Unplugged in the wilderness

First of all, I might as well confess that I suffer from Gadget-Induced Attention Deficit Disorder. There was definitely a time when I could read a book, or carry on a conversation, or sit through a 90-second traffic light without checking my text messages, but that was years ago.

NEMT Communications Director Tara Courtland

These days, any task that requires two hands is a chore as it does not allow a free hand for surfing the Web. So it was with some trepidation that I accepted an offer from a friend to hike the Appalachian Trail.

In all fairness, it was really she who was hiking the Appalachian Trail, walking from Georgia to Maine in one nine-month shot. But as she passed through my home state of Virginia in late October, she invited me to join her for one day. I’d drive out to Shenandoah National Park after work one afternoon and walk with her for five miles before it got dark.

I only saw one problem with this plan: no wireless service in the Shenandoah. No cell phone service either.

It was a BIG problem.

Now I know you’re thinking this is going to turn into a heartwarming 21st-century story about how wonderful and relaxing it is to get back to nature, walking through the beautiful fall foliage in a stress-free atmosphere without the burden of 24/7 connectivity. And then I’d come back from this mountaintop experience with a fresh new outlook on life and never again would I be chained to my devices.

This is not that story. The truth is, I found being disconnected to be very stressful.

What if someone needed me? What if work called and I didn’t answer? There could be some type of communications emergency and I wouldn’t be available! I make a living correcting people’s grammar – what if someone had a question about apostrophe placement and they couldn’t get me on the phone?

These thoughts haunted me the entire way.

But nevertheless, the walking was nice and the foliage was beautiful. We saw some deer about 20 feet away and my friend warned me nervously that a mountain lion had been spotted in the vicinity and bears were known to frequent the area.

That sounded promising – maybe we’d see a mountain lion or a bear! I could take a picture with my iPod and then when we got back to civilization, I’d have something good to post on Facebook!

That didn’t happen. No bear, no mountain lion and the deer weren’t ferocious enough to be worth a status update even if I could have found signal.

But on we hiked. And hiked. And hiked. For HOURS. Like, two hours!

In disconnectivity terms, it was an ETERNITY!

You know what would make hiking more interesting? Status updates. If I could have sent text messages or posted to Facebook or even pushed out an email or two, the walk would have been fascinating.

Instead, I passed the time composing status updates in my head:

“Walking. Leaves are nice. Haven’t broken my ankle yet.”

“Still walking. There’s got to be a Starbucks around here somewhere.”

“Wishing I hadn ‘t eaten all of my food supplies (Snickers bars) in the first 20 minutes.”

“Emergency Pop Tarts gone. Diet Mountain Dew gone. Weak with hunger. Hallucinations setting in. This may be the end.”

We walked, and walked.

And walked.

Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, after two hours of trudging uphill toward starvation and certain ignominious death unheralded by even one last tweet, it happened – a transcendent moment of salvation.

We reached the summit of the mountain and came upon a small shelter that had been built for hikers. Standing in front, we looked down over the whole Shenandoah Valley, across the spectacular fields of red and golden leaves that stretched for miles, past hills and ridges to even bigger mountains looming in the distance.

It was admittedly breathtaking. And overcome by the beauty of the moment, I forgot for a moment where we were, instinctively reached into my pocket for my phone and discovered:

I had signal.

Oh glorious signal! A picture to send out! A status update!

I quickly text-messaged my friends: “Hey! I’m alive! I have signal!”

And emailed a picture captioned “Look! I climbed a mountain! And I have signal!”

And posted a status update: “Out of food! Send help! Need more Snickers and Diet Dew STAT!”

And standing there in that tiny spot of coverage, I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving, my faith restored and my soul secure in the knowledge that no matter how many trees there are in the world, technology will always triumph in the end.

Miracles happen when you least expect them.

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About Tara Courtland

Tara Courtland is the communications director at NEMT.
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One Response to Unplugged in the wilderness

  1. Betsy says:

    Excellent recapture of something I enjoy more than anything…..hiking the Appalachian! Good job and hats off to you on the accomplishment. Now I, too, can hike the trail and stay in touch with my customer database…….only at certain points, of course.

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