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Too Much High Tech In The Woods

Posted on April 7th, 2015

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Cover3Let Google’s Street View Trekker hike the path for you? No thanks, we’ll pass even if it means we might get a blister on the back of our heel. In this Trail Talk blog we ponder when is so much high tech too much out in the woods, the one sanctuary we’ve always counted to escape from the modern world around us.

Need an old fashion trail map? We have plenty in the MichiganTrailMaps.com e-shop including our newest Fife Lake Loop Trail, a 21-mile adventure that is part of the North Country Trail and was dedicated last year. Google’s Street View Trekker has yet to film that one.

By Jim DuFresne

My first camping experience was at age six when my father took the family out to Island Lake Recreation Area for a test run with a new tent. But I learned how to camp, learned how to survive and even be comfortable while camping, in the Boy Scouts during annual winter rendezvous.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

In the middle of January, when there was two feet snow on the ground and temperatures at night hovered around zero, Troop 1261, and some unlucky fathers who didn’t know what they were volunteering for, set up camp for the weekend. At some point on Friday a pick-up truck would arrive with a load of straw.

It only took me one miserable winter weekend to learn you grab as much hay as you could get away with. Tenderfoots generally would put a handful or two under their Batman-and-Robin sleeping bag. Myself and the rest of the older scouts in the Senior Patrol hauled bales to our drafty wall tent until the ground was layered with enough to feed a horse for a week.

By midnight the Tenderfoots were outside shivering around the council fire, having long abandoned their thin cotton sleeping bags.  Only the sound and smell of bacon sizzling over a fire would coax the Senior Patrol out of that cozy tent in the morning.

It’s how we survived in the middle of woods when there were none of the comforts of home.

The Big Agnes mtnGLO Tent with built-in LED lighting.

The Big Agnes mtnGLO Tent with built-in LED lighting.

I ponder this recently while reading about the new Big Agnes Rattlesnake mtnGLO Tent. It won Backpacker magazine’s 2015 Editors’ Choice Award because it has built-in LED lighting. Sewn into the seams of the tent, the small bulbs are strung across the inside roof and panels, providing enough light so you can read, pack or have a card game.

A push-button controller allows you to turn the lights on and off or dim them. It also has a USB plug so you recharge your smart phone, tablet, IPod or any other electronic gadget you pull out of your backpack.

It’s how we survive in the middle of the woods today.

I have to admit the thought of not having to search for my headlamp at night is appealing. But when is so much high tech … too much?

Backpacker’s stoves and water filters are now required equipment due to bans on open fires in many places, like Isle Royale National Park, and Giardia which is seemly everywhere. And when I lie on my extra thick Therm-A-Rest pad I cannot fathom the days when all that was under me was a quarter inch foam pad.

The FlameStower Thermo Charger, using your stove to charge your cell phone.

The FlameStower Thermo Charger, using your stove to charge your cell phone.

But recently in an outdoor store I was stunned at the variety and selection of solar and portable power devices. The Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit has seven solar panels that fold down into a compact, easy to carry size and is equipped with two USB ports so you and your tent partner can be charging your cell phones at the same time.

The FlameStower Thermo Charger will power up your devices from the thermal energy your MSR stove is throwing off while you’re making Cup-a-Soup. PowerTrekk generates power, not from the sun or flames, but by using fuel cell pucks that convert hydrogen into electricity. Like a freeze-dried dinner, all you have to add is water.

Are you still using devices with old fashion AA batteries? No problem. The C Crane Solar Charger uses sunlight to juice up two rechargeable batteries at once.

The promise and marketing slogan for all these devices is the same; Stay Connected!

Really, is that what we’re striving for when we head into the wilderness? We’re sneaking away from the mundane routines of everyday life just so we can tell everybody else – via our Facebook page, Instagram photos or a text message – that we’re out in the woods without the comforts of home. Or without some of them.

Early in my trekking career, I discovered on trips to some of Alaska’s most remote corners one of the thrills of wilderness adventure was just being out there, unconnected with the rest of the world. No breaking news, no phone calls, no cars or traffic jams. No blenders to make a happy-hour cocktail, no television or entertainment at night other than the stars above me.

When I finally returned I quickly caught up with what I had missed. But I returned refreshed due to the simplicity of living out of a backpack and being on my own, totally on my own.

Is that possible in today’s world?

A friend recently sent me this link: www.michigan.org/googletrekker/

Pure Michigan and Google’s Street View Trekker teamed up to produce a series of videos focusing on Michigan’s iconic destinations. On many of them a Google operator, wearing a backpack with a camera on top, followed trails on foot and even some waterways with the camera lashed to the back of a kayak.

The imagery was captured automatically and stitched together to create 360-degree panoramas. The video of Pyramid Point in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is amazing; as you click on the path it looks like your hiking down the trail step-by-step.

We’ve now reached the ultimate in high-tech outdoor adventure. We can be in the middle of the woods without even having to leave our house.

Isn’t technology grand?

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4 thoughts on “Too Much High Tech In The Woods”

  1. Teresa Jones says:

    I have to admit I take my cell phone mainly to take pictures but also because I am a mom no matter how old I am an d want my kids to be able to contact me (if service is good) in case of an emergency. Other than that it’s the basics food, stove, water, rain gear, tent and bag, flashlight, and a small first aid kit. but the past few years I have strapped a small solar powered light to my backpack that charges while I’m hiking in case of batteries or flashlight failure. I’m out there to enjoy getting away from it all or maybe I should say to be in the “middle” of it all! 🙂

  2. Jody M Clark says:

    Howard and Jim, I am disappointed in this article. While I would not like to see this done everywhere, doing this for some, especially a short loop trail, will help people who are too timid to take on a trail hike become comfortable before taking that first step, especially if they have families and did not have the benefits of camping as a child…or as in my husband’s case, see what the trail is like before walking it while recovering from triple valve open heart surgery…or for shut-ins to enjoy a trip on the trail when they can no longer get out and about. Thank you for placing this in you hip pocket for future understanding. Jody

    1. Point well taken. Obviously I’ve made a career out of writing guidebooks for some of those very reasons. But what I found interesting about the Pyramid Point Google View Trek was that it was hard to judge just how steep a climb or descent was or even if you were climbing at all. The other aspect was showing you everything in advance. It’s one thing to read on the MichiganTrailMaps.com web site that there is a great view at the edge of Pyramid Point, that builds anticipation for the hike. But it’s another thing to see it in all that 360-degree glory before you even lace up the hiking boots. Don’t you think when you finally break out of the trees on the edge of that perched dune it will be a little anticlimactic? Jim DuFresne

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