West Bound and Down – Twelve Days without an iPhone

Tooth of Time

Tooth of Time

I have a confession to make. For more than 17 years, I have been connected to the grid. Except for sleep, I was always tuned on. Yes, even on vacation, at night and certainly on weekends.

I bet I’m not alone in this admission, but at least I can publically declare my addiction to connectivity. I was like a real estate Waffle House; always on and available. Some will say I was like their hash browns as well; scattered, smothered, covered and chopped – but that’s another story.

But for 12 days in June, I had no iPhone, no computer, heck, not even a tin-can with a string. I accompanied my 15-year-old son Jonathan and his Boy Scout crew for a hiking expedition in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains of North Eastern New Mexico to Philmont Scout Ranch.

I’m proud of the 93 miles we hiked, the trials we endured, and the trails we climbed. We had an amazing time overcoming the obstacles together and more than one mountain top experience. By the way, I know why they call it that – the whole mountain top thing – adrenaline and views over a 50 mile horizon are an awesome thing.

Should it Stay or Should it iGo?

I thought long and hard about this trip. I don’t mean what to pack on my back, although that got a lot of attention. I had a tough decision to make on my iConnectivity. Should I take my iPhone in my pack or leave it in base camp?

Even in the wilds of New Mexico, one can get a signal at high altitudes. If I took it with me, I could make emergency calls, if need be. I’d have a compass, and plenty of eBooks to read in my tent at night. I could use the torrent of apps available for barometers, measure our distance covered, and perform all manner of important tasks. I could have a digital Swiss army knife (and yes, I could bring a solar charger to keep the thing going).

Oh, and I could check email.

I love my job, I love my clients, and my team had some very large transactions on the bubble. I really, really wanted to stay in the loop. I almost caved and brought the machine with me. There are SO many critical reasons to stay connected.

I realized, though, that I would be bringing a Pandora’s box of information into God’s Country. I began to understand that, for me anyway, bringing an iPhone “back country” would be the same as taking a phone call in the middle of a sermon at church. I’d mar a great experience with my son, and wrap my head around work problems instead of seeing the world one step at a time through his eyes. That Swiss army knife would cut apart my experience with my son and the other Scouts.

Radio Silence

Bam! The base camp locker door closed and the deed was done. I’d have no access of any kind for 12 full days. We put on the packs and headed to the busses that would take us to where our trek would begin. I’m glad they didn’t take my blood pressure at that point.

It had an immediate impact; and at first it was intensely negative. Uncertainty and doubt hit me. What had I done? What if I missed some major news item? I’m sure some client will need something urgently – probably right this moment! By the way, what do you do when you‘re waiting in line with nothing to occupy your time? Fortunately, there was no turning back on my information desert and I simply had to accept my decision.

After a couple of days, I began to relax and get into the groove. And then it began to hit me: the power of full engagement in a task you care deeply about, with someone you love is an amazing experience. I learned to function without a device and I am a better man for it. My son and I had the time of our lives, and I am immensely thankful for our uninterrupted time together. He is too.

What I Learned

Jonathan and I after summiting Mt. Baldy - 12,441 feet

Jonathan and I after summiting Mt. Baldy – 12,441 feet

After reflecting on this experience for almost two weeks, I learned that you can, that you must, unplug occasionally. Just a few weeks ago I would have (and did) scoff at the very idea. I am now a full on convert to strategic digital vacations. They clear the mind, cleanse the soul, and allow one to have rich and meaningful conversations with those close to you.

I have a great team behind me, and I’m thankful especially to Alysen Thompson for digitally backing me up. The piece of mind I got from Alysen, Sam Hollis, Sarah Momberg and Clint McKellar on my team was priceless. They brought me peace and confidence for 12 days at Philmont.
I also learned that the world goes on without you. This is a sobering thought, because we all believe that the rat race will come to an end without us involved. But it is a true and helpful perspective, at least for me, in the midst of our busy lives.
So, I am slowly reengaging in the digital world. I now have a newfound respect for the power of single tasking and focusing on the really important things in this life.
Hug your kids, your spouse or your pal this weekend and turn the machine off. Take it from me and my iSeperation: your digital audience will be there on Monday. Be present in the moment, and you will create memories and relationships that will last well beyond that silly text message. And on occasion, may I recommend that you simply take a hike!
Posted July 11th, 2012


  1. Brad Divins

    Ken – a wonderful read for me. I find myself in the same boat with the fear of leaving my connection to the work world behind even for a day! I just came back from vacation myself, but took the laptop, keyfab for access, blackberry, charger and spare charger… all just in case. I am constantly harassed by my wife and co-workers to leave it all at home but the “what if” always looms in the back of my mind. Your experience, courage to leave it behind and the grim reality that we are just not that important in the rat race will be my inspiration to truly disconnect for my next vacation!

    Hope to see you in Atlanta in the coming weeks.  


    • Ken Ashley

      Hi Brad, 

      Thanks for your note. Its tough, but rewarding to pull down the digital connection. Hope to see you soon as well. 

      All my best, 


  2. Dave Lewand

    Welcome back, Ken! Thanks for a great reminder of what always awaits us “off the grid”.

  3. Rkadzis

    Being present and truly engaged – without technology. Great lesson for all of us to practice, Ken. I get my chance soon: 2 weeks in late August in Crested Butte, Colorado and Yellow Stone, further north.

  4. Gabriel Gonzalez

    Great article. This exact reason is why I love going on cruises, I have no choice but to turn my phone off or accept ridiculous charges, I’m def not paying $10 per minute to check my emails and I have no internet access. Glad to see I’m not the only one that struggles with this issue. Glad you enjoyed your hike with your son, I’m sure it’s a memory he will cherish for the rest of his life. 

  5. Tracy Techau

    Ken: This is a great story about the magic of the father-son connection that can happen through an adventure such as Philmont.  You have created lifetime memories for Jonathan and for you. 

  6. Jeff Shaw

    Very wise my friend.   I’m sure your son will remember those moments for the rest of his life.  Time is a precious gift that you can’t get back once it’s gone.   Well done spending it where it counts most.   God bless buddy.

  7. Bill

    Just awesome – thanks for sharing your experience, Ken!

  8. Jason Sandquist

    Since the iPhone came out 5 years ago, I don’t think it has ever been outside of a 5 foot radius of my body. Even at my wedding, the officiant threatened to put gloves on my hands at the alter…

  9. Ken Ashley

    Thanks for all the nice comments. I can confirm that a digital detox is good for you and for those important relationships around you! – Ken

  10. Ed Riggins


    Thanks for being an example for us all. I think my personal best in terms of disconnecting is 8 days in Italy.  Great story!


    • Ken Ashley

      Thats a high wire act compared to most people. They can’t disconnect for more than 8 minutes! Hope to see you soon, Ed.

  11. Paul Andrews

    Great post. I recently was out of the “CRE Pocket” for 2.5 weeks. I was stressed/worried/harried, you name it. However, I found a way to heal…Moderation. Still had the Razr Maxx & the iPad to stay connected, but found a way to enjoy time with the family and just do “CRE” when they went to bed. Not a full disconnect mind you, but I kept my sanity. There are no emails that can’t wait 12-24 hours. I will be “fully disconnected” in Mid September for 4 days. That may take some serious withdrawl. Thanks again for the great read!

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