By November 2015, I’d been living in Qatar for over two years and things were going well. In fact, things were going great and I was "loving life," as they say. I'd become comfortable with the cultural differences and hadn't made a major faux pas in months, my work was enjoyable, and I'd adjusted to life in the Middle East reasonably well. I missed America, certainly, but was really enjoying this new experience.
But then my office of 120 people was given some bad news: our contract was being terminated due to the decline in oil prices and the growing economic slump in the Middle East. Yep, my entire office was being cut.
Above: Every Friday morning (weekends in the Middle East are on Friday and Saturday), I walked three miles down Doha's waterfront, called the Corniche. My destination? "Del's Beach," one of the few patches of sand on Doha Bay. (4:20)
The economies of all of the Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, as well as Qatar) were getting hammered due to the decline in oil prices and consequently mass layoffs, such as the one dealt to my company, were becoming common. I'd sensed the first tremors in Qatar about a year earlier when I started hearing rumors of massive cutbacks. Thousands of expats like myself had poured into the country years earlier when oil prices were high, and now thousands like myself were flocking to the Departure gate of the airport, heading home. The economy of every Gulf country is very much "boom and bust" and you always have to be prepared for the worst.
And I was. In fact, I was fine with it, because I’d spent almost three years in Qatar and had saved up a little money. I would’ve preferred to continue working in Qatar because I loved the multi-cultural experience (and, OK, the money), but I was fine with moving back to the U.S., because I missed home and was looking forward to taking some time off. In fact, the first thought that popped into my head when I heard the news of our office’s contract cancellation was, “Road Trip!” And fortunately the Central Planning Office (CPO), was given four month’s notice, meaning that our jobs wouldn’t disappear until March 1. Therefore I spent much of that time planning a major road trip around America, which would start in the spring of 2016, shortly after I returned to America. Along with planning my trip, I also started perusing the Toyota.com website, figuring out what kind of truck I wanted to buy when I got back to Portland.
The "Extreme Geographer" Idea Takes Off
The day after we got the news about our office’s contract cancellation, I sat down at my computer and asked myself, “Where in the U.S. do I want to go on my road trip?” I opened my GIS (i.e., computer mapping) software and started creating a dot map, putting a dot on each place I wanted to visit in America.
During the next few days, as I’d occasionally update my dot map, certain themes started to emerge. Soon I’d placed dots on some of my favorite places that I’d wanted to visit again, like Cape Hatteras and southern Utah, other dots indicated places I’d never been to, like Memphis, and of course some dots represented my friends and relatives around the U.S. that I wanted to visit. Even some that I didn’t want to visit. OK, Aunt Edna, I’m joking.
During those first few weeks of planning the trip, I also started placing a few dots over places of geographic extremes, like the easternmost point of the United States, which I’d visited in 1985, and the westernmost point of the Lower 48 states, which I’d visited in 1993. “Heck,” I said to myself as I looked at my map – I would’ve said something more colorful but this was the Middle East and swearing is discouraged – “if I’m going to those places, I should also go to the southernmost and northernmost points of the U.S because I’ve never been to those places.”
So I placed dots on Cape Sable, in Everglades National Park on the southern tip of Florida and also on a place called Angle Inlet in northern Minnesota, which extends just above the 49th parallel, the straight line that runs east-west from Minnesota to the state of Washington, and which defines the U.S. border with Canada. Some of you might think that Key West is the southernmost point of the Lower 48 states, but it’s an island and according to the “rules” that I was developing for this road trip, I wasn’t considering islands (or Alaska or Hawaii) – otherwise, this “geographic extremes” trip would be virtually impossible, for me or anyone else. So yes, Cape Sable is the southernmost point of the United States mainland. And due to a surveying error in the 1700’s, this obscure place called Angle Inlet in Minnesota is the northernmost point of the Lower 48 states. Very few people have been to Angle Inlet and fewer people have been to Cape Sable, because both places are really hard to get to. But I wanted to go to both because, well, I’m the extreme geographer!
Those were the extreme cardinal directions: North, South, East and West. Then I decided to also visit the extreme ordinal directions during my road trip: Northeast, Southeast, Northwest and Southwest. Using my GIS software and Google Maps, I calculated the coordinates of these locations and studied the aerial imagery at each point. I also started doing some Internet research and realized, surprisingly, that no one seemed to know where these extreme ordinal points were located. For instance, I read several newspaper articles online that said San Diego, California was the “southwesternmost point of the United States.” But they were wrong, because according to my calculations, the southwesternmost point of the United States was up near Santa Barbara, a bit farther north than San Diego, certainly, but a whole lot farther west. And yes, I'll describe my methodology for calculating these points later.
A few weeks later -- by now it was early December -- I started calculating the extreme inter-ordinal points of the Lower 48, deciding to visit those places during my trip, as well. That's because, after all, I'm the extreme geographer! These included the north-northwesternmost point, the south-southeasternmost point and the other 6 inter-ordinals. Altogether then, between the cardinal, ordinal and inter-ordinal points, there were 16 extreme compass points around the U.S. that I wanted to visit during my upcoming road trip. These included:
- The four extreme cardinal points:
- Northernmost point (in Minnesota)
- Easternmost point (in Maine)
- Southernmost point (in Florida)
- Westernmost point (in Washington)
- The four extreme ordinal points:
- Northeasternmost point (in Maine)
- Southeasternmost point (in Florida)
- Southwesternmost point (in California)
- Northwesternmost point (in Washington)
- The eight extreme inter-ordinal points:
I located each of these 16 points on a map of the U.S., zooming in close so I could see the nearby houses and bridges, and I figured out in my mind how I’d get to each point. Again, my rules were simple:
- No Alaska
- No Hawaii
- No Islands
After doing more Internet research, I realized that no one had ever been to all 16 extreme compass points. Certainly people (including myself) have been to some of these locations but no one had been to all 16 – or at least had never documented it. And that’s when I decided that the theme of this road trip would be “Extreme Geography.”
My goal was to become the first person to visit all 16 extreme geographic compass points in the Lower 48 states. And since the trip’s theme would be Geographic Extremes, I started adding more extreme destinations other than the compass points, including the highest city, the lowest lake, the lowest city, the longest highway, the coldest city, and the driest place. So by January, I’d created a map containing over 100 destinations around the United States and Canada and started setting up my new website, www.ExtremeGeographer.com.
Looking at the map I'd created, now I just had to connect the dots! I’d still be in Qatar for another few months, but I was eager to get back to the U.S. and begin my trip.
Here are more photos of Qatar as I started to plan my road trip around America:
A Walk on the Corniche
A CPO Lunch
Our Desert Safari
National Sport Day