Eslinger and Feld are long-distance commuters, rural motorists who'd rather drive than switch jobs or move.

Modern technology, fuel-efficient cars and the decline of small-town economies have encourage commuters to endure daily commutes of 140 miles or more between home and work. Some who drive even longer distances rent cheap one-room apartments near their jobs during the work week and go home weekends.

The commuting requires a sharp eye for deer and the speedometer, a sound memory for bumps and curves, and a steady hand for two-lane roads sometimes slick with ice or snow.

"In the winter I hate it," said Ronnie Rosenberg, a former New Yorker who commutes three to five days a week from home in Crookston, Minn., to her law office in Fargo, N.D., 70 miles away.

"I'm terrified. I hate being out there when it's windy and the roads are like glass and the highway patrol is trying to decide whether to close Hwy. 75 and I'm about the last car they're going to let through."

But she endures the trip, preferring to live in Crookston because of its proximity to a group of friends who are peace activists. Besides, "I like the prairie. I've fallen in love with it. I'm here to stay.

"In good weather, from my house to my office is one hour 25 minutes." That's faster than the one hour and 45 minutes it took her in the 1970s to drive 62 miles to her job in New York City.

"I don't worry about people hitting me as much here," she said. "I certainly don't worry about them robbing my car."

But bad weather creates "a different kind of fear" and prompts her to take certain precautions.

"I can almost live in my car for a week the way it's equipped," said Ms. Rosenberg. "I've got reading materials, sleeping bags, several candles, plastic bags, cereal and raisins, nuts, candy and dried food."

But for some commuters, the long distances between home and work are more a function of economic necessity than a desire to pursue a rural lifestyle.

Bob Anderson drives 170 miles roundtrip every day between home in Thief River Falls and work in Warroad, Minn. Anderson's wage of $8.44 an hour gives him more income than he can earn closer to home.

"You can't tell what the roads are going to be like in the winter," Anderson said. "It might start out nice and sunny in Warroad and then you hit a storm and it's snowing so hard you don't know if you'll get home or not."

Others tired of long commutes compromise: They live in a small apartment near work during the week, and hit the road every Friday night for home.

For several months, Stuart Hamilton drove 176 miles daily between his home in Williams, Minn., and his job as an electrical apprentice in International Falls. Then he found a studio apartment in International Falls for $165 a month.

"The money I save on gas pays for rent," he said.

But he must spend Monday through Thursday nights away from his wife and five children; he plans to move the family into a home in International Falls in June.

"I miss having them around," said Hamilton, who passes nights during the week working jigsaw puzzles, reading books and using his personal computer. But he accepts the isolation as the trade-off for earning more money than he could make near Williams.

Feld, his wife, Patty, and their two children, moved to northern Minnesota nearly two years ago to fulfill a dream of living along the wild Big Fork River. Technology made the move easier for Feld, a law professor at the University of Minnesota; he uses a computer and modem to do legal research at home by telephone. And tape cassettes make the 225-mile trip easier. He plans to learn Spanish during future drives.

"It's not drudgery," he said. "There's a lot of wildlife. When I'm driving in the evening or early morning I always have to keep my eyes sharp for deer along the side of the road. You learn to look for light reflected off their eyes.

"Northern Minnesota is astoundingly beautiful. Driving back and forth between the cities and northern Minnesota in the spring and fall, you can watch the seasons unfold as you drive. In the fall, I had the best of leaf-changing seasons spaced over three-week periods in different sections of the state."