Ryan and Rebecca Means recently hiked 75 miles round-trip in Yellowstone National Park.
Ryan shouldered a 71-pound pack. Rebecca lugged 54 pounds, including their 5-year-old daughter, Skyla.
That’s what passes for a vacation in the Means family.
“We cherish our right to be remote,” Ryan said.
And they want others to cherish it, too. They’re on a quest to identify and visit the most remote location in each of the 50 states, with the hope of inspiring others to protect and enjoy the country’s remaining wild and roadless sites.
The Florida family arrived in South Dakota this week and spent time waiting out wet conditions before venturing into the center of the Badlands Wilderness Area in Badlands National Park, to a spot 3.7 miles from the nearest road. They say that’s the most remote spot in South Dakota, based on their project-specific definition of remote as the farthest straight-line distance from roads.
Rebecca uses Geographic Information Systems technology to find the remote spot in each state, and Ryan plans their route to the spot by foot, or sometimes by boat.
When they’re not trekking around the country, Ryan and Rebecca work as conservation biologists with the nonprofit Coastal Plains Institute in North Florida. Each summer and fall, they try to squeeze in time to visit remote spots.
“Some people take vacations to Disney World,” Rebecca said, “and we do Project Remote.”
They’ve been to their self-determined most remote spots in 27 states during the past four years, helped with the aid of donations from foundations and individuals. They chronicle their trips online at remotefootprints.org and hope to someday present their findings about remoteness in a scientific journal.
The Means family has reveled in some destinations, including the Wyoming remote spot, which was 21.6 miles from a road. In other states, they’ve been surprised and dismayed at how difficult it is to get away from what Rebecca called the constant bombardment of modern stimuli. At the remotest spot in Arkansas, for example, they were unable to escape the loud roar of a U.S. highway that was 2.5 miles away.
They say the overbuilding of roads cheats people of the mental health benefits gained from escaping into the wilderness. They also decry the ecological impact of excessive road-building, including the spread of invasive species and pollutants, and the cross-cutting of natural ranges traveled by wildlife.
So they continue on their quest, spreading the gospel of solitary salvation.
“We live with a mission in mind,” Ryan said, “and we get up in the morning with a desire to leave this world a little bit wilder.”