I’ve always been a “map person,” so I found this story captivating. How could a family on vacation, with a map, lose their way so badly? The Kim family got hopelessly lost in November 2006 while trying to get to a coastal Oregon resort. They struggled to survive alone in the cold for nine days. Mother Kati Kim and her two children were rescued; James the father was lost when he left them in an attempt to get help. Mr. Kim was a familiar face on the internet because he worked at CNET and did many small gadget reviews.
ABC’s 20/20 recently covered the Kim story and upon watching it, I had a few questions: what was the road they planned to take, where exactly did it take them, and how did they end up so lost? The story is compelling because we all make wrong turns, we all get lost. But somehow in this case it turned out deadly. Whether we use paper maps, or GPS, or even just ask for help, how do we know the directions we get are correct? How do we know they won’t be dangerous?
The Kims were still on track as late as November 25, 2006 at 8PM when they stopped for dinner at a Denny’s restaurant in Roseburg, Oregon. They had already been driving for many hours. When they got back in the car, they missed the exit for Route 42, which they had intended to take to the coast. This is where the trouble began. One reason they may have missed the exit is poor road signs. Blogger William Long took the the picture on the right, showing a Route 42 exit sign blocked by a tree branch. The only part of the sign visible was for route 99, which may have led the Kims to believe it was not their exit.
Somewhere down the road, the Kims then decided to take Route 23 (or Bear Camp Road) to get to the coast. You have to look at the map from their point of view to understand why. From Grants Pass, they wanted to get to Gold Beach, and on the map Bear Camp Road looked to be the perfect road to take. The Kims’ map did not show it was a seasonal, narrow access road.
How many of us would also have decided to do the same thing? As humans we always want to make the “best” choice. We wouldn’t want to think we walked away from a great short cut when we were right near it. Bear Camp Road looked like it could save them 60 miles of extra driving. Also, to turn around feels something like admitting defeat. If I had been in the Kims’ shoes, even if I had somehow found it within myself to pass up the tempting Bear Camp Road route, I still would have felt cheated out of what I thought might have been the better way to go.
The very last time the Kims stopped for directions was 10 miles before the beginning of Bear Camp Road, at a gas station in the small town of Merlin, Oregon. James asked for help, but the attendant didn’t understand where he was trying to go. A simple warning from that attendant could have saved James Kim his life and the family their tragic ordeal.
Unfortunately for the Kims, they made enough correct turns to get themselves to Bear Camp Road. If they had not been able to find it, they may have turned back sooner. Once on Bear Camp Road, James Kim drove for approximately 10 miles before he came to the point at which he became forever lost. What is troubling is how easy it was to go the way he did. In fact, if you look at the picture to the right, you can see that at the fork, Bear Camp Road appears to go to the right, when in fact it goes to the left!
This would be hard enough to navigate correctly during the day, but the Kims were here late at night. I have NOT seen it reported anywhere about how easy it is to get lost here. AND, once you go to the right, you enter a maze of several intertwining long narrow roads, none of which lead you back to Bear Camp Road or anywhere else. On the map on the left, I detailed where the Kims’ car probably traveled after it went right at the fork. The car went about another 12 miles, essentially going straight on the same road. Getting back even in the best conditions would not have been easy: the small road crossed paths with another four roads, all of which went nowhere. For all we know, they may have even tried one or more of these roads before giving up.
In the end, the Kims were let down by maps, signs, and people. A warning from any might have saved James’s life. The Kims should have conducted more research as well. Just because a road is shown on the map doesn’t mean it’s safe. They also should have been more alert. If a road doesn’t look safe, think about turning around. Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason, and the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line.
There are some life lessons I will try to take from what happened. 1. Don’t assume every road on every map is safe to drive; remember that the map is made by humans. 2. Don’t trust every road sign you see; humans make those, too. 3. Sometimes driving 60 miles out of your way is the best way to go. In a world where we are accustomed to immediate gratification, there are still things we can’t get done right away. We may need to choose the path that seems to be taking longer to accomplish our task. 4. It’s okay to turn around, backtrack; ultimately you will get to where you should be safely. Getting to your destination is part of the trip, so don’t rush the journey.