Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thursday Thoughts: The length of Chile in the context of the US and the UK

Note: I had this posted yesterday by mistake. Obviously yesterday wasn't Thursday, so I don't know what I was thinking. :D

Chile is an interesting county in that it's very long and narrow and is situated almost entirely along a north-south axis. In these two ways, it is quite different from almost any other country in the world. The closest contender for narrowness and north-south-ness is Argentina, but it is not as long nor as narrow as Chile.

I recently had a British friend and an American friend ask me how long Chile is, and I realized that an answer of "roughly 4300 km (2700 mi)" would be about as unsatisfactory as providing them with today's date in terms of the number of seconds past since January 1, 2000, 12:00:00 AM, US Pacific Time. The distance of 4300 km (2700 mi) is too large to relate to everyday sorts of distances nor of distances that most people would normally and regularly travel. However, people do have a rough idea of how far city X is from city Y from having studied maps, so what would be equivalent distances of travel between cities to get an approximation of the length of Chile?

Well, for my USA-ian friends, a distance of 4300 km (2700 mi) is roughly equivalent to the straight-line distance from southwest border with Mexico at San Diego, CA to the northeast border with Canada at Houlton, ME (a distance of 2750 mi). It's also roughly the straight-line distance from Miami, FL to Seattle, WA (a distance of 2730 mi).

For my UK-ian friends, a distance of 4300 km (2700 mi) is roughly equivalent to four and a half times the straight-line distance from Land's End to John O' Groats (602 mi * 4.5 = 2709 mi). Taking the cycling length of Land's End to John O' Groats (874 mi), if you start at Land's End, you'd cycle all the way to John O' Groats, cycle back to Land's End, and then cycle back to John O' Groats, and then you'd be covering roughly the same distance as the length of Chile.

As a bonus, the average width of Chile is 175 km (109 mi), and this is a distance that most people can relate to. For my friends living in Michigan, this is the driving distance of Ann Arbor to Grand Rapids (i.e., from the bastion of Democrats to the bastion of Republicans). For my friends living in Scotland, this is roughly the distance from Inverness to Fort William and back again. Of course, driving the width of Chile is a little more difficult than driving the width of Michigan or the width of (much of) the UK: in Chile, you start at sea-level on the west and then climb to 10,000 ft or more, often on several switch-back roads (of - unfortunately - diminishing quality). Therefore, the trip the coastal city of Valparaiso, Chile to the border with Argentina at the Uspallata Pass (one of only a few overland border crossings between Chile and Argentina, despite their extensive border) is a distance of over 200 km, starting at 0 ft above sea level and rising to 12,500 ft (3810 m), and takes several hours to make.

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