2016 Travel Plans

On February 10, 2016 · 6 Comments

A new year dawned on Twelve Mile Circle as I turned my eye towards another batch of travel adventures. Plans began to fall into place. They won’t approach the stratospheric heights of a very ambitious 2015 travel season although they’ll still be substantive from my perspective. As always, I like to post my general plans ahead of time to solicit recommendation from the 12MC audience. I’ve visited many places I never would have known about otherwise without reader suggestions. I’ve even been lucky enough to meet some of you in person when we’ve crossed paths along our separate trails. Feel free take a few moments to examine these proposed routes and offer any suggested geo-oddities, roadside attractions, dubious historical landmarks, obscure parks, or other weirdness I shouldn’t miss.

Finish Virginia

I’ve wanted to visit every county and county-equivalent in my home state of Virginia for the longest time. It didn’t help that Virginia included 95 counties and 38 independent cities necessary to complete the quest, a total of 133 separate geographic entities. Each and every border had to be crossed. Those independent cities were the worst, with many of them scattered haphazardly around the Commonwealth in tiny out-of-the-way enclaves. I’ve chipped away at the total with determination over the last three or four years, and I finally came within striking distance after my drive back from western North Carolina last summer. I managed to knocked the total down to five remaining counties: Bath, Buchanan, Craig, Dickenson, and Highland. Those residual counties were all set deep within the rugged Appalachian spine bordering West Virginia and Kentucky, far away from any easy access. I will never hit them randomly; they will need to be tracked and hunted.

That will happen in mid-March if my plan unfolds as intended. I will drive to Charleston, West Virginia, then head down into Hatfield & McCoy country to capture several West Virginia and Kentucky counties, and finally loop back into Virginia to pick-up the remaining five. This one is actually the most uncertain plan at the moment. Much of the path involves minor roads through mountains and hollows. It’s possible that freezing rain or drifting snows could accumulate here during that period. I’ll have to watch the weather closely and maybe cancel the trip at the last minute. The plan itself is pretty solid and I can always shift it to a better time of year if necessary.

However, I want to get this done. Those five remaining counties are starting to bother me.

New England

What would I do without Mainly Marathons? Their back-to-back races in multiple states have entertained me for years. I’m a driver and a cheerleader for a specific runner, and in turn I get a valid excuse to poke into lightly traveled corners of the United States. So far we’ve completed the full set of multi-day Dust Bowl, Riverboat and Center of the Nation races. We will embark on the New England Series in May, covering those six states plus New York thrown in for good measure: seven races in seven states in seven days. It kind of reminded me of 12MC’s Easiest New England article except that it will take seven days. Oh, and it requires seven races.

I’ve never heard of any of the towns where races have been scheduled. That makes them perfect.

  • Day 1 (May 15): Sanford, Maine
  • Day 2 (May 16): Greenfield, New Hampshire
  • Day 3 (May 17): Springfield, Vermont
  • Day 4 (May 18): Northfield, Massachusetts
  • Day 5 (May 19): Coventry, Rhode Island
  • Day 6 (May 20): Simsbury, Connecticut
  • Day 7 (May 21): New Paltz, New York

I’ve been persuaded to run the 5K each day, which is a far cry from the efforts of most participants who will be completing either a half-marathon, a full marathon, or a 50K ultra marathon each day. My seven-day mileage will total less than most participants’ single day efforts! Are there any Twelve Mile Circle readers who would like to join me for a day? If I’m capable of running a 5K — and I use that term loosely because I plod along pretty casually — then certainly many other people can as well. It’s a nice supportive community of runners regardless of the distance one chooses to cover. I’ve really come to enjoy this group.

My county counting map of New England looks pretty solid although I can still use this trip to fill-in a few doughnut holes. That will leave plenty of time for other roadside diversions because the distance between towns isn’t much. Jerimoth Hill comes to mind.


Lake Michigan Sand Dune
Sleeping Bear Dunes; my own photo

Each year I select a U.S. state for special attention. This time it will be Michigan, using Grand Rapids as our base. Grand Rapids might sound like an unusual choice to many in the 12MC audience. Those of you who follow my brewery adventures or who follow the photos on the 12MC Twitter account will understand the significance. In previous years I selected Oregon (Bend) and North Carolina (Asheville) for similar reasons. Founders Brewing put Grand Rapids on the map and countless amazing breweries followed suit. Do any of the beer geeks in the audience have any "can’t miss" recommendations besides the obvious?

This trip will take place in July so I haven’t thought about it much. I do want to get back up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore again. We’ll probably have to visit Holland, Michigan too, because it’s cheesy and touristy. I’ll just have to see how research unfolds over the coming months. It’s still a little hard to concentrate on summer when there’s snow on the ground.

On February 10, 2016 · 6 Comments


On February 7, 2016 · 1 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle decided to stick with the aqueduct theme once again after the recent discussion of England’s Barton Swing Aqueduct. There were other structures, equally fascinating in their own distinct ways. Some were large, some were unusual, and some offered elements of both. Many of those innovative structures seemed to concentrate in western Europe, an obvious leader in navigable inland waterways.

Longest Navigable Aqueduct

Magdeburg Water Bridge seen from a kite
Magdeburg Water Bridge seen from a kite by Pierre Lesage on Flickr (cc)

Aqueducts designed simply to move water were interesting by themselves, however I was considerably more fascinating by those designed to carry boat traffic above the surrounding terrain, akin to a bridge for boats for a lack of better words. For more than a century the title of longest navigable aqueduct had been held by the Briare aqueduct of the Canal latéral à la Loire, the canal over the Loire River in France (map). It was a magnificent masonry structure with a steel trough stretching 662 metres (0.4 miles). Then came Germany’s Kanalbrücke Magdeburg, or Magdeburg Water Bridge in 2003 (map), considerably longer at 918 metres (0.6 miles) albeit more utilitarian than beautiful.

Upon it’s opening, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle proclaimed,

In what’s being hailed as an engineering masterpiece, two important German shipping canals have been joined by a giant kilometer-long concrete bathtub… The water bridge will enable river barges to avoid a lengthy and sometimes unreliable passage along the Elbe. Shipping can often come to a halt on the stretch if the river’s water mark falls to unacceptably low levels.

The Magdeburg Water Bridge provided a vital direct connection between two separate canals on either side of the River Elbe, the Mittellandkanal and the Elbe-Havel, essentially connecting eastern and western Germany directly by water as well as to nations beyond its borders from Poland to France and the Benelux region. The possibility had been envisioned at the turn of the last century when construction first began. Two World Wars and the politics of a protracted Cold War completely halted the dream. German reunification provided an impetus to renew and complete this effort, nearly a century after initial construction first began. Now it’s a reality.

Largest Lock

Zandvlietsluis & Berendrechtsluis; Antwerp, Belgium

Belgium’s Port of Antwerp locked-up (pun alert) the title for the world’s largest canal lock. It handled 200 million tonnes of cargo in 2015, enough to make Antwerp one of the Top 20 busiest ports in the world, and it "aims to keep growing," Locks were necessary to protect the port from strong tidal actions pushing in and out along the Scheldt River. The locks kept water levels constant on the port side of the structures. Oceangoing cargo container ships kept growing larger so the locks had to follow suit in a continual game of catch-up. They became truly mammoth.

Antwerp first claimed the largest lock title with the construction of the Zandvlietsluis, or Zandvliet Lock, in 1967. That remained sufficient for a solid three decades until a new class of larger ships threatened to diminish the port’s usefulness. The port authority responded by opening a new lock parallel to the Zandvlietsluis in 1989, the Berendrechtsluis, or Berendrecht Lock. It was great enough to accommodate Post Panamax container ships (Panamax being an official set of dimensions for the largest ships that can navigate the Panama Canal). The Berendrecht Lock, currently the largest lock in the world, is 68 metres (223 ft) wide, about 11 metres (36 ft) wider than the Zandvliet Lock.

Right on schedule, however, container ships grew once again to an even larger behemoth class called New Panamax. Elsewhere in the Port of Antwerp, engineers are building the Deurganckdoksluis, or the Deurganckdok Lock. It will encompass the same length and width as Berendrecht, and in addition it will be four metres deeper to accommodate the extra draft of New Panamax ships. The Deurganckdok Lock was undergoing testing at the time I posted this article and was expected to open in April 2016.

The Naviduct

Obviously Twelve Mile Circle fixated on superlatives like the world’s longest navigable aqueduct and the world’s largest lock, although the real reason for this article centered on a combination of the two: the worlds longest/largest aqueduct with a built-in lock. Actually there was but a single example of such an unusual structure currently, the Netherlands’ Naviduct. The concept was so new that the term stood on its own. THE Naviduct.

Naviduct on Houtribdijk

The whole situation seemed odd. The Netherlands was renowned for land reclamation and that figured indirectly into the creation of the Naviduct. The nation planned to drain a 410 km2 (158 mi2) polder — about the size of the Caribbean island of Barbados — to be called Markerwaard. It went so far as to create a 27 km (17 mi) dike between Enkhuizen and Lelystad that it completed in 1975 and called the Houtribdijk, resulting in two large lakes, Markermeer and IJsselmeer. However the project stalled and the Netherlands abandoned its plan altogether a couple of decades later. Nonetheless the nation still had a long dike which, by that time, carried the new N302 Motorway that separated two large lakes. Authorities also built a lock between the two lakes, a necessary step because prevailing winds affected the lakes differently even though they were at the same elevation. However ships and cars couldn’t cross the point at the same time. It created a transportation mess.

Thus, Dutch officials faces simultaneous dilemmas of their own creation: a problematic connection between two bodies of water; and a transportation bottleneck impacting maritime and automotive traffic. They responded by designing an aqueduct with a lock built within it, the Naviduct. Motorway traffic flowed below the aqueduct while ships sailed across it. I don’t know why they didn’t simply build either a tunnel or a bridge for the motorway. Regardless, their preferred solution was infinitely more interesting and it went into service in 2003. The structure remains the only Naviduct for the time being although it has been considered as a possible solution for other locations in the Netherlands. It would be hard to imagine its usefulness elsewhere since few other places face the same set of extreme geographic challenges. We should simply enjoy its existence.

On February 7, 2016 · 1 Comments

Barton Swinging

On February 3, 2016 · 0 Comments - won't you be the first?

England underwent an extensive Canal Age in the mid Eighteenth Century, lasting for longer than a century. Waterways provided a cheaper means to move goods across a nation, helping to spark the country’s rapid transformation during the Industrial Revolution. Canals offered remarkable improvements over rutted, muddy overland routes and provided the best transportation alternative in the decades before the invention of railroads.

Bridgewater Canal

Cottage beside Bridgewater Canal, Lymm, Cheshire
Cottage beside Bridgewater Canal, Lymm, Cheshire by Andrew Green via Flickr (cc)

The Bridgewater Canal was frequently cited as the blueprint for a network that quickly evolved across the nation after it opened in 1761. Its builder and owner, Francis Egerton the third Duke of Bridgewater, envisioned a canal as a better way to move coal from his mines at Worsley to nearby towns. Coal from his mines heated homes and fueled industrial expansion. Egerton’s design hadn’t been tried in England before; his was the first canal that didn’t following an existing waterway. He kept his design simple. The canal followed natural topography so it didn’t require locks anywhere along its 65 kilometre (39 mile) path from Leigh to Runcorn; near Liverpool and Manchester. It was a narrow canal designed for small slender boats and it served its purpose well enough to inspire numerable imitators.

Manchester Ship Canal

A ship in the Ship Canal, Manchester
A ship in the Ship Canal, Manchester by Neil Howard on Flickr (cc)

The Manchester Ship Canal, by contrast, was one of the last canals built and it didn’t arrive on the scene until the 1880’s. It traced the original paths of the rivers Mersey and Irwell, in a general manner. Industrialists in Manchester felt that they were at a disadvantage because of the city’s inland location inaccessible to oceangoing vessels. Manchester businesses paid dearly for railroad access to the docks at Liverpool. The city lobbied for relief and Parliament approved construction despite Liverpool’s strong objections. Construction required an immense effort with extensive dredging, numerous locks, and high overhead bridges to accommodate the passage of large cargo ships. These improvements allowed merchant vessels to sail all the way into Manchester and the city became an important seaport.

Where the Canals Crossed

That was all fascinating although the stories of two specific two canals didn’t differ materially from many of the dozens of other English canals. However the two canals crossed physical paths and that was where things got interesting. Engineers had to find a unique solution to accommodate the situation. The Bridgewater Canal, being the older structure, crossed above the River Irwell on an historic stone arched aqueduct at the town of Barton-on-Irwell. Oceangoing ships on the new Manchester Canal, following the path of the River Irwell, would never be able to fit beneath the aqueduct. It had to be demolished. In its place rose a marvelous manifestation of Victorian design, a swing aqueduct.

The Barton Swing Aqueduct became the first and possibly the only structure of its type anywhere in the world. It was designed to pivot 90 degrees whenever large ships traveling along the Manchester Canal approached it, allowing them to pass without obstruction. Engineers created an artificial island at the center of the canal that served as the pivot point. A control tower built on the island contained the necessary machinery to operate the swing. Some of process involved manual labor as evidenced by the YouTube video. One can see a worker operating a hand crank to move the watergate at the end of the aqueduct. The swing aqueduct is still in operation serving its original purpose, an engineering marvel.

Barton Swing Aqueduct and Bridge, Manchester, UK

I also appreciated how the feature appeared in online maps. I’d never seen a cartographic representation of a canal crossing above another canal before.

Manchester Ship Canal
Manchester Ship Canal by Phil Beard on Flickr (cc)

In addition there was a road that crossed the Manchester Canal near the same point. It also required a swinging mechanism, and was called the Barton Road Swing Bridge. The same concrete island and control tower pivoted the road bridge at the same time it pivoted the aqueduct.

Completely Unrelated

Reader "Qadgop the Mercotan" sent an email message to 12MC recently, referencing a conversation on the Straight Dope Message Board under the intriguing title, "Are there any streets with names containing all four cardinal points?" One of the participants on that board, kunilou, discovered a street that met the criteria: Southeast Circle NW in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And it appeared to run into Northeast Circle SW! (map). Many thanks to Qadgop the Mercotan for passing that along.

On February 3, 2016 · 0 Comments - won't you be the first?
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