Getting connected…to get away

A rainbow at Saguary National Park

A chance rainbow when we were driving through Saguaro National Park in November, 2009. I hope to see lots of desert flora on my upcoming bike trip. Photo: Alex Wilson

As I prepare to leave for a one- to two-month bicycle trip next week, I am struck by the irony of how much effort I’ve had to put in of late to stay connected while I’m away. Yesterday, it was two hours at a cell phone store as I finally relented to the “smart phone” revolution. I’m trading in my low-tech Motorola for an iPhone 4! I’ll be able to keep in touch via Skype, iChat, video chat, texting, e-mail, and maybe even phone from my bike. I have a Bluetooth ear thingy that I might even be able to wear under by bicycle helmet!

And I’ve been struggling with what to do on the laptop computer front. I was all excited about the new iPad2 and put my name in to get the first from our local Apple dealer, but as stocks ran out Apple seems to have stiffed the independent dealers for their own (higher profit margin) retail stores—and I guess I can’t blame the company for that.

So now I’m planning to buy a MacBook Air, which will cut my computer weight almost in half, from the MacBook Pro I have. A pound of savings on a bike is worth a lot! Just as significantly, I think the flash memory on this computer will hold up better than a hard drive in my bicycle panniers.

While I had been excited about all the cool features of the iPad, I admit to a bit of relief that I won’t have to spend the next five days learning to type on a piece of smooth glass. (I was going to get a separate keyboard for the iPad—Kennsington makes a neat one that packaged into an iPad case, but, like the iPad2, it isn’t available yet.) I’ll still have to deal with transferring files, figuring out how to keep my work e-mail off my computer during my travels (explanation not needed), and getting used to it—but as a Mac user for over 20 years that shouldn’t be too hard.

Not having to learn how to use an iPad will leave time to learn how to answer the iPhone and send texts from it—not to mention how to use the TomTom GPS and the Sibley eGuide to Birds of North America apps that I bought (I’m more excited about the latter).

But back to the irony. Here I am trying to prepare to get away from it all—to leave behind the deadlines and have time to explore the broad vistas of the desert Southwest—and what I seem to be preparing for is how to stay more connected than ever. (There was a great article in this morning’s New York Times that relates to this: “All That Logging in Makes Dropping out Much More Difficult”; I’d like to watch the two films described in the article.)

I justify this conflict by noting that I’m not really going on a “vacation.” I’m beginning a sabbatical. The idea with a sabbatical—at least in the academic world (do they exist anywhere else?)—is that it’s more directed time away. In my case, I want to use my sabbatical (and the bike trip that will launch my eight-month time away from BuildingGreen) to reflect and think deeply about how to make the greatest difference in helping the planet. So I need to be able to write, and I want to be able to post my ideas—and maybe get some feedback.

So, I’ll figure out this iPhone and get my lightweight laptop up and running. I’ll be ready to separate…in a connected sort of way!