Life and Death in the Minimalist Universe

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Delorme Spot GPS Satellite TexterPhoto courtesy of Delorme.

Delorme Earthmate. Text your buddies from anywhere.

Run. Don’t turn to see what’s coming. Just run.

Possibly the world of wilderness traveling will soon become divided into two main camps: Minimalists and Technologists. I’ve become firmly entrenched in the Minimalist camp already. GPS units fascinate me but I still carry the topo map and compass and only play with the GPS. My gear gets simpler every year.

I’ll get to the Delorme Earthmate in just a moment, but I’m presently stuck on a major issue, and that is just how much of the outer world we ought to bother carrying into the wilderness with us. I do adhere to the old rule of garbage in, garbage out. If I haul something in with me, it comes out with me, usually as garbage. But even though I take a strange number of heavy things when I hike, I’m never going to fall in love with constant communication with the outside world. I go hiking and camping to get away from that.

Some years ago when the cell phone craze took over the minds of susceptible individuals, turning everyone into pods of their former selves with strange parasitic electronic devices bolted to their heads in various places, the daughter of a friend of mine suggested to her that they should get cell phones so they could talk to each other all the time. That pretty much horrified me and I was really surprised that an adult would take that seriously. But she did. To me being hooked up to the Borg is a lot more attractive than being in constant communication with a teenager. I guess I’m unusual.
Now I see discussions on hiking forums about the proper use of cell phones on trails — whether it’s polite to talk on them or whether they should be set to vibrate rather than ringtone. My mind responds to that with ? Cell phone? Why? Fortunately, cell phones have been line of sight devices — up to now. If a transmitter tower isn’t on your side of the horizon, you have a useless little electronic box, not a communications system. If you walk far enough you can get to a place without bars, and then the cell phone isn’t a problem, if you’re a Minimalist.

Now the Delorme Earthmate intends to use the SPOT satellite system to allow text messaging anywhere you can get a GPS reading. While that’s not absolutely anywhere and signals can be scrambled by obstacles and blocked by terrain, satellite communications should be possible in nearly any location. The Earthmate allows text communications only, no voice, but it’s still a violation of primal privacy, in my opinion.

The argument in favor of this sort of thing is, of course, based on people not wanting to die. If you get injured and lost, or maybe just lost if you’re short of wilderness skills, you can die out there. If you have an infallible system of communication, somebody can come save you.

Much of what people do regarding the back country is based on being afraid of what happens when things go wrong. I’ve heard all the rules, and over the years I’ve found that I’m happier paying no attention to many of them. I don’t tell people where I’m going and when I’ll be back. I tell people I’m going away and I don’t know when I’ll be back. I don’t always travel on trails, and I often travel alone. For many of my first years of doing this, I did take that supremely organized and safest path, but I never really liked it. The first time I broke that law and got off the trail, in a place I’d never seen before, where nobody knew to come find me, it turned out to be the experience I was seeking all along.

So let me tell you a secret: we’re all going to die, and sometimes the choice will be whether we die sitting on a mountain with a broken leg watching the sun set, or whether we die sitting on a mountain with a broken leg trying to punch “Help me” into a Delorme Earthmate.

Run. The Delorme Earthmate is coming.

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