12MC is back! Thank you for bearing with me while a took a brief respite from posting new articles. There were logistical reasons. Each race in the five state series took much of the morning, then we’d have to drive to the next location (stopping at geo-oddity sites along the way), arrive late each afternoon, and then start preparing for the next race the following morning. The distances were much farther than my Dust Bowl adventure, and we covered 2,700 miles (4,350 kilometres) in 9 days. Those unfamiliar with the basic outline can reacquaint themselves with our ambitious travel itinerary in The Pitch.
This was the longest break I’ve taken from 12MC in the six-plus years that I’ve been writing it. It felt weird. I had one article in the bag ready to post. It had a rushed and hurried tone without the quality normally befitting this site. So I gave myself permission to take a break. Now I’m able to look at the totality of my Riverboat adventure and organize subjects into themes rather than suffer the disjointed limitations of chronology.
I received several audience sightseeing suggestions both beforehand and along the way. Some of those made it into the narrative and will appear in articles over the next couple of weeks. Enjoy!
The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers Confluence
The Riverboat adventure focused on the Lower Mississippi River, defined as beginning at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and extending to the Gulf of Mexico. We didn’t make it all the way to the Gulf although we started at the confluence and made it as far south as northern Louisiana.
We experienced only a single "disappointment" during the entire trip, and I’m almost embarrassed to call it a disappointment because it was so completely trivial. We planned a picnic lunch at Ft. Defiance Park located directly at the confluence. It would have been a lovely vantage point both for its scenery and its geographic significance. It would have offered Illinois’ southernmost point as well as its lowest point of elevation in addition to the awesomeness of the confluence itself. The park was closed because of recent flooding that happens frequently during springtime. Snowmelt flows down from the northern extremes of the Mississippi watershed and overruns the banks in floodplain areas. It was a mess.
Ft. Defiance Park at the Mississippi/Ohio River Confluence
Instead, under the guise of lemons vs. lemonade, we recorded one of the shortest state clips traversed by a 2-digit US Highway. Traveling this route, we crossed from Kentucky into Illinois over the Ohio River, drove through Illinois for a single mile (map) stopping briefly for a few photos — notice the water — and then crossed from Illinois into Missouri. Yes, it would have been nice to have been able to stop there for lunch. It didn’t happen. We salvaged our misfortune by having a perfectly fine picnic at an equally scenic spot a little farther downriver while waiting for the Dorena-Hickman ferry.
Much of Kentucky featured irregular borders (map) defined by rivers or mountain ridges. The Ohio River determined much of its northern and western border. A small portion, however, at the far western extreme of the commonwealth and immediately south of the confluence straddled the Mississippi River. That was our target.
High bluffs protected some of this area so that residents here remained dry while their neighbors in Illinois and Missouri flooded. We stopped at Columbus-Belmont State Park for one of the races. That was the site of a Confederate fortification during the US Civil War, perched atop the bluff in an attempt to control river access and commercial traffic during the conflict.
Farther downstream, Memphis was undoubtedly the largest city we encountered during our journey. We blew through it on our first pass using its highways as a means cross the river and push towards our next destination in rural Arkansas. We would see Memphis again on the return path and stay for a couple of days, and in a bit of foreshadowing, yes we visited Graceland.
Barges heading up- and downstream were a frequent sighting during our journey. Here, a barge passed below the Hernando DeSoto Bridge that carried traffic on Interstate 40 between Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas.
I’ve driven across the Mississippi River numerous times over the years. However I’ve never driven along the river this far before, not even during my Great River Road trip in Wisconsin. I gained a new appreciation for just how infrequently one can cross the river as we progressed southward down its path, jogging back-and-forth across its banks. One doesn’t comprehend that same sense of rarity on the Interstate highway system where the Mississippi River hardly seemed an obstacle at all.
We used the Greenville Bridge outside of Greenville, Mississippi a couple of times during the drive. We had one race on the immediate western side in Lake Village, Arkansas, and another race just south of Greenville, Mississippi the next day. That provided a rare respite, an uncharacteristic day that involved little driving and some needed downtime.
Lake Chicot, Arkansas
The Arkansas race took place at a beautiful spot along Lake Chicot, the lake for which Lake Village gained its name. Chicot was a classic oxbow lake.
The Oxbow Crescent of Lake Chicot, Arkansas, USA
Wikipedia described it as "the largest oxbow lake in North America and the largest natural lake in Arkansas, formed 600 years ago by the meandering of the Mississippi River." Astute 12MC readers know how much I love oxbows. Largest oxbow in North America! Largest natural lake in Arkansas! Sold. I experienced a genuine geo-oddity simply by watching marathoners loop through the park for a few hours while I went on a photo safari.
Then it started raining like crazy, with thunder and lightning and torrential downpours and the whole deal. This was our day without driving and we knew we were fortunate. I wasn’t disappointed by a rainy day. We were lucky even though the weather sucked, using it as an excuse to hole-up in a warm hotel room for an afternoon to relax.
At this point a special shout-out goes to reader "Bill C." for suggesting the Riverwalk at Mud Island. As the park site explained, "The Riverwalk is an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River flowing from its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois 954 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico." I didn’t know about this place in advance and I would have missed it without Bill C.’s suggestion. It was geo-geek paradise, so thanks Bill C.
The Riverwalk represented the entire Lower Mississippi in miniature, everything we’d just spent a full week driving, at a scale where every footstep representing about a mile. I was giddy as I hopped back and forth across the model, pointing out each spot we’d visited during our journey while my wife rolled her eyes and pretended to be amused. This photo captured the Kentucky Bend (aka "Bubbleland") portion, which gave an indication of the model’s colossal scale.
The entire Riverwalk stretched about a half-mile with each concrete layer representing a five-foot elevation change. Notice the color changes, too. The light-tan coloration represented the floodplain. Thus, much of Kentucky Bend would be subject to periodic flooding while the darker-colored area remained dry. Not surprisingly, I noticed that was where the farmers concentrated their homes when we’d visited the Bend earlier in the week.
Signage at the park indicated that the model held about 1.2 million gallons (4.5 million litres) of water at any given time. It was interactive too. Lots of children splashed around in the river and that was perfectly fine. The gift shop even sold T-shirts to that effect.
It’s Sunday, a day to relax, so I thought I’d dispense with an article that required actual research and focused on something that might exercise a different part of the brain. It’s kind-of silly and pointless although it offered an opportunity for plenty of 12MC audience participation. I wondered, as I drove to my destination, about the longest distance I could drive without a GPS talking to me. For some of you that would be infinite because you don’t use a GPS on principal, and I respect that. I still find the device useful as a companion to a range of the other tools including my own common sense. For those who choose to use a GPS then, about how long could one drive without hearing a single voice command? I know I’ve seen instructions that said something like "continue on Route XYZ" for greater than a hundred miles on my various road trips.
That can’t be the longest. Obviously I don’t have the time, energy or inclination to test a solution in the wild so I decided to use Google Maps as a proxy. The rules would be simple. In fact, there would be only one rule: the written directions must have a single command equivalent to keep on truckin’. Point your vehicle, don’t turn, don’t deviate, don’t stop, don’t bear right or left, don’t drive aboard a ferry, don’t negotiate a roundabout, just continue to follow the single line of instruction.
I-40 Between Barstow, CA and Oklahoma City, OK, USA
Google Maps reserved its craziest distances for the United States. I didn’t know if that was a Google thing or if it was a characteristic of the U.S. interstate highway system of very well-developed motorways through extremely depopulated areas. Interstate 40 turned out to be the grand champion for a segment between Barstow, California and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Here were the complete Google driving instructions:
That’s all. For 1,215 miles — 1,953 kilometres (¹), head east. Well, it also noted helpfully that one would pass through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas before entering Oklahoma. However that didn’t change the basic premise. Assuming one never had to stop for gasoline, for rest or for a biological imperative, the GPS unit would remain silent for more than twelve hundred miles and nearly nineteen hours at normal highway speeds. Theoretically.
There were numerous extreme occurrences in the United States with a single written instruction provided in Google Maps. All of them were longer than 621 miles — 1,000 kilometres. The segments are a bit of a pain to isolate so you can either take my word for it or go into Google Maps and tease them out yourself. Remember, Google seems to offer slightly different results to different people as well as changing conclusions over time so your results may vary.
- I-40: 1,215 miles (1,953 km)
- I-90: 1,135 miles (1,827 km)
- I-70: 1,105 miles (1,778 km)
- I-80: 1,053 miles (1,695 km)
- I-10: 974 miles (1,568 km)
- I-5: 855 miles (1,376 km)
- I-90 + I-94: 824 miles (1,326 km) followed by 823 miles (1,325 km)
- I-94: 824 miles (1,326 km)
- I-81: 682 miles (1,098 km)
- I-26: 649 miles (1,044 km)
- I-15: 647 miles (1,041 km)
The Interstate 90 and Interstate 94 discovery was particularly interesting, with back-to-back 800+ mile segments. It would have stretched 1,647 miles (2,651 km) if it weren’t for an instruction to "keep left to continue on I-94 E" outside of Billings, Montana. That last item brought up a good point. I’ve only checked these distances going in one direction, generally west to east or north to south. Distances could vary if one flipped directions. I’ll leave those stones to be turned by the 12MC audience. Maybe someone will discover a result that blows my findings out of the water.
M58 Between Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai and Uglegorsk, Amur Oblast, Russia
I figured, the larger the nation the greater the probability of a single road stretching the farthest, right? What better place to start than Russia? The best example I uncovered occurred between Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai and Uglegorsk, Amur Oblast, on Highway M58, a part of the Trans-Siberian Highway.
- 1. Head east on Amyp/M58. Continue to follow M58
That was the single line of driving instruction for a distance of 1,337 kilometres (831 miles). It seemed like a glitch, though. Why would Google specify an odd rectangular gyration on an otherwise clear stretch of road that would require one to turn at Uglegorsk?
I had to turn to Yandex for a decent satellite image. Further research indicated that Uglegorsk was a closed urban settlement that was originally constructed to serve a nearby base for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. It’s also the future site of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, now under construction. It would make sense to create a checkpoint on the M58 highway right at that spot.
Russian route M58, the Amur Highway, would continue uninterrupted for another 754 kilometres (469 mi) without the unusual detour at Uglegorsk, and the combined length would become 2,091 kilometres (1,300 mi). That would make it longer than the I-40 stretch in the United States. I’ll assume that the Russian space program is slightly more important than the nation being crowned a grand champion of silent GPS driving distances.
An interesting bit of trivia about M58; it wasn’t completed until 2010. As noted in the St. Petersburg Times,
It is the last link in a road system that stretches from Murmansk, north of the Arctic Circle on the Barents Sea, and Kaliningrad, on the border with Poland, to Vladivostok, on the Pacific Ocean… Services — filling stations, hotels and auto repair shops — are rare on the highway, and lengthy sections do not have access to electricity.
Great Northern Highway Between Wubin and Port Hedland, WA, Australia
I turned to another large nation with wide open spaces for the next example and found a decent example on Australia’s Great Northern Highway.
- 1. Head north-east on Great Northern Hwy/National Highway 95. Continue to follow Great Northern Hwy
The directions continued that way for another 1,323 kilometres (822 mi) through Western Australia, from Wubin to an intersection with the North West Coastal Highway south of Port Hedland, near the Indian Ocean coastline. I knew that Australia had some amazing road distances so I wasn’t surprised at all by this result.
My unscientific examination of other nations yielded additional single instruction driving distances extending more than a thousand kilometres.
- Canada’s Trans-Canada Highway: 1,301 kilometres (808 mi)
- China’s G45: 1,078 kilometres (670 mi)
- Algeria’s N1: 1,044 kilometres (649 mi)
Feel free to try different locations, or flip-flop directions, or use other online map sites.
Here we go again, facing a U.S. government shutdown because of political failures to approve a budget. I reviewed what I wrote in March 2011, Tourist Options During a Government Shutdown, and found it to be up-to-date for the most part. Sadly, baseball won’t be an option in Washington this October however I’m sure there are plenty of other recreational or entertainment possibilities.
(¹) I’ll reference miles first for distances in the United States since that’s the measure used there, and flip to kilometres for locations where that’s the standard. As I’ve noted before, I don’t know why the U.S. won’t switch to the metric system. No and I don’t understand why the U.S continues to have a unit of currency that’s one-hundredth of a dollar either. What can I say?
This has absolutely nothing to do with the Grateful Dead although they were indeed from California and noted for Truckin’. It is literally about trucks in California. Feel free to listen to Truckin’ in the background if that would make you happy though.
It all started out more grandiosely. I recalled a particularly awful drive on Virginia’s Interstate 81 last November where it seemed like every other vehicle on the highway was a truck. Some were driving with extreme aggression and well above the posted speed limit. The rest were poking along well below the limit. I grew increasingly aggravated as I slalomed between them.
That incident later inspired an online quest to find a highway with the highest percentage of trucks primarily so I could forever avoid it. That quest continues. I haven’t given up that search. Meanwhile I do have an answer for California. I found a great page from the California Department of Transportation. I was able to download a spreadsheet of annual average daily truck traffic in 2011, which I then sorted appropriately to determine all California state highways with more trucks than cars. It happens rarely. Only a small handful of places throughout the state met that standard. Imagine the nightmare of routes where more than half of all vehicles are trucks, not "seems like it" but genuinely so, consistently, day after day, forever.
Of course I plotted the offending locations. I found it fascinating that almost all of them happen near borders.
View California Truck Routes in a larger map
I examined each area and I tried to determine what might account for an overabundance of truck traffic, paying particular attention to apparent clusters.
View Larger Map
The top spot went to Rt. 115 at its junction with Rt. 78 in Imperial County. Trucks composed an astounding 81.9% of recorded vehicle traffic passing this point in 2011. That is such an amazing statistical outlier — no other point in the California managed to crack even 60% — that I had to wonder if it might have been a typographical error. I checked the math and it seemed to work. Nearby, Route 98 at Cole Road in Calexico also scored high with 56.36% trucks.
All truck traffic crossing from Mexico into the United States along this particular stretch of the border uses the "Calexico East" Port of Entry. That might explain Route 98. I’m not sure it explains Rt. 115. It doesn’t seem to follow a logical path between the port of entry and the outside world. Farms and fields surround the junction. Maybe trucks address some sort of agricultural purpose here instead?
Los Angeles/Long Beach
View Larger Map
This one seemed more straightforward. The adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two busiest container ports in the United States. Add their volume together and they handle three times the cargo of the next busiest port, New York/New Jersey.
Two spots nearby both hit 57.52% truck traffic, on Rt. 47 where it crosses the Commodore Heim Lift Bridge and shortly thereafter where Rts. 47 and 103 split. Notice their placement on the map above. They are practically equidistant between two very active ports. A massive volume of containers heads in-and-out at any given time and this route serves a good option. It’s a wonder truck percentages weren’t higher.
Maybe the brief stretch of Interstate 40 from Needles, California to the Arizona state line falls within this same cluster, even though it’s completely across the state? The highway provides a straight shot between the ports and several distant metropolitan areas including Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Amarillo and even Oklahoma City. The southeastern interior of California wouldn’t account for much local traffic, and containers originating in Asia would need to roll east in a steady stream to distant inland cities.
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I was going to guess that truck traffic near Bakersfield might be serving agricultural needs until I drilled-down to the exact spot. The junction of Rts. 58 and 33 happens in McKittrick, which falls outside of the fertile San Joaquin Valley. The terrain looked rather rough and pretty much dug-up by human activity. Thank goodness for Wikipedia and the likely explanation:
The town is in the center of a large oil-producing region in western Kern County. Along State Route 33 to the south of the town is the Midway-Sunset Oil Field, the second-largest oil field in the contiguous United States; within the town itself, as well as to the west is the McKittrick Field; to the northwest is the huge Cymric Field; and along Highway 33 beyond Cymric is the large South Belridge Oil Field, run by Aera Energy LLC. East of McKittrick is Occidental Petroleum’s Elk Hills Field, formerly the U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve.
I don’t know if every truck passing through here serves the oil industry, however it seems like a plausible reason for much of the 55.55% truck volume, absent further evidence.
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Of all roads with greater than 50% truck traffic, only Route 161 in Siskiyou County fell outside of southern California. It’s about as far away from the others as possible. The anomaly recorded 55.25% truck traffic at the far northern extreme of the state. There might be an agricultural reason because of nearby farms. There might also be another reason, forestry: Winema National Forest, Fremont National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Shasta National Forest and Klamath National Forest are nearby as are areas accessible to commercial logging. Maybe the trucks are hauling logs?