Trying to pat my head and rub my belly at the same time never worked for me. My noggin' can't juggle jobs in tandem.

So why was I surprised to end up lost on my way home from a trek west last week as I was driving a scenic road while listening to my "Italian in Ten Easy Lessons" tape at the same time?

I figured the solo road trip for a multi-tasking venture: Hone my language skills for an upcoming visit with the relatives in bella Italia, while taking illegible notes for a charming mood piece I planned to write about the passing pleasures of Highway 4 wildflowers, oak trees, vineyards, fields of grain, turkey farms that sort of thing.

Anyway, I was asking when "l'autobus arrivare a Milano?" when I noticed familiar landmarks had morphed into the unfamiliar.

Strange, after traveling this road for years, I never saw that white antebellum house that looks as if it were plucked from a Savannah plantation and plopped in the middle of that wheat field. All those rice paddies. Did they sprout overnight?

Ignoring Signor Rossi for the moment, I searched the horizon for the eastern Sierras to get my bearings.

Not a glimpse.

Checked old sol. Yep, setting in the west all right, but I spy no road leading the opposite way.

I obviously missed the critical left turn miles ago when Signor Rossi asked me to please pass the pastasciutta.

Homage to the doctor

But I'm not really lost, said I to myself, I've only taken an inadvertent detour.

How could I possibly get lost on the road home?

Besides, all roads around here eventually lead to the highway.

I'll just think of this as my tip of the hat to Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson who, 100 years ago, drove the first cross country trip in a motor car on a $50 bet.

Likely he took a few wrong turns on his quixotic journey. The question is, did he reach a dead end too? Turn right or left?

Right it is, to head for the farmhouse over there. Knock on the door several times. No answer. Back in the car, turn left.

Aha. A couple coming from the roadhouse. He's a might unsteady on his feet for this time of day, but hey, he must know the way east.

He tells me to "keep going down this road, turn left on that one, and you'll run right into Highway 4."

And I'm off, with the sun lowering in the west and a full tank o' gas. It's a mellow stretch of country I travel awash in tawny light farms, fields, cows, a stand of palm trees, a huge American flag billowing over a venerable cemetery plot.

It works for my little travel piece.

But mellow turns tense when I come to the green sign at the end of the road.

Which way to go on "26 Mile Road?"

Now I'm thinking Robert Frost.

He must have been in similar straits. How else would he have known about the road less traveled making all the difference?

What the...?

As a journalist, I'm trained to ask the right questions. How is it that when I inquire on personal matters, I come up short in gathering vital information?

Like, how far down these backroads do I go before I find the blasted main drag? A block? Two? A few miles? 26 miles? To end up on Santa Catalina Island?

I take a left. Looks bleak.

I pull over to wave down someone in the know.

A guy in a pickup truck flips me off and zooms on by. Thanks, neighbor.

Turn around and head right.

I see a park. I see people there. I see another sign Woodward Reservoir.

Thank you Lord, I am saved.

The park ranger sends me back to 26 Mile Road, which finally lands me smack dab in the middle of the lost highway. I'm on to Arnold like a bee heading for clover.

So, was I really lost? I mull, as I rewind the tape while admiring those fetching buttercups gilding the roadway.

According to Webster, lost is "unable to find the way." As I see it, I had only temporarily wandered off.

Still, I was "lacking assurance," to use another meaning for the "L" word. For a time there, I was like a kid who strayed from her mom in the grocery store. My tummy felt a tad fluttery.

In the end, my little jaunt or 50-mile diversion proved quite amusing to my mate, and our esteemed neighbor, Dick. Hah, hah.

But, lucky me.

I just found the compass I bought a few years ago stuck in the back of a drawer.

I'll tuck that puppy in my purse before I look up how to say "Where is the highway?" in Italian.

"Breathing Room" appears on Tuesday in The Union Democrat's Calaveras County edition. Sharon McCormick, an Arnold resident, longtime writer and a correspondent for The Democrat, may be contacted by e-mail: