It is admittedly a bit oxymoronic to write a blog post lamenting the effects of technology on the Appalachian Trail while out on the trail I am writing this on our tablet sitting in the tent. Nonetheless, we have a blog so despite not having cell phones in our pack we are still somewhat leashed to the technological world while conducting our thru hike. With that being said, I wish I was hiking the trail 15 years ago, before cell phone reception and space age materials – to shed 0.6 ounces of pack weight – became a thru hiker’s obsession.
I realized this in the Smokey Mountain National Park when we walked into a shelter during the middle of a rain storm to find a reception colder than the wind outside. About 12 people occupied both sleeping bunks, built for 16+ with their gear spread out and noses buried into their phones. For the most part no one in the shelter cared enough to acknowledge the existence of the two new arrivals, not to mention moving their gear and making space. It’s funny that the 3,000+ people to start the trail this year and the 300+ to actually finish are hiking a trail “for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness” and yet spend more time seeking fellowship with a 3G connection.
Don’t get me wrong, we have used other hiker’s cell phones to call home and arrange a mail drop and getting instant weather updates as a storm approaches are luxuries we have enjoyed because of other people’s phones. We have also spent a day with nothing to talk about and it would’ve been great to put in a pod cast or a Black Keys album on an iPod. But you know what? We’ve found something to talk about and now know how to predict the start and stop of a thunderstorm by listening to the birds and the wind. There is no right way and few wrong ways to do a thru hike and I don’t want to sound like I am condemning someone for having a solar charger for their iPhone. I just simply wish I was hiking in a time that human connection mattered more and a technology connection with the rest of the world mattered less; like spending the night around a campfire instead of hiding in your tent writing a blog post to keep your viewership high.