Get Away, If You Can

Posted on July 15, 2010 by Mickey

There are a lot of different angles to this whole “environmentalist” thing, probably because the “environment” is basically made up of “everything.” That makes for a lot of angles. So we have the energy angle and the transportation angle and the food angle and the multi-purpose undergarments angle and on and on and all the rest, most of them overlapping and cross-pollinating ad infinitum. But just as with biological vs. adopted children or guys surnamed Jonas, we inevitably choose favorites: I like the wilderness angle (also, Nick; he’s the real talent.) Or maybe we should call it the land conservation angle. Whatever. It was my first love (for the record, we’re no longer talking about Nick Jonas.) Through all the recycling and hypermiling and organic strawberries and “if it’s yellow, let it mellow,” I have one image in my head- a place worth saving, and to me it’s the kind of place where none of those other angles even apply because they haven’t made it there yet. They aren’t willing to walk that far.

I was reading a discussion forum on recently that asked readers what the most remote location in their state is. Most of the thread was dominated by residents of the western US debating the geography and remoteness of places like the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho and southeastern Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The discussion quickly became focused on one idea of remote: distance from the nearest road. Early on, someone from Massachusetts chimed in to point out that that state probably doesn’t have a single location more than one linear mile from a road. Sad, but not surprising. Through all the miles of trail I’ve hiked and the nights spent on the ground in my own state, the wildest place I’ve ever been in Georgia was probably in the Cohutta Mountains, where the remotest point was about 2.5 miles from the nearest (gravel) road. The furthest from a road you can get in the Peach State is undoubtedly in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp, where the tarmac would be more than eight miles distant. Not bad, but for comparison a trek to the southeastern corner of Yellowstone puts you almost 30 miles from a roadway, the lower-48 front-runner in this particular competition.

Even though I spent much of last year living on the southern edge of that large Wyoming roadless area, I never did make it out to that mystical paragon of (grizzly-infested) remoteness. I wouldn’t know it when I got there, anyway; it’s not like there’s a sign. Poring over maps and plotting the straight-line distances, I did manage to figure out when and where I was at my most remote (discounting the general remoteness of my personality, which can be achieved from my couch): In September 2009, while standing atop Fremont Peak in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, I was 10 miles from the closest road. I’ve never been more alone or further from help. I think that’s pretty cool, but I had to go all the way to Wyoming to do it.

Point is, there are places where you can get out and away from it all in this country, but they are fragmented (10 miles really isn’t much if you’re a grizzly or even a bobcat) and they are relatively few. I want to keep the ones we still have. In the photo above, taken from Fremont Peak, you can see the ten straight-line miles back toward the road, nothing but rocks, trees and wildlife (and one dead horse beside the trail, incidentally.) But beyond that is one of the largest natural gas fields in the country, an area of contention for environmentalists concerned with habitat destruction. Even standing on a mountain in the middle of the wilderness, a fight is not far off.

What’s the remotest place you’ve ever been?


  1. Ummmm, probably the backcountry hike we did in the Tetons. Didn’t particularly enjoy the hike, but the scenery was nice. It’s comforting to know there are still places untouched by roads and progress.

    July 15th, 2010 at 9:28 am
    Comment by Courtney
  2. I never really thought about this. I wonder how remote you can get in the Smokies? I’m guessing not more than 7 or 8 miles. I’ve been in a couple of quasi-remote places in Montana. Probably about 5 miles from the end of a gravel road and twice that much or more from a paved road.

    July 17th, 2010 at 9:11 am
    Comment by The Modern Gal
  3. Wow. When you define wilderness that way (distance from a road) there really aren’t that many wild places. Think of how the West would have been in 1830! Not a single road anywhere. The most remote place I’ve ever been is a tiny Island in Fiji that I took a boat to get to. No roads, electricity or cars there.

    July 19th, 2010 at 5:22 pm
    Comment by Brian
  4. Cool post. I can’t even offer a respectable response in the distance-from-road category.

    I probably felt the farthest from “modern civilization” while visiting wine country in Italy. Yes, there were roads and houses, but the roads were at least narrow and followed the curves of the land. The houses were hundreds of years old and tucked into the natural landscape of trees, etc. Thinking about it gives me some hope that it’s possible for humans to live in a place, even build homes there, without raping the land in the process.

    July 20th, 2010 at 1:54 pm
    Comment by Chris

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