the digital age. But there are places that can baffle your high-tech gadgets. In Maine, weekend explorers might want to take along a map in addition to their GPS unit.

In Maine, Even With A GPS, You Can't Get There From Here

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OK. A few weeks ago, I was on a road trip doing some research in rural Alabama. I entered my destination into one of those electronic maps. And I loyally followed the directions until the map instructed me to follow a dirt path through the woods, a path that had a gate across it. Had to find my way by actually looking at the map. Turns out that even in a time of almost ubiquitous satellite navigation, I'm not alone.

Jennifer Mitchell of Maine Public Broadcasting spent some time getting lost.

JENNIFER MITCHELL, BYLINE: I'd never been to the barrens of Eastern Maine before, so naturally, I got lost.


MITCHELL: It's listing zero feet as my destination, but it really has no idea. It thinks I'm off route but it has no suggestions.

UNIDENTIFIED GPS VOICE: Make the next legal U-turn.

MITCHELL: There I was, creeping along on a narrow dirt road full of potholes with no way to turn around. It's trying right now to update my location, and it can't find me.

Getting yourself lost in a rural state is an easy thing to do. Pavement turns into dirt track, and before you know it, you're driving through miles of woods and boulders, and your GPS isn't helping.


BRYAN COURTOIS: Where it's an electronic device and has batteries and relies on a satellite signal, there's a lot of things that can go wrong.

MITCHELL: That's Bryan Courtois, a search and rescue specialist. Trying to rely solely on electronic mapping, he says, is a good way to get yourself lost. Even he doesn't do that.

COURTOIS: I'll probably look at a map ahead of time and just have a rough idea. And then if I agree with where the GPS is bringing me, then I follow it. If not then I'll probably pull over and look at the map.

MITCHELL: If you can find one.

SHANNON GARRITY: I think there's definitely a slowing down of the production of paper maps.

MITCHELL: That's Shannon Garrity, a data specialist with Delorme, a company that not only sells GPS units but still publishes paper maps. Since 1998, map sales have steadily fallen for Delorme. A spokesperson for Illinois-based Rand McNally confirmed that the market is trending away from paper. But for Delorme, the slump has finally leveled out, and people are buying maps again in addition to their GPS units. And that's probably a good thing says Garrity, because the most common GPS units aren't really meant for wilderness exploration.


MITCHELL: Maine has actually had several incidents in recent years of motorists driving into remote bodies of water, most recently in the small coastal village of Roque Bluffs where two women on a foggy evening accidentally drove their car right into the ocean and drowned. It's not known if the women were using a GPS. But driving along that same road, here's what I got when I set my GPS for Roque Bluffs.

UNIDENTIFIED GPS VOICE: Your destination is straight ahead.

MITCHELL: But straight ahead at that point is actually the ocean. Getting too caught-up in the turn-by-turn instructions that are so helpful when trying to find a coffee shop in Boston won't serve you well here. Not having that big picture view is perhaps the flaw with current GPS technology. says Garrity. For Maine guide Bryan Courtois, a GPS unit is a worthy addition to your road trip supplies, but it shouldn't be the only thing in your glove box.

COURTOIS: It's a nice tool, but you still have to have a map and compass, and look at the map and compass more than the GPS.

MITCHELL: In time, as more remote areas are digitally mapped, GPS services will be improved for remote parts of the United States. But for now, when taking the road less traveled, you might also want to take along an old fashioned map - even if you can't fold one.

For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Mitchell, somewhere in Maine.


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