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Thread: Off the grid

  1. #1
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    Off the grid

    We throw around that phrase to mean out of immediate communication range. Has anyone treated an extended tour as an opportunity to get off the grid? In other words, has anyone taken a long tour with no cell phone or email communication, relying on pay phones, letters, or nothing?

    Originally I thought it'd be nice to have a laptop or an internet phone to keep in touch while touring but now I am thinking it'd be even nicer to get off the grid completely. We survived without cell phones and email before so why not take time to free myself from these connections while touring for 2 months?

    I'm curious to know especially if anyone has attempted this what the biggest pros and cons were.

  2. #2
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    I accidentally toured with my cell phone in Europe last August. It's not set up for international calls, and ended up being dead weight. I think I've only done one other tour with my cell phone ... a long-weekend tour in the mountains near here in May. They were predicting snow, and I thought there was a small chance I might need to be rescued. Otherwise, I don't bother bringing it.

    In fact, until 3 years ago, when I moved to Alberta and my father insisted I start carrying one, I cycled all over Manitoba for years and years without any means of calling anyone if I happened to run into trouble. I carry one now on my "local" rides, but I barely know how to use it. I can make calls, and I've finally figured out how to answer it (if I happen to have it turned on, which I rarely do), but that's it. And really ... I strongly dislike phones of all sorts, but especially cell phones.

    As for email communication, the only time I communicate by email on a tour is if I happen to arrive at a campsite or hostel with a computer and internet access, or maybe a library, tourist info center, or house of a friend. I might send an email home every day for a few days, and then not again for a week or so. It's nice to check in once in a while ... keeps the worry level of the family down.

  3. #3
    Junior Member Lambkin55's Avatar
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    I always tour without modern communication equipment for several reasons....

    1. I'm an old guy and when I started touring that stuff was not around. So I've never learned to depend on it.
    2. In my professional life I live and die with a telephone and a computer. One of the reasons I do bike touring is to get as far away from that stuff as I can.
    3. Not having a cell phone forces me to talk to the locals, which is a great education.
    4. A lap top weighs too much!

    Enjoy your "off the grid" tour.

  4. #4
    nun
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lambkin55 View Post
    I always tour without modern communication equipment for several reasons....

    1. I'm an old guy and when I started touring that stuff was not around. So I've never learned to depend on it.
    2. In my professional life I live and die with a telephone and a computer. One of the reasons I do bike touring is to get as far away from that stuff as I can.
    3. Not having a cell phone forces me to talk to the locals, which is a great education.
    4. A lap top weighs too much!

    Enjoy your "off the grid" tour.
    I'm a Luddite when it comes to cell phones. I always forget to take my phone touring as I never carry it on my person; it sits in my car for emergencies. When you're out at night with friends and don't have a cell phone it brings home just how much time people spend texting and talking. I like that I cannot be contacted.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Effectively we did that a lot of the time on the TA. We carried cell phones but didn't have a signal for a significant portion of the trip. Does using email in public libraries count?

  6. #6
    40 yrs bike touring
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    I first used e-mail during a tour in 2003 on the Divide Ride. Somehow I somehow survived decades of touring around the world without e-mail or cell phones. These devices seem to give users a false sense of security that someone will always rescue them from their follies rather than preparing themselves to solve problems without outside help. Lack of outside rescue options usually tones down a person's risk taking actions due to enlightened self-interest about their survival.

    The worst example I saw of this attitude came in a national park in Canada in mid Summer where two hikers walked off of the paved trail near a hot spring and became <lost> ten feet from the trail. They sat down under a pine tree, pulled out their cell phone and dialed the emergency number. Rangers, helicopters and friends spread out to look for them.

    After five hours they were found under the same tree. The lost folks never stepped into the nearby clearing when the helicopter repeatedly covered the area nor did they answer those people calling for them from the trail ten feet away. They were found only when a ranger literally stumbled over them. They radiated an attitude of entitlement deserving of rescue and even failed to thank their rescuers. I was visiting a ranger friend who supervised the rescue. He was appalled but not surprised.

    As you can see I am just an old guy out of touch with modern equipment and attitudes and plan to remain so for the most part particularly when bike touring.

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    All of my tours have been "off the grid".

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by arctos View Post
    These devices seem to give users a false sense of security that someone will always rescue them from their follies rather than preparing themselves to solve problems without outside help.
    It never occurred to me that cell phones purpose is to summon help. I carry it to call home when in camp in the evening if there is a signal. I agree they should not be relied on for security or be a substitute for being self reliant.

  9. #9
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    After years of avoiding cell phones, I finally succumbed last year, and brought it along on tour. I appreciated the ability to call ahead for a place to stay. In one case, I received a call from a B+B that had not had space available when I called, but had subsequently received a cancellation. And it was great being in easy contact with my family.

    But before this trip, I survived decades of off-grid touring, so I do not regard a cell phone, laptop, GPS, or email as essential. Just modern conveniences that some folks will not want to be without, and others have no interest in.

  10. #10
    eternalvoyage
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    Quote Originally Posted by roseyscot View Post
    We throw around that phrase to mean out of immediate communication range. Has anyone treated an extended tour as an opportunity to get off the grid? In other words, has anyone taken a long tour with no cell phone or email communication, relying on pay phones, letters, or nothing?

    Originally I thought it'd be nice to have a laptop or an internet phone to keep in touch while touring but now I am thinking it'd be even nicer to get off the grid completely. We survived without cell phones and email before so why not take time to free myself from these connections while touring for 2 months?

    I'm curious to know especially if anyone has attempted this what the biggest pros and cons were.
    Yes.

    Robert McNeil put it well when he talked about why he left PBS news broadcasting. He said that, before he quit, every day would start out with all kinds of 'communications' that would fill his head.

    He felt liberated and relieved to be free of it.

    All that material can take up a lot of mind-space that can be used for other things, or no things at all.

    ***
    Someone else has called thought itself a 'material process,' and said that it is getting (or has already gotten) out of hand, and even went so far as to call it 'the enemy of man.'

    [He did make it clear that he was referring to unnecessary thought, not the truly useful or necessary (which may be a far lower percentage than usually recognized).

    Isn't there a website called uselessknowledge.com, or something close? That says it pretty well. This information-communication age is chock full of this kind of stuff.]

    ***
    A tour with the theme of getting away from all of it, as thoroughly as possible -- for once in one's life, before it's over -- is an interesting possibility.

  11. #11
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    My first tours were before cell phones. I was also single. I'd call my parents every week or so to check in and let someone know I was still alive. I used pay phones. Now I'm married with two kids. I check in more often, but sometimes go 3 or 4 days without doing so, especially if there's no cell phone service.

    Now I carry my cell phone because it's light and very convenient for checking in (when there's service) and long distance is free! I realize that if I ever have an emergency situation, there's a good chance I'll have no reception (or I might be unconscious and unable to summon help.) But I would also hate to get into a situation where my cell phone could save me and not have it along.

    I also like to call my wife and wish her good night when I'm laying in my tent. What a world! Whodathunk we'd be able to do something like that?

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Another thing is that pay phones are going the way of the dodo bird and as someone said when you do find them there are long distance charges.

    Also there is one use I had kind of forgotten about since I was usually not the one doing the calling during our last trip, but... There is often the need to call ahead to verify a place to stay or arrival time especially when staying with a host or when accommodations are in doubt.

  13. #13
    Senior Member xilios's Avatar
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    We always take our phones with, but only turn them on an hour or two in the evening say between 19:00 till 21:00 to conserve the batteries. We rarely call only in case of emergency but we do text some.
    They are also good to call ahead for a room and/or if the campsites are open.
    Wouldn't think of leaving home without them.
    Last edited by xilios; 02-15-08 at 08:04 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    Effectively we did that a lot of the time on the TA. We carried cell phones but didn't have a signal for a significant portion of the trip. Does using email in public libraries count?
    My thoughts on cell phones from 2003. I haven't changed my mind

    “You are going to take a cell phone, aren’t you.” No the punctuation is not wrong. People make that statement to me all the time. I tell them that I am planning on riding 1200 miles across the middle of America and that is the nearly the first thing out of their mouths – just after “I could never do that!”

    Now the standard answer that I give is “No.” Simple, straight forward, to the point. But there is a lot of thought behind that “No.”

    First (and I’m being facetious, Dear), if I get squished what am I going to do with a cell phone, call home from above? That’s why we have a “Radar Love”. Second, what use would a cell phone be if I had trouble? “Could someone please drive 1200 miles one way to bring me a new tube?” I don’t think that’s going to happen, do you? And, finally, a cell phone is a lifeline, something to clutch because you can’t let go of your fears. The reason we tour, especially those of us who do it alone, is to discover not only the exterior world but also our inner world, what stuff we are made of.

    And finally, finally, my bike doesn’t have a cigarette lighter to plug on into.
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  15. #15
    Senior Member foamy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Niles H. View Post
    Yes.

    Robert McNeil put it well when he talked about why he left PBS news broadcasting. He said that, before he quit, every day would start out with all kinds of 'communications' that would fill his head.

    He felt liberated and relieved to be free of it.

    All that material can take up a lot of mind-space that can be used for other things, or no things at all.

    ***
    Someone else has called thought itself a 'material process,' and said that it is getting (or has already gotten) out of hand, and even went so far as to call it 'the enemy of man.'

    [He did make it clear that he was referring to unnecessary thought, not the truly useful or necessary (which may be a far lower percentage than usually recognized).

    Isn't there a website called uselessknowledge.com, or something close? That says it pretty well. This information-communication age is chock full of this kind of stuff.]

    ***
    A tour with the theme of getting away from all of it, as thoroughly as possible -- for once in one's life, before it's over -- is an interesting possibility.
    Case in point.
    None.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Newspaperguy's Avatar
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    Since the summer of 2004, I've carried a cell phone on tour and on vacation. I'll call in to the office once, just in case there are any questions I need to answer. The call usually takes less than 10 minutes and when it's done, I'll turn the phone off and forget about it for the rest of the time off. I could use a pay phone, but I find it much easier to use a cell. The only drawback is I need to make sure I'm in cell range at that time. Most of the roads I travel are out of the coverage area.
    Life is good.

  17. #17
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    [QUOTE=arctos;6164556]
    After five hours they were found under the same tree. QUOTE]

    That's a lovely story, but if the difference between vital help and no vital help turns out to be a cell phone, I'll be happy to use one. It's not out of the question to come upon someone needing help, maybe in an accident, maybe even being in an accident yourself. It's only a communications device. It only rules you if you let it, the same as any other modern device.

  18. #18
    Lentement mais sûrement Erick L's Avatar
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    I thought most people toured without phones. I just changed my landline for a cell phone and I won't bring it on tour. The battery needs to be charged up all the time!
    Erick - www.borealphoto.com/velo

  19. #19
    Senior Member xilios's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erick L View Post
    I thought most people toured without phones. I just changed my landline for a cell phone and I won't bring it on tour. The battery needs to be charged up all the time!
    You don't need to have it on all the time, an hour a day or only when needed. It's like carrying a tool you only need it once and it's worth having it along.

  20. #20
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erick L View Post
    I thought most people toured without phones. I just changed my landline for a cell phone and I won't bring it on tour. The battery needs to be charged up all the time!
    I am not sure how many tour with or without a cell phone. Many, but certainly not all of the folks we met on the TA carried one.

    With regard to charging...
    I would not leave it turned on. We found the hard way that if left on when there is no signal it kills the battery pretty quickly. Apparently it busies itself looking for a signal and the battery is soon run down.

    On tour our phones are only turned on to call home every 3-6 days or to occasionally call ahead to check for vacancies or to make reservations. I had no desire to "be on call" so no need to leave the phone on to receive calls. I also have no desire to check voice mail. As a result I could go at least a couple weeks without needing a charger and on a long tour like our TA this past summer It only needed to be charged a handful of times, most often using outlets in the pavilions of the city parks we stayed in.

  21. #21
    Senior Member teamcompi's Avatar
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    I have packed phones on the last few trips but think the next one I will just use local land lines and prepaid phone cards.

    I would love to bring a laptop but they sure seem a heavy piece of equipment to pack, I bought a palm pilot but had less than stellar luck using it. It seemed more of a hastle than it was worth.

  22. #22
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    On most of most of my tours, there just is absolutely no need to call anyone about anything.

    In fact, during my life in general, on tour or off, there is usually no need to call anyone about anything either. In the last 3 years I have probably placed maybe about 2 dozen calls to anyone on my own time, outside of work. Unfortunately my employment usually requires me to make a few more calls than that.

  23. #23
    Scott n4zou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by teamcompi View Post
    I would love to bring a laptop but they sure seem a heavy piece of equipment to pack, I bought a palm pilot but had less than stellar luck using it. It seemed more of a hastle than it was worth.
    palm pilot; that thing is an antique now! I use a Palm TX. It's not a Lap Top replacement but it's very close to it. It is good enough for me out on a tour. It is fully internet capable with WiFi and Blazer and even a fully capable e-mail program but considering how may free WiFi hot spots limit your ability to use SMTP to upload mail and attachments it far more reliable to use a web based e-mail site like yahoo or hotmail. It has an SD card slot so I can just plug in my cameras SD card and upload photos and videos without resorting to cables and programs to do that sort of thing. It also has Bluetooth so I can use it with a Bluetooth GPS unit and free GPS software loaded in the Palm TX so if I need help finding my way the Palm and GPS unit becomes one of the best GPS systems available. I use this circuit to recharge my Palm TX and Bluetooth receiver from my tire driven bottle type dynamo.

    I never worry about finding a place to recharge any device that can be plugged into a USB port for recharging. I just engage the dynamo and recharge as I pedal along. I also included LED headlight and taillight in the event I needed to travel at night or through an unlighted tunnel. I can't have anything plugged into the USB connector while the lights are in use as there is just not enough power for that. The resistors limit the load on the batteries to 380mA. This provides 120mA of recharging current from the dynamo to compensate for stops and hill climbing so the batteries never go dead. In some areas where I am not stopping very much I will disengage the dynamo allowing the batteries to discharge some to prevent overcharging. I've found 15 minutes of every hour of non stop riding to be just about right to prevent overcharging. As for a cell phone, I purchased one that can be recharged via a USB port as well so never a worry about where to recharge it.
    Last edited by n4zou; 02-17-08 at 09:38 AM.
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  24. #24
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    On most of most of my tours, there just is absolutely no need to call anyone about anything.

    In fact, during my life in general, on tour or off, there is usually no need to call anyone about anything either. In the last 3 years I have probably placed maybe about 2 dozen calls to anyone on my own time, outside of work. Unfortunately my employment usually requires me to make a few more calls than that.
    In my "normal" life I also seldom use the phone other than at work. On tour I use it a bit more. I call home every 3-6 days and once a week or so feel the need to call ahead to let a host know when we will be arriving, to make a reservation, or to be sure of a vacancy at a campground. So I use the phone a max of 3 or 4 times a week when on tour. That is a lot more than I use the phone at home where I might go weeks without placing a call. I don't leave the phone on so there are no incoming calls. I definitely don't call in to work or check voicemail. That said I still find it worth carrying.

    Similarly I don't check work email, but do check personal email at least once a week or so, usually at a public library.

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