How the Wasatch Front destroyed my sense of direction

Now that I’ve lived here for a handful of weeks, my number one and pretty much only complaint about Kansas City is her lack of mountains.  Not a huge surprise right? The skier, camper, hiker, and outdoor enthusiast that I am, I knew I was going to miss them big time. (I’m pretty sure the first thing we googled after we were accepted to KCUMB was where the nearest National Park is. it’s in Arkansas. 7 hours.  boo.)  But besides those obvious reasons (and the gorgeous views!) I’m missing the mountains mostly because I never have any clue where the heck I am.

For 100% of my life until now (ok, since obtaining a drivers license), I have always known which way I’m going because:  the Mountains are East.  Period.  Then Never Eat Soggy Waffles from there, and you know which way is what.  Even if I was lost or didn’t know how to get where I wanted to go, I at least knew which direction it was in.  It also didn’t hurt that there is one freeway that runs North/South almost without exception and that the streets almost all adhere to the grid system.  That Brigham Young, he knew what was up (and what was North and what was South. . . )

The first time I had the disorientating experience of driving somewhere that isn’t Utah, I was with my roommates in Huntington Beach.  I’d been there half a dozen times and I could name all the streets, but for the first time being the driver, I realized I had no idea which ones would lead me to the coast and which ones ran parallel to it.  I asked my friend (who is from Huntington) how I’m supposed to orient myself and she pointed “well, you know the ocean is that way, so that means this street is running North/South.”  I said “But how do I know the ocean is that way?”  Her reply was “I don’t know. You just know.”

Which was nonrational and unacceptable.  You know the mountains are there because—

yhike2oh hi mountains, hello.  There you are.  Thanks for being big and huge and visible.

So, here in Kansas City I’m having an extraordinarily difficult time creating a map in my mind and putting all of my places on it. I can get to Target, church, the grocery store, downtown, a couple of friends houses, but I have no idea how to get to target from my friends house without going home first. I can’t plan errands based on convenience of what area I’ll be in. I cannot wrap my brain around where things are relative to each other.  There are tons of different freeways and none of them are straight lines, so even if you got on I-35 Northbound, you might now be traveling West on a freeway that is not I-35.  Once (ya, actually, way more than once) I exited the freeway and was about to turn the wrong direction when Tanner had to correct me.  I was positive that home was left.  But home was right.  And I was confused.

This is really frustrating for me because, people, I am intelligent, competent, and capable, and this should not be that hard.  It’s just that growing up along the Wasatch Front prevented me from ever developing a sense of direction.  I have a friend (Heather) who is a very right-brained artist and I remember finding out that she could not tell time on an analog clock.  “Well” she said, “I can, it just takes me forever so I never do it. I have to stare at it for a long time.”  My mind was blown and I started interrogating her. I asked something like “so, if it’s 1:15 now, what time will it be in 50 minutes?”  She didn’t know. “What’s 23+42?”  Couldn’t do it.  She closed her eyes and screwed her face up and thought and thought really hard, and I think eventually came up with the right answers, but I was thoroughly amazed at how long it took because I know Heather to be an intelligent person and my analytic mind could come up with those answers almost immediately. Her brain just didn’t work that way. I keep thinking about this when I’m in the car trying really really hard and stretching my brain to answer the question “what direction are we going dana?”  My brain tries to make the map and put all the dots in the right places and think, ok, if Antioch runs North/South and then we turned Right and then Left, and the sun is setting that way. . . Tanner thinks it’s funny to watch me struggle so hard and then answer wrong and be like “what?? how is that possible??”

I don’t know if I’ll ever quite get the hang of it unless Kansas City grows some mountains, or I get a reliable gps, neither of which I see happening anytime soon.  Until then you can find me on googlemaps several times daily partying like it’s 1999 aka writing down directions on scrap envelopes!



7 thoughts on “How the Wasatch Front destroyed my sense of direction

    • It does have a GPS, but it’s slow and delayed and typically tells me to turn right after I miss my turn 😦 I have limited mobile data that sometimes doesn’t work well, so. . . I just don’t use it. Unless I’m hopelessly lost!

  1. Jasmine C says:

    New places are so fun! In St. Louis you just always have to “know” which way the Mississippi River is. And all the roads around here curve so you could be heading east on hwy 100 but you are really headed north. Drives me nuts! You should check out the Katy Trail, it is a bike trail that runs the length of the state. It goes thru awesome towns and is fun to ride and stay along the trail in bed and breakfasts. There are national parks around here 🙂 Water sports and float trips are big, there are great places to camp and “hike” too (it isn’t Utah inclines but they are decent).

      • Jasmine C says:

        It is 15 minutes from my home so we run over there and do a few miles on Saturday mornings or bike to this small town deep dish pizza joint and back for family night.

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