In a tiff that arose perhaps 15 years ago, visitors to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and other remote places debated whether their treks would be diminished if they carried with them a satellite phone to use in case of an emergency.
Those in favor of equipping themselves with such gear argued that if they were injured, they wanted to be able to call for help rather than face an uncertain future far from civilization.
Advocates for no-gadget journeying countered that even the possibility of such a rescue diminished the quality of trips into the boondocks, where, the thinking went, a visitor should be prepared for any eventuality.
Largely philosophical in any event, the squabble has been decided in favor of more communication, not less. One reason: Fast-advancing technology has made portable communication easy and relatively inexpensive, whether a traveler is camped at a nearby state park or in the boonies.
Consider that in 1996 I traveled alone by horseback into the Colorado mountains to hunt elk for a week at 10,000 feet. Though a good time, the trip was plagued by deep snow and I killed no elk. I also had no reliable means to communicate to anyone had I injured myself, become lost or otherwise found trouble.
Fast forward to 2016, when I, along with my son, Trevor, and a friend of his backpacked about eight miles into mountains about 30 miles from West Yellowstone, Mont., to hunt elk. Remote and populated with grizzly bears, the area offered no hope of a quick exit in case of an emergency, given that we were traveling by foot.
Yet on that trip, I carried a handheld Garmin inReach SE, which allowed me to send and receive text and e-mail messages, while also providing a tracking function that pinpointed for my wife 1,000 miles away our various locations. Cost of this widely available peace-of-mind gizmo: about $350.
But technological advances aren’t the only reasons, or even the primary reasons, in my view, why most travelers stay connected today, whether they’re camped in a nearby state park or in the sticks.
Instead, we, all of us, have become so dependent on communications, whether for work or (oftentimes trivial) personal reasons, that we now regard continual or semi-continual exchanges as necessary, regardless of the safety-net provisions they might provide.
The near ubiquitous use today among wilderness travelers of Garmin’s inReach makes the point. When Dr. Pete Arnesen of the Twin Cities, for example, embarked this summer on a solo canoe trip into Woodland Caribou Provincial Park he had an inReach with him. Which was a good thing, because during his outing, when forest fires unexpectedly advanced on his position, his outfitter was able to direct him away from the infernos via e-mail.
I didn’t encounter that type of predicament on a recent pickup-camper trip my wife and I took out West. But the journey was enhanced greatly nonetheless by another new communication device, the weBoost Connect RV 65 made by Utah-based Wilson Electronics.
The RV 65’s primary feature is a lightweight, telescoping portable antenna that allows recreational vehicle owners to stay connected even in faraway places.
“We already make signal boosters for use in vehicles and for RV owners who are traveling,” said Josh Barnes, Wilson Electronics director of consumer products. “But the biggest part of that market is for what we call destination RVs, where travelers are stationary for longer periods of time.”
I’ve tried a handful of “signal boosters” in recent years that in most cases didn’t significantly help me do what I often must do from the road: transmit photographs and text. Frustration ensues if I have to drive 10 miles or more to receive a cell signal strong enough to engage my phone’s personal hotspot, which facilitates the necessary transmission.
The Connect 65, whose setup was easy, provided a different kind of experience. While in a Grand Teton National Park campground, with no signal on my phone, I extended its antenna 25 feet in the air, attaching it temporarily to the outside of my camper (when not in use, I telescoped the antenna downward and carried it inside the camper.)
The antenna, which was connected via a cable to a booster inside my RV, in turn found a cell signal that otherwise didn’t show up on my phone. As Barnes describes it, “The antenna sends the signal to the booster, which amplifies each of the frequency bands the signal supports using a series of sophisticated low-noise amplifiers and filters.”
The antenna ($649.95 at weBoost.com) also lent my otherwise vintage camper a cutting-edge appearance, and was the source of much curiosity among other RVers, many of whom passed long minutes each day strolling the campground with cellphones in hand, looking for a signal.
I, meanwhile, as necessary sat inside my camper sending photos and stories back to the Twin Cities. The signal was so strong at times during the trip that my wife and I streamed live TV to our little home away from home.
“The Connect RV 65 can’t boost a signal that’s not there,” Barnes said. “But it can amplify signals that don’t even register on your phone.”