The task was simple: Pick up a boat trailer at my daughter’s house on Babbidge Road in Falmouth and haul it to my boatbuilder friend’s shop on River Road in Buxton.
A 19.6-mile, 34-minute trip over rural back roads on a lovely fall day. This is just the type of no-brainer task I like to see on my to-do list.
In Falmouth, I hooked up the trailer and reached for my iPhone to plug in the address. Then I realized I had left the phone at home in Portland. About 16 paragraphs from now I will tell you why this shouldn’t have been a problem, but to my iPhone-centric brain, it was.
I asked my daughter to look up the directions on her iPhone and write turn-by-turn directions, which she kindly did on the back of an envelope: L on Albion; slight L on Pope; in 600 feet R onto Chute; in 2.4 miles L on River Road; R on Mallison Falls Road; L onto Gray Road; R onto Main Street; slight L onto Flaggy Mountain Road; L onto Groveville; R onto River Road. Arrive.
By Chute Road, things started to fall apart.
First, Maine towns are not great with road signs. Second, every town in Maine has a Main Street. Which one was I looking for? Third, there was a River Road in the middle of the directions, and one at the end, with numerous roads in between. Why not just get on River Road and stay there?
After a while, I found myself on a busy road in Westbrook. I recognized the proctology office I had visited several times many years ago. Wonderful memories. I drove through downtown, careful not to get into any situations where I might have to back the monster trailer I was pulling.
I considered driving 10 or 15 minutes to my home and getting my phone. Then I remembered an old friend I had stashed in the back of the car: my tattered copy of the DeLorme Maine Atlas & Gazetteer.
The atlas with its incredibly detailed maps was once standard equipment in every Maine car. When I was a newspaper reporter late in the last century, it was as essential as a pencil and notebook.
The atlas was the brainchild of David DeLorme, who got lost during a fishing trip to Moosehead Lake in the 1970s and decided to make a better map, which he did. Much better. He printed 10,000 copies and sold them door to door out of his car.
It caught on. The company grew and became a leader not only in mapping but in digital technology. Eventually, every state had its DeLorme atlas. A big headquarters was built off Route 1 in Yarmouth. Eartha, the world’s largest globe, was set spinning in the lobby and became a tourist attraction.
Then came consumer GPS devices, handheld receivers that could be carried into the woods. These caught the attention of a company called Garmin, which acquired DeLorme.
I pulled over in Westbrook and retrieved my atlas. I saw that I had to go west, then south, but I saw none of the street names from the back of the envelope. So I went west, then south, and arrived in Buxton about an hour after leaving Falmouth.
I was so close but I couldn’t figure out from the map how to get from where I was to where I was going on River Road.
So I did a very old-fashioned thing that men aren’t supposed to do – I walked into a NAPA auto parts store and asked for directions. A very friendly clerk called the address up on his computer and pointed this way and that, said something about crossing “the flats” and gave me my first solid lead: Snell Family Farm was on River Road.
I drove some more but no River Road. So I stopped at an Aubuchon Hardware store, went inside, and again asked for directions.
“Let’s go outside,” the incredibly kind woman behind the counter said. In the parking lot, she pointed the direction I should go and said that I should turn right at the four-way and that would get me on the River Road, where I would see Snell Family Farm, and shortly afterward would arrive at my boatbuilder’s shop.
Which I did, two hours after leaving Falmouth.
While I was thinking about this column something occurred to me that may have occurred to you many paragraphs ago: like many modern cars, my car has a navigation system with GPS and a nice big screen that you can talk to.
I never use it because it’s not as smart as the navigation software on my phone, though it’s certainly smarter than me.
But you know what? I don’t regret the journey one bit.
Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.