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West Is No Longer Where You Think It Is

A few months back, I wrote some flippant bit that suggested that I have an excellent sense of direction. While I still believe this to be true, as this has always been true in the past, I have gotten lost (sort of) on my way to work three times in the past month. In a part of the world I know very very well. Let me explain.

I live in Toronto … I work, a few days a week anyway, in Guelph. Note Handy Reference Map below.

Now, Guelph is not visible on this map. It is about 10 minutes drive further … er … left, past Campbellville on the 401.

Toronto to Guelph. Assuming (and perhaps I shouldn't) that north is where you expect it to be, Guelph is pretty much due west of Toronto, right?

I was at a business networking thing about six weeks ago, meeting perfect strangers and making chit chat. I was out in Guelph for this shindig and it isn't unusual at these things for talk to float around to where do you live and where do you work. The fellow that I was speaking with that day said, helpfully, "Oh – I know a shortcut from Toronto to Guelph – I do it all the time." This is where my trouble began.

I was led into short-cut temptation by my revulsion for the Gardiner/427/Airport route which is the route any rational person would assume is the natural way to get from downtown Toronto to Guelph. I find that, between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., people driving on the 427 have some kind of auto-lobotomy on the on-ramp and lose all their driving inhibitions. I hate it. So I was all ears when offered an alternative.

"It is easy," the devil man said. "Stay on the Gardiner/QEW to Winston Churchill, then just duck over to the 403 from Upper Middle Rd. Take 403 to 407 and you hit the 401 just before Milton … no more airport, and 20 minutes saved in rush hour by being in free flowing traffic."


Although I could visualize this easily (because, remember, I'm good at this spacial relationship stuff …), I did take the trouble to look this up on a real map and, lo and behold, it did seem to make sense. It looks good, right?

I tried this out the first time early in the a.m. on my way to Guelph. I missed the Upper Middle Road Turn off, but other than that I made it to the 403 from Burnhamthorpe Rd. Herein lies the root of this problem. Confronted with the choice of "403 West" or "403 East", remembering that I am heading WEST to Guelph, and that I haven't finished my first coffee just yet, I selected for my viewing pleasure that day "403 West".


You see, the designers of this highway assume that everyone travels from the very easternmost point to Hamilton which, in truth, is more south than west. But now I'm splitting hairs, I suppose. In any case, if you get on the 403 in Oakville and you select "West", you are actually travelling SOUTH EAST towards Hamilton.

I did manage to figure this out in fairly short order, cleverly noting that I was driving into the sunrise, not away from it.

So I exited, crossed over, and headed back in the direction from whence I came. Next, I was offered the choice of selecting "407 West" or 407 East". They don't give you much time to decide and it is pretty confusing, especially since the choice that would really be best ("407 North to 401") doesn't exist. I took a deep breath and selected "407 West" – mostly because "407 East" just sounded stupid since I am going to GUELPH for heaven's sake – and promptly found myself trundling back off (south east) towards Hamilton again.

I am ashamed to say that I repeated some version of this two more times before I started to recite the following to myself.

Morning – QEW to 403 EAST to 407 EAST to 401 WEST …. don't fight it … drive EAST to Guelph.
Afternoon – 401 East to 407 WEST to 403 WEST to QEW … don't fight it … drive WEST to Toronto.

The happy ending … now that I'm getting lost less frequently, the stress of the whole 427/airport lunacy is not missed. It is a very leisurely drive as long as I'm not arguing with myself about which direction I should be driving in.

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