I’ve started reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, and a question popped into my head that I don’t think I’ve asked myself before:
What’s the farthest away I’ve ever been from another person?
A quick mental shuffle through my life left me with two possibilities: either somewhere along I-10 in West Texas on a solo road trip, or during a family hike in the Superstition Mountains during a summer hailstorm when I headed down the mountain angry and alone. I can’t be sure what the distance would be for either options 1 or 2, but I suspect it was no more than 2 or 3 miles at the most. If you take the US population as 310 million and the area of the country as 3.8 million square miles, that leaves each of us a little more than .1 acres each, so I was far beyond the average for the country, if not my state. This nifty US census map shows where we all live:
That one question led to a list of other questions I’ll never be able to answer:
Where is the place you can get that’s farthest away from another human?
Is it in the middle of an ocean?
What was the farthest away a person ever got from everyone else before motorized transit?
What would a US vacation population map look like?
What’s the farthest away from another person you can get in NYC?
Is that place open to the public?
What would a map of places people have been (set foot) look like?
What would a real-time map of everyone’s location look like? (maybe this last one will have an answer)
Abbey was (probably) buried in or around the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Southwest Arizona, which looks like one of the remotest and emptiest areas you’ll find anywhere in the lower 48, is now a major corridor for undocumented border crossings. The remoteness offers the possibility of an unnoticed passage and with it the danger of a solitary death from dehydration, heat, or injury. Recreational hikers are now warned away from the area because of the possibility of encountering interactions between drug runners and lawmen.
All this activity, all these people, all this life, hidden in the desert. The Wildlife Refuge covers around 1300 square miles. I wonder how many people are out there tonight. I wonder what Abbey would have made of them.
Header image by Dan Sorensen