Three months ago, I spontaneously booked a flight to Sicily and hired a road bike. However, after half an hour of cycling under the remorseless southern Italian sun I realised I was lost. Sicily has two kinds of roads: massive highways covered in loose stones and broken glass that soar above hillsides and are designed exclusively for the travel of lorries, and small roads of dubious surface on which one may encounter angry dogs, miffed Italians or the Sicilian Mafia. Having taken every step possible to avoid the larger roads, I found myself on a small road indistinguishable from any other under the shadow of Mount Etna, a mountain so huge that after two days’ cycling it was still looming large on the horizon. I stopped my bike and looked around, perplexed.
I was not too worried. My relatively trusty “Technology Happy Life” phone had a satnav and mobile internet. The ten miles of cycling in the wrong direction would ultimately end in me not making my planned destination, but at least I knew where I was.
Nothing Is Impossible Anymore.
Says seasoned mountaineer, Reinhold Messner.
Technology has killed human limitations and belittled our achievements: reaching the summit of K2 seems somewhat less impressive when Amazon drones could probably deliver a coffee maker to you there. I feel sorry for any poor man who hiked up the tallest mountain in Wales after weeks of preparation only to find a 4×4 innocently parked next to the café.
However, perspective is important. I am a strong advocate of the view that adventure is defined by the adventurer. For me, climbing a snowy three thousand metre mountain is an adventure, whereas to Edmund Hillary it would have been a morning’s exercise prior to attempting something less easy. For most of us, adventure does not need a serious risk of death.
If you are not a professional adventurer, therefore, technology can be liberating instead of belittling. Reckless actions are much easier to justify to oneself if there is some way out. Technology enables spontaneity: not only can we book flights from our pockets, but we can attempt more serious excursions if we know that there is some way to escape when something goes wrong. Last September, I was in the Italian Alps with my siblings. We were attempting to climb Piz Boe, a mountain of three metres that was covered in ice and snow even at that time of year. At one point, we had to climb a cliff that was covered in ice and snow like baroque architecture.
I would never have climbed it (ill-equipped as we were) without the metal rails (Via Ferrata) that had been set up, and the knowledge that if someone fell we could phone an ambulance. For those of us born without the iron courage of Alex Honnold and the adventurous spirit of Mallory, technology gives us the confidence to overcome obstacles that would otherwise block our progress as much mentally as physically.
Is Technology The Enemy Of Adventure?
Adventures should, novels tell us, be exciting but also somewhat solitary and entirely detached from everyday life. Whenever I set out on a run and tuck my phone into my back pocket, there’s always a moment of hesitation. Few things spoil moments of blissful solitude like an uninvited Skype call from a worried parent or long-forgotten friend. Even small distractions can ruin a moment. I regularly run (relatively) long distances, and find that nothing is worse than the sound of your music slowly cutting out. I always stop and fiddle with the wires until the music is flowing smoothly, but as soon as I start out again the music stalls.
Despite such small annoyances, a phone can make the difference between sleeping rough and finding a bed for the night. One morning in Sicily, I woke up to realise that my legs didn’t work. I tried walking, but muscle cramp had teamed up with gravity against me so that all I could manage was a stagger. My own body had turned against me. When, dejected, I had made my way to the breakfast buffet, I plied my legs with food to no avail. My entire body was in revolt and refused to obey my mind. I managed only one step up to my room before I turned, knees shaking, to take the lift. So, as you can imagine, I did not feel like cycling the hundred miles I had planned.
I checked a map. I could cycle to Enna train station instead, a few miles out of town. Broken but desperate not to live in a Sicilian hotel for the remainder of my young life, I checked out and took my bike in hand. It took me over two hours to reach the station: for every road that was closed, the alternative was a track that looked as though some angry deity had thrown old houses or a Mafia at it. Miraculously, my bike and I survived our way to the station despite an unsavoury uphill encounter with a pack of angry dogs.
When I arrived, I found the station office closed. All the machines were broken. No one was in sight. There was only one way out: booking a ticket on my phone. When the train finally arrived, I collapsed onto it and dragged my bike on. The ticket officer gave my bike a doubting look, but accepted my ticket.
So, without my phone, I would still be trapped on some Sicilian railway station. Technology may not seem to be an important component of travelling, but in reality modern advancement enables us to strive harder and push our boundaries. Perhaps I should have planned Sicily better: I never intended to use my phone on that particular trip.
But under the remorseless Italian sun I certainly discovered the merits of technology, and would advise you, dear travelling reader, not to overlook the benefits of a simple smartphone.