Twelve Mile Circle has received a steady drip of visitors who seem to want to know the shortest automobile route that could be taken to touch all of the New England states. I don’t see these queries every day although they comprise a consistent two or three every month-or-so and they have been landing on 12MC for years. I don’t know if they traced back to some long-forgotten Internet trivia contest or where they originated. It’s been on my list of potential topics for a very long time and I kept telling myself that I’d have to get around to it eventually. I wasn’t feeling particularly intellectual today so I passed the time fiddling around with Google Maps instead. This became the day to answer the query.
Many 12MC readers hail from international destinations so I’ll begin with a definition of New England for their benefit. The rest of you can skip to the next paragraph. In the United States, New England consists of six states: Connecticut; Maine; Massachusetts; New Hampshire; Rhode Island and Vermont. It’s the red area marked on the map, above. New England was settled by English colonists in large numbers — thus the name — beginning with the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth in 1620 (my recent visit). Let’s move on to the real question now that everyone understands the challenge.
I manipulated Google Maps several ways and the shortest distance that touched all six New England states came to 227 miles (365 kilometres). I’d embed the map directly within this page except that it differed from the one I created for some odd reason. That’s just one more limitation of the current version of Google Maps. Instead, I embedded a photo that I took during my recent trip to Cape Cod that looked quintessentially New England-ish and I invite the audience to open the map in a different tab to follow along.
Notice how I straightened the lines to minimize distances. I’m sure readers could find slightly shorter routes using my map as a starting point and then selecting even more obscure local roads, or perhaps by attempting something completely different. Be sure to post any solution in the comments with a link to the resulting Google Map. My solution should take about 5 hours and 6 minutes without traffic, which means that someone would have to time this journey carefully since it would involve a jaunt directly through the middle of Boston. That would work out to an anemic 45 miles per hour-or-so (72 km/hr) even under the absolute best of conditions. Could the same objective be completed faster? Of course it could.
I threw the back roads out the window and focused on Interstate Highways as much as I could instead to find the quickest solution. Google Maps liked that solution better and embedded it correctly. It was longer, 253 miles (407 km), although highway speeds more than made up the difference. The route began farther north in White River Junction, Vermont (I rode a scenic train there once), followed I-89 to Manchester, New Hampshire, cut east to barely touch Maine, swung around Boston rather than drilling through it and then ran downward to Rhode Island and due west to Connecticut. This solution should clock-in at 4 hours and 1 minute during optimal conditions with a much hire average speed, about 63 mph (101 km/hr). I tried repeatedly to get it below 4 hours even though I knew it was a meaningless psychological barrier. Maybe someone else can find a quicker solution. Your challenge is to find one that’s 3 hours and 59 minutes or less. That would make me happy.
Hopefully this post will satisfy the multitude of anonymous visitors who want to know the shortest/quickest route through all six New England states, even though none of them will ever return to 12MC again. I enjoyed the mapping challenge. Maybe someday someone will attempt these solutions in the real world. It might make a nice Sunday drive.
I thought back to my school days when a teacher would call roll alphabetically. Naturally people with surnames like Anderson would be called upon first. Mine fell somewhere in the middle so I had to pay attention for a little while and then I could daydream for the rest of the drill. I always felt sorry for people named Zimmerman or such who had to remain on their toes the entire time. Those lucky Andersons, though. They could kick-back and relax, their jobs completed immediately thanks to a simple quirk of alphabetical order. The same thing could probably be said of countries. Imagine Afghanistan at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, first in line and grabbing a big dose of attention. Compare that to Zimbabwe. Most viewers are probably tuned out mentally by the time Zimbabwe strolls along.
That got me wondering about which city, town, or village might grab the very first spot in an alphabetical line. Sure, it would vary based upon the language used to sort through the list although I didn’t let that spoil my fun. Research appeared to be amazingly deficient though. I figured I’d find a ready list somewhere on the Intertubes and it would be easy. Perhaps that existed somewhere even though I checked — which meant I searched for a maximum of about 30 seconds — and I couldn’t find one. I did uncover the next best thing, Wikipedia’s List of towns and cities with 100,000 or more inhabitants.
A Coruña in Spain rose to the very top of that list (map). That was its officially-recognized name in the Galician language, prevalent in the northwestern corner of Spain that was once part of the Kingdom of Galicia. In Spanish it was La Coruña and in English sometimes Corunna. According to the rules of alphabetization, nothing came before something so the single letter A followed by a space came before A followed by additional letters. A Coruña was the only city with a single letter A so Wikipedia placed it first.
I had a bit of a quibble with A Coruña. The letter A was used as a definite article. There was a school of thought that the definite article should be disregarded in an alphabetical list. Certainly that was common with geographic place names, e.g., The Bahamas was generally listed as Bahamas, The and The Gambia transformed into Gambia, The. I’m sure there were plenty of learned people who could debate those finer points back-and-forth indefinitely although I didn’t want to get involved. Nonetheless, for me, placing A Coruña at the head of the line felt like cheating.
Aachen seemed to align more properly with the spirit of the contest, beginning with a double-A followed immediately by another letter near the start of the alphabet in the third position. AAC would be a hard combination to beat. People have lived in the Aachen area (map) since neolithic times, drawn there by its warm spring-fed waters. It became a spa town during Roman times and then a favored place of kings such as Charlemagne. Modern aficionados of geo-oddities also appreciated Aachen for its placement on the German side of the Belgium – Netherlands – Germany (BEDENL) tripoint, and prior to that as part of the quadripoint with the bizarre Neutral Moresnet "no man’s land" condominium.
That still left a lot of white space between cities of a hundred thousand residents or more and the untold multitude of places with smaller populations. I continued to be hampered by a lack of prior research so I turned to the US Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System. It included a bunch of AAA stuff, primarily several small reservoirs called tanks in New Mexico, which I discounted. It also included an Aaberg School in South Dakota and the Aaberlite Mines in Colorado. Still, I couldn’t find a populated place that would come before Aachen in an alphabetical list.
I didn’t feel like running a bunch of separate queries because GNIS required a minimum of three letters when using a wildcard (e.g., I would have to search aaa*, aab*, aac* and so on if I wanted to check every combination starting with double-a). I took the easy route and figured there must be some place called Aaron. Sure enough, Aaron existed in four states, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. None of them was larger than a flyspeck. Only Aaron, Indiana had a Wikipedia entry and even that was limited to two simple sentences ("Aaron is an unincorporated community in Switzerland County, Indiana, in the United States. A post office was established at Aaron in 1871, and remained in operation until it was discontinued in 1907").
That was a long way of saying I was too lazy to figure out a location that would appear first on a list of populated places in the United States. I’ll throw Aaron out there as my guess and let someone else challenge it if so inclined.
Aasiwaskwasich, Québec, Canada
Natural Resources Canada actually provided an alphabetic list of place names, bless their hearts. I supposed that was feasible because there were fewer places named in Canada due to large swaths of lightly-populated territory. Canada included a former First Nation Village named Aa-at-sow-is in British Columbia, and that would have been a top contender, however I wanted to find an inhabited place, not something abandoned. The best I could find was Aasiwaskwasich, completely in the middle of nowhere near the eastern side of Hudson Bay.
But wait, the next entry was amusing even if it wasn’t a populated locality: Aass Indian Reserve 3 (map) in the Nootka Land District, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Interestingly, there were no signs of Aass Indian Reserves 1 or 2. Nor did there appear to be a tribe of Aass Indians. Don’t check a search engine for Aass Indians, though. I did that and let’s just say one cannot unsee things once they’ve been revealed.
Twelve Mile Circle received its first visit ever from Wallis and Futuna yesterday! I thought it would be nearly impossible and was genuinely surprised when it appeared. It’s a French collectivity in the South Pacific with only about 15,000 residents and most of them speak Polynesian languages or French. I’m not sure why they wanted to know more about Smokey and the Bandit’s Route although I will note that this page seems to attract a fairly steady stream of visitors for some unknown reason.
It occurred to me, as I wrote two recent travelogues, that I’d visited a lot of interesting places in the last few years. I recorded my thoughts and impressions from those journeys on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle. The intent was to describe my adventures while still fresh in my mind. Looking back through many of those pages recently, as a complete body of work, they seemed to have transformed into something more like a diary. I wasn’t prescient as they unfolded at the time, just looking for topics that didn’t require a lot of advance research. Travel stories were easy to draft and offered a break from the usual fare of geo-oddities that sometimes took hours to write.
I couldn’t help getting a little nostalgic as the pages brought back events that had already started receding from memory. I couldn’t believe how quickly years had passed. I wanted to create a catalog, probably more for myself than for my faithful readers, so that I could always stroll through those past haunts with ease. This article was the result.
Wisconsin’s Point of Beginning
The concept began with a family trip to see the in-laws during the earliest days of 12MC, only a few months after I began writing it. The trip coincided with severe flooding in the area. The first travelogue on the site sprang organically from those events in a series of four articles.
Later we returned to Wisconsin and focused on the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. There I crossed into my 1000th county in my never-ending County Counting quest. I was up to 1,255 counties as of the time I published this article (June 2015) so I’ve progressed well. However I have to look at it realistically and I don’t think that I will be able to capture every remaining county. I’m moving too slowly.
Later that summer we traveled to Maine. It would set precedence for an annual family tradition: that summer and each subsequent summer (excepting one) we’ve picked a different state as a family and then spent a week exploring it.
That was fine although I was probably more excited about the state we selected that year, Alaska. I’d been to Alaska a couple of times before and I wanted to try a different corner. We rented a house at a central point on the Kenai Peninsula in the tiny town of Cooper Landing (map) and radiated out from there on day trips. We experienced only one small slice of the massive Alaskan landmass although we saw it in depth. I’d gladly return.
The Tropical Border Between France and the Netherlands on St. Martin/Maarten
We don’t go to the beach ordinarily. I’m too restless and my wife sunburns too easily. Yet, a trip to the Caribbean during early Spring without any kids sounded downright attractive. I selected St. Martin / Maarten because it had an international border running through it. Isn’t that how everyone chooses a tropical vacation destination?
We let our older son pick the state in 2012 and he selected Oregon. That was an excellent choice. I’d been to Oregon’s beautiful coastline several times so I decided to focus on the dry, hot eastern side of the Cascades this time. I also threw-in a couple of days in Washington for good measure. We spent most of the time near Bend, Oregon. It may have had something to do with the large concentration of breweries and brewpubs found there.
Then I joined Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through an incredible array of Connecticut geography extremes that may never be equaled again. Steve, has it really been three years already?
The Dust Bowl Adventures marked my first encounter with the Mainly Marathons organization. This was the first race series they’d ever sponsored; five races in five states in five days (now they do even more). The series was designed for people working on 50-state marathon (or half marathon) lists or adding to their lifetime totals. I was a driver for a runner, collecting all sorts of obscure counties while we wandered through unlikely corners where Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico all came in close proximity to each other.
Kentucky was our state of choice that summer for the annual family vacation. We focused on its Appalachian region for the most part. Eastern Kentucky featured spectacular natural beauty along the wooded hills and tumbling brooks.
We signed on for another Mainly Marathons series in 2014, this time along the Mississippi River with races in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. We never spotted Elvis although we did stop at Graceland.
Then we deviated from our usual pattern and selected Ireland for our family vacation instead of a U.S. state. One branch of my family came from Ireland and we were actually able to meet some of our distant cousins. We covered quite a bit of territory in the southwestern corner.
Eastern Continental Divide: Which Way Will the Water Flow?
The current year may be my finest travel period ever. I began with some healthy exercise in April when I completed a four-day bicycle ride along the Great Allegheny Passage trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
That would probably be enough in a normal year. Fortunately I still have two more trips planned. I’ll spend a week in the vicinity of Asheville, North Carolina later in the Summer. In Autumn we will participate in another Mainly Marathon event, the Center of the Nation Series (six races, six days, six states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado). More travelogues will be forthcoming!