It’s Getting Harder to Unplug in the Woods

And that’s not always a bad thing.

Chris L. Robinson

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Photo of Manistee River by Author

Five years ago, there was little chance that I would have had cell phone reception on most of the backpacking trails I hiked. This was true even though many of them were no more than a hour or so out of mid-sized cities.

But I am writing this piece (well, starting anyway) while under a tarp in a rainstorm on a trail in Manistee National Forest in Michigan.

But don’t worry — it’s a big tarp.

I’m taking a couple of days to hike the twenty-mile Manistee River Trail Loop.

In the past, I’ve driven to a trailhead only to drive twenty miles back the way I came because that was the last place that I had reception and I needed to tell my wife my hiking plan. It is always a good idea to tell someone not just where you are going, but from where you are starting and where you plan on ending up.

Rescuers knowing that you are somewhere in a vast forest is not helpful.

For a long time, we outdoors-types have reveled in our utter inability to surf the web or argue on Twitter or check email while out in the woods. It was a self-imposed limitation that freed us.

But that time is slipping away. And fast.

In 2019, I failed at an attempted thru-hike of the 120-mile Centennial Trail in South Dakota. Deep in South Dakota. I phoned my wife two hours from my start point and told her that she probably wouldn’t hear from me for two weeks.

Instead, I had reception good enough for at least texting for nearly the entire week that I was on the trail. That reception came in handy when I needed rescuing from a snowstorm. I was able to text my shuttle driver to pick me up early.

Nowadays, getting away from tech is going to require more than driving until our phones show no more bars.

Netflix and Facebook and TikTok are coming with us.

Now, we’re all going to have to exercise discipline.

Good Luck.

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Chris L. Robinson

Top Writer in Parenting, and Food. I write about masculinity, fatherhood, family, and relationships.