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Working From The Wilderness People say technology enables you to run a business anywhere. But is it really true? One writer tests the theory, using technology to run his business from a remote area in the mountains.

By Todd D. Maddocks

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's 3:00 a.m., and a snapping sound electrifies the crispmountain air. There's definitely something out there. There itis again--closer. The ranger warned me about bears, but there hadbeen no signs, no recent sightings--so what's right outside mytent? Try not to breathe so heavily, stay calm, don't move.Wham! The beam of my flashlight hits the deer broadside, and nowtwo souls in the night have racing hearts. Did I really volunteerfor this?

Over time, I've found you should be careful what you wishfor, as your dreams may come true. In my case, the dream was towork out of my home. When a hostile corporate takeover put mymanagement team, and my corporate career, out on the street in1994, I took a shot at the home-office experience, and have beenworking that way ever since. Those of you who share this lifestyleknow the peace of your own quiet space without a commute, and thatworking in your gym shorts is wonderful. But when the scenery neverchanges, those walls do start to close in on you. Even the bestpanorama, no matter how glorious, can be taken for granted andsubsequently ignored.

The home office can also constrict you outside of work hours. Ilove working on my business projects and find that as soon as Ibecome bored with "relaxing" or other such nonsense, thework calls me softly through the office door. When you'repressured, you can work around the clock. Your big event of the dayis the round trip to the refrigerator. I'm a lawyer and Idesperately need a change of venue.

Taking Your Business To The Great Outdoors

July 15, 2:00 a.m.

Road trip. Putting the American Dream on wheels. That'sexactly what I did for eight weeks during the summer of '99,leaving family and clients to carry on while I experimented withwhat I hope becomes the destiny for those who take time to becomequintessentially wired. It was not my desire to embark on alife-threatening adventure; rather, the point was to prove thatbusiness can continue no matter where it's based, without aninterruption of service or income-that entrepreneurs of the newmillennium can work anywhere we please.

All you need is money. OK, that admittedly sounds like asignificant barrier, but the outpost office experience is designedto make you money only if you can take your business tools withyou, and that means, at the least, a laptop computer, printer, cellphone and a capacious set of wheels. Setting up your outpostoffice, like any other personal business endeavor, requires aplan.

You may have a boat, a farm or somewhere to stay, but my planwas to sleep in the most cost-efficient of accommodations: a tent.If you choose to stay in a hotel, you end up working a few hours aday just to pay for your bed. In fact, the costs associated withmaintaining your outpost-office lifestyle should be itemized beforeyour departure, so you know whether you can handle them. In mycase, I needed a laptop, so I bought a used one at an Internetauction. I made sure I could change the terms of my cell phonecontract after I returned, when I would be using it less. In short,the results of thorough planning kept me in the black, but thefollowing field notes denote the other intangibles that can begarnered during the outpost-office adventure.

Hit The Road, Jack

"Go west, young man" resounds in my thoughts. My eyesare blurry, but the Suburban is almost packed. Recently, my timehas not been my own, as clients have been badgering me to do theirwork before I go. I've been unable to convince them that thisjourney is not a vacation. The preparation for departure has beengoing on for two months, and now I hardly have time to sleep beforeI commence the first leg-15 hours to Durango, Colorado.

I had no idea how much preparation would be required. It'sthe little things that make you crazy. For example, just four daysago, I had to source a signature stamp so my partner could helpwith banking at the home office, and I've spent days loadingimportant data to the laptop. I've learned how to seize controlof my home computer via the telephone so I can access any data Ineed. Despite the exhaustion, my heart is pounding withanticipation. I feel very alive.

Five thousand miles of driving in eight weeks can open newvistas and, when you spend your time in the mountainous West, thescenery is glorious. For me, freedom is traveling west on theloneliest highway in the United States-Highway 55 across Nevada--orreviewing an otherwise lengthy and tedious lease in the shade of apool umbrella. The everyday nature of my work now forms a baseline,a comfort factor that generates cash flow while my senses luxuriatein the newness of my environment. I look forward to working, justso I can sit still.

Off To A Rocky Start

August 5

One thing that's certain about taking the office on the roadis you can't make any money grocery shopping, cutting firewoodor traveling. It's funny how many conveniences we take forgranted. This is tough. Time is losing all meaning and I'mstarting to wonder if this is truly possible. My cell phonecan't keep a charge long enough to sustain drawn-out telephonenegotiations, which is what business attorneys tend to do. If Ican't communicate freely, I'm out of business. Youdefinitely need back-up cell-phone batteries if the outpost officeis in your plans.

Today, I created a number of important documents I want to sharewith my clients, but I can't get the cellular modem tocooperate. Companies who sell computer and communication gadgetsare constantly capturing our imagination with futuristic portrayalsof beautiful, wired individuals lounging on a beach whileeffortlessly enjoying digital telephony. Well, here I am, guys, andI can't get this bloody gear to work. I've called customerservice and the dealer, and I've clicked on "Help" inthe software. Hours later, notwithstanding a dozen differentattempts, I still can't fax or e-mail, so I have to go intotown to find a phone line to tap into. It's too late now--allthe stores are closed. Time to scrounge some firewood while myclients' patience is tested.

Appreciating The Little Things

August 15, 8:05 p.m.

The fast approaching twilight has cast a warm glow on mylakeside camp in the high country of Idaho. This is a good night. Awarm shower provided by the state is only a few steps away. Melodicstrains of Vivaldi drift from my CD player, mixing perfectly withmy cocktail. This is truly heaven on earth, and my heart soars asall the trouble in getting here boils down to this moment. Whenyour heart is pure and you take the opportunity to let time lickyou in the face, creativity flows like honey. The fires inadjoining camps flicker through the Ponderosa pines. It'sSunday and I worked at moneymaking endeavors from sunrise until 2o'clock. Life is in perfect balance.

We have ignition. When you're performing e-commerce in theforest, electricity is your most precious commodity, and I'vefinally been able to put together my own solar system for a littlemore than $250. I'm amazed at how bright a 7.5 watt bulb is inthe black void that is night. I have to constantly remind myselfthat I'm not on vacation. This is particularly true in themornings when I take a sunrise stroll with a steaming mug of hotFrench Roast down to the sandy shores of crystal clear PayetteLake. Of course, my clients also do a great job of reminding methat I'm still working. You never know when they'll call,so if you want to take a walk, it's a good idea to have a daypack full of active files. A good sitting rock along a path canmake a great office, if you're prepared.

Animal Encounter

August 24

My office is now in a screenhouse designed to exclude all thecritters that would choose me as a meal. However, I did have avisitor in my office today who did little to help my productivity.Naturally, I was conducting a conference call at the time with fourlawyers who were unaware of my forest address. We were discussingsome complex documents I needed to refer to while a squirrel thatworked his way under my screenhouse wall refused to return the sameway. Instead, being predisposed to look up for safety, my crazyfriend decided to climb his way to freedom and began clinging tothe mesh and running around the walls.

The netting apparently horrified this little gymnast, as he thenshot for the slick roof and fell into my file box. Meanwhile, Igrabbed the documents and tried to stay away from his repeated highdives. Having a squirrel in my shirt was going to be hard toexplain to the negotiators, who were very serious in making theirpoints heard. The screeching and scolding was almost drowning outthe noise from the squirrel, but I feared the distinguishedgentlemen would soon guess my predicament. Fortunately, theelectricity generated by the situation did nothing for mycell-phone battery, which ran out of juice. Dropped call. At leasteveryone can understand that, but the loss of continuity isfrustrating for all concerned.

Summing Up

September 1

When you're backpacking, every ounce counts and, as I stoodnext to my 56-pound pack with my cell phone in hand, a dilemma wasborn. Initially, my goal was to hike to a mountain summit at leastonce a day to prove that business can be accomplished nearlyanywhere. I knew I had a maximum of two hours of talk time and thenthe phone might as well be a boat anchor. The concerns of myclients were covered, so I made a weighty business decision andlocked the phone in the car. Not more than four paces away, itbegan to ring. Too late--my office is closed.

How many times have you dropped out of the monotony of yourdaily existence to gain an aerial view of your life? For me, theoutpost office provided a glorious bond with the things I love. Astechnology continues to connect us, I believe society will morph.Working and living in a fresh environment clarifies the mind andcreates the perfect opportunity to wonder what could be. So I spentmy last day perched on a big rock nestled on the shores of analpine lake while I dreamt and set my sights on an outpostadventure for the next century. Perhaps one day our paths willcross.

Tactical Tips

Here are a few tips to consider when planning your ownoutpost-office adventure.

  • Always be accessible during business hours--save those longdrives in areas without cellular service for the evenings.
  • Create a portable post office with pre-addressed, stampedenvelopes to your likely correspondents.
  • Keep a day pack full of current projects you can take with youon walks.
  • Take advantage of electrical connections whenever possible; getused to saying, "Hey, stranger, do you mind if I plug in mycell phone for a while?" Pack a spare battery for the computerand the phone.
  • Plan on treating yourself to strategically planned hotel stayswhen a good shower and meal are in order.
  • Your first outpost-office attempt should probably not last morethan a month.
  • Create a portable desk and a portable kitchen in separate,sealable, watertight cases.
  • Don't change locations more than once a week.
  • Plan the places where you can send and receive mail; make sureyou send this information to your pertinent business contacts.
  • Share your tales of adventure with your customers. It livenstheir day and creates an understanding of your struggles.
  • Don't forget the bug spray, a folding table and a chairwith armrests.
  • Make sure someone at home will check your mail.
  • Install a remote-control software package such as PC Anywhereon your main computer system.
  • Be flexible and stay mentally prepared to work at any givenmoment.
  • Learn how to access and forward faxes from your PC.
  • Change your cell-phone plan so you have one rate for alllong-distance calls, and increase the base amount of talk time. Athousand minutes a month served me pretty well.
  • Begin operating out of your outpost-office setup before youleave the house, so you can debug. Practice using all yourcommunications gear--cellular, modem, etc.--before you leave.

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