The Longest Straight Lines That Don’t Touch Any Roads

…And other hidden adventures found by amateur cartographers.

The term “terra incognita” dates as far back as the 2nd Century, to a treatise on geography from Roman scientist Claudius Ptolemy. It refers to the dark spots on a map — the places not yet known to Europeans.

Since then, if you wanted to find adventure, seeking out terra incognita was a good way to start.

Of course, the idea of terra incognita has become a bit quaint in the era of the GPS and Google Earth. But the core concept — using maps to find the adventurous cracks in our ubiquitous human civilization — lives on.

Few pursuits better exemplify this than looking for the longest line that doesn’t cross any roads. It’s a way of using the world’s filled-out maps to find the places most likely to offer a path of resistance.

This hobby indicates how much things have changed since the age of Ptolemy. Nowadays, explorers don’t expect to find the undiscovered. They just want to avoid the evidence of how thoroughly discovered the Earth has become.

In 2019, Calum Maclean, 32, and Jenny Graham, 42, hiked their way through the longest straight line in the United Kingdom. The pair followed the route prescribed in 2018 by Ordnance Survey mapmakers. They found that the most likely “longest line” traverses the steep hills and sticky bogs of Cairngorms National Park.

Maclean and Graham chronicled their 78km journey with (of course) a YouTube documentary.

This week, the founder of a UK-based mapping company claimed to have found an even longer line nearby. Maps, like the real world they represent, are always changing.


Lines around the world

Judging by Maclean and Graham’s video, this “anti-trail” proved as difficult as the original Ordnance Survey predicted. At the time of plotting the line, one of the group’s mapmakers wrote:

“I wouldn’t recommend anyone do it unless they are very conversant with a map and compass. It is not following known tracks or paths and it looks like there may well be several scrambles along the way, too.”

But as with any concept, the longest roadless line in the United Kingdom is just the beginning.

The bottomless echo chamber of the Internet gives couch-potato cartographers a chance to debate over insane and highly theoretical treks all around the world. That’s abundantly evident on the Reddit group r/MapPorn, where 2.3 million members discuss topics like “The longest straight line you can walk in without hitting the ocean.”

The longest straight line you can walk in without hitting the ocean.
by in MapPorn


Other straight-line ideas

Irish and Indian computer scientists decided to tackle a question raised by other thread members: What’s the longest straight line you could sail without hitting land?

Rather than trudging through the trillion information points on a high-res global map, they developed an algorithm to figure it out. On the map, the “straight line” is actually an arc, which accounts for that pesky curvature of the planet. (The algorithm’s massive route winds around all of the Americas and Africa before hitting Asia.)

While they were at it, the scientists also used the technology to ascertain the longest straight path you could drive without hitting water. (Spoiler: The line starts in Spain and ends in Southeast Asia.)

It shouldn’t be a surprise to find multiple threads and websites devoted to the longest such line in the United States. According to Project Remote, it’s hard to find a roadless straight line in the lower 48 states that’s even 20 miles long. But would-be adventurers could also try “The Ultralineamentum,” the longest straight line that traverses America (regardless of roads), as calculated by a Wisconsin physics professor.

The truth, buried between all these data-driven maps, is that the world will always have plenty of adventure to be found.

All that’s needed is an arbitrary goal — and the will to start walking.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.