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Sunday, September 8, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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User Friendly

My Turn To Take The Web For A Spin - In The Rockies

Andrews' trip updates Paul Andrews will attempt to report on his mountain-biking trip through the Rockies via a wireless modem to The Seattle Times Web site. Here's the URL to check in: http://www.SeattleTimes.com/ptech.

Writing about someone else doing it was so much fun I decided to try it myself. This week I'm going on a 206-mile mountain-bike ride from Telluride, Colo., to Moab, Utah, with the hope of reporting daily on The Seattle Times' World Wide Web site.

We'll be climbing 16,300 feet over six days, reaching as high as 11,000 feet elevation. Each night we will stay in a hut stocked with food, water and bedding; otherwise we're on our own. San Juan Hut Systems has a special permit from the U.S. Forest Service to operate the tour, originally set up for cross-country skiers.

This is mountain-biking paradise. Telluride has some of the best climbing and scenery in the West; Moab's moonscaped slickrock has made it the pilgrimage all mountain bikers must undertake in this lifetime. The hut tour is a challenging ride but not out of reach to someone in good physical condition.

From reporting it to doing it

There are two kinds of adventure sports: Those you do yourself, and those you experience vicariously. I had fun with the latter five weeks ago, reporting on a Mount Rainier climb that provided Web reports on rarely explored steam caves underneath the volcano cap. Now it's time to try the former, and it's no coincidence that the chief Web instigator in both cases is Traveling Software's Mark Eppley.

Eppley is a PC pioneer who helped first define, and is continuing to stretch the definition of, what remote communications are all about. From the top of Rainier his party managed to transmit digital photos and text reports. He even did a live interview with KVI radio via cellular phone.

Our hope - and I use the word advisedly - is to do text and possibly photos via a similar cellular setup. We've been told cell coverage on the huts route is good, but you never know till you get there. Like the war correspondents of old, I will try to file daily reports from "the front" - journalism as God intended.

`Micro medium' for adventurers

The Web is exploding with this kind of stuff, for two reasons: Immediacy, and a hungry audience. It may seem pure happenstance that the Web and adventure sports have exploded together. In reality a natural symbiosis is occurring.

Before the Web, the adventure (and extreme) sports culture was strictly grass roots, even underground. Club outings, newsletters and monthly magazines were about the only way enthusiasts found out about one another and kept in touch. Because the activities - whitewater rafting, rock climbing, in-line skating, paragliding, snowboarding and on down the line - were considered niche markets, they were largely ignored by mainstream media.

The Web's democratic, many-to-many publishing capability has given extreme sportsters an enhanced sense of who they are, what they represent and how many of them exist. They are the classic "micro market" futurist Alvin Toffler and others talk about, and the Web offers the perfect "micro medium" to reach them.

For example, a Seattle-based site, the Mountain Zone, http://www.mountainzone.com, has attracted more than 200,000 onliners the world over. Average age: 33. Male-to-female ratio: 57-to-43. Average income: $60,000. They are college-educated, read widely and engage in adventure sports themselves.

So when an endurance race like the Leadville 100 comes up, Mountain Zone knows it has an audience. In the past, you had to wait a couple of months for a measly three-paragraph magazine story listing the Leadville results. Mountain Zone's Web coverage was on-site, same-day, almost real-time.

One of Bellevue-based Starwave's pioneering sites is Outside Online, http://outside.starwave.com. Same thing: Nearly live coverage of adventure sports (it also did the Leadville race), supplemented by event calendars, letters to editor and equipment reports. There are even a few ads here and there. Both Outside Online and the Mountain Zone also covered the end-of-August Eco-Challenge, an annual 50-team challenge featuring rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, river rafting and sleep deprivation around Whistler, B.C.

Microsoft has jumped into the pool with its usual big splash, a new site called Mungo Park, http://mungopark.msn.com, named after the 18th-century Scottish explorer who disappeared mysteriously after discovering the Niger River in Africa. In partial commemoration the Web site's inaugural adventure is traveling Africa's deepest gorge to trace the heretofore unexplored Tekeze River.

Leading the expedition is Richard Bangs, travel author and multimedia producer who co-founded Mountain Travel-Sobek, an adventure travel firm. CNN cable TV also is covering the expedition. Although money was no object, Bangs, who led a similar venture last December in Antarctica, was unsure if the planned satellite link would work. The gorge is 7,000 feet deep, half a mile deeper than the Grand Canyon, posing a tall obstacle to wireless communications downriver.

Wireless communications make for great armchair adventuring on the Web. Their bigger contribution is in safety. There is no chance Richard Bangs will follow in Park's footsteps.

No matter how far off the beaten track I ride, I always carry my cellular phone. It's surprising how often a signal can be picked up high on a ridge. A system such as Teledesic, the Craig McCaw-Bill Gates satellite venture providing wireless communications anywhere on Earth, would provide even further security.

For now, we're stuck with guesswork. Here's hoping you Websters will be hearing from me again tomorrow.

User Friendly appears Sundays in the Personal Technology section of The Times. Check out Paul Andrews' Web home page at http://www.SeattleTimes.com/ptech/ paul/andrews.html.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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