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WINNER, 2004 NATIONAL OUTDOOR BOOK AWARD! (Outdoor Literature) Who hasnt wanted to get away from cell phones, e-mail, roads, and traffic? And what better place to escape our wired world than the far northwestern corner of Canadas Northwest Territories and a river that flows through uninhabited country, 400 miles to the Arctic Ocean. But what if your canoeing partner brings along a satellite phone to use in case of an emergency? And, struck by the novelty of anywhere-on-earth communication, he proceeds to use the ...
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WINNER, 2004 NATIONAL OUTDOOR BOOK AWARD! (Outdoor Literature) Who hasnt wanted to get away from cell phones, e-mail, roads, and traffic? And what better place to escape our wired world than the far northwestern corner of Canadas Northwest Territories and a river that flows through uninhabited country, 400 miles to the Arctic Ocean. But what if your canoeing partner brings along a satellite phone to use in case of an emergency? And, struck by the novelty of anywhere-on-earth communication, he proceeds to use the phone to check in with his law office, his wife, kids, sisters, father, and friends? Noted wilderness traveler and author Ted Kerasote deals with just such a situation as he journeys along the Horton River through the largest ice-free, roadless area left on Earth, a stunning wilderness of grizzly bears, caribou, and migrating birds. Between navigating rapids, slipping around musk ox and grizzlies, and being pinned down by Arctic storms, the two friends prod each other into a finer understanding of love, marriage, parenting, and the meaning of solitude in an increasingly wired world. Contrasting his own experiences with those of the regions earliest explorers—Sir John Franklin and Vilhjalmur Stefansson—Kerasote provides a compelling and humorous take on how travelers from any age adjust to being away from their civilizations and how getting "out there" has inevitably changed but has also remained the same—especially if you shut off the phone.
Winner, 2004 National Outdoor Book Award
Even after spending many years in the outdoors, in some very remote places, I always find this sudden change in consciousness a jolt. It’s as if an unseen hand has literally flipped a switch in the universe. One moment I’m embedded in a world where motorized conveyances offer a quick escape to comfort and safety. The next, I’m free-floating in a world from which escape is extremely difficult—or was until the advent of global satellite phones.
The Arctic landscape hasn’t changed since I first saw it two decades ago—shoreline sedges, dense willow, a moiré of green tundra, rippling and shimmering away toward hills dappled with the shadows of cumulus clouds—but I have to admit that the country’s old edginess is gone. The mixture of genuine fear at being alone in the vastness of the high latitudes, and the lovely tension of facing that fear with no resources other than what we’ve brought along and the wit inspired by necessity, is diminished. The air taxi service’s telephone number is programmed into Len’s satphone and is no more than the push of a memory button away. The entire rescue services of North America would then be at our disposal, down to a huge, twin-rotor helicopter that can navigate through fog and find us by Global Positioning System coordinates. Len, leaving nothing to chance, has also accepted the offer of a handheld GPS from his law partner—a device that, with another push of a button, tells you your latitude and longitude, bouncing its signal from satellites circling overhead.
All this technology doesn’t mean that we’ll be less careful. Getting pinned in a rapid with your head underwater takes only a few seconds of inattention, and then all the satphones and GPSs in the world won’t do you a bit of good. Nevertheless, the phone has given us a newfound cushion and is extinguishing an awareness that’s always been part of these trips, what I like to think of as slipping through the world’s harshness by a mixture of skill and divine grace.