“Using friend as a verb is a recent phenomenon, thanks to Facebook. In a verb world, friending is a simple click taking only seconds to bridge a connection. In a noun world, being a friend requires a real investment of time.”


Facebook friends, are they really our friends?

Has social media redefined our sense of values about friendship?

Could a friendship simply be “knowing someone” or “having them on your Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn?”

What is the difference between an online friendship as opposed to a face to face friendship?

Has Facebook become a melting pot of strangers and online acquaintances who have yet to meet in the flesh?

Separate of established friends, family, and co-workers, how many friendships have you formed online through community interest groups?

What was the commonality required in order for you to click on a stranger’s name to invite a friendship?

Would political or religious differences lead you to ending a Facebook friendship?

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To unfriend someone on Facebook is rather common, no explanations or reasons are needed. With a simple click, you can virtually disappear from someone’s life.

Would you end a valued friendship this way in the real world?

Has social media crippled our communication skills?

Do we hide behind the keyboard instead of having face to face conversations?

Have we become emotionally braver via text, yet cowardice in limbic conversations?


Can a form of emotional intimacy be established online?

Could this online vulnerability transform a virtual friendship into a face to face friendship?

Why do some of us feel safer disclosing intimate personal details via a keyboard as opposed to a sit down with a cup of coffee?

Are we more willing to share our world from the safety of our laptop?


These are some of the questions that have floated around in my head since moving to Vermilion Cliffs nine months ago. Has Facebook been more a friend or foe since living remotely?

Personally, I feel Facebook has helped me maintain long-term friendships, in addition to creating and establishing new relationships. My internet communications have become so intimate that I now feel it’s possible to cultivate authentic relationships online. I often wonder how many of us get the chance to meet some of our online confidants and actually spend quality time with them. In this regard, I consider myself extremely fortunate, as I was able to meet some of my online friends this year. Not only did meeting them in person make our relationship stronger, it reinforced what connected us in the first place, authenticity!


Ranger Karen drove 300 miles out of her way to come by and say “HI!”. Her spontaneity and eagerness to meet in person made my day, month and year. Karen was a blog follower and a Facebook friend, who I met through the full timer’s RV community.


Sethi is a Bay Area native, who I met through the John Muir Trail Facebook community. Sometimes our phone service out here is unreliable, and even though she could not reach me via phone she still came out to see me.

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Fortunately, I was home and spent the day together hiking and bonding in the mud.


Renee is a fellow nomad I met through Facebook travel communities. I think mainstream society would be surprised to learn that there are many women traveling solo, deciding not to wait for the ultimate travel partner, instead they are living in the now.


Jackie is yet another Facebook friend I met through the full timers RV community. When I was researching alternative ways of living, she offered some very helpful advice regarding potential LGBT job discrimination.


I was curious to learn more about Jackie’s life on the road and asked if she would be willing to sit down for an interview. Without hesitation, she said “Yes” and then later that evening we spent two hours filming. Look for a blog about her story in 2015. In the meantime here is part of her story.


According to recent studies by the Pew Research Center, Facebook users average about 338 friends each. It makes one wonder if it’s possible to sustain friendships with over 300 people at one time?

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar believes our brains aren’t big enough to hold all the information necessary to maintain relationships with hundreds of people. In 1993, Dunbar conducted research to determine the cognitive limits of a person’s effective real-world social network, where individuals know who each person in that network is and how each relates to every other person. Although his research was based primarily on animal and primate interactions, Dunbar’s analysis and theories have since been applied in psychological and sociological circles and have given rise to “Dunbar’s number.” That limit, it seems, is about 150 people including your favorite waitress, your boss, co-workers, people you attend church and social functions with, classmates, and so on. But that’s just the limit of people you can maintain stable relationships with, much less friendship.

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It’s estimated that the average American spends 37 minutes on social media each day. That’s a full day each month spent cultivating relationships in front of a screen. Cumulatively, Americans spend 115 billion minutes each month on Facebook.

Are we sacrificing time that could otherwise be invested in real-time face to face friendships?

What if one lives remotely and face to face time is not an option?

Is it possible that the larger your “network” the shallower your connections become?

How would you measure the depth in your network connections?

By immersing ourselves in social media, are we ultimately choosing quantity over quality in our friendships?

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A college friend of mine confessed that having lots of friends and dozens of “likes” on her Facebook status gave her an ego boost. I asked which posting seemed to generate the most traffic. Her top three topics you may wonder; updates about her dog, complaints about her co-workers, and pictures of her homemade desserts. I have noticed my dog Shadow has quite a following and fan base on my Facebook page.


Photographs from my adventures and backpacking trips also tend to generate a lot of attention, in addition to my random commentary on human behavior.


It has been suggested when someone’s Facebook status highlights a personal trauma or an oppressive circumstance, Facebook friends offer minimal virtual support. In my experience, I have seen a community of caring, compassionate, supportive friends that have rallied around a Facebook friend in need. At the same time, I have also seen Facebook pages go silent when someone struggling with their mental health has cried out for help. Perhaps in some ways Facebook does emulate the real world, at times uncomfortable situations render us silent and visibly invisible.

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For me, Facebook offers three types of connection: connection, reconnection, and disconnection. Facebook has afforded me connections with like-minded individuals who might otherwise be strangers. Facebook has reconnected me with old high school friends and most recently my childhood best friend.

With that said, I feel the disconnection lies in the reality we spend more time commenting on social gossip and educating ourselves less about social issues and political news. Have we become less engaged politically and socially since Facebook? Has Facebook empowered our knowledge and increased our awareness, or has it served merely as a distraction from reality?

In 2014, my reality was living remotely. I learned you cannot hide in an outpost town, it’s simply easier to live as an open book. I chose to live the same way on Facebook, naked if you will. Perhaps by stripping down socially it has made me more open to experiences with strangers, and undoubtedly more willing to say YES to the unknown.


“We’re all strangers connected by what we reveal, what we share, what we take away, and our stories”


A couple from New Mexico sat down at Lees Ferry Lodge to have lunch. As I handed them menus, I asked them in my mixed Australian/ American accent, “So what brings you to this neck of the woods?” Smiling, the women replied, “The vastness of space”. “Wide open spaces tend to make people less guarded,” I replied. “Perhaps the desert permits a vulnerability that city landscapes tend to imprison”.


The husband nodded in agreement, as his wife enquired about my experiences with people visiting the lodge in Vermilion Cliffs. I told them it seems people who venture out this way seem to be more willing to share their life, thoughts, and dreams. Spend five minutes with a patron and you will learn more about their life than they would ever share in the city.

As I took the couple’s order, the husband asked where I was from. “Australia,” was my reply. It seems my accent tends to be an icebreaker for both American and foreign tourists. For American’s, they insist I sound like Crocodile Dundee, while Aussies are somewhat horrified as to how American I sound. The Brits are relieved to find out I’m Australian, because they know I will bring them milk for their tea and coffee, as opposed to America’s coffee whitener, half n half. Europeans are somewhat relieved as they know I will understand when they share a meal, as they find American portion sizes to be rather gluttonous.

During their lunch, the wife who I will refer to as Dr. C, told me she studied Tibetan Buddhism, which led her to traveling and working in remote areas of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. I told her about my experiences in Northern Thailand, in addition to studying Shinto Buddhism, while living in Japan.

As I prepared their bill, Dr. C signaled for me to come to her side of the table. With a very sincere, yet serious face, she reached for my hand and said, “Leigh, you are someone who travels to remote areas, you would be the perfect person to scatter my ashes after my passing”.

Surprised by her request, yet feeling very honored, my answer without a moment’s hesitation was “YES”. Dr. C’s husband looked me square in the face and told me his wife was very serious about her request.

In a gentle tone, I kindly asked his wife to leave her chair and approach the counter. I wanted to show both her and her husband I was serious about keeping my word and carrying part of her ashes with me throughout my travels. It was at this point, I got my co-worker to grab my camera and capture my promise in action.


“By carrying you in the living, I honor my commitment to carry you in death” were my promissory words to Dr. C ,as we began our piggy back ride up and down the bar.


Terrified I would drop her, her husband watched on until he realized I could carry his wife comfortably around the bar.


While many of us may fear death, there are some people like Dr. C, ensuring a death that involves frequent flyers miles and hiking boots. I have always hoped I would pass on a mountain. It seems more serene than a hospital bed or dying of a terminal disease in a nursing home.

For me, perhaps the idea of being henpecked by buzzards on a mountain ridge seems more natural than lying on a cold tray at a mortuary, and being injected with formaldehyde. Yes, cremation is an option; however, being turned into human powder remains just as unappealing.

As Dr. C and her husband left for New Mexico, my co-worker was quick to comment, “Leigh, now that was destiny”. If destiny is a hidden power believed to control what will happen in the future, what do we call experiences and events that happen in real-time, the now?

Was Dr. C meant to play a role in my destiny, or could it be that I am predestined to play a role in hers? I feel we are all destined to play a role in each other’s lives. Life really is one big undirected movie, and you just never know who will play the lead and supporting roles in your life. In the meantime, piggyback rides now have a whole new meaning for me.