Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Adventure is a Verb

124-Hour Road Trip Anyone? Shortest Driving Route Through All 48 Contiguous States

Posted: Jun 09, 2014 9:58 PM EDTUpdated: Jun 09, 2014 10:36 PM EDTWritten and Posted By: Pablo Pereira, Meteorologist / Reporter / Web Producer, My Fox Los Angeles 

I am pretty sure that by now you and I have both seen the above headline, at least once.

A love a good backstory. But I love a great adventure even more. And that is why I need to share the Road Trip story that I found today, as well as the story behind it. My motive for sharing this Road Trip is not because I want to attempt it. Quite the opposite! Instead, I am sharing it to compare it unfavorably to more interesting and purposeful adventures that I would much rather attempt.

This particular story began with a rhetorical question posed as a puzzle on a wonderful "geo-oddity" blog called the Twelve Mile Circle. I encourage you to bookmark the site and return to it often, especially if you enjoy stories about unusual places. At any rate, our backstory begins with the following question:

"How many individual states in the United States can someone visit in a single day by automobile? My personal theoretical best result was eighteen states — counting the District of Columbia as a "state" for this purpose — in 23 hours and 59 minutes." --"Busy Days" published June 24, 2012 in the blog, 12MC.

Interesting question! Below is a map of Twelve Mile Circle's theoretical solution: White River Junction, Vermont to Lavonia, Georgia. Note that I have described the question as "rhetorical" and "interesting," and the author himself described the solution as "theoretical." This is a mind game. We are playing with maps and geography and math. This is not an exercise in character development. No one is really going to go out and drive this course because the point was to work out the optimization problem in a map.

12MC's solution to the 24-hour problem

This challenge to find the most "state-tudinous 24-hour road trip" was the inspiration for Data Pointed blogger Stephen Von Worley's August 7, 2012 post. Just over a month after the original challenge was fielded, Von Worley tweaked and expanded the concept into the all-encompassing route across America described and depicted below.
"Altogether, that’s a pleasant 6,813 mile drive, starting at South Berwick, Maine and ending in Taft, Montana, and passing, if ever so briefly, through each of the remaining Lower 48 states and the District of Columbia. Average 55 mph with stops, swap in fresh drivers as necessary, and you’ll traverse every member of the contiguous U.S. in just under 124 hours. To complete the fifty, you’ll need to bag Alaska and Hawaii. ...[A]t Spokane a three-legged loop to Honolulu, Anchorage, and back, which adds about 36 hours, including layovers, for a total travel time of Just under one week: 160 hours, or 3.2 hours per state." --The Fifty, Swiftly: How Fast Could You Visit All 50 States?
The Data Pointed solution: South Berwick, Maine to Taft, Montana. I find the solution to be quite elegant and so far I have not seen anyone field a better, i.e., more efficient, solution.

Data Pointed's solution to the 48 States problem

As with the theoretical solution to 12MC's challenge, this solution includes Washington, DC. Efficient routes which maximize the numbers of states in minimal time are bound to include DC and the smaller states of the Northeastern US. (The foregoing was possibly the only time "efficient" and "DC" have been mentioned in the same sentence.) The inclusion of DC in both solutions indicates that neither author factored in the traffic vortex around our Nation's Capitol, in which a 12-mile drive can take hours, days, or even weeks. At any rate, what we have here is another interesting, rhetorical question with a theoretical, mathematical solution. Nothing to stir the soul here, just more playing with maps.  

Of course, traveling to the start and from the finish is not included in either of the calculations. We would all have our own individual start and finish points, so this is technically not part of the problem. But more to the point, this is excluded from the discussion because no one is actually going to do this, right?

Flash forward nearly two years and we have the now ubiquitous June 9, 2014 My Fox LA version of the story currently plastering everyone's Facebook. People see the map, think, "That looks like fun," and press the share button without much more than a passing thought. It's a little piece of amusing eye-candy, serving its 10-second purpose before being flushed into the ever-widening stream of pop culture.

I opted not to share the Facebook link to my friends after I dug into the story a bit and began pondering the implications of this three-point arc descending from 12MC to Data Pointed to MyFoxLA. At bottom, this "adventure" is just a bit of click-bait. It's a tease. Humans want to be adventurous--it's in our nature. We want to attempt great things and tell great tales. But do we follow our hearts?

If 1,000,000 people have seen Stephen Von Worley's map by now,
  • How many do you think saw it first in MyFoxLA's made for Social Media version? 95%?
  • How many do you think have shared the IDEA of a Road Trip to Facebook friends? 65% of those?
  • How many will "boldly" announce plans to follow the route themselves? 50% of those?
  • How many who saw this on Social Media and shared it and announced plans to do it will actually attempt to do this as a Road Trip within the next 12 months? Maybe 1% of those? You can do the math but based on all of our guesses and assumptions thus far, we are looking at about 3,000 people or a mere 0.3% of all who have seen the map. 
  • How many of the above will plan to do this trip with friends in 4 or more wheels, swapping drivers and napping between shifts to minimize stops and increase average mph? Probably 95% 
  • How many will contemplate going alone on two wheels? The remaining 5% would be about 150 brave souls.

Interesting to ponder: how does the "take rate" compare between the folks who found Von Worley's map on its primary site, Data Pointed, and those who had it handed to them in the secondary world of Social Media? I bet the take rate among secondary consumers is much, much lower.

The folks who are helping make the story viral are adding comments, such as, "Let's go!" and then merely moving on to the next amusement--without ever leaving the couch.

This is to adventure what McDonald's is to food. 

Now, why would I bother to share all this if I have no intention of actually embarking on this endeavor? In my opinion, this story is incompatible with the idea of adventure. The story began as a geography-based math problem with a 24-hour limit. It got tweaked and expanded to a 48-state tour to be traveled in the least time. Then it got twisted into a road trip about the shortest route to drive and cross the borders of each of the 48 states. "Hey, throw in flights from Spokane to Juneau to Honolulu and back to Spokane and you can complete the whole set!"

I know a coffee chain that has a mug club you might be interested in.

When you finish, you can say that you "touched" all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Cool. And what will be your answer when your grand kids ask you:

  • What did you see, touch, smell, taste, and hear? 
  • What did you learn that changed your perspective? 
  • In what ways did this experience change how you feel in your heart and soul about life?
  • In what ways did this experience develop your character? 
  • Did you have fun? Did you take lots of pictures? Instagram? Snapchat? Vine?
  • Was it fun following the proscribed path without deviation? 
  • What toy did you get with your Happy Meal?

Maybe someone else comes along and says they covered the route in even less time. The "Road Trip" adventure turns into a race to see who can blow past the scenery even faster. Next, people will be downing 5-hour energy drinks like water and wearing adult diapers.

In fairness to Pablo Pereira, the author and publisher of the MyFoxLA piece, he did encourage people to actually enjoy the Road Trip:
Ready to go? CLICK HERE and let GOOGLE Maps plan the route with step by step driving directions. Have fun and make sure to take plenty of pictures! 
To his credit, Mr. Pereira also offered a "slow-food" version of the See All 48 States concept. The travelogue video created by CreativityTour48 is more to my liking:
Not in a hurry? Check out the video from CreativityTour48. They did a different route in 31 days.
The shortest path between all 48 contiguous states is a great problem for a basic class in goal programming. It's a good premise for solving the traveling salesman problem in which multiple routes are possible, and the goal is to find the shortest one. If you are a truck driver or a traveling salesman and you want to find the shortest route for a series of deliveries or sales calls, then you do not want adventure, you want efficiency.

Want to learn more about the Traveling Salesman Problem? Check out the video from poprhythm which visually compares Greedy, Local Search, and Simulated Annealing strategies for solving the Traveling Salesman problem. 

I have a different challenge. If you are willing to ride 6813 miles anyway, what is the most notable achievement you could choose to attempt? Ever since my RAGBRAI days (bike ride across Iowa 450 miles in a week), I dreamed of riding my bicycle across the United States. The goal was inspiring. I aspired to achieve it. As the root word "spire" implies, the thought and the motive came from within my heart and connected my intention to something outside my experience, something Divine.

I plan the shortest route when the goal is to minimize resource consumption. When I plan an adventure, I think about how it will make me feel to have achieved the goal. A very different motive will lead to a very different quest, and a very different path and experience.

So, what is my better idea of an adventure? How about some of these? Note that these are all on two wheels, but the point is simply this: Adventure is a Verb--Just DO it!

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all!” – Helen Keller