Thursday, March 6, 2014

Caution! Local Knowledge!

Credit: Google Images
I’ve stressed the importance and convenience of taking advantage of local knowledge, and I stand by this. However, in spite of its value, it is also important to stir a pinch of caution into the local knowledge pot. Here are a few examples that we’ve encountered along the way that should illustrate this point, in regards to distance, perception, and time.

Most people in this day and age are so accustomed to traveling by car that they can’t imagine anyone moving about by any other means. We arrived at our landfall, and a day had to be set aside for doing laundry and provisioning. We had been told that a laundromat was nearby, so we loaded up three large sacks of laundry, and picked up the two toddlers, and headed toward town. We stopped and asked for directions, and sure enough, we were told it was just down the road a piece, and that we couldn’t miss it. I asked if it was in walking distance, or if we needed transportation, and was told, “Naa, it’s right down there.”

We walked, and walked, and walked. We stopped for a break and to catch a breather. We took advantage of the opportunity to check with a local again, and was assured, Yeah, it’s right down the road a piece. On the right. You can’t miss it.”

We walked, and walked, and walked. At the top of a hill I saw a man mowing his lawn. By this time, between carrying two kids and three bags of laundry, we were exhausted. I related our experience, and he assured me that we were on the right track. More importantly, we were almost there. It was “just down the road a piece. On the right in a little mall. Ya can’t miss it.”

Driving out of town at highway speed, the laundromat was indeed just down the road a piece. On foot, at two miles per hour, while carrying a heavy load, in fact several of them, “a piece” is an entirely different creature. Rest assured I called a taxi for the return trip.

If you ask a fisherman if you can reach a certain campsite before dark without stopping a second to think that his bass boat runs at 40 mph, and he says, “Sure, it won’t take you any time at all,” you have a right to be dubious. Show him your map and insure you and he are talking about the same places, and then judge for yourself.

If you are looking for a hazard, a point of interest, or a landmark, you can encounter the same thing when you ask how it appears. People become so accustomed to looking at something, they cease to see it. I enjoyed this one, even though it’s a non-paddling example. I was making a delivery into a large industrial park, and I asked the woman in the receiving office for directions, but I also asked what color the building was. There was a long silence. It dragged on so long I thought the call had been dropped. Finally, she started giggling. “You know,” she said, “I’ve worked here for eight years, and I drive in here every day, and I have no idea what color the building is. Hold on a minute.” Apparently I was the first person to ask her that question. She went outside and looked at her place of employment and answered my question, but as it turned out, the information didn’t help. Every one of the 200 or so businesses in the industrial park were in charcoal grey block buildings with a purple stripe around the tops. While local knowledge can be the best information available, it may also be misleading or worthless, but I’d still seek it out.

Perception can also get warped. Remember that river classes are subjective. If you ask about a Class V rapids, you will get answers that may cover the spectrum. One will say, “Stay away from that hole. A half-dozen people are killed in there every year.” A kid that lives on a hill overlooking the rapids and hot-dogs it every day will answer, “Na, people get freaky over it. Forget it; it’s nothing.”

Local knowledge is the best information you will get, but if you don’t remember to use sound judgment, it can also get you in trouble. You are still responsible for the final decision.

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