On August 12, 2010 · 4 Comments

I follow the usual geography blogs each day like many of you probably do too. They all seem to have distinct personalities even if they cover the same subjects already blossoming in the popular media. I wouldn’t trade those blogs for anything. They’re informative and insightful, and I enjoy them. However, I wouldn’t try to compete with them either. My niche and my personal interests happen to fall a bit further outside of the mainstream.

Rarely, very rarely, I’ll stumble across a webpage or a blog posting — and it’s usually found on a site that delves into subjects other than geography or travel — and I’ll experience an odd feeling of familiarity. “Wow, that’s something that would have fit perfectly on the Twelve Mile Circle. Too bad I didn’t come up with it first.

That brings me to ultralineamentum. It’s a word and a concept coined by Dr. Cliff Pickover on a page he put together way back in 2006, “The Longest Line in America!” I found the page by pure happenstance as I researched my “Australia’s Longest Straight Line” article. The confused search engine that sent me on this errant path deserves my utmost gratitude.

He derived the word from Latin, “lineamentum,” a line drawn with pen or pencil. I enjoy creating words too when I can’t find one that fits, so ultralineamentum scored extra points right from the beginning.

He described the concept in straightforward terms:

For years I have wanted to travel the longest straight line that traverses America. My rules for such a line were simple. The line could not pass outside America and could not go through the oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. In other words, the line had to stay inside the continental boundaries.

Dr. Pickover drew upon the mapping skills of Mark Nandor and a solution was born. They determined that the line, the ultralineamentum if you prefer, stretched all the way from a point where Ocean Creek met the beach near Neah Bay at the far northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, to 1 Ocean Drive in Jupiter, Florida. The ultralineamentum extends 2,802 miles (~4,500 kilometers). Both of their websites explain the basis of the calculation and provide a host of maps that will cause you to salivate. You should check them out.

View Larger Map

This is the route that Google Maps suggests. We could probably get much closer to the proper straight line with some modification and tweaking, by shifting away from the Interstate highway system to local roads. Google predicts 3,384 miles over 2 days and 9 hours, nonstop. It’s feasible over a three-day weekend, theoretically. It would take a lot longer to cover the distance using local roads or any rational thought process.

I wrote to Dr. Pickover and asked him if he’d found an opportunity to travel the route in the several years since he first proposed the idea. No, unfortunately, he’s not been able to make the journey. I considered whether I could grasp the glory for myself for about a nanosecond. Three day weekend… Labor Day coming up… flight to Seattle… rental car…

Then I imagined the reaction I’d get from my wife. You know the one. It’s the identical expression I got when I suggested that we should sell the house, buy a recreational vehicle the size of a bus and visit every county in the United States. Right. That’s the one. It was followed by the tersely-worded phrase, “maybe you can do that with your second wife.”

Sadly, I’ll have to pass on this opportunity. It’s still waiting out there for the right person.


On August 12, 2010 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Ultralineamentum”

  1. James D says:

    It’s at times like this that one wishes Google Maps had a projections option — this is one of those times for Mercator! Looking at the great circle route, it passes through WA, ID, MT, ID again (near Gibbonsville), MT again, WY, NE (just missing the north-east corner of CO), KS, MO (just missing the north-east corner of OK), MS (just missing the south-west corner of TN), AL, FL, a tiny bit of GA, then FL. And now I wish there were a county layer to try to create a route that passes through every county on that line… (And, yes, I’m guessing I’d end up cursing rivers, mountains, and the way that Kansas has virtually no diagonal roads.)

  2. colin says:

    As usual, I have tried translating 12 mile circle blog posts to my home country of Australia. The longest line I could find through australia was a mere 3719km, and the closest drive I could find to it was 4971km.


    I also thought to have a look at the longest line in Canada. Canada is a bit more interesting than Australia (and I guess the US) in that it has Hudson’s bay cutting through the middle. Even with that, the longest line was 4599km. By road Google tells me it is 6754km, although it cheats (and misses the point of the line) by going through the US. I expect that if it stuck to within Canada, it could be done a lot shorter (in length, if not by time) by staying in Canada.


    I find that a good way to find the shortest way by road between two places is to get directions for walking. If you ignore the (often ridiculous) time estimates, it can often find paths that are 5-20% shorter than the driving directions.

  3. pfly says:

    You and Pickover should both make the trip. Neah Bay is gorgeous, and is the main access point to the Olympic Coast Wilderness–you know, the coastline part of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_National_Park. Okay, sure, most of the drive would be tedious and unremarkable, but what a reward at the end! As far as I know there is no other ocean coast wilderness in the United States–at least not on the scale of this one. I went backpacking and camping there once abnd can’t wait to do it again. As a geo-geek I like the ultralineamentum idea, but the mere mention of Neah Bay makes me forget geogeekery and commence pining for the the wildest coast of the United States!

  4. Steve says:

    Oh I know that look. I get it almost weekly, but we compromise quite well.

    I’ve mentioned the giant RV dream over the years and have always gotten the look. But lately, due to unique family circumstances limiting certain travel options, the look has diminished and there have actually been questions like, “how much would something like that ridiculously massive RV cost?”

    Gimme 30 years and talk to me then. This could happen.

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