The Joy of Getting Lost

The Joy of Getting Lost November 12, 2018

It was the second time he had passed.  The first time, headphones on, arms rhythmically in sync with legs, he had all the signs of a long-distance runner. But the second time he was walking. Instead of the confident look of the cross-country, he wore before, he now had a slightly quizzical look about him.

We were walking on a three-mile loop, catching a sunny morning before the wintery old man starting nipping away at the temperatures.

He stopped me. “Hey, do you know how to get to the Lakewood townhomes.”

That was a vague question, but he didn’t know any better. Lakewood is a bedroom community for Denver and there must be 20,000 townhomes.

I asked him for a specific name or street and he had none.

He was clear-eyed and soft-spoken, polite to a tee, so I knew he wasn’t high. He was just lost.

He explained that he and some buddies had come to town and were renting a townhome for a couple of nights. He left to go on an early morning run and at some point, his vector was blown off course. It was a beautiful morning and this Indiana young man was swept by the beauty of the Colorado foothills which give rise to the not-so-far-away Rocky Mountains.

“You can’t call your friends?” I asked?

He told that he his phone was dead. “I was taking too many pictures.”

So, I invited him to the house, which was about 15 minutes away where he could charge his phone and hopefully find his travel mates.

Tevin and  I  chatted along the way and once we go to the house he eagerly downed some hot coffee and started the phone charge. I cooked him some pancakes since his morning jog had turned into a much bigger venture.

He was able to reach his friend and the house was about two miles away. He gulped down his food and I deposited him back home.

He now had a story to tell and it had a happy ending.

The problem with always knowing our GPS position

Look, Tevin wasn’t in the wilderness. He wasn’t facing hypothermia or heat exhaustion. He wasn’t chased by wild animals. He was lost, as anyone who is honest has been at one point or another. Our continued reliance on cell phone GPS isn’t helping since we don’t pay attention to our surroundings or directionals.

A decade ago, ABC news was reviewing the then maturing GPS technology and they said this. “The price we pay for the convenience (of GPS) could be our sense of direction.”

Speaker and MIT professor Kevin Slavin says that getting lost helps develop our sense of place, and contributes to a functioning society.

“There is a social function of being lost,” Slavin said. “And that social function of being lost will itself be lost. Think about how many times in the last month or so you have asked somebody for directions, or somebody has asked you for directions. That bit of social communication, in which a stranger and native meet at some point, will slowly ebb away. The question is: Will we feel ourselves to be natives everywhere, or to be strangers everywhere?”

And I think I pay less attention to the little details in my surrounding – the landmarks, the streets, the buildings. I’m not sure I’m better for that. I’m missing out on the building blocks of my world.

lost in the wilderness
Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

We get lost in life too

We don’t just lose our way without a GPS. Many of us are increasingly losing our way in life. A reliance on technology, modern thinking, and pop psychology has created an increasing feeling of lostness in society, culture and life.

Like Tevin, many people are like paratroopers in their place in life, having dropped into a situation they are simply not prepared for.

Some of the mental connections we make through youth and life are short-circuited by a modern life and parenting that works overtime to prevent stress.

We remove our children from situations that will make them tougher. Instead of working through techniques on maneuvering the bully’s words, we now take our children into an environment that is more affirming. Instead of studying harder, we put them in a class that is easier. Instead of learning the joy of earning and slow accumulation, we give them whatever they want.

And when life hits, these little boys and girls now adults are lost.

We also have an aversion to discomfort. We take the easy path, the simple wide road that doesn’t challenge us and thus we never grow. But outside is where the magic starts. It’s a beautiful place to be uncomfortable – and growing.

Say Yes to Getting Lost

Last year I took a dirt road that was unmarked. In my truck, I bumped along the road toward an outcropping of rocks that I hoped to explore. The road took a turn to the right and so I took a different road that led back to the rocks in the distance. And I zigged and zagged another three miles, with every yard a little more exploratory as the road deteriorated.

I made it to the rocks where scrambled to a ledge where I beamed at the fact that I was alone, imaging that I was the first to ever take in this vista.

But the ride back to the main road wasn’t easy, as the labyrinth of logging roads and trails led me to one dead end after another. I was lost getting home. But I slowly began to draw a map of where I had been and understood where I was. Eventually, I worked my way out.

Finding Adventure and getting lost sometimes go hand in hand.

Some would call Tevin foolish for going on a run in a strange place and getting lost. I don’t. I love his sense of adventure, of wanting to explore new territory. He was looking to run a new trail. The hills beckoned him, calling his name. And he went, uncertain of where he was going and uncaring as to when he would return. That’s what we need more of in this life.

Along the way, he saw new things and experienced a slice of living that he normally wouldn’t live. And he got to meet new people.

We’re friends on Facebook. And I think we’re friends in the idea of the joy of getting a little lost.


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