I put a little throwaway comment at the tail-end of my recent All Ways South article. Here I demonstrated that one could travel due south from Missouri into each of its eight neighboring states from at least one point along their shared borders. As I thought about it I noted, "Come to think of it, I imagine one could pick just about any state and any cardinal direction and replicate this feat thanks to small surveying errors and corrections."
It was speculation based upon an educated guess. I never made an attempt to prove it. One reader, "Darien Gap" (which I’m guessing is a pseudonym), undertook that challenge for his home state.
… After some cursory examination in Google maps, I believe that it is possible to travel to all of my home state’s (West Virginia) neighbors by traveling in each cardinal direction. In other words, ALL FOUR directions work. I thought it would be hard to travel West into Pennsylvania from WV, but it appears there may be a few perturbations in the Mason-Dixon line SW of Mount Morris, PA.
That provided me with the impetus to get off my lazy tail and see if I could do the same with my home base, the Commonwealth of Virginia, which has five adjacent neighbors: Maryland; North Carolina; Tennessee; Kentucky and West Virginia. I’ll also add the District of Columbia to the pile even though it’s not a state just to make things more interesting.
Let’s start with a presumption. Nature doesn’t tend to create completely straight lines across the landscape for long distances. I’m sure there are some exceptions – hmm… perhaps a good topic for a future article — although for the sake of this exercise let’s presuppose that a border running along a river or a mountain ridge for hundreds of miles will have some directional kinks within it. The Potomac River defines Virginia’s boundary with Maryland, and various portions of the Appalachian Mountains do the same for much of the boundaries with West Virginia and Kentucky. Thus, I won’t bother to look at them any further. I can always go to the map and find plenty of examples if people require evidence, though.
District of Columbia
I’m going to violate my own rule right off the bat. The Potomac River also defines a border between Virginia and the District of Columbia. However, it’s not a very long border so I believe it requires a little extra scrutiny.
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Indeed, one can cross from Virginia into the District following all four cardinal directions. This is simplified because the border does not run down the middle of the river. Rather, it falls within the territory of the District of Columbia up to the high-water mark. Thus, any knobs and nubs along the Virginia side of the river will create abundant opportunities. Border crossings from all four cardinal directions are possible, for example, in this map image that shows a small area at the northern end of National Airport and the southern end of Gravelly Point.
Take a look at this video I shot a few years ago at Gravelly Point while you ponder that previous statement.
I’ll concede that some of you might take issue with this map because some of the border crossings traverse only the waters of the District of Columbia and not across any dry land. I’m sensitive to that. Instead follow these links and you’ll see maps where one can leave Virginia heading west and hit DC land or south and also hit DC land. It still works. All is well.
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Tennessee turned out to be easy. Going south from Virginia is simple, it’s the default. I also had little difficulty finding ways to go from Virginia to Tennessee heading east (left side of image) and heading north or west (right side of image).
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Look! Even the Google Street View car can drive from Virginia into Tennessee heading east!
North Carolina was only slightly more problematic. One area looked particularly promising. It turned out to be yet another Google Maps error as I investigated it further. It did not appear on a U.S. Geological Survey topographic map.
Traveling from Virginia into North Carolina heading east or west wasn’t a problem (here for instance) because the border looked like it was surveyed by a drunkard. That’s probably unfair. Let’s recall that this boundary was surveyed originally in the 17th Century through wilderness while the two states were still young colonies.
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Traveling from Virginia into North Carolina heading north is possible although perhaps only at the single spot featured above. I confirmed this location on a USGS topo map. One can go directly north from Virginia land to North Carolina land here albeit with a boat.
I continue to believe that a person with enough determination could pick just about any state and any cardinal direction to do the same. Exceptions might include the 4-corners area as well as very short, very straight borders such as the western edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle. It might not be possible to head east from Oklahoma to enter New Mexico without resorting to some kind of trickery such as going completely around the planet.
How did your home state fare? How about the 12MC audience outside of the United States?