A Canadian couple who relied on GPS ended up lost in the Nevada wilderness for 48 days, prompting officials to reiterate the dangers of relying solely on the navigation devices.
Rita Chretien, 56, from British Columbia, Canada, was rescued late last week and the story she told rescuers, as they continue to search for her 59 year-old husband.
The couple thought they were taking a shorter route between Boise, Idaho, and Jackpot, Nev., when they turned off a main highway last March. Instead, they took a bumpy back road their GPS mapped for them.
They thought the shortcut would be a brief detour off then back on the main highway, but as night fell and their vehicle got stuck, the couple realized they were miles from anywhere and in trouble.
Three days later, on March 22, Albert left the van that had gotten stuck near Nevada’s Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest to get help, and hasn’t been seen since. Rita recounted how she rationed spoonfuls of cereal, ate hard candy and drank water melted from snow, in order to survive for several weeks until she was rescued.
The search continues for Albert, who is still missing.
The unfortunate account is not a new one for local officials. Law enforcement agencies, especially in the western U.S., report too many travelers are letting technology lull them into a false sense of security and putting themselves at risk.
Sheriff’s offices in remote, rugged and expansive areas of Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming report a rise in the number of GPS-guided mishaps in the past two years, and the numbers are increasing as more and more travelers drive off marked paved highways into an unforgiving patchwork of primitive roads that lead to danger.
“Your machine may tell you the quickest route, but it might not take into account there are impassable canyons between you and your destination,” said Daryl Crandall, Idaho’s Owyhee County Sheriff.
The situation is so common that California’s Death Valley National Park has cautioned visitors to its website that GPS navigation in the area is notoriously unreliable.
“There are times when you need to put the GPS down and look out the window,” said Howard Paul, veteran search and rescue official with the Colorado Search and Rescue Board. These agencies report rescuing travelers in the middle of fields or into snow banks, because their device directed them there.
Authorities in these more rural, mountainous areas are taking the opposite approach to Robert Frost’s suggestion in his famous poem. For travelers facing diverging roads in their literal travels, for safety’s sake, take the road more traveled. It might just make all the difference.