As I was planning this adventure last winter while I was in Qatar, and as I thinking about all the extreme geographic places I'd go once I got back to America, I realized that I'd need to create some rules for the trip. My goal was to be the first person to visit the 16 extreme compass points in America, but to do that, I had to establish some criteria. One reason is that, as I realized when I was planning my trip, this sort of endeavor could be a very fuzzy and nebulous undertaking.
One of my favorite resources for creating this road trip was the Wikipedia page on U.S. Geographic Extremes. However, if you read this page, you'll soon realize that the term "extreme" is not concrete. For instance, the page lists over a dozen locations that could all be considered the "Westernmost Point of the United States." That includes a place on the island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean, several places in Alaska (depending on the definition of "westernmost") and several places in the U.S., again depending on the definition of "westernmost." Are we talking about any U.S. state or territory in the world? If so, then the point in Guam is the westernmost. Are we talking only about the 50 states? Then it would be Adak Island at the far end of the Aleutian Island chain. What if we're considering only the North American continent? Well then, it would be the Cape Prince of Wales, also in Alaska. But if we're considering only the Lower 48 states, then the westernmost point is Cape Alava on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.
The same is true of the southernmost point. Among the 50 states, its Ka Lae in Hawaii (which I've been to, many years ago). But among the Lower 48 states, some would argue that it's Key West, Florida -- mainly because there's a huge marker there (which I've also been to) that says "Southernmost Point of the United States." But actually there a small island near Key West called Ballast Key that's a bit farther south than Key West. But if you're only considering the contiguous mainland part of America, then the southernmost point is Cape Sable in the Florida Everglades.
My point is, the definition of a “geographic extreme” is often open to interpretation.
Because defining a geographic extreme point can be subjective, I decided to create some rules before I embarked on this ambitious endeavor, both to provide me with guidance and clarity when trying to determine where these extreme points were, but also to make this endeavor feasible. If I had unlimited funds and unlimited time (Warren Buffett, are you listening?), I'd consider visiting places like Guam or Adak Island in Alaska. But I don't. I wanted to define the compass extremes such that they would be feasible for me (or anyone of similarly modest means) to visit in one trip. But on the other hand, I also wanted it to be a significant achievement instead of, say, defining my scope to the extreme points of a single state, such as Oregon or California. I mean, big deal about that, right?
There's also a logistic component to this, and specifically, what to do about islands. Take, for example, Cape Alava in the state of Washington, considered by many to be the westernmost point of the mainland United States. If you look at the Google imagery for Cape Alava, you'll see that there's an island offshore called Bodelteh Island. So is this the westernmost point instead of Cape Alava? Well actually, there are some rocks a few yards west of Bodelteh Island, so is that the westernmost point? Well gee, there are some mostly-submerged rocks just a few yards west of that. And on and on. No, I'm not getting in a kayak and paddling out to the westernmost rock, or easternmost rock, or southernmost key. Let someone else do that.
I'm going to define my endeavor to visit the 16 extreme compass points my own way. Let someone else, if they're so inclined, expand the definition and include places like Bodelteh Island, or Adak Island, or Guam. For that reason, I’m limiting my scope to the contiguous United States, also known as the mainland portion of the Lower 48 states. If the definition is expanded beyond this, I think it becomes virtually impossible to achieve. Yes, I'm ambitious and adventurous, but I'm also a realist. Oh, and sometimes for the sake of brevity, I'll say something in my website like "the westernmost point of America" rather than "the westernmost point of the contiguous mainland United States." But you'll know what I mean.
Specifically, these are my rules:
Rule #1: No Alaska or Hawaii
I'm not considering these places because:
- It's not feasible. I'm not going to spend thousands of dollars to travel to the end of Adak Island in the Aleutians -- then paddle out in a kayak to the farthest rock. Sorry, I'd rather spend my summer traveling around America (along with being an extreme geographer, I'm a lazy geographer). I doubt if anyone in my lifetime -- at least anyone who's not half-crazy -- will ever strive to be the first person to visit all 16 extreme compass points if they expand their definition to include Alaska. I’m partly crazy but not, in my opinion, half crazy.
- It would be, well, boring. By including these two states, the vast majority of the 16 extreme compass points would lie either in Hawaii or Alaska. As interesting as those states are, limiting my travels to mostly these two states wouldn’t be very fun.
Rule #2: No Islands
I'm not including any islands, and again, for the purpose of logistics. If you start including islands, where do you stop? There's almost always a small island off of a larger island, and a rock off the small island, and on and on.
I want to create criteria that have a clear definition so this trip could be repeated by someone else, and when they’re done defining the 16 points they’ll visit, I want them to be the exact same 16 points that I’ve identified. I want to minimize, if not totally eliminate, any subjectivity regarding the definition of an extreme point. So no islands.
Rule #3: No Private Property or Other Places the Public is Excluded From
I'm not going to trespass, violate any laws or regulations, or get myself arrested. If the public isn't allowed to go there, then I'm not going there. If that means I have to take a picture of one of the compass points from afar, then I'll do that -- but for a few moments at least, I will stand closer to that point than anyone else in America. If it's on private land, I'll try to find the land owner and will ask permission. If I'm denied access, then I'll get as close as possible on publicly-accessible land.
Rule #4: For Coastal Areas, Consider Only the Land Above the High-Tide Line
Most of the points I'll be visiting are along the coast. And coastal areas usually have tides. So it's important to define at the outset where exactly an extreme point is in a coastal area, because where the beach stops and the land starts is subject to someone's opinion.
I'm going to use the same definition of land that's used by my home state of Oregon, when they defined, back in the early 1900s, the public's free use of all coastal areas (and thus were the first state in America to do that). The State of Oregon defines the shore as any place below the high-tide line and "land" as being any place above the high-tide line. Thus, all shore areas in Oregon are open to the public and the public’s access to shore areas cannot be restricted in any way. That’s a pretty amazing law, isn't it? I wish neighboring California and Washington had something similar. No, in Oregon you cannot “fence off” a beach, and that's one reason I love living there.
Therefore, I'll define the extreme point of land on any coastal area as being land above the high-tide line. Otherwise, and given fluctuating tides, it's impossible to define the precise location of an extreme point on the coast.
Rule #5: Create Documentation
Maybe someone else has visited all 16 extreme points, but if so, they haven't documented in on the Internet -- or anywhere else, as far as I can determine I intend to document on this website my visit to each of the 16 points, including a short video interview, a picture of me holding my GPS showing the coordinates, a panorama picture, and a selfie.
Whose Party Is It?
So those are my rules. If you think different rules should be used, feel free to take your own road trip and post your own website. Like I said before, "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to." OK, as you can probably tell by now, I have a pretty good sense of humor about this whole endeavor.