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I have a little problem. I am always plugged in. Whether it’s facebook, email, instagram or plain old having my laptop open, somewhere along the line this Luddite fell off the wagon.  I remember tantrums in college, trying to figure out this whole ‘internet’ thing. I skipped every Monday morning 8am computer class declaring that no good can come of these new fangled gadgets.  The girls at work would mock my 80s style cellphone, easily the size of a brick.

My transition from Luddite to LCD was gradual. I was motivated by stories of people making a silly amount of cash off the internet, or even just networking an office or taking apart a computer. How hard could it be? I had been working in a field that left me competing with former bosses for scraps of jobs, people with decades of experience vying for little bits of cash. I had a craving for plane tickets and a pay cheque, so I made the leap to a new frontier, the internet. (Yes, I am that old) There’s been no turning back.

There are a number of excuses. Facebook keeps me in touch with far away friends who keep my Swahili fresh. Instagram entertains my inner photog. Texting – how else do you get through the dull budget meetings? But I’m hooked. I know full well the value of walking through a lush forest and enjoying a bit of sanctuary without things buzzing, beeping and vibrating. I’ve spent more meals than I care to count across from someone fully immersed in their blackberry. I’ve cringed at the oh so important loud-talker on his cell phone riding the bus, whispering curses in their direction. But the idea of switching off makes me shudder. What if I miss something terribly exciting? What if disaster strikes?

An opportunity appeared. A road trip to the land of no cell service (or at least, without a robust data and roaming plan added). Travelling solo through six states, hanging out in a gator infested swamp, spending days with people quite keen to talk about their guns. What could possibly go wrong?

So, I don’t get full marks for this little task. Apparently I have a life filled with people who care about me very much. It would seem that they are inclined to worry whenever I head off on one of my adventures. Perhaps they’ve caught on to my “fuck it” attitude when interesting (read: risky) opportunities present themselves. Demands were made before my departure that I must check in from time to time. A complete pain in the ass and a blessing all at once. My “I won’t talk to anyone” quickly became “I won’t talk to anyone but the six of you.”

Turns out, this was such a treat. My head was in 17 different places before I left, I was a complete scatterball. To boot, I have a bad little habit of just hopping in the car and just going… then realizing along the way that I’m really not sure where I was headed.  This was very much the case – heading to South Carolina for a few days – I had my tent, my camera and a bag of gummi worms – I really didn’t think I needed much else.  Except perhaps a route. At least an idea of where I’d cross the border. Very poorly planned indeed.

I would actually have to talk to people. I stopped in at welcome centres as I crossed into each  state. I chatted with random strangers about where to go, what to see next. I struck up conversations with people I may have never spoken to – learning somewhere along the way that my name had been changed to Ma’am.

Upon mentioning that I had never eaten alligator, one sweet girl promptly bought some for us to share. I hung out with a cluster of people fishing off the end of a giant pier, one who was a genius shark expert at the ripe old age of 12. I met the chemist behind Malox, who told me secrets of the FDA and how some drug companies cut corners. We had a fascinating chat comparing our medical services, affirming my ever grateful to be Canadian status. I learned the best place to spot gators, I had an almost an entire restaurant looking for Ontario license plates stuck to a wall, I was directed to a little cafe that served delicious fried green tomatoes. I learned that there are braver, wackier souls than I – venturing to a fire ant festival, or a grit festival – both involved cramming as many ants/grits into your clothes as possible. Sadly I missed those ones by a week. I quizzed people about fires, wars, and wild boars. I stopped to read plaques rather than googling the sites. I lived, and loved, every moment.

Had I access to all the plug-in options, I would have GPS’d my adventure and taken far fewer U-turns, missing some lovely sites. I would have looked up schedules for events rather than lingering and chatting. I would have been chit chatting with old friends rather than making new ones. I would have had an entirely different trip, one seen through a screen rather than through my heart.

Lesson learned… while I am guilty of text/email/facebook/blog/instagramming today, I’ve realized I must look up from those screens a little more often.  My ‘unplug’ was to end Saturday… I lasted till Tuesday to plug back in, embracing that inner Luddite a little longer.

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