Neither zigging nor zagging.
August 11, 2019 4:12 AM   Subscribe

Last winter, Tom Davies AKA "GeoWizard" attempted to cross an entire country on foot in a straight line. He chose a route traversing Wales: 33 miles of fences, hedges, gorges, lakes, rivers, menacing landowners and awful weather. As he walked, he narrated a monologue to his Go Pro (part 1, part 2, part 3 and more to follow). For entertainment value it helps that Davies is not really a Bear Gryls type - and that his many encounters with thorns and barbed wire are as full of swear words as you might imagine. posted by rongorongo (42 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
For some reason this quote from A. C. Grayling rises unbidden to mind: “I recently retraced on foot a famous journey that William Hazlitt made from Shropshire to Somerset to visit Wordsworth and Coleridge. I spent two weeks slogging through nettle beds before I realised the bastard had taken the coach.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:37 AM on August 11 [23 favorites]


I can't help but only think...why?
posted by agregoli at 6:10 AM on August 11


In the parts I watched he spends a lot of time hiding from landowners, which makes sense when I read the trespass link which exempts cultivated land. The only landowner (or land manager, really) encounter I saw was pleasant and the guy told him to keep going, but was definitely aware that he was trespassing.

He also didn't seem entirely prepared for the weather and ended up needing to warm up (and get his hand bandaged) in his companion's car.

So it's an interesting experiment, but kind of too bad he set it up in a way that he needs to skulk around and try not to get caught all the time.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:44 AM on August 11


I stumbled across this a few weeks ago and was captivated. I think it's his unwavering commitment to the line and the absolute paranoia about "farmers" that really kept me watching. As someone who's spent quite a lot of time happily tramping across fields around the UK the paranoia is so out of touch with what I'd feel in that environment and somehow makes the whole video much more ridiculous, but also much more engaging.

I'm looking forward to the conclusion (assuming there is one!)
posted by leo_r at 7:05 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


You could skulk around, or just wear a hi-viz vest, carry a clipboard and act like you belong.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:09 AM on August 11 [17 favorites]


Would it be easier to do this across Jutland?
posted by biffa at 7:22 AM on August 11


You could skulk around, or just wear a hi-viz vest, carry a clipboard and act like you belong.

A surveyor’s tripod slung over your shoulder would add to the overall effect.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:34 AM on August 11


Would it be easier to do this across Jutland?

Don't think so, A straight line across Denmark without hitting any islands gives you a 100 km trek or so and I don't know if it even possible to map a straight route without hitting any houses or other impossible to cross structures.

Northern Norway on the other hand... you can map a straight line just 30-40 km across just south of Lofoten. Its just mountains, lakes and fjords though. I´d probably die if I tried making that journey.
posted by uandt at 8:07 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


"Farmyards with big bastard Alsatians in them."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:43 AM on August 11


This reminds me in a way of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Running Fence, which entailed building a single uninterrupted fence across a section of California, albeit not in a straight line. In the case of Running Fence, part of the art was actually getting permission from landowners and municipalities to proceed (including quite temporarily stetching the fence across roadways). Inasmuch as this fellow is also kind of an artist (a film maker if nothing else), this would have been a far better project if he had negotiated permission in advance rather (and documented that in his film) than hacking his way through.
posted by beagle at 9:45 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


beagle: exactly my thought, w/r/t it being a better project if he had negotiated up-front. i could see it being a quirky 90-minute documentary about rural wales, with the charm of it coming from:
  1. the interactions with various welsh farmers of various levels of enthusiasm about the documentarian and his wacky idea
  2. the puzzle-solving element of figuring out exactly what routes are available, given the constraint of having to work with the various welsh farmers who find his scheme delightful and avoid the various welsh farmers who would rather introduce him to their bastard big alsatians.
  3. the climactic sequence where he has to persuade a few of the crankier farmers to let him cross their land unmolested, thereby mending the missing links in his route.
the walk itself would be an afterthought — maybe it would run behind the credits?

for maximum quirky documentary points this whole business would in some way address the wounds to english and welsh culture produced by brexit and the xenophobia that drives brexit.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:07 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Would it be easier to do this across Jutland?

It would be a lot flatter, at least.

You could skulk around, or just wear a hi-viz vest, carry a clipboard and act like you belong.

Even just wearing muted but solid-color hiking gear, rather than camo, would help, and if you see someone walk over and talk to them rather than hiding in the treeline. That just looks suspicious. I have to go on people's land regularly, and as long as you are respectful and are willing to stand and talk for a while, and you have a reasonable story about why you are there, it's almost never an issue.

And it always helps when you are talking to someone and you can tell them that you talked earlier to a neighboring landowner -- it adds to the perception that you aren't up to anything sketchy and if one person has given permission, usually others will as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:27 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


It definitely seems like it was planned for drama rather than feasibility. Hell, he goes off route before the 7 minute mark. There are countless lines across Wales that don't go across Lake Vyrnwy. He could easily have brought something to help him across rivers. Or asked ahead (though finding out the landowner is a bit of an exercise). But he didn't because the ridiculous is the point.
posted by doiheartwentyone at 10:38 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


attempted to cross an entire country on foot in a straight line

I have some bad news for GeoWizard about the curvature of the Earth
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:04 PM on August 11


MetaFilter: because the ridiculous is the point.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:41 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


You could skulk around, or just wear a hi-viz vest, carry a clipboard and act like you belong.

From my past employment in heavy industry, I own a reflective orange vest, work boots, and a hard hat.

From my past employment in office I have a clipboard.

From my wedding I have a nicely tailored suit.

Through genetic happenstance coupled with the steady passage of years, I am a middle-aged white man.

Privilege, patriarchy, and an ability to nod gruffly means I can get almost anywhere.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:40 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


...straight people, amirite?
posted by captain afab at 1:46 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Wait, we're burying the lede here... Wales is 33 miles across? That blows my mind. I did a 33-mile bike ride yesterday.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:16 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


He could easily have brought something to help him across rivers.

I was also thinking a lightweight, portable step ladder would have occurred to him after low, barbed-wire fence #1 or #2. For crotch safety reasons, if not fence damage avoidance.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:23 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I mean, you can technically walk from the east coast of Scotland to the west coast in a day, from Ullapool to Bonar Bridge. I don't know if anyone's tried doing it in a straight line, but man-made obstacles are few, and very little of the land would be covered by Scottish trespass law. But since large numbers of people run then cycle from east to west coast in the Highlands every year it's not like it would have much novelty value.
posted by Vortisaur at 3:09 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Bill Drummond (of the infamous band KLF) did some similar conceptual geography projects under the name Penkiln Burn. 'Soup Line' was a line drawn across a map of England, where he offered to cook a pot of soup for any home located directly on the line.
posted by ovvl at 3:15 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Wait, we're burying the lede here... Wales is 33 miles across? That blows my mind. I did a 33-mile bike ride yesterday.
Wales used to be bigger. Blame the English.
posted by Vortisaur at 3:17 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


He could easily have brought something to help him across rivers.

Hm yes, of course, many options there, such as... uh, the River Crosser 5000000. Easily acquired, easy to use, and easily carried through hedgerows and bush. Weighs next to nothing. 100% effective. Don't leave home without one. Also, wear your fucking lifejacket you maniac.
posted by sfenders at 3:27 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Fun fact: Teddy Roosevelt was partial to these kind of "point to point" hikes (often involving swimming and rock climbing rather than going around obstacles, much to the exhausted chagrin of his hiking companions.)
posted by Jellybean_Slybun at 3:34 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


This doesn't end up like The Swimmer, does it?
posted by queensissy at 4:11 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Needs to be turned into a two-dimensional 8-bit platform game. Compete with swearing.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:48 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


This is so beautiful, I'm going to pretend I'm doing this whenever I do as much as walk across my own yard.
posted by geeklizzard at 9:04 PM on August 11


attempted to cross an entire country on foot in a straight line
I have some bad news for GeoWizard about the curvature of the Earth


Yup - the fairly short length of the trip, at 33 miles, lets him off some of these details - but there are 2 ways you can "walk in a straight line". In option 1 we could imagine Tom arranging for a flag on a massive pole at his destination to be raised - then he would walk towards the flag till he reached it. In option 2 the flag is only there for a short time: he takes the compass bearing between himself and the flag and then walks along this bearing. In option 1, he would be following a great circle: the shortest route between the 2 points over the earth's surface - and probably what most people would think of as being a straight line. In option 2 Tom's track would follow a rhumb line - a spiral like curve that would end up with him reaching the coast a little south of his intended destination having travelled somewhat further. Tom route is following the rhumb line on this trip. This is probably all rather academic when vaulting a hawthorn hedge to evade an Alsatian.
posted by rongorongo at 11:26 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. I found it strangely compelling. Just the sort of mad, anarchic thing a Brit would do for no apparent reason other than it seems like a good idea. Tom Davies is terrific and I liked how easily and funnily he gives voice to his inner thoughts while scrambling through brambles. Well worth watching and I am looking forward to the next installments.
posted by vac2003 at 12:19 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I found it deeply funny.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:03 AM on August 12


Part 4 is up.

There's something hugely compelling about the floor-is-lava way the line forces him over and through obstacles. It's nice to know he makes it out okay too given that he's posting the things, because I can stop worrying and laugh. Cracking Bear Grylls impression.
posted by lucidium at 1:58 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Northern Norway on the other hand... you can map a straight line just 30-40 km across just south of Lofoten. Its just mountains, lakes and fjords though. I´d probably die if I tried making that journey.

Depending on how flexible you are with "crossing the country", there are places where the distance between Bøkfjorden and the Norway-Russia border is about 1.6 km.

Though then you cross at a point where less than 1% of the country is one one side of your trip, so if that's within the rules, you could just travel between some of the weirder Belgium-Netherlands enclaves/exclaves instead.
posted by ymgve at 4:17 PM on August 12


There's something hugely compelling about the floor-is-lava way the line forces him over and through obstacles.

I think that Tom Davies has maybe made a significant discovery here. What he is doing here is:-
1. Potentially a sport (Like a form of orienteering , Competitors look to choose the best route and then to follow it as quickly as possible and with the least deviation).
2. A form of adventure travel open to everybody (These days we all have a compass on the smartphone in our pocket. Start in a random location and then resolve to travel, say, due west for 5 miles in a straight line. Like Tom, you will discover a lot about where you are and about yourself)
3. Compelling viewing (As I write, Tom's videos have attracted over 5 million views- remarkably successful for material gathered on a single camera, home-edited and completed for the likely budget of a couple of fancy restaurant meals.
4. Both personal and extendable as a content model (Invite Tom to come and film himself crossing a country of your choosing. He will work for kicks and hard gums apparently)
posted by rongorongo at 10:32 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Part 4 is stressful as fuck but damn, there is high entertainment value in his inadequate preparations and wild optimism. I'm extremely impressed at his physical stamina. Even just making it through one of those fally-downy overgrown forests and impenetrable swathes of undergrowth is a remarkable achievement. Truly compelling viewing.

I live not too far from the areas he's passing through so it's extra funny, I keep imagining what I'd do if I saw him scurrying along my property line. I 100% would try to help him rather than run him off with the dogs- but I could not vouchsafe that all my neighbours and neighbouring landowners would be so magnanimous, so his caution when approaching civilisation is definitely justified.

Q: what did he do with the canoe?
posted by Balthamos at 3:55 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


I greatly admire his dedication to the straight line! There were a couple of times early on where he climbs over a barbed wire fence even though a gate is just a few feet away. A decent pair of work gloves and a hat would have gone a long way to preventing/relieving his discomfort.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:50 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Wales is 33 miles across? That blows my mind.

If that's true, then how come I'm spending 5 hours going across it on Friday, then?
posted by ambrosen at 9:26 AM on August 13


Q: what did he do with the canoe?

Good question! I watched skipping ahead some parts (not because I was bored - it’s all very entertaining, actually, with his narration and his cheerfulness in facing obstacles and the swearing and talking to himself - I just didn’t have time yet to watch in full) and I must have missed that part or was it edited out? Anyone saw what happened to the canoe after he crossed over?
posted by bitteschoen at 9:57 AM on August 13


The canoe was never mentioned again. What happens on Llyn Efyrnwy stays on Llyn Efyrnwy.
posted by plastic_animals at 10:05 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


If you take an online course and spend the $20 some-odd dollars it takes to get a prospector's licence you could do this in Ontario and you wouldn't even be trespassing. You could probably do it for all of Canada but other provinces may have more onerous requirements for becoming a prospector. It would take a fair bit longer than doing it for Wales though.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:08 PM on August 13


The canoe was never mentioned again. What happens on Llyn Efyrnwy stays on Llyn Efyrnwy.
My theory is that he set fire to it to help get warm - like it did his survival blanket - but was too embarrassed to say.

Bonus: Here is the route planning video Tom released to raise funds for the trip. You can see, from it, that he is really choosing his straight line route to be possible but sufficiently challenging to excite funders.
posted by rongorongo at 10:46 PM on August 13


Part 5
posted by lucidium at 1:26 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


The more I watch, the more I love Tom! He's actually quite frightened of what he's doing (trespassing/potentially falling down ravines/drowning in a river/getting stuck in a bog) but he just says fuck it and does it anyway. It's great to watch! I hope he does more challenges like this.
posted by Balthamos at 5:53 AM on August 23


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