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Computing Across America

...Amazingly, it was. Six months later, to the obvious dismay of parents and girlfriend, I hit the road -- having liquidated the 3- bedroom ranch in suburbia and most of its contents. The bike was a custom recumbent dubbed the Winnebiko, the computer a little Radio Shack Model 100 laptop, the data communication link CompuServe, the power source a small 5-watt solar panel.

Immediately it became obvious that I had hit upon something significant. In 1983, the concept of decoupling from a fixed home without becoming a bum in the process was alien to most people, especially with the trappings of high technology allowing an active freelance lifestyle. Daily email from pay phones became routine, and soon the magazine assignments started pouring in -- then a book contract for Computing Across America. I was interviewed in almost every town I passed through, appeared numerous times on national television, and amassed a loyal following of fellow online denizens who offered support facilities all over the country.

For 10,000 miles I wandered solo, high on the energy of beginnings and change, never really seeking publicity but becoming amazingly well known. But it wasn't me so much as the Winnebiko... a machine that eloquently symbolized the daring notion that people could indeed be free, follow their dreams, and break the chains that had always bound them to their desks. In small towns and big cities all across America, I saw the same faraway look, the same dawning of understanding. "Mah gawd, man, you mean to tell me you're runnin' a business from that thang? Reckon I could do somethin' like that? Always did wanna see the world..."

Some of it was the ancient lure of the road, some the glitter of new technology. ("Are you with NASA?" asked a midwest farmer one day.) But through it all I was not only championing the linked causes of freedom, risk-taking, solar power, laptops, networks, and human- powered vehicles, but I was also learning at a furious pace... and becoming deeply frustrated with the limitations of my machine.

I couldn't write while riding. I depended upon clunky wireline phone connections. I had only 5 watts of solar power. My radio links were tenuous at best. The evolving technology offered much more...

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America excerpt