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September 25, 2010

Sometimes it's really good to get away from technology

I don't know whether I should call this column "What I did on my summer vacation" or "How to survive without the Internet." Either would be appropriate.

For many years, actually for my whole life, my idea of a vacation has always included camping in the Adirondacks.

This year the tradition continued, with two separate one-week stays, and I decided to throw in a little twist.

Taking into account the fact that I increasingly thrive on technology for 50 weeks of the year, I decided to try to mentally monitor myself during vacation, just to see what happens when I go back in time to a pre-Internet existence.

Here are the parameters of my vacation experience:

I have a pop-up camper, with heat, a fridge and cooking stovetop. Appliances and such are limited to battery and propane power.

I should note that this year, as usual, I am accompanied by my good friend and retired neighbor Ron, who, among other things, had a career in professional cooking. Despite the assumption that camp cooking is almost as rustic as the surroundings, our situation is different.

We have an extra camp stove and an outdoor oven, so the camp kitchen is pretty capable. Breakfasts and dinner at our campsite are always the envy of the other campers. For example, this year we often had freshly baked muffins, baked potatoes, baked fish, a venison roast, pancakes, home fries, a couple ham dinners with all the vegetable trimmings, and more.

Remember, I'm not giving up eating well, just technology. After all, some things in life are just too important to mess with.

I do have a netbook computer that I bring with me, but there is no Internet connection. I just tote it along in case of emergency.

There is no DVD player, no cell phone signal most of the time, no e-mail, no television and the radio stations are poor enough that we leave the radio turned off.

Now you can see how the stage is set.

What we do have consists of a beautiful mountain landscape, lakes all over the place, a canoe, good fishing, trails to hike, campsite neighbors to chat with, nightly campfires and exposure to the whims of the weather.

We fished almost every day, and hiked at least one mountain each trip. We used no electronic fish finders or GPS units, but it didn't matter, it was still fun.

We did find that we both were looking forward to the daily newspapers every day, to satisfy our curiosity about what the rest of the world was doing. I have mentioned before that I am a news junky, so I didn't find this surprising.

I think this was the hardest part of the trip for me, not being able to satisfy my daily habit of reading a dozen or so newspapers online. We had to settle for two newspapers a day, the Plattsburgh paper and the Saranac Lake paper.

And by paper, I mean paper. The printed version, trucked to the little store outside the campsite and sold over the counter. Reading the print version every day was a major change for me.

I knew that I would be experiencing news withdrawal and would be anticipating each day's paper a great deal. What I didn't expect was that Ron, who is not as wrapped up in technology as I am, wanted to read the papers just as much as I did.

I looked at the stories on the front page first, he always went to the sports section to see what the Yankees did the previous day. Each to his own, as the saying goes.

The second big difference we noticed on the trip was that we missed having up-to-the-minute weather forecasts. At home, it's just a click away to see a current forecast or weather map. We really missed that.

In fact, one day we went on a hike, but had there been a current forecast available to us, we would have done something else. You guessed it, caught in the rain halfway through the hike.

The rain continued all the rest of the day, and all night. As a result, we spent the whole evening in the camper where it was dry, and instead of surfing the Web _ which I would have done back home _ we enjoyed good conversation, fueled by some old technology that gets poured from a bourbon bottle.

On the whole, I found that the vacuum created by not having the Internet at my fingers was pretty well filled in by all the other activities that are part of camping.

Many things you don't even think about at home, like having running water for instance, require more work at the campsite.

The water spigot, as well as the bathroom are down the road. Several trips a day helps to occupy yourself. Making and tending a fire is both primal and time consuming, and enjoyable.

With enough things to do, the missing technology wasn't missed as much as I would have thought.

But, there was one thing that I still can't explain to myself.

You know how once in a while you get some particular song that you keep hearing over and over in your head?

Out in the middle of the woods somewhere, surrounded by the wonders of the primitive forest, all of a sudden I realized that I kept hearing the theme song from "The Big Bang Theory" over and over again in my mind. That show is one of my favorite sitcoms, and for those of you who haven't seen it, it's about a group of nerdy guys who are technology geeks of the first order.

I guess that, even out in the woods, miles from any kind of microchips or Internet, I still can't completely escape it.

And I think I can live with that.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at His columns can be found at

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