Digital topo maps. GPS. Phone apps. Google Earth…
The list goes on. The number of tools at our disposal for scouting new country, without actually going there, has never been greater. And I plead guilty to using all of them, though it would be dishonest to add “with no regrets.”
It wasn’t that long ago that in order to know what was on the other side of the ridgeline, or what that remote valley held, you had to put boots on the ground, your ass in gear, the necessary gear on your back, and go there.
Now, if I choose to, I can already have a very good idea of what those places contain before I get there. In fact, “getting there” can easily just become an exercise in confirming what a ton information from the comfort of my sofa has already told me. The biggest remaining variable, in these cases, is simply – “will there be birds there?” Which, thankfully, no technology I currently know of can really tell me. I can only hope there will never be a substitute for the hard-earned answer to this question.
I’m no Luddite, and I know that these tools have their useful place. But my fear is that as with so many things, for every convenience we adopt, something is also lost. That the rush and the intense sensory imprints of true, first-time discovery in new country are becoming watered-down in the process, pre-downloaded as we are with so much pre-trip info. That our desire for as much pre-existing knowledge as possible before going anywhere might just be kicking the legs out from under what used to be the joy, and occasional uncomfortability, of exploration. Can we still allow ourselves to be surprised by what’s around the bend?
And so, this season I’m deliberately choosing to ration my technological temptations, and preserve a little more of the mystery of new country. I want to know my location because I’ve been taking it all in, with all of my senses, every step of the way, not because I’m continually staring at a blue dot on a digital map. I want to remember what it is like to discover what might be on the other side of the mountain when I first see it with my own two eyes and not before, led on by virgin curiosity. Or, at least by the more likely scenario – wondering where the fuck my dog went.
I suppose I could get a GPS tracker linked to a harness-mounted GoPro for him and never have to wonder again…