Voices from the river

Voices from the River: A signal

Photo by Chris Hunt

By Chris Hunt

I’ve got a trip planned to a remote little fishing village in Mexico later this winter, and one of the first things I was warned of when I reserved a

little cottage on the beach was (after hitting Google Translate), “There is no cell service here.”

I do a lot of off-the-beaten-path fishing, so I’m not a stranger to cell-phone dead zones—in fact, after those first few hours of information starvation, I rather like being off the grid. The constant temptation to reach for the phone to check for texts or emails or social media messages subsides, and instead of worrying about what I’m missing, I start to focus on what’s at hand. That’s usually the fishing.

So, the little note from my Mexican host wasn’t troublesome at all. I just kind of nodded, and wrote back a quick, “No problem. Thank you.”

Last summer, I was way up in eastern Idaho’s Caribou Range, camped on the banks of one of my favorite little cutthroat streams. I’d taken a Monday off and was enjoying absolute solitude. I’d been lounging in the camper, debating a hot breakfast or a cold Pop Tart before the sun hit the water and the fish came out to play. I was reaching for the box of Pop Tarts when that familiar jingle chimed through the trailer.

My phone was ringing.

The night before, I’d turned it upside down on the counter and just kind of forgot about it. I was in the mountains, after all. No signal. No e-mail. No texts. It was just a $500 hockey puck. And then it rang.

Instinctively, I started to reach for it, and the reality hit me.

I’m literally in the middle of nowhere, I thought. How is this happening?

I hesitated. Why would I answer it on a day off, after all? But I picked up the phone and look at the screen. It was my boss. So of course I answered. We had a quick conversation and I hung up. I looked down at my phone. Four bars. Full data signal. And I was a good 10 miles off the pavement. Depending on how you looked at it, it was either a miracle or a tragedy.

And I was conflicted. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. There I was, miles from any powerful cell tower, about to string up a 3-weight and go chase cutthroats … and suddenly I was back in civilization again. And, with my handy unlimited data package, I could, conceivably, turn on my mobile hot spot and get some work done.

A dilemma? Oh, hell yeah.

I plopped the phone face down on the counter, unwrapped the Pop Tart and ventured out into the morning chill. The sun had climbed over the peaks to east and the frost on the high-country meadow grass was melting and glistening in the morning light. The creek babbled by in a terribly idyllic fashion, and a few morning caddis danced over the water. It wouldn’t be long now, and the fish would be looking up for big terrestrials, like they always do that time of year in that stretch of water.

It weighed on me. Did my perfect little stream just get measureably better with the discovery of a full-on data signal? Or quite a bit worse? Would trips here be interrupted by the demands that come with near-constant connectivity, or would they be supplemented by the fact that I could, for a day or two, move the home office into the mountains if I so chose?

I sat down in one of my camp chairs and started stringing my fly rod up. Inside the camper, the phone rang again.

Years ago, just as it started to become clear that, eventually, everyone would be expected to carry a phone with them wherever they went, I swore I’d never be that guy. But, today, I am that guy. I am connected almost all of the time, for good or ill. I use social media on a daily basis, both for work and on my own. I check my work e-mail after hours and often respond after hours, having foregone the notion that I was somehow being rude by contacting colleagues when they might be doing something for themselves on their own time. I think those old social rules … the manners of most social situations… have changed, and, honestly, not for the better.

But, damn it all, not here, and not now, I thought. I let the phone ring.

The trout were rising. That’s the call I answered.

Chris Hunt is the national digital director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.

By Chris Hunt.