Broadband Compatibility in the Backcountry
Knoxville, TN (August 9, 2021) - I am a long-distance hiker/backpacker, and I have noticed over the years that using technology while on the trail has greatly evolved. A few years ago in the winter of 2016, when I was trekking in the high mountain ranges along the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, I vividly remember coming into our village for the night after a long day crossing mountain passes. One of the first things I observed while I was eating my dinner was a group of Frenchmen who walked into the room and immediately demanded the Wi-Fi password to connect to the network. It was kind of rude and unfriendly, because usually in the Nepalese culture you first greet each other with a “Namaste.”
Over the years, I have reflected on that moment as I’ve dealt with how broadband has inevitably crept into the everyday needs of a long-distance hiker. I honestly don't see how individuals can be on trails today hiking thousands of miles — or even just weekenders — without high-speed broadband technology.
I have also hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine (2,190 miles), and I remember moments coming to road crossings/high mountain ridges where I wanted to check in with family, call for a shuttle into town, blog, buy new gear online, or even plan for what is ahead. It would have been almost impossible to successfully hike the AT without an internet connection. It would be an interesting research study to see what provider has the best coverage along the AT, as a lot of hikers could use this information. Though mobile broadband is available in some spots, some just don't want to use it while in the backcountry as it ruins the "spiritual" experience of being in nature. I can understand their reasoning, but I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and it is necessary to understand how to have a balanced use of our devices.
I am still hiking today, and I always carry a cell phone as well as a Garmin InReach satellite device as a backup in case of emergencies. Using both of these devices makes me feel a little bit safer while in the backcountry and also provides family and friends a sense of peace/safety back home.
In addition to getting out on the trails, I also started a small side business last year called Redhot Mapping where I make custom scratch-off maps for hiking challenges such as the Pisgah 400, Smokies 900, and SB6K Challenge around the southeast U.S. region. If you want to know why "Redhot," read my “about” page on the website. I have also started to make custom maps for ultramarathons and sponsored bike rides for fun. My company is completely remote, so if I had no access to a high-speed broadband connection, I could not exist as a business entity. No emailing, no marketing, no selling without a solid reliable broadband connection. The gig economy today is solely dependent on broadband internet whether you are driving for Uber, selling jewelry, maintaining an Etsy store, or even delivering groceries for InstaCart on the side. According to some sources, if the gig economy keeps growing at its current rate, more than 50% of the U.S. workforce will participate in it by 2027. So having a reliable, fast broadband connection is of the utmost importance for our overall economy at large in driving innovation and change.
About the Author: Justin Cave is a GIS Analyst for Connected Nation. Justin uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping technology to create, process, edit, and analyze location-based data, especially related to availability of broadband services.