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The ultimate getaway



Last modified: Wednesday, July 11, 2012
It took two days and more than 17 miles of roundtrip hiking to visit the 30-by-30 meter area on the side of a mountain. It's in the middle of the woods. No spectacular views. No cell phone service. No other humans. No human noise, except the distant buzz of a single airplane.

It's the most remote location in New Hampshire.

Tucked away in the Pemigewasset Wilderness near Lincoln, the spot is the farthest distance in the state from a road, according to Rebecca Means, who hiked there last month.

Means and her husband, Ryan, have visited 17 states' most remote locations, all while carrying their 3-year-old daughter Skyla along in a backpack. They plan to "go remote" in all 50 states.

Rebecca, 38, and Ryan Means, 40, are both wildlife biologists for Coastal Plains Institute, a nonprofit environmental organization based in Tallahassee, Fla.

Their current project began when they tried to find remote locations - away from roads, human influence and cell phone reception - in their own state.

But everything seemed close to a road. Rebecca Means began using computer software to find remote areas. According to her research, the average distance a person can venture away from a road in any state is 5.2 miles, she said, "which is really alarming."

The project grew into a nonprofit organization, called Remote Footprints. It's a branch of the organization that Means and her husband work for, but they visit the remote locations in their spare time. They've been awarded one grant for their work, Means said, and they plan to apply for more to fund travels to all 50 states.

"This is something we wanted to do, and we were going to do it and try to get funding along the way," she said.

Documenting the locations can "bring attention to the fact that it's really hard to get away from a road," Means said. They share information about each location on their website, remotefootprints.org.

"We're geared toward connecting people with wild lands and getting people outside," she said.

They don't encourage people to visit the remote spots because the exact 30-by-30 meter areas aren't necessarily scenic, or easy to get to, Means said.

"The spot itself isn't what is important," she said. "It's the entire road-less polygon that's important. From an ecological standpoint, for wildlife, for humans."

To find remote locations, Means uses a geographic information system to divide the area of an entire state into 30-by-30-meter areas. She compiles road maps of the state from a variety of sources: counties, towns and national forests. No map has everything she needs, she said, because "there is nobody who is interested in where every single road is."

In Kentucky, for example, Means has tried unsuccessfully about 23 times to find the most remote spot. The first time they tried to visit what she thought was the state's remote location, they found a road less than a mile away.

It can take several days just to map the remote spot in a single state, Means said. After finding it, she begins planning a hike to the location. In some coastal states, the location is on an island and the trip includes a boat ride.

Last week, the Meanses finished a 30-day trip to seven states in the Northeast. They hiked nearly 80 miles and stayed at the homes of nine different friends, but spent most nights camping and living out of a cooler in their truck.

Ryan Means carries their tent and gear on his back in a 55-pound backpack, while Rebecca carries Skyla in a backpack weighing about 40 pounds.

"In between times of going remote we definitely do a lot of training," Means said. "We hike every other day with (Skyla) so she's very used to the backpack."

New Hampshire's remote spot is 4.4 miles from the nearest road and less than three-tenths of a mile away from a hiking trail. They parked at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center and hiked along the Thoreau Falls Trail. Although they were in the White Mountain National Forest, Means said her maps don't name the mountain they were on.

Once at a remote location, they spend a few hours taking photos, recording video and listening for noise. In some states' remote locations, they get cell phone service and can still hear cars driving along the nearest road.

By comparison, "the New Hampshire remote spot definitely felt remote," Means said, but it didn't have a great view.

"The thing about these remote spots is a lot of times people are like, 'Oh it must be so nice to go to these beautiful places in each state,' " Means said. "A lot of the times you're on the side of a mountain and there's just a whole lot of trees around you."

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)