New England, Part 3 (Did I Mention Doughnuts?)

On June 1, 2016 · 0 Comments

Each road trip I took offered different opportunities for County Counting, whether as a stated goal or as an amusing side project. I examined the situation carefully before departing so I could see how I might augment my lifetime list. I’d done pretty well in New England during previous visits. Nonetheless those earlier trips had occurred for different purposes. Their distinct objectives left behind a number of unsightly doughnut holes of yet-to-be-visited counties. My map looked something like this prior to my departure:

The Missing Counties

Those counties in white represented places I hadn’t captured. Some were contiguous and could be combined into sets. Overall they were spread into distinct pockets cast broadly across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. That presented some challenges. I needed to devise a plan that aligned with race locations and minimized detours. The Mob Rule county counting website and its driving directions utility helped immensely. I could enter exact latitude/longitude coordinates while drafting prospective routes, overlaying my map of visited counties to see see how and where I needed to move. I designed a target course that in fact I finished in its entirety:

The New England Route

Readers familiar with highways in the northeastern United States probably noticed that I avoided the most obvious, most direct route between Virginia and New England; the dreaded Interstate 95. We left on a Friday and I didn’t want to thread the needle in narrow windows that avoided morning and afternoon rush hours in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Also, nobody could ever predict when an accident might clog I-95 with a multi-hour delay. That route was too unpredictable. Instead I decided to take a wildly inefficient path that would grant me an opportunity to fill a few doughnut holes in Pennsylvania and New York along the way.

We began heading due north into the heart of central Pennsylvania, then due east, essentially two legs of a triangle where the hypotenuse of course would have been the shorter I-95. That allowed me to pick up two clusters of previously non-visited Pennsylvania counties: first Northumberland, Montour and Columbia, and later Carbon and Monroe. Next the path cut diagonally across the lower corner of New York — although way beyond the sprawl of New York City — capturing Sullivan and Columbia (not to be confused with the Columbia County in Pennsylvania). We hadn’t arrived at our primary destination and I’d captured seven counties already!

The three New Hampshire counties were easy grabs. Carroll and Belknap needed only tiny detours. Cheshire fell directly on the path between races and I didn’t have to detour at all. Massachusetts was similarly easy. One of the races took place in Franklin County so that was certainly convenient. Hampshire County was just a short drive south so I snagged it with little effort.

Then there was Vermont

Ben & Jerry's

I agonized over Vermont as I planned the trip. The drive between our New Hampshire race and Vermont crossed the southern tier of both states, a direct route that would take about an hour under ordinary circumstances. I needed to drive the length of Vermont and loop around its northern tip along winding country roads to visit three scattered counties. That would turn a single hour trip into a six hour expedition for little payday. It seemed excessive and I planned to pass it up. However, little else seemed to interest me along the most direct route. I’d scoured that corner for attractions during a previous trip back in 2010, and I’m not one who generally wants to see the same place twice. How many times does someone need to visit the Phineas Gage Monument? I’d undertaken more elaborate efforts than this six hour county counting quest, I supposed, so that’s how it unfolded. We ran into a couple of interesting places along the way so it all worked out. For instance, I didn’t realize ahead of time that Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory fell directly along our path until we drove through Waterbury. Nothing said Vermont more than Ben and Jerry’s and that became a nice break after several hours on the road.

Rock Art Brewery

I also spotted a sign for a brewery as we drove through the town of Morrisville, the Rock Art Brewery, and the place was open. That was another nice break. Beer Geeks might wonder why we didn’t stop at Alchemist Brewing as we drove through Stowe. It was closed to the public at the time.

I am a meticulous planner. That’s just the way my mind works. Nonetheless it was enjoyable, and perhaps a bit liberating to go largely unscripted for much of a day. We discovered plenty of unexpected amusements as the path unfolded. I was exhausted as the sun set and we had another race at 6:00 am the next morning. I’d have to think twice about taking such a long detour next time for the sole purpose of counting counties.

My total hit 100% completion for three new states by the end of the trip; Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. I also filled in doughnut holes in Pennsylvania and New York, bringing the total haul of new counties to 15. I left a good reason to return, too. I am now only three counties away from finishing all of New England. Someday I’ll have to travel to the northern tip of Maine and get those final three. Maybe I could combine it with a trip to Atlantic Canada.

Completely Unrelated

Several 12MC readers have alerted me to an article that I found fascinating and I’m sure the rest of you will too: Altered state: Border redraw moves 19 homes in the Carolinas.

New England articles:

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Southern Swing, Part 1

On January 7, 2015 · 2 Comments

I still hate airlines. I don’t fear flying, I simply want to withhold as much of my money as I can from those greedy [censored] until the tight squeeze of market forces compel them to start treating their passengers with a little respect. I’m pretty much at the point where I’ll drive to any destination of a thousand miles or so instead of fly. That sentiment led to another grandiose road trip over the winter holidays. Of course, the handful of readers who follow the 12MC Twitter feed already figured that out. That’s an incentive for the rest of you to subscribe to my Twitter page I guess, or maybe it’s a disincentive. I don’t know.

DC to Florida to Mississippi and Back

We took a rather unusual route to the Mississippi Gulf Coast this time, via St. Augustine, Florida. I know many readers would think of that as a crazy detour. I rationalized it a couple of different ways. First, there wasn’t a completely straight route between the Mid Atlantic and the Mississippi Gulf so the detour didn’t make all that much difference in the larger trip. Was it the most direct route? No, of course not. It wasn’t totally insane either.

Second, there were lots of cool things to see and do in St. Augustine and I knew the boys would love it. My wife actually nailed it on the head, though. "Is this a county counting thing?" she asked. Well, ahem, yes that might have had something to do with it. She was fine with the idea once I confessed the ulterior motive. We’ve been married long enough by now that she accepts my weird hobby even if she doesn’t completely understand it.

We left on Christmas day to avoid the worst of the soul-sucking horror of Interstate 95 traffic and stopped overnight somewhere in North Carolina. That evening, with few restaurant options, I chose shrimp and grits for my Christmas Dinner. That’s a thing, right? The traditional shrimp and grits Christmas Dinner? I enjoyed it anyway, and it reminded me that we were in the South. I washed it down with a Sweet Tea since we were way below the Sweet Tea Line by that point. The next day we continued to Florida and all went smoothly except for some bad traffic for the final forty-five miles of South Carolina. We made it safely to St. Augustine (map) by late afternoon.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Castillo de San Marcos

We stopped first at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (map).

Americans often think of Plymouth, Massachusetts (established 1620) or Jamestown, Virginia (established 1607 – and visited by 12MC) as the "oldest" successful European settlements in the continental United States. That’s because people of English descent wrote many of the history books. As a point of fact, that honor should go to St. Augustine instead which was founded by Spanish settlers in 1565.

St. Augustine didn’t incorporate a magnificent fort from its inception. Rival European nations and their privateers conducted raids up and down the Atlantic coast. St. Augustine was sacked a couple of times by the English and threatened by the French. Spain finally had enough after the 1668 attack by Jamaican privateer Robert Searle. Construction of Castillo de San Marcos began in 1672, a full century after the original settlement of the city.

The National Park Service discussed the architecture and construction of this oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S., and its only surviving specimen from the Seventeenth Century:

… It is a prime example of the "bastion system" of fortification, the culmination of hundreds of years of military defense engineering. It is also unique for the material used in its construction. The Castillo is one of only two fortifications in the world built out of a semi-rare form of limestone called coquina… A cannon ball fired at more solid material, such as granite or brick would shatter the wall into flying shards, but cannon balls fired at the walls of the Castillo burrowed their way into the rock and stuck there, much like a bb would if fired into Styrofoam. So the thick coquina walls absorbed or deflected projectiles rather than yielding to them, providing a surprisingly long-lived fortress.

Castillo de San Marcos was constructed in a star shape with four bastions. This allowed defenders to create deadly crossfire for anyone hoping to to attack. The fort never fell during battle, however it changed hands a number of times because of political changes.

  • Florida became a British territory in 1763 as part of the settlement of the Seven Years’ War.
  • Florida returned to Spanish control in 1783 at the end of the American Revolutionary War (Spain had been a supporter of American independence and this was its reward).
  • Florida became part of the United States through the Adams–Onís Treaty in 1821.
  • Florida seceded from the U.S and joined the Confederate States of America in 1861.
  • Union troops seized the undefended fort in 1862 and held it for the remainder of the war and ever since.

During all that time and up until 1933, it remained a military garrison. Only then did the property convey to the U.S. National Park Service.

Saint Augustine Lighthouse

St. Augustine Lighthouse

Our other primary stop that day was the Saint Augustine Lighthouse (map).

Everyone else, it seemed, had a similar idea. The weather was absolutely perfect on the Saturday after Christmas. All the sites were mobbed. We drove onto Anastasia Island and noticed a line of traffic stretching at least a half-mile in the opposite direction, backed up by a traffic light at the end of the bridge in St. Augustine proper. Getting onto the island was easy. Getting back would be a problem. We couldn’t do anything about it so we headed towards the lighthouse anyway. We feared the worst when we were forced to park down the street because the parking lot was completely full. Tons of people mingled around the lighthouse base although few of them ventured to the top. I suppose the 219 steps in the spiral staircase separated the tourists from the lighthouse nerds. From there, 165 feet (50 metres) above the fray, we spotted another bridge several miles away. We enjoyed a panoramic lighthouse view of the Florida coast and discovered a way to avoid the dreaded stoplight. Pro Tip: maybe skip the extra helping of mashed potatoes on Christmas so one can climb to the top of the tower and find the secret escape route.

A lighthouse stood at this spot even during the Spanish period. It was an important structure marking the inlet between two barrier island, Anastasia and Conch, so that ships could enter the Matanzas River and approach St. Augustine safely. This version was constructed in 1874 and continues to remain an active navigational aid. According to Lighthouse Friends, the tower was built using brick from Alabama, granite from Georgia, iron work forged in Philadelphia, and a first-order Fresnel lens crafted in France."

And More

A1A Ale Works
A1A Ale Works

We also visited a couple of brewpubs including A1A Ale Works in downtown St. Augustine (map).

Imagine that. Somehow we ended-up at a fort, a lighthouse, and a brewpub — all things that I "collect" and count. It sounded pretty self-indulgent although we also did plenty of things enjoyed by the other members of the family too. I’ll talk about some of those in the second part.


On November 5, 2014 · 3 Comments

It dawned on me recently, as I drove around the Washington, DC area, that there seemed to be an inordinate number of reversible road lanes that switched directions on regular schedules. The occurrence that got me thinking about this was a one-block section of Washington Boulevard (map) on the western edge of Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood

Reversible Road Lane
Washington Blvd., Arlington, Virginia, USA
via Google Street View, July 2014

I’ve driven through that slot a number of times and I never gave it much of a second thought. It seemed rather self-explanatory. Overhead lights with green arrows and red x’s denoted lanes that could be traversed depending on prevailing morning or evening traffic patterns. It made sense even if it lasted for such a short distance. It was the only three lane segment with four lanes radiating from either end. It saved on construction costs.

The variety of different types of reversible lanes also surprised me as I started ticking-off some nearby examples.

Overhead Lights

Stupid Young Driver on Cell Phone in Closed Lane on Chesapeake Bay Bridge!
Stupid Young Driver on Cell Phone in Closed Lane on Chesapeake Bay Bridge! by William Johns, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge (map) connecting Maryland’s eastern shore to the rest of the state provided yet another example of overhead lights signaling traffic flow. The bridge accommodated prevailing traffic to and from Atlantic Ocean resorts especially during the summertime. More lanes opened towards the beach on Fridays and pointed back towards home on Sundays, almost like the ebb and flow of tides.

Overhead lights exposed an inherit problem: people needed to understand that lanes could reverse and they also needed to know what the symbols meant. "Stupid Young Driver on Cell Phone" had obvious difficulties with one or both of those concepts.

Just a Sign

'Signs' -- Chain Bridge (VA) January 2014
'Signs' — Chain Bridge (VA) January 2014 by Ron Cogswell, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Chain Bridge (map) had three lanes stretching across the Potomac River between Arlington and Washington, with the middle lane reversible. Only a single sign told motorists about the unusual situation (Street View). Presumably daily commuters traveling over the bridge during critical hours would already understand the situation. Woe to the poor visitor who happened to cross the bridge at an inopportune time and not see the sign.

A Machine Does All the Work

Lane Mover
Roosevelt Bridge, Washington, DC, USA
via Google Street View, August 2014

Another Potomac River bridge between Arlington and Washington, the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge (map) offered a better solution. The reversible section had a concrete barrier to keep drivers from making a mistake. An odd little machine moved the barrier twice a day to accommodate commuters. This unusual arrangement was created by Lindsay Transportation Solutions.

The moveable barrier system enables the DOT to quickly reconfigure traffic lanes and directional capacity on the bridge in less than 15 minutes (the bridge is just under one mile in length). The Barrier Transfer Machine (BTM) safely transfers the barrier one or two traffic lanes at speeds from seven to ten miles per hour. A magnetic tape grooved into the pavement guides the BTM and ensures precise placement of the barrier wall.

That seemed a lot safer than signs or overhead lights.

Completely Reversible with a Sign

IMG_4012 by bankbryan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Some of our local roads were completely reversible. The Rock Creek Parkway (map) — actually called the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway in official terms, which I didn’t know until a few minutes ago — operated with two lanes in both directions most of the time. However in the morning all four lanes headed towards Washington and all four lanes returned traffic to the suburbs in the evening. Monday through Friday. Except Federal holidays. Make an error reading a sign (Street View) and find oneself heading towards the wrong way on a four-lane highway.

I would stay away from here on Columbus Day. Federal government employees are about the only people who get the day off. Imagine everyone else forgetting about that quirk and thinking it was a normal Monday commute. Yikes!

Completely Reversible and Safer

Interstate 395 - Virginia
Interstate 395 – Virginia by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A stretch of Interstate 95 and Interstate 395 (map) from Northern Virginia into the District featured two High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes that switched directions for the morning and evening commutes, sandwiched between and completely separate from the regular highway lanes. These are being converted into High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes although the concept will remain largely the same.

These seemed considerably safer. Barrier arms blocked access to ramps that led to these special lanes so that cars traveling in the "wrong" direction couldn’t make a mistake. The arms raised when the lanes reversed and it was safe to travel that direction again.

There were several more reversible lanes in the area that I didn’t have space to mention. Also Wikipedia had an entire article devoted to reversible lanes in other parts of the world so I imagined they were rather prevalent. It was funny how I’ve grown so used to seeing them that I never considered how weird they seemed conceptually.

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