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[at-l] cell coverage on AT

Hello Jason, when I hiked on the AT in 2001, I took my motorola startac 
flip phone, using service from U.S. Cellular; the basic rule was "no-go 
down low; pretty clear, way up here!"  :)   Here are a couple of caveats 
- if you have a home, digital tower, clarity is best and battery drain 
is least; if you have to go analog on a non-home tower, you can drain an 
entire battery in one, short call.  I used my phone primarily for 
touching base with my wife back home; I kept a charger in my "bounce 
box" and would plug the thing in right there at the post office for a 
few hours if I had to, or while in a motel, after which I would mail the 
charger further forward.  My flip phone had a pull up antenna, and there 
were times that made a big difference in catching a weak signal . . . It 
is very important that you talk with your cell provider before you leave 
re coverage and plans - i did not, but did talk with customer service 
while on the trail and learned that my basic plan did not cover the 
states I was traveling in, but they helped get me covered as I went 
northward . . . some of that has changed since 2001, with so many 
nation-wide, competitive plans, now . . . however, some carriers still 
have much better tower access along the AT route than others - do your 
homework there . . . Eventually, I used the cell less and less, and 
relied more on a cheap, walmart AT&T phone card and tried to call only 
from phone booths while in a town for food resupply, etc.  
Unfortunately, phone booths are getting scarcer and scarcer, and they 
also are charging more and more "unit minutes" for calling card access, 
but a 500 minute phone card can take you from GA to ME if you are 
careful with your calling time . . .

Now, after all that technical stuff, my two cents from a personal 
experience point of view.  If I go long distance hiking again, I will 
not carry a cell phone.  We humans lived for 10,000 years without them, 
and got along pretty darn well.  The odds of having a TRUE emergency 
where the cell phone is the diffrence between life or death, or serious 
injury are miniscule.  On a more day-to-day level, just having the thing 
changes the entire way you interact with the Trail and others - not for 
better or worse in some absolute sense, but somehow having that thing 
back there in my pack made me think of towns and home and such a lot 
more often that I otherwise would have, and that can be a - well - 
distraction . . . again, just a personal thought here.  Some argue very 
strongly that it is offensive to others - I don't buy that a bit as long 
as you leave the phone off except to use it, and that you use it while 
not around others, or with their clear positive assent to have you 
jabbering within their hearing distance.  Much more important for safety 
than any cell phone is your own good common sense, packing the right 
first aid items, knowing your body and its physical and emotional 
limits, and learning how to focus on becoming more a part of the Trail 
surroundings, rather than focusing on injecting more technology into 
those surroundings.  Again, hike your own hike, but these are my 
thoughts, for what they may be worth . . .


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