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:
- 1. Head east on I-40
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?