My wife and I, along with a couple of friends spent this past week up at one of the winter backcountry huts here in Colorado. The huts are always rustic and simple, yet have the basic accoutrements to make life comfortable in the backcountry. There’s a wood stove and plenty of firewood for heat, typically a small propane stovetop for cooking, oftentimes they have some limited solar lighting, have platforms or bunks with a basic foam mattress for sleeping and for ultimate convenience, a pit toilet. Basically, being at a hut is a practice in relative simplicity. Most importantly, few, if any of the huts have internet or phone coverage.
Before the internet and social media were a “thing”, a hut trip was one of the low-tech ways of socially connecting with our friends. Two or three of us would come up with a trip idea, book the hut, then contact our individual networks of other friends to see who was interested.
The trips were oftentimes physically demanding and downright exhausting for some, but everyone shared the same experience and was then tied together in some way. Under one roof, people from different backgrounds, educations, geographic locations and physical capabilities could be equals and those differences became assets and opportunities for expanding our network of friends. The hut became the common denominator where everyone could find common footing.
This trip was much the same. Though our friends were also our neighbors who we’d known for years, we had ample time without distraction to actually get to know each other a little better. We learned more about our families and how it came to be that we eventually crossed paths here in Colorado. We had time, the most valuable commodity in anyone’s life.
Pressing issues to be addressed while in the hut were occasionally putting another log on the fire, speculating on how much snow would fall that evening, discussing the latest books we’d read, exploring the origination and future of the Social Security Administration (and it’s benefits and of course), what podcasts everyone had been listening to and of course, what was next on the menu for that day.
But hut life isn’t always so easy. Without the internet, we actually had to think and try to remember what actor played in whatever movie it was we were trying to think of. No instant gratification! The horror! Over the course of each day, one topic of discussion would lead to another and before we knew it, the number of rabbits being chased down holes became relentless.
As we were packing our gear to leave the hut, one of our friends confessed that she had experienced some withdrawal symptoms from not having access to the internet. She said there were many times during our stay where she had a subconscious and even physical reaction to grab her phone to look at news headlines, look up a topic we were discussing or just surf the internet. She even commented that she didn’t really realize how addicted she’d become to having her phone at the ready.
I knew this “issue” was a reality for many people after having read a little about Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) and News Addiction Syndrome in the past, but I was still surprised by the comment. Maybe my surprise was borne from my own strong personal reasons for going to a hut to escape those very things in the first place. I am certainly no Luddite, but I guess I still hold on to the romantic idea of getting to a place where I can be fully present with friends with as little electronic distraction as possible.
If I’m honest, when we got back into cell coverage and my phone started spasming with alerts for missed calls and text messages, I felt disheartened that my respite from cyber connectivity was over. I did however have three and half more hours of driving ahead and intended to milk out every second of being “away”. With that in mind, I even chose my antiquated iPod Nano to serve as our DJ for the drive instead of Spotify just to stay “disconnected” for a little while longer. When I was back home and had everything unpacked and I was properly showered up, only then would I check back in on the cyber world.
I always hope to return from any trip, domestic or abroad, big or small, with something tangible or positive to take forward. Sometimes it’s a new “backcountry” recipe that was implausibly created over a crude flame or maybe a newfound appreciation for a different culture. Sometimes it might be a small, offbeat comment someone makes along the way that will serve as a daily reminder of why I was in that place to begin with. This time it was indeed that offbeat comment.
Climb high, ski fast, pedal hard, live simply.