I was a teenage orienteer. I know some people say, "I was such a dork!" because they spent their teenage years alphabetizing anime collections or writing Commodore 64 programs instead of banging cheerleaders; but I was a dork because I spent my free time searching for control points in the forest with nothing but a topographical map and a thumb compass. Orienteering is a sport that combines the cool factor of cross country running with competitive map reading. Oh yeah, ladies.

This background has led to two unfortunate side effects: the first being epic bouts of frustration with a wife who loses her car in parking lots and gets tripped up over the difference between left and right (don't even think of asking her where she's headed in relation to one of the four cardinal directions). The second side effect is the inevitable indoctrination of my children into adults who won't need to call me on their cell phones to talk them out of the IKEA marketplace after they switched back to look at the textiles and then got hopelessly turned around. In order to fight against their mother's disorientating genes, I do a lot of drilling and shouting, spinning them around and then barking, "Point East. . .Not South, EAST GODDAMN IT!" Sometimes we walk somewhere random and I force the 4-year old to lead us home. "Landmarks!" I shout as she marches in the wrong direction. "Pay attention to landmarks!"

I'm afraid all these skills are set to become useless, however. Before we left for our recent vacation my wife bought a GPS. I generally don't believe in newfangled technology. You mean to tell me there's a satellite up in outer space tracking this here gewgaw you bought at Office Depot for $69.99? Sure, dude. Next you'll tell me you've got some kind of telephone that fits in your pocket and allows you to listen to music and send your friends brief messages in mangled English. But GPS, it turns out, is a useful luxury for a woman who once spent over an hour driving around looking for a store she'd been to twenty times.

Still, I couldn't help but feel that skill set I spent years developing being supplanted by a Swedish robot voice named Sven who methodically led us through the bumper-to-bumper commuter traffic of San Juan's environs to the house we were renting inside El Yunque National Forest. Once there, a ghostly troupe of stevedores, elevator operators, scriveners, lamp lighters, rag pickers, and piano tuners offered me a consolatory piƱa colada.

Our rental was on a road that used to go through the heavily-visited rainforest, and we were on the quiet, southern side near the economically-depressed town of Naguabo. In the late 1970s, the southern half of the road was closed permanently after four major landslides, with damage later exacerbated by Hurricane Hugo. We decided to do a full-day hike along the old road and see if we could reach the peaks on the other side. We figured it was a road once: how tough could it be? At first it was a road, and we wondered if this was going to be a boring hike. "We could have brought a stroller," I groaned with the weight of my daughter on my shoulders. My wife reminded me that we hadn't brought a stroller with us to Puerto Rico.

About half a mile past the padlocked gate, nature had begun obliterating the road that had been there since the 1930s. You could hardly see it as flowers grew over the old asphalt.

Soon enough we were crossing the landslides. My wife had our son in a sling on her back, and I had never been so thankful that our daughter is as tiny as she is. In certain spots I had to take her down from my shoulders and carefully help her climb through the spots where the road had been swept away long ago. Where low vines or tree limbs threatened her head, she ducked down low and with her breath on my cheek whispered, "Careful, pops."

[Click that photo to see it bigger] I should note that my wife and I have a long and storied history of back country hikes where we bite off far more than we can chew. We're the opposite of boy scouts: we never come prepared. We get weirdly competitive with each other and push ourselves until we're both exhausted and hungry then we realize we still have to turn around and go back, like the time we climbed Half Dome at Yosemite without water when she was five-months pregnant. Hiking with the kids just makes this whole phenomenon worse. The few snacks we did bring? Those little freeloaders ate them all up. With every mile that passed my daughter grew heavier in my arms. I don't know why we do this. Somewhere along the line we made the mistake of thinking self-imposed martyrdom made us better parents, that our suffering would one day be repaid tenfold. What a crock of shit. All we get for it is back aches.

The landslides destroyed the rainforest canopy, granting opportunistic vines and the ubiquitous yagrumo trees a chance to thrive in the sun. I could tell from the foliage along parts of the trail that someone had recently been through with a machete. As we climbed the ridge towards the castle-like towers on the summits of the more popular side of the park, I doubted that we'd be able to hike the full length of the closed road, where my wife envisioned someone selling bottled water and fried snacks. The kids, when we put them down to walk themselves, were slow as hell.

At some point we'd been carrying our children through the jungle for nearly six miles without seeing another soul when we heard a vehicle approaching on a road that barely existed. Soon a ragged truck passed full of young men searching for an elusive cell phone tower. They said it was three miles to the point where was road open. My wife said, "Three miles, that's nothing! We can get there in an hour." I reminded her that would mean twelve more miles beyond the six we'd already carried our increasingly whiny children who were only being placated by the lie that silence would increase the chance of seeing monkeys. "I want to turn around," I said. The victorious look in her eyes said it all: Wuss.

If I had a topographic map I could have explained the difficulty of it all perfectly, how we wouldn't make it back before the sun set over the mountain and how we'd probably have to kill a mongoose or a boa to feed the children. Still, I had an even better option: I turned on the GPS. I showed her how far we'd gone and how far we still had to go, and then asked it to calculate a route to where she hoped to reach.

"When possible, turn around," Sven said.

And that was all she needed to hear.

"Oh, if a robot says it," I grumbled as we tramped back. We stopped only to swim in a natural pool at the top of a waterfall. As we dried in the sun it was like we'd never sweated. Back at the house, packmules at the end of a long day's work, nearly broken, we threw off our boots, put the kids to bed and rubbed each other's aching backs. "Not too old for this shit yet," I said.

"Nope," she replied. "Not yet."