When Technology Fails

It’s not very often that a single outing on the trail warrants a post of its own, but our last hike falls into that category.

It’s not because of stunning natural scenario or wildlife sightings.  There weren’t even any brain farts that could provide a comical story.

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We did find a couple of flags flying deep in the forest.  That was unusual!

This hike was all about trying to follow the trail.

I’ve been vocal on previous posts about my irritation with trying to find and follow trail blazes that provide direction on the Trans-Canada.  Maybe they’re not so important on uninterrupted stretches where the direction is obvious, but they’re critical when faced with options.

From my planning of this hike, I knew we were about to enter a 15km forested section of trail with a network of alternative trails that resemble a spider’s web. The probability of getting lost without good trail markings was going to be very high.

However, we were about to enter the “Trail Capital of Canada”, so I had to believe that they would know a thing or two about marking trails.

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It may be worth repeating – I have a deep-seated fear of being lost.  While Helen and I may strongly disagree on the finer points of what exactly it means to be *lost*, the bottom line is, if I don’t know where I am, I’m lost.

… and I don’t like it.

It occurred to me on our last outing that perhaps the intention on the Trans-Canada was that users would follow the trail using the tracking feature of the mobile app instead of relying on physical trail blazes that need to be maintained by volunteers.

Armed with this new insight, I loaded the app on my phone and away we went.

In less than a kilometre we encountered our first problem.  The app did not show all the possible trail directions we were confronted with, and even worse, the app and the blazes on the trail didn’t match.

After a brief discussion, we decided to follow the blazes … Helen has a blatant disregard for technology at the best of times, so this wasn’t a major leap of faith.  Our decision was all good until we could no longer find blazes, and to add to my frustration, the app kept crashing and provided no guidance on which direction to follow.

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We see you laying there on the ground.  Rather useless, aren’t you?

To add further insult, it was chewing through my battery life like a hungry hippo.

Needless to say, the app was completely abandoned, and we went back to our emergency strategy – winging it.  Thankfully, once we (as in, Helen) figured out how to read the maps provided in the forest, we were able to navigate our way around – although I’m confident we were often not on the Trans-Canada at all.

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Two thumbs up to those maintaining this section of the Trans-Canada!!  Without these amazing markers, we’d likely still be wandering around in this section of forest.

One little detail we’ve come to rely on is that the marker posts on any trail will always point north.  It’s one of those little bits of knowledge I use to reassure myself I know the direction we are headed.  If our understanding is incorrect, please, please, please let us know!!

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Marker post pointing north, a map, AND TCT blazes!!  Well done, Uxbridge!!

… and yes, I do carry a compass.

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29 comments

  1. Sounds like you two are the perfect ying and yang and lucky to have each other as hiking partners! If the trail is this badly marked close to an urban centre wonder if it will be better or worse when you get further out🤔

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    • Since we started this journey, we have often been very frustrated by the lack of obvious trail markings. We were deeply spoiled by the Bruce Trail experience.

      Having said that, the closer we got to Uxbridge, the better the markings became. In fact, they are the best we’ve experienced so far.

      I’ve had a bit of an attitude readjustment about this journey. Following the exact trail is less important to me now, but rather I focus on the general direction of where the trail is going. It’s a small mental shift, but it’s taken a bit of the frustration out of the experience … not to mention the silly joy I feel whenever we do finally find a marker 🙂

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  2. Joanne, you don’t ever want to go hiking with me. If I don’t have an expert with me (i.e. someone with a good sense of direction who can read a map) I’m guaranteed to get lost! Just ask my women’s hiking group, I have led them astray more than once. That’s one reason I like to hike early, so if I do get lost, I can find my way back before dark. Having said that, I completely sympathize with you on the blazes – I often judge a trail by how well marked it is.

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  3. You say you couldn’t provide a comical story, but I’m so sorry that I did in fact find this very funny. It’s the way you tell it Jo. So tongue in cheek, so dry, I cannot help but have a big grin on my face. “Eats battery like a hungry hippo” “We see you lying on the ground. Rather useless aren’t you?”
    “If I don’t know where I am, I am lost. And I don’t like it”
    You are funny 🙂 Though you probably don’t agree with me…

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  4. I don’t like being lost either. I always look for signs, markers, cairns, but I’ve missed a couple and got lost, but was able to get back to where I went wrong and work it out to keep going. It’s scary! Especially b/c my sense of direction can get turned around so easily!

    I feel your frustration, but am glad you’re with cool, calm, and collected Helen! You two do seem like the perfect team for this adventure.

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  5. I admire the tenacity of both you and Helen. On our recent hike in Spain, we relied on trail markers every step of the way. Needing to rely on our own sense of direction, or to ‘wing it’, would have been a disaster!

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  6. Helen has a blatant disregard for technology, and you don’t like being lost. What a perfect couple to go on a hike in the woods. You do have some fun (and funny) adventures, Joanne.
    ps: I drive my husband crazy with my usual comment, “Eh. Let’s just wing it.”

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    • I can get pretty confused too which is why I rely so heavily on maps, road signs, and trail markers. Contrary to how it might sound, I’m not one of those uber outdoorsy people, so I get rather bent out of shape when I feel lost.
      Thankfully Helen is the polar opposite and she keeps me grounded 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Having been involved in developing systems for 40 years, and apps for the past several, let me join you in officially shaking my head at the developers who didn’t bother to consider battery life in a mobile app used while hiking in the wilderness!

    I had to chuckle a little bit at the blaze lying on the ground – not much help indeed.

    I admire your collective spirit, and I agree with your definition of lost. Hang in there, Joanne, someday, someone will get it all right.

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    • Actually we laughed at the blaze on the ground too. It’s just bad luck that the tree with a blaze on it probably went down in a storm.

      Apparently my assumption about the app proved to be wrong. I’m becoming increasingly suspect of people who are claiming to have crossed Canada along The Great Trail. I just don’t know how they are doing it without wandering around confused most of the time.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. You are a trooper, Joanne. It’s a pity that you are encountering so many glitches – and uncovering the weak spots related to this trail.

    Technology issues aside, I’m appalled at the shoddy way some (not all, thank God) sections of this trail are mapped/managed. It is just plain irresponsible. If an experienced hiker as yourself has concerns, what about the newbies who might just happen along?

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    • I’m very sensitive to the fact that these routes are the responsibility of local trail associations and the volunteers within it. I think the trails are only going to be as good as the association and the resources it has available.

      Unfortunately, as you say, we are finding the weak spots. Our expectations have been very high because of the superlative job done by the Bruce Trail Association, and TCT simply lacks the maturity of the Bruce.

      It was obvious to us that new signs are going up in the Uxbridge section and they have the high quality we were expecting … however, it appears it is still a work in progress and they aren’t quite finished.

      … and the app? What can I say? It sucks.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Helen looks very calm & relaxed. Perhaps she’s onto to something when it comes to relying on our own instincts rather than being so reliant on technology!

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  10. I can just imagine a couple of geniuses who decide that, rather than maintain the trails, it would be more cost-effective to create an app. No thought to battery life, connectivity, regular updates, or other pesky details. You two are real troupers to keep going out there and do the best you can to follow your bold plan. I just hope that you have some contingency plans just in case you really do get lost.

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    • I thought it was a bit of a leap too, Janis, but I figured I might as well try the app and perhaps it would solve our directional issues. It failed in a spectacular way.
      We knew that as long as we were heading in a generally northern direction, we were making progress – perhaps not on THE right trail, but close enough.

      More than a few times I’ve had to give my head a shake and question whether this was a really stupid idea. As critical as I may be, I do have an awareness and deep appreciation for the fact that these trail associations are manned by volunteers.

      As for contingency plans, I’m pretty cautious when it comes to trekking in unfamiliar territory – and quite frankly, it’s all unfamiliar.

      Liked by 1 person

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