Twelve Mile Circle picks a different state for its vacation each summer, and concentrates on an aspect of it intensely. Previous examples have included Alaska, Utah, and Oregon. The ultimate purpose of these holidays is to focus on unusual or oft-overlooked sites within the United States while sprinkling-in a few of the more famous sites as well.
The state selected for the 12MC treatment in 2013 is KENTUCKY, specifically the far southeastern corner.
Diverse factors went into this decision. Key amongst them was my lack of county counting coverage. I’ve driven Interstate 75 through the target area and I’ve also nibbled on its western edge. As a whole, however, my time on the ground there was minimal and my county count has been decidedly lacking.
Southeastern Kentucky also offers the ability to avoid airline travel. I am completely fed-up with the airlines. I am annoyed by overly-abundant airport security hassles, I am disgusted by a complete lack of customer service and I am tired of being nickel-and-dimed with an endless parade of airline fees, each one more outrageous than its predecessors. This summer, 12MC will give the airlines the old One Finger Salute by selecting an automotive destination. It should take about nine hours — a long but manageable single-day drive — which compares favorably to dealing with an airport, flying cross-country, grabbing a rental car, and driving to a hotel.
The target area I’m anticipating includes a 20-ish county area that avoids major cities as represented on my crudely-drawn map: Adair; Barren; Bell; Casey; Clay; Clinton; Cumberland; Edmonson; Green; Hart; Knox; Laurel; Lincoln; McCreary; Metcalfe; Pulaski; Rockcastle; Russell; Taylor; Wayne; Whitley. I won’t hit every one of those counties, and I’ll probably stray outside of those boundaries for the right opportunities (including into Virginia or Tennessee). I’m still early in the research process so it’s in flux. I’m using it focus my concentration for the moment and using it as a starting point, primarily.
The map presents several possibilities even in its embryonic stage. My attention has already been drawn to all things Cumberland (e.g., Cumberland Gap, Cumberland Falls, Lake Cumberland), as well as to the Daniel Boone National Forest and to Mammoth Cave National Park. I visited Mammoth as a kid and I want to return as an adult to see if my pint-sized memories hold true. Plus, my kids love going on cave tours and Mammoth is the king-of-kings for the eastern United States.
My 12MC Complete Index didn’t present an abundance of geo-oddities within the target area, although there are a couple. I’ve shaded the map in yellow and blue to split the target between Central Time and the Eastern Time. We’ll be bouncing between time zones like on the Dust Bowl trip and that always provides a level of amusement. Plus, a time zone anomaly exists within the target area with a chunk of central time farther east than a chunk of eastern time. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to experience the anomaly although I’d probably do it for grins if I happened to be nearby for some other purpose.
Here is the part where I consult with the wise and all-knowing audience. You’ve come through for me several times in the past, suggesting great places to visit that I never would have learned about without your input. Some of those included Capulin Volcano in New Mexico, gas stations in Oregon where I could pump my own gas, Timpanogos Cave National Monument and the ATK Rocket Park in Utah. I am certain that there must be people in the 12MC universe who have either lived in or who have vacationed in southeastern Kentucky.
What "can’t miss" spots have I overlooked? You may see your recommendation mentioned in a 12MC article in July.
I had fun with Wikipedia’s List of Oldest Companies after I bounced onto it randomly, and of course it included a geographic component. I decided to examine claims for various nations using the list as a starting point.
I think it’s important to stress that these are only claims. References and websites for individual companies often hedge their assertion with qualifiers such as "reputed to be" or "probably" so I wouldn’t insist that any of these are the absolute oldest even though they would certainly qualify as ancient within their particular realms.
The oldest continuously-operated company in the world today is likely (notice the qualifier) Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel which is located at a hot spring in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. Actually the first several companies on the list are all located in Japan. Japanese firms dominate the entire category. There’s something about Japanese culture that nurtures and protects these mostly modest endeavors for a millennium or more. Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan has been around since the year 705 according to Guinness World Records.
Oddly, Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan captured the longevity title only recently. Kongo Gumi, a Japanese temple builder, ruled the roost until 2006. Kongo Gumi was established and remained under the control of a single family starting in 578 before succumbing to 21st Century economic pressures. Imagine poor Masakazu Kongo, the 40th and final company leader, who failed to pass down what the previous 39 generations of his family had preserved.
Speaking of temple building, I noticed a rather startling swastika symbol south of the Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel. I clicked the tag and dropped the Japanese characters into translation software that identified it as a Buddhist temple. Some basic research confirmed that "on Japanese maps, a swastika (left-facing and horizontal) is used to mark the location of a Buddhist temple." It’s perfectly proper in this context albeit it came as a jolt to me because of my westernized point of reference.
Flickr by marketing deluxe via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License
An example from continental Europe followed next after a parade of Japanese occurrences. It was the Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg, Austria, a restaurant that dated back at least to the year 803 (map). The restaurant claimed that it was "mentioned for the first time by the scholar Alcuin, a follower of Emperor Charlemagne, thus regarded as the oldest restaurant in Europe."
It also interested me because Stiftskeller St. Peter is contained within the confines of St. Peter’s Archabbey (Stiftskeller translates to Abbey Basement). I learned a new word today too: an archabbey is a principal abbey of the Order of Saint Benedict. One can dine within a Benedictine monastery like people have done since the 9th Century.
Several people from the UK subscribe to the Twelve Mile Circle so I wanted to feature something from the British Islands. The oldest company is believed to be a pub called The Bingley Arms in Bardsey, West Yorkshire. As the pub described it, "The Bingley Arms, or The Priests Inn as it was called hundreds of years ago, has a known history that dates back as far as 953AD when Samson Ellis brewed in the central part of the building. However, evidence suggests that it might even date back to 905AD and was standing before All Hallows Church, just a few yards away, was built in 950AD."
Then it talks about the usual ghost stories and stuff which is typical of just about every website describing ancient places.
No company in the so-called "New World" will compare favorably to Asian or European business longevity. The Native Americans had completely different cultural norms so notions of family businesses passed down through multiple generations had to wait until European settlement. The oldest example was a farm along the James River in Charles City County Virginia — Shirley Plantation — established in 1613. Bear in mind that the first permanent English colony at Jamestown (my visit) didn’t happen until 1607 so Shirley Plantation followed the original landing by a mere six years. That makes the date quite remarkable within its context.
The top tier of ancient establishments in the US were all farms. The oldest non-farm was The Seaside Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine that’s been operated continuously since 1667. They say that, "9th Generation Family Innkeepers make us America’s oldest running family run business." Well, except for the farms, I guess.
Canada’s oldest business may be the most well-known of the lot, the Hudson’s Bay company founded in 1670. I decided to show Hudson Bay rather than the company’s headquarters in some generic office tower in Toronto (street view).
Ditto for Australia. I can’t add much visual impact by showing the Brisbane headquarters of the Australian Agricultural Company, founded in 1824. Today they "operate 19 cattle stations, two feedlots and three farms across more than 7.2 million hectares of land across Queensland and the Northern Territory."
The recently concluded Dust Bowl Marathon Series continues to play on my mind. Each of the five towns that served as our home base during the event rolled out the red carpet for us. Ulysses, Kansas stepped it up an additional notch above the high bar exhibited by the rest. They seemed to have a sense of professionalism to their approach, like they’d been through it before and knew what they were doing. I complimented some of the townspeople at the pasta dinner held on the group’s behalf and it was here that I learned the story behind their well-honed abilities.
They mentioned a nationwide bicycle race, and described how the town accommodated riders and their support teams as they passed briefly through Ulysses each year. Some quick Intertubes sleuthing uncovered the Race Across America which indeed routes directly through Ulysses, a town that’s been set along the course for at east the last several years.
First, let’s all understand that Ulysses can hardly be described as a "convenient" location.
Ulysses has the misfortune of falling directly within the middle of an immense rectangle completely devoid of Interstate highways access: 2.25 hours away from I-70; 3.25 hours from I-40; 3.5 hours from I-25; and 4 hours from I-35. Few visitors will ever drop into Ulysses by happenstance as they travel cross-country. No major historical events or entertainment destinations underpin an active tourism industry, either. Ulysses, like many other small towns falling within the freeway void, must rely upon its own wits to cultivate creative sources of income.
The Dust Bowl Marathon Series fits that definition, as does the Race Across America. Ulysses, by showing abundant hospitality, fills its hotel rooms, serve numerous restaurant meals and sells tanker-loads of gasoline to crowds spinning out from these rolling athletic circuses.
I’d never heard of the Race Across America before. It’s fascinating. Here’s the basic story courtesy of YouTube:
Bicyclists ride between a starting point in Oceanside, California and a dramatic finish in Annapolis, Maryland (for the 2013 version), and check-in at 54 intermediary “Time Stations” along the way. According to the RAAM Frequently Asked Questions, time stations "are approximately 40 to 90 miles apart" and provide a place for riders to report their progress to the race headquarters.
RAAM provided tentative lat/long coordinates for the 2013 Time Stations which I’ve dropped into a Google Map. I’ve noted the Time Station for Ulysses, Kansas with a red marker.
Time Station locations vary from someone’s home, to bike shops, to city parks, to the Capital Building in Jefferson City, MO. About half of the Time Stations are staffed. This staff is invaluable in building awareness of the race in the local communities along the course. As racers pass through, the Time Station staff is the cheering section and most importantly there to help racers and crews find services in town. Time stations have offered hotel rooms, gas, showers and food.
The field spreads out as it races across the continent, either as part of multi-person teams or as solo competitors. Solo racers will finish in about ten days, and in any case they must be done within twelve days to be qualified as RAAM finishers. Remember, this is on a bicycle! I thought five marathons in five states in five days for the Dust Bowl series was extreme. RAAM brings physical and mental brutality to an entirely different level. I can’t say I truly understand either event although I respect the participants. Nonetheless I was quite content to serve as non-running support member for the Dust Bowl series.
Speaking of support,
Besides the entry fee, every racer and team has to provide their own support crew and support vehicles. Depending on the number of crew, the number of vehicles, and how deluxe your race is, the costs starts at $20,000.
I enjoyed my brief time in Ulysses, a burgeoning capital of extreme sports layovers. I’d love to be there again to watch RAAM roll through. Just don’t look for me on a bicycle.