Atlantic to Pacific

On December 6, 2012 · 5 Comments

Regular readers of the Twelve Mile Circle seem to enjoy vicarious road challenges: shortest routes, fastest times, greatest distances over a specific time, and things of that nature. I featured the quickest highway path from México to Canada a few weeks ago. Now I’d like to explore the other direction across the United States, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean within the Lower 48. What is the quickest route and how long should it take for a theoretical driver obeying posted speed limits?

View Shortest/Longest Coast-to-Coast in a larger map

It might help narrow the possibilities by examining the shortest line "as the crow flies" and then compare that result to the Interstate highway system to craft an approximate alignment. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) specifies that line as running from "approximately 10 miles south of Brunswick, GA" to "approximately 12 miles south of San Diego, CA." That’s a distance of 2,089 miles (3,362 kilometres). One may quibble that the line runs across a small corner of Baja California, México and whether it truly "counts" or not. It doesn’t matter much to me because I’ll keep the most similar highway route within the United States regardless.

Google disagrees slightly with the distance, returning a value of 2,091.83. It might have to do with the endpoints. The USGS didn’t provide exact latitude/longitude coordinates. I had to make an educated guess about where to drop a pin in Brunswick and San Diego even though each covers considerably more than a single point, and then head a designated number of miles south. It’s almost like trying to follow a pirate map. That came to the southern tip of Jekyll Island, Georgia and a couple miles north of the Mexican border. Also Google isn’t always 100% exact. I’ll consider the mileage discrepancy within an acceptable margin of error considering the uncertainties.

I also plotted the longest coast-to-coast line across the Lower 48, from West Quoddy Head, ME to Point Arena, CA. USGS said it was 2,892 miles (4,654 km). Google estimated 2,892.91. No complaints there. This has nothing to do with the rest of the article, however. I just wanted to see both lines on the same map.

The lesson I learned from the México-to-Canada discussion was that I don’t need to examine a slew of alternatives if someone else has already done the heavy lifting. 12MC reader Brian Casey mentioned the Iron Butt Association, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who love to take extremely long road trips. I was already familiar with the group because I knew someone who participated in their 2011 Iron Butt Rally. However, I was less familiar with some of their individual ride certifications.

One of the certifications that riders can earn, as Brian Casey noted, was driving between México and Canada in either direction in less than twenty four hours. Did they have a similar certification for coast-to-coast travel, I wondered? Why yes, the Iron Butt Association issued a challenge called the 50CC Quest.

View Larger Map

It was designed for those riders not wanting to make the New York to San Francisco run yet looking for a challenge for crossing the country from coast to coast. You may choose any two coast cities (obviously, one on the Atlantic Ocean and the other on the Pacific Ocean) you wish (Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California is the most popular)… Your ride needs to be completely documented and cross the United States from coast to coast in 50 hours or less.

Notice the operative phrase: "Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California is the most popular." It followed, naturally, that people behaving rationally would select the quickest possible route. They have only 50 hours. The favored route follows Interstate 10 for most of its length, then Interstate 8 from the western half of Arizona and across California. Someone departing from Brunswick, Georgia would have to go through Jacksonville anyway, so Jacksonville is the better place to begin the journey.

The theoretical shortest straight line distance as noted above was 2,089 miles (3,362 km). The shortest highway distance turned out to be 2,359 miles (3,796 km) and Google said it could be done in 33 hours (recognizing that Google is conservative). This makes the 50CC Quest and its 50 hour limit quite feasible, assuming one has an iron butt.

Sure, I could try to find a quicker route. Why bother though? It’s already been crowdsourced and I’m happy to leave it at that.

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