Finishing West Virginia, the Premise

Sometimes events don’t unfold as one might hope. This weekend I planned to capture six remaining West Virginia counties that I’d not visited before. I figured April would be a safe time of year with beautiful springtime weather and minimal traffic. That dream will need to be deferred for a little while longer. The route I envisioned crossed Appalachian ridges on obscure rural byways. Weather reports indicated snow spreading broadly across the state with higher accumulations in the mountains. In April!

I’ll need to bump this out a few weeks or so. Nonetheless, and even though I’m sitting at home today instead of hitting the road, I can still tell Twelve Mile Circle about my plan. It’s long overdue for another trip.

Those Residual Counties


What's Left in WV?
Six Counties I’ve Not Yet Visited in West Virginia
Underlying map courtesy of Mob Rule

The remaining West Virginia counties fell within two clusters like a belt across its mountainous girth. That didn’t mean they’d be easy catches. No convenient, fast, direct route strung them together. I’d need to climb ridges, drop into hollows, dodge farm equipment and avoid speed traps in tiny villages ready to stick it to out-of-state drivers. Mason, Jackson, Wirt and Calhoun Counties formed the western grouping. Webster and Pocahontas fell towards the east. I figured I might venture across the Ohio River and snag a couple of new Ohio counties since I was already out there too. It seemed like a fine plan.

I’d chipped away at West Virginia slowly over the last several years. My approach felt fragmented, the result of too little time for an area that size. Maybe I could focus on county counting more rationally sometime in the distant future when I retire. However current efforts continued to happen sporadically out of necessity. Even with limitations I gradually made progress and I finally stood within striking distance.


How I Got to Where I Am

As I reflected on my previous efforts, I realized that I’d taken at least five separate trips to a West Virginia in the last five years. That was in addition to earlier random drives that strayed across its borders on the way to other places.

Kentucky Adventure (July 2013). While the trip focused on Kentucky, I plowed through West Virginia on the way back. We went whitewater rafting on the New River and then took an even more circuitous route back home. That let me gain a few rural counties along the way.

Riverboat Adventure (April 2014). This became my first drive along Interstate 79 between Morgantown and Charleston, logging a number of counties heading due south through the middle of the state. Nothing beats Interstate counties for ease and convenience. I’ve taken that route several more times since then.

Bluefield on the Border (October 2014). I chauffeured my wife to a race in Bluefield. This trip doubled as a geo-oddity so I didn’t mind: the course crossed the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia multiple times. I also captured a couple of extra counties the next morning while everyone else slept-in.

Appalachian Loop (April 2016). We toured all over the southwest corner of the state and then into adjacent Kentucky as we explored Hatfield and McCoy country. The area offered a lot more than its hillbilly moonshine stereotypes.

Counting West Virginia (October 2016). My son and I focused specifically on the state’s northern panhandle along with some nearby northern counties. This corner differed from the rest of the state by aligning more towards the Rust Belt than traditional Appalachia.


The Plan

When I complete the trip — in a few weeks or months or whatever — the route will likely follow something like this:



That will be an awful lot of driving for a 3-day weekend. That’s why I need optimal driving conditions. West Virginia will be conquered someday, just not today.

Stay tuned.

Revisiting the Most County Borders

I searched for and featured the United States county with the most neighboring counties during the very early days of Twelve Mile Circle. That article appeared in May 2008, almost ten years ago, reminding me once again how quickly time flies. Then in the waning days of the old blog, a loyal reader contacted me with a fresh new way to look at the issue.

An Opportunity to Revisit Previous Assumptions

Reader "Glenn" took a different approach. He contacted me, and I intended to write something, although I lost sight of it as I started to shut things down. My earlier article claimed that Utah’s San Juan County had the most neighbors, with fourteen. Glen wanted to think a little differently. He focused on three of those neighboring counties that intersected with San Juan at a single point. While technically those all counted as "bordering," San Juan, did they really meet the spirit of the definition? As he said, "you should be able to walk or swim across a county border without having to squeeze down to a 2-dimensional line."

Thus, if we modified the rules to eliminate those three single points, Nevada’s Washoe County would have the most neighbors, with thirteen. San Juan would drop down to second place with eleven neighbors, followed by several others with ten.

Please pardon my hand-labeled map. I’ve never been a great visual artist although I think this graphic gets the point across.


Washoe County Nevada
Nevada’s Washoe County and its Neighbors
Underlying map courtesy of Mob Rule

These are the counties that border Washoe:

  1. Humboldt County, NV (east)
  2. Pershing County, NV (east)
  3. Churchill County, NV (east)
  4. Lyon County, NV (southeast)
  5. Storey County, NV (south)
  6. Carson City, NV (south)
  7. Placer County, CA (southwest)
  8. Nevada County, CA (west)
  9. Sierra County, CA (west)
  10. Lassen County, (CA) west
  11. Modoc County, CA (west)
  12. Lake County, OR (north)
  13. Harney County, OR (northeast)

Technically, Carson City qualified as an independent city, although the U.S. government classified it as a county-equivalent unit for statistical purposes. Most county counters also count their visits to independent cities, as do I. So that makes thirteen.


Challenging Crossings

A small subset of county counters actually catalog their crossing between individual county pairs. I consider that a tad extreme although I still have a lot of counties left to go. Those who track pairs generally do so because they’ve nearly run out of unvisited counties and want a new challenge. Washoe would be particularly difficult for them.

For instance, just eyeballing the map, there don’t appear to be any crossing between Washoe and Harney County, Oregon along their tiny two-mile-ish border. Plus, the landscape looked particularly unpleasant (see Street View). I’d be afraid that someone might find my bleached bones in the desert after I went missing for a few decades while trying it. I wouldn’t recommend making an attempt. Several other of the crossings looked similarly problematic.


How is This Even Possible?


Four Corners
My Visit to Four Corners in 2017

The revised rules solved one set of issues although I think I’ll stick with the earlier rules. Otherwise phenomena such as the famed Four Corners wouldn’t exist. My visits there would have been in vain. Utah and New Mexico wouldn’t share a border, nor would Colorado and Arizona. The Navajo Nation would have to close its park and disperse artisans who sell their crafts at the plaza around the marker. Thousands of visitors would need to find a new attraction or spend a few extra hours at Monument Valley or Mesa Verde instead. I’d have to delete my photos.

To be fair, I don’t think Glenn truly questioned the premise of single-point borders. Instead, he reexamined the situation as an intellectual exercise from a new perspective.


Another Washoe


Washoe
Washoe. Photo by Rogelio A. Galaviz C. on Flickr (cc)

I find the most interesting things as I conduct my investigations. Apparently the first chimpanzee to communicate with humans using American Sign Language was also named Washoe. She learned about 350 signs before passing away in 2007. Researchers named her Washoe because that’s where she lived for the first few years of her life.

She probably didn’t care that Washoe County shared a border with thirteen other counties. I suspect most humans don’t either.

12MC Coming to New Zealand and Australia

A funny thing happened on the way to Oklahoma City, where I hoped to spend our summer 2018 holiday chasing new counties. The family overruled me. My wife pointed out that our older son will be on his own soon. He’ll be off to college in a couple of years. Opportunities for family vacations will fade as he navigates class schedules, internships, and frankly things that he will rather do without us. We won’t be empty nesters for awhile although I guess my wife felt the tug of time and wanted to take one more big vacation with the whole family. She asked him where he wanted to go, and apparently he misheard me when I whispered Oklahoma because he said Australia. Actually he said, "Really? Oklahoma? When I can go anywhere in the world?" Then he rolled his eyes.

I’ve been to Australia so I wanted to go somewhere new. I did manage to wrangle a concession out of the transaction. Could we stop in New Zealand too since we’d be all the way out there already? The family agreed so sometime in June / July we’ll spend a week in New Zealand and a week in Australia. That falls right in the middle of southern hemispheric winter. Unfortunately, schedules pushed us that way so we didn’t have much choice. I know the deal and I’ll dress appropriately. I won’t be one of those American tourists hopping off the plane in shorts and a T-shirt expecting beach weather.

Now I need your advice. Several 12MC readers live in those countries and others of you have undoubtedly traveled there. I’ll outline the basic plan and maybe readers can offer some suggestions.

New Zealand


Hobbiton
Hobbiton. Photo by othree on Flickr (cc)

The New Zealand portion of our journey will focus on Auckland with various day-trips on the North Island. I suspect we’ll take a ferry to at least one of the nearby islands in the Hauraki Gulf (map). We’ll probably have to stop at the Hobbiton Movie Set because every New Zealand visit now requires a Lord of the Rings encounter. I think it’s a law. Geothermal activity at Rotorua also remains high on the potential list as does Waitomo Caves.

Don’t worry about my driving on the opposite side of the road, either. I’ve done that many times before and I can adjust quickly, even shifting gears left-handed. I survived Ireland with the world’s narrowest winding roads so this won’t intimidate me.

Australia


Hunter Valley Wine Region
Hunter Valley Wine Region. Photo by Lock the Gate Alliance on Flickr (cc)

Our stop in Australia will feel like returning to an old friend. Was our previous visit really twenty years ago? I doesn’t seem like it. Last time we focused on Sydney and Brisbane. This time I think we’ll stick primarily with Sidney and then head up the coast towards Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. Longtime readers will understand the reason. Booze. The watershed of the Hunter River offers one of the oldest and best known wine growing regions in Australia. Lots of craft breweries have located there in the last few years too. The kids can go whale watching or whatever. I’m planning to enjoy some wineries.

Of course, I can’t ignore Sydney and we’ll spend some time there too. We’ll probably do a lot of the same tourist stuff we did last time although it will all be new for the kids. Nobody will believe we’ve been there if we don’t come back with selfies at the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as examples. What I’d really like to see, however, are those interesting places enjoyed by locals that tourists rarely see. Are there also geo-oddities that most locals might not even know about? You know, stuff worthy of 12MC attention?

Crowdsourcing

That’s it. The details remain a bit fuzzy although the outline continues to brighten. My wife decided to put off renovating the kitchen for another year so we can do this thing. She’s serious. Nothing stops her. It’s going to happen.

Suggestions are kindly encouraged. I can leave the comments open only for a few days before the spam bots inundate me, so please email me directly if you miss the window. It won’t do much good after June 2018 although anytime before that would work. I’ll be sure to acknowledge anyone who makes a suggestion that I adopt. It will appear in a future article after the trip.

Thanks for helping fill the gaps.