Camping has always been an activity balanced on the promise of escape. These days it might be seen as a retreat from the hyperpresent now of chirping electronics and the endless distractions they bring. The last time I went on a camping trip, though, no one I knew owned a cellphone. In fact, the only portable electronics I remember seeing during those youthful excursions were flashlights, a few walkie talkies, and the occasional Walkman loaded with a Backstreet Boys audio cassette.

What frightens and amazes me most about that memory (aside from remembering that the Backstreet Boys once existed) is this: A decade and change later, upon reaching a picturesque mountaintop halfway through a three-day trek along the Appalachian Trail, my first thought is, "do I get service up here?"

Against the wishes of the group leader, a good friend and seasoned backpacker who had persuaded me with some effort to leave my electronics off for the duration of the trip, I sneak a peek at my phone.

Two bars of LTE.