James Murray tells a story for a small crowd at the ORL Salmon Arm branch on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Column: Unplugged outdoors, mostly

For years I used to rely on an old, out-of-style, wind-up Timex wristwatch to know the time of day.

I received the watch as a gift. It was not expensive by any means, but in time (no pun intended) it came to have a lot of sentimental value. The glass was badly scratched and the leather strap had been replaced a number of times, but like the ad said, it took a licking and kept on ticking. Whether at work, out on the lake fishing or simply sauntering along an autumn trail, I always knew what time it was – as long as I kept my watch wound.

That watch now sits somewhere in one of my dresser drawers. It has not been wound in several years. Like most people, I use my smartphone to tell time. We have become a society that is ever more reliant, if not dependant, on electronic gizmos.

Nowadays, outdoor enthusiasts such as tech-savvy hikers are able to use their smartphones to call up ‘apps’ such as EveryTrail and AllTrails, which use the phone’s internal GPS to map out trails. They can even track their progress and take photos along the way. These apps connect the user to a whole hiking community. For those who simply cannot leave their electronic technology behind, even when they are trying to get away from everything and enjoy the great outdoors, there is all sorts of additional technology they can add to their smartphones, such as SPOT Connect, which will link them to satellites so they can continue to send text messages and emails, and thereby continue to be linked to everything they were trying to get away from. To be fair, I suppose in an emergency, someone with a smartphone could always use it to call for help.

Although such apps allow people to explore new trails and become part of the online hiking community, others warn smartphones have certain limitations and are not safe enough to rely on in the wilderness. Lost signals and dead batteries can render any electronic devise useless.

A recent press release from Parks Canada states they are currently developing a number of new apps that focus on the basics of camping, such as how to launch a canoe and how to cook outdoors.

If that’s what it takes to get younger people into the outdoors, then I say go for it. Young people don’t seem to relate to the whole outdoor wilderness experience the way they did a few generations ago. I loved going camping as a kid and I still enjoy the peace and quiet of being out at the lake.

While I don’t particularly want to be connected to the Internet or be dependent on electronic gizmos when I’m at the lake, I do sometimes bring my laptop so I can write. I have also always preferred to fish with an electric trolling motor. I even have a portable solar panel so that I can recharge my boat battery. So I guess even a guy like me is, to some extent, connected to the electronic world.

Where I have become totally dependent on an electronic device is when I am in the city. That’s a whole different jungle out there and I simply could not survive without my GPS. I can get so lost in the city. You make one small mistake and turn where you’re not supposed to and it takes an hour to find your way back. With my old Timex wristwatch, I was able to tell time. With the aid of GPS I have been able to save time – countless hours – driving around, completely lost.

Yes, I have taken a few wrong turns on back roads while trying to find a lake or two but, in most cases, I had a relatively good sense of direction and eventually found where I wanted to go. GPS helps a lot, but I do not depend on it totally. I still prefer to use a good old map and I do know how to use a compass.

While I admit that I use a fair number of electronic gizmos and devices in my life, I still try to make a point of leaving them behind when I am at the lake or in the great outdoors. There is a time and a place for everything.

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