The outdoors is my work and play. It is a means of expression, a connection with friends, and a passion shared with my partner. My work as an outdoor educator and guide has taken me from New Zealand to Nepal, the Antarctic Peninsula, and all over the U.S. My travel choices go hand in hand with outdoor recreation opportunities, and I have climbed, biked, kayaked, hiked, fly fished, and skied on six continents.
My interest in computers and net surfing came later in life. The outdoors was my passion and focus; computers were a necessary evil, a tool used sparingly and somewhat begrudgingly for work. Aware there were astounding developments happening in the software and hardware industries, I sometimes rued the fact these changes had passed me by. But I saw myself as an outdoors person, not a computer geek, so I mastered the skills needed to email, word process, and do some rudimentary net surfing, and left it at that.
I am pleased to confess I have seen the light and am now a convert to the cult of computing and netsurfing. Joining the ranks of "annoying people who take their laptops everywhere," I have three different ways to get online. The land line, cell phone, and WI-FI all serve a higher purpose in the quest to have constant and reliable internet access wherever I am. Acquiring a satellite phone is just a matter of time. Through the net I gain information, shop, make bookings, and keep in touch with people. I also have an outlet for creative expression with my new passions: writing and website design.
I have also changed the way I travel. Acquiring “local beta” is no longer limited to grades, current conditions, and weather information; it includes the location of the nearest WI-FI café and the quality of cell coverage. A recent visit to New Zealand, with its dearth of public WI-FI access, left me feeling like my umbilical cord had been cut. Travel planning inevitably raises the question, “Which of my connection devices can I use to get online?” “None” is becoming a less acceptable answer, and internet cafés are not the same as the independence of one’s own laptop.
There are now two sets of gear to pack: my computing equipment and my climbing rack. I lament the size and weight of my laptop, coveting the smaller, lighter version a climbing buddy of mine bought recently. Other folks I know who used to scour outdoor equipment catalogues for the most efficient, lightest, or weatherproof piece of gear now crow when they have the equivalent in computers.
The outdoor industry is filled with people who have seen the limitless potential of the new technology. You can book a course, investigate an obscure climb, research and buy nearly any piece of equipment, or go on a virtual trip without ever having to leave your computer. Expeditions from the Antarctic to the Himalayas upload daily dispatches, keeping friends and family in touch with an adventurer’s progress. A quick search uncovers a multitude of personal blogs. Here adventurers and travelers journal their experiences for people at home, and the entire world, to read.
This winter, at the end of a day of skiing, I fired up my computer and followed the progress of friends sea kayaking in the southern Pacific, climbing in China, and adventure racing in New Zealand. I understand that reliance on technology can change the nature of the beast, and in some cases to have the experience you seek you need to leave the technology at home. But as someone who is living thousands of miles from friends and family, and in the throes of a computer addiction, I say bring it on.