I recently read an article by Barbara Goldberg on yahoo.com expressing a concern regarding the use of smart phones on the trail. She related a story of a young lady who inadvertently dialed 911 from the Appalachian Trail causing major stress in the life of her parents. The hiker adds that she gets constant texts from her parents, who even call her hiking partner’s phone as well. To me, it sounds like a parent issue not a trail issue. Most phones can be turned off…. or put on airplane mode until the hiker is ready to be in contact with the outside world.
The article makes the point, “Hiking the AT, the famous path from Maine to Georgia, once meant cutting off communication with civilization for much of the six months it typically takes to complete the route.” If this is the hiker’s desire, the option still presents itself. Just leave your phone at home in the trusted care of your family. Cutting off communication is a pretty easy option if the desire is there. Blaming the trail or technology seems to miss the target in my opinion.
Although it is quite true that technology has developed many aids to connecting the world even in the wilds of the canopy, going completely off the grid is readily available to anyone who chooses to do so. There are indeed many forms of rechargers available from portable solar panels to cook stoves to phone covers to external power sticks that will keep the hiker in touch with his/her community. The Appalachian Trail is not a wilderness trail. It is very much a social trail with multiple connections to civilization just about every day. Roads that quickly lead to a town crisscross the AT from Georgia to Maine. The trail travels right down the main street in a half dozen towns and within just a few miles of many more. Being “cut off from civilization” and “getting away from it all” is simply not the experience that I found. Places to resupply and rest were welcomed by all.
The perspective of the yahoo author is the concern of losing the solitude and silence of the forest. Quoting Bill Bryson, author of the bestselling book and soon to be released movie, A Walk in the Woods, the article states, “The whole idea of the Appalachian Trail is to get away from it all. I am all in favor of gadgets, but my fear is that most people spend all their rest time texting and staring at little screens and miss out on all the glorious solitude around them.” From my experience, if you spend much time texting and posting and calling on the trail, you will not make it to Maine.
Laurie Potteiger, spokeswoman for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said, “Smartphones can steal your eyes away from the beauty around you.” The flip side of the coin is that smartphones can help you capture the beauty in picture and video. So much depends on the intelligence and balance of the hiker. Potteiger expresses a solid concern as she points out the unrealistic response of the support if they don’t hear from a hiker for a day or two. As an ATC employee she shared that those frenzied calls are on the rise. Depending on one’s cell phone provider, there are several spots along the trail that are “dark” to the connection of cyber space. There are several trail towns that are off the grid! I know it is hard but the support team needs to relax and be patient.
I blogged ever day that I had phone service during my thru-hike in 2014. My post usually included a few pictures taken during the day and a short message letting folks know where I was. The normal post took about 15 minutes to type and send. I talked to my wife every day that I could and her voice fueled my heart. I still felt that I had an incredible experience of solitude and quiet and fellowship with the Creator.
Just another point of view….