AI: Camping Skeptically


A few years ago some friends and I were in a van together, headed out to a campground in West Virginia. We got pretty far into a rural area, without good signage, looking for our campground. We had an address for it, and a GPS, so we should have been fine right?

Wrong. The GPS told us to cross this concrete bridge eventually. It just didn’t look right. The bridge didn’t really look like it was intended for cars – maybe for ATVs or hikers. We couldn’t really see the road on the other side. But the GPS told us to take the bridge, so that must mean there’s a road on the other side heading to the campground right?

We drove over the bridge, slowly and carefully, and started up the gravel road on the other side. Things looked okay at first, but about a half mile up the narrow road the road was completely washed out. It looked like it probably had been for years, and in it’s prime it could not have been more than a driveway to get up to the farms on the hills beyond.

We couldn’t turn around, so we had to back up on a gravel road all the way back to the bridge, and make a 143 point turn (approximately) to go nose-first across the bridge-of-doom again.

Eventually we found our way back to a place where we could get cell phone service found a payphone*, called the campground, and got directions that were a lot more helpful and wouldn’t land us accidentally trespassing on some West Virginia back country farm. A few of them had big hand painted signs warning trespassers would be executed. It was not a risk I wanted to take.

Over on What’s The Harm there is a whole section of stories about people listening to their GPS instead of their own brains. This story fits pretty well with those, and when I found out about that part of What’s The Harm I felt a little less alone for this lapse in skeptical thought. I have learned my lesson, and luckily no one was hurt in the learning.

Have you had a failure of skepticism? Even after identifying as a skeptic, have you ever let critical thinking lapse and ended up in a silly, dangerous, or uncomfortable situation because of it? Have you ever driven over a narrow bridge in West Virginia and lived to tell the tale?

Image from

*Corrected by one of the friends who was with me. We never did get cell service that day, but he says we found a payphone instead. See how bad human memory is?

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  1. I’ve never had a problem with satnav, mostly because I don’t use it (I do use google earth, but I plot out my own course), I also have a fairly detailed k knowledge of the major highways of western Canada. I have, however, gotten into some serious trouble following half remembered directions from family and friends.

    My dad owns a rock quarry in the rocky mountains and it has a bunch of quading trails and horse trails around it. There’s also a waterfall nearby called Kakwa Falls. It has a little cave behind the falls you can walk into. The trail I usually take requires me to climb down a cliff and walk about half a kilometer to get to the cave. One time I decided to follow the directions of a coworker who owns a trap line nearby. He claimed the trail lead right to the falls, no climbing required. What he seemingly forgot to mention was that this was a HORSE trail, not a quad trail. There are some kinds of terrain a horse will take in stride that is quite dangerous for a quad. Unfortunately, this trail was composed of nothing but terrible terrain. About three kilometres into the trail I rolled my quad over myself, seriously injuring my back. If I had simply accepted that I had gotten lousy directions after the first or even fourth time I came across a dangerous obstacle I’d still be able to stand straight.

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