| Some on-line nomads do not set out with a firm destination in mind, and just go with the flow, the laptop, and the phone toward their Shangri-la. "Free Loop" is a website maintained by two such travelers. Jean-Paul Jacquet and Alyce Santoro Jacquet set out on their journey last May, and have been wandering the world in a 1963 Volkswagen microbus they painted and decorated. The pair hope to bring their art to places that are not often exposed to painting. The married couple has lived in France, Italy, Nigeria, and most recently, Rhode Island. He is a sculptor and painter, she a marine biologist and scientific illustrator who has also dabbled in experimental music. "Every time we get out of the bus, people come up and ask what year we're stuck in," says Santoro, "and then go on to tell us about the Volkswagen they used to have. It's delightful."Robert knows something about the loneliness of the long-distance runner. He calls himself "the running man," on the Internet. He, too, is hoping to circumnavigate the globe - running - and he is now writing to his admirers in South Africa, asking them not to be insulted if he fails to write back, because he isn't always able to find an AC line for his computer in every jungle or nature reserve, sometimes causing a long turnaround in his responses to the endless e-mails he receives. And then there's Fabrice Gropaiz of France, traveling the globe on rollerblades. He left San Francisco in March of 1996, and has crossed the United States, Europe, Russia, Mongolia, China and Australia. You only need to hook up to his website, of course, to find out where he is now.
Not all hi-tech Kerouacs are Americans. Enrico Corbero, who is from Barcelona, studied business administration and has worked at a real estate management firm as well as a bank. His love of computers and the Internet sowed the seeds of an idea to set out on that long road of discovery, but with lots of virtual partners. "Before all of this, I constructed a site that allowed people to travel around Barcelona virtually," says Corbero. "It was very successful, so when I left for China last February, it was obvious that I'd be documenting my experiences on the net, and that there would be a lot of people who would want to read about it. The natural next step was to open a site, buy a tour book for Europe, and get out on the road."Corbero brings along all the computer and digital equipment he needs, usually taking a pit stop in Barcelona every month or two so he can soup up the website and edit the updates he has dispatched from the road into virtual multimedia journeys. He has completed a comprehensive tour of Spain and Portugal and is now on his way to Italy; he will continue from there to the Middle East, and then as far as Oceania. "The only problem is the weather," he declares. "It was so hot in Andalucia that I thought my computer would stop working, but it made it."
Dave Carlotzky's trek started in a puddle. One year ago, he was heading home from what he describes as "this lousy job I had in a giant warehouse," and stopped in at a gas station for a cup of coffee. "I got out of the car, and there in the puddle in front of me was $751. I was in shock. I gave the money to the police, and they held onto it for a few months, but when no one came to claim it, I got it back. I put the money on the side so that I could quietly decide what to do with it. I wanted something exciting, so I thought of taking a motorcycle trip. That's what I'm doing now - seeing how far I can get on $751."
The on-line journal that is tracking Carlotzky's travels is his way of keeping in touch with friends and family. "Whenever I update the site, everyone gets regards from me at the same time," he says, "and it also gives me an excuse to write about my experiences. It forces me to reflect on what's going on around me, making this trip a lot more pleasurable than other trips. Though I didn't intend it, a lot of strangers found their way to the site and wrote to me to say how much they enjoy it, which gave me a lot of satisfaction. Actually, sometimes I feel I'm traveling for other people who can't take a vacation because they didn't happen to find money in a puddle."
Carlotzky is crossing America with a very old laptop computer, and modems in wherever he stops. "I maintain the site on my own, but three months ago I didn't even have a computer, didn't know what you do with it, didn't know computer language. To my great surprise, it was very easy to learn." He finds practical advantages to communicating with strangers at the other end of cyberspace. "People know where I am and write what sort of attractions I shouldn't pass up along the way, update me on which roads are open and which are snowed in, and send me information I would have no chance of finding on my own. I've been on the road for three months now, and I'm lonely sometimes, so the fact that strangers are constantly interested in what I'm doing helps me to keep on going. I'll be sitting somewhere in the middle of the desert, under the stars, reading dozens of letters from people all over the world. It's phenomenal."
Ned Koontz has been through China on a bicycle, shlepping a computer, digital camera, modem and all the peripherals needed to beam up to the Net from the middle of an endless rice field. He plays his real-time game of show-and-tell in front of a crowd that lives thousand of miles, and a civilization or two away. As you read this, Koontz is in Rollins, Wyoming, biking through Grand Teton National Park. As for where he'll be after that, he's still not sure: Should he head north toward Canada, or coast down into Idaho and the Pacific coast? Or should he fly somewhere warmer, so he can keep on riding through the winter?
Koontz has an especially polished-looking website, and even a distribution list that lets visitors join a mailing list to receive real-time updates on his road-time adventures. He has cycled on five continents, and traversed most of the United States, including a 60-kilometer ride through Nevada's Death Valley - which he describes as a rare experience of seclusion under the light of a full moon. Koontz doesn't take a single step, or clip into his pedal, without describing it on his website, including high-resolution photographs that take a long time to download. "I update the site every three or four days," he says. "At the end of a long, tiring day of physical exertion I don't always have the strength to sit down and write. Tonight, for instance, I'm in a cheap hotel instead of the tent I usually sleep in, so I have a chance to plug into a phone line. Most of the mail I get is from people interested in learning how to live like a nomad, or how to plan a trip like mine. I'm in contact with other nomads I met through e-mail, and I of course exchange messages with friends and family.
"My inspiration came from other on-line journals," Koontz says. "I discovered journals like this at exactly that point when I was uncertain about what to do, and convinced myself that I had to quit my job and travel, and only afterward sit down and think what I really wanted to do with my life. I imagined that other people would be happy to read about what I was going through, but now, because I know that thousands of people are reading what I write, I find myself censoring parts of it. After all, things happen to me that I don't want to let the whole world in on."