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Similar ETA

Mary Lou and I were on our way back from one of the many Auburn – Georgia football games we have attended during our married life.  We had the maps application on our Volvo.  On her phone she was running Apple Maps.  I had Google Maps on my phone.   

Returning home, we came to an intersection in a rural area south of Athens.  Not sure which way to turn, we consulted our high technology.  To our surprise, all three of the map apps gave us different directions.

Sometimes there is no clear direction on which way to go in the future.  The older we get, the more we understand this truth.  If the path through life was so clear, we would all take it.  Unfortunately, it is not.

Today, I took a random path from Compass Lake, FL to Hartford, AL, taking a boat for repair.  I put in the directions into Google Maps and it indicated I was an hour away.  Having plenty of time, I decided to meander along the way. 

Any time the map gave an alternative route, I would take it.  The caption was always “Similar ETA”.    If the “Estimated Time of Arrival” was the same, then I chose the different route.  

I have done this roaming approach for most of my life, long before the arrival of online maps.  It has led to so many discoveries along the way.   I think of it as getting off the Interstate and experiencing life as it was in my youth.

Today’s journey was not totally foreign to me.  I traveled to Cottondale, Graceville, Slocomb, and Hartford, all of which I have traveled through dozens of times.  It was the connecting the dots between those towns that was changed.  

As I changed roads repeatedly, I was treated to some amazing sites.  Horse farms.  Unexpected vistas in the panhandle of Florida.  Iconic oak trees that were there generations before I was born.  Creeks with obviously well used swimming holes. Repeated ponds with cypress trees lining the shores. 

This is not a wilderness area.  There were beautiful homes along the way, built by people who discovered the charm of the area long before I did.  The occasional canopy road that survived along the edges of Hurricane Michael’s path were special treats.

I passed New Prospect Church which was founded in 1907.  The church was across from Lee’s Chapel Cemetery.  I do not know the connection between the two names.  I just realized that in the middle of nowhere, a vibrant congregation of faith long ago planted seeds which have survived for multiple generations.

In this time when it is difficult to spend time with our friends and family, an alternative can be to simply travel down the roads we have long traveled.  Instead of taking the normal route, seek out alternate roads.  Check your maps apps and look for a path that will get you to your destination in a different way.

Today was not the first time I have roamed the back roads.  It has long been a therapeutic exercise for me.  I took the road less traveled long before I could look on my phone for alternatives.

However, as you look for ways to endure these challenging times, let technology give you a boost.  Pick a spot that you have traveled to before.  Punch it into your Maps app of choice.  Look for every alternative route and then take it.

A similar ETA does not tell the entire story.  Time is not everything these days.  Travel to familiar destinations but take the road less traveled.   You may just find that estimated time of arrival is not as important as the journey itself.


Dan Ponder can be reached at

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