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Computing Across America

There's no better way to explain Computing Across America then to tease you with the Introduction:

An Office in the Sky

It was a grueling three-hour commute to my Colorado office this morning.

I left Telluride with a yellow day pack strapped to my back, and climbed north into the mountains through the golden glow of early-October aspens. I followed the trail laid down over a century ago by miners who defied gravity, weather, reason, and each other in the quest for that alluring glitter in the veins of the earth. They trudged these slopes lugging mining equipment; I carried a computer system, a towel, a bag of pretzels, and a Cannondale water bottle.

The trail wound higher and the air grew chilly, but I was warmed by the sun and the exertion of my 1,700-foot climb. I paused to take one last look down at the colorful town, then strode deeper into the mountains, further into silence and smells of the forest, closer to the Colorado sky with every panting step. An exuberant brown dog emerged from the woods to join me, and we took a side trip to gasp at the view from a windy promontory and share a few pretzels.

But I couldn't be late for work.

The dog and I clambered down the rocky slope and picked our way through the remains of the once-thriving Liberty Bell mining camp. All around lay remnants of tin cans, thick steel cables snarled and half-buried in the loamy earth. Obscure pieces of equipment deep in the arms of entropy were well on their way to oblivion, ancient mud around them stained reddish-brown with a century of rust. Boards crumbled under my step. My friend sniffed everywhere, then found a patch of snow in the deep shade of a wooded hillside and invited me to play.

But work beckoned--my business is serious. I stepped carefully through a mangled pile of corrugated steel roofing, avoiding the nails and razor-sharp edges, then swung my pack down onto a desk I built yesterday from a rusty miner's bedframe, logs, and the remnants of fallen walls. My chair is a dynamite crate; my computer a Hewlett-Packard Portable. I flipped open the display, fired up Microsoft WORD, and here I am at work -- pattering into a mountainside text file while somebody's affectionate dog utters happy muffled snores at my feet.

A deep wooded valley falls sharply away before me -- the aspen in every shade of yellow from dazzling to gone, the pine uniform deep green. There's generally a randomness to their intermingling, but one entire hillside blazes in unbroken golden glory like a reunion of Big Bird's descendents basking in the afternoon sun.

It's not a bad office. Nice decor.

"Yeah, but you're gonna get snowed in," I was warned yesterday. "You're gonna need a truck to get that crazy thing outta here." The speaker gestured to my Winnebiko, an eight-foot-long machine bedecked with solar panels and enough state-of-the-art gizmology to start an engineering school. "Unless, of course, you can hang tire chains on that rear wheel there and stick some kinda ski up front."

But I'll take my chances--I rather like this town. The bike is locked to a friend's porch, the security system set to page my pocket beeper if it detects tampering. My gear is piled against the living room wall, and I spend my days walking in the mountains, writing, and socializing via satellite with my electronic pals all across America. (Tonight I'll sign on to the computer network and transmit the Introduction to my editor.)

No, I'm not on vacation. I am a high-tech nomad--pedaling a recumbent bicycle around the United States with a portable computer while funding the journey with a sporadic outpouring of words. It's a good life, for I have finally figured out how to get paid for playing.

So how did all this happen?

The tale begins not here--but a lifetime and seven thousand miles ago, way back in Ohio.

--by Steven K. Roberts

--Introduction to Computing Across America

Map of Steve's first 10,000 miles.