By Jeff Moag
I always sit by a window in airplanes because I love watching the mountains and rivers scroll below, while contemplating the astonishing fact that I am actually flying. It’s remarkable how many things we take for granted that in our grandparents’ time could only have been explained as magic. It can cast a spell over you.
I couldn’t look away as Ben Stookesberry and his crew live-tweeted last summer’s most intriguing expedition. They traveled 600 miles on traditional canoe routes to access previously un-run rapids in northern Labrador’s Torngat region (Return of the Long Boat). I was hooked, watching the expedition unfold in a continuous stream of Facebook updates, Instagram photos, live mapping, and audio clips.
It’s becoming a familiar addiction. I was transfixed as Aleksander Doba, a 67-year-old Polish grandfather and owner of the world’s most magnificent beard, sent cryptic texts from his 167-day kayak crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. I followed tweet-by-tweet as CNN reporter John Sutter paddled America’s most endangered river, the San Joaquin. And though I complain that I don’t have enough time for the things that matter most—my wife, my kids, paddling — I spend every empty moment online, following those who do. If a Smartphones Anonymous chapter ever opens on my block I’ll be the first to stand up and admit I have a problem.
When Stookesberry posted a note that he and the boys were running low on food, my obsession went into overdrive. I pictured them on some windblown shard of the Canadian Shield, dizzy from hunger and scouting must-make lines. And then I noticed something curious. Between foraging for food, evading polar bears and firing up first descents in the wilds of Torngat, a half-starved Ben Stookesberry had managed to ‘like’ all sorts of stuff on Facebook.
The technology we celebrate in this issue of C&K (“The Gear We Love”) allows us to seek extraordinary experiences all over the planet, in greater comfort and safety than ever. It also allows us to watch from afar as others do the exploring. That’s wonderful and a little bit dangerous. Wonderful if we use it to inspire our own adventures; dangerous if we let it replace them. Because watching the mountains and rivers through a pane of glass — whether an airplane window or the screen in the palm of your hand — is no way to live. The real magic is being there.