DISTANCING TO NEW HEIGHTS
FOR MOST PEOPLE, the concept of physical distancing is unique to the COVID-19 pandemic, but VT alumna Rebecca Means has been following these kinds of guidelines for more than a decade.
Means and her family embarked on a unique adventure about 12 years ago. The goal: to find the “remotest” location of each of the 50 states. The endeavor is known as Project Remote.
“We define ‘remoteness’ as the farthest distance from a road,” said Means. “Remote is often a qualitative concept. There is a feeling of remote that you get when you are ‘away from it all,’ but as a scientist, we wanted remoteness to be quantifiable— so calculable, repeatable, and comparable from state to state.”
The adventure in itself is extraordinary, but Means took it to another level, partnering with her husband, Ryan Means, and including her then-10-month-old daughter, Skyla. Project Remote is a family affair, which found Skyla sometimes trekking alongside on foot and other times being carried, safely strapped to her mother’s back.
“I climbed the Continental Divide with my daughter on my back twice on my 40th birthday,” Means said. “That was pretty empowering.”
Both professional biologists, the Means are lifelong lovers of nature. Their inimitable partiality to the outdoors is evident in their work at Coastal Plains Institute, where Rebecca Means serves as the non-profit’s director, and Ryan Means serves as president. It is one of the factors that allows them to gravitate toward each other and continues to shape their lives.
“Skyla was born into this life of field work, camping, and a love of being outdoors,” Means said. “She really did grow up imprinted on wild things rather than electronic things. She is now 12 and is as comfortable outdoors as she is inside.”
Skyla’s preference for wide open spaces is certainly an inherited trait—her father has the same mindset. Ryan Means once returned from a hike on a crowded Florida beach and wondered aloud to his wife where might be the farthest point someone could possibly get from a crowd. Thus, Project Remote was born.
“Project Remote feels natural to us,” Rebecca Means said. “Not only did we see the opportunity to embark on a series of outstanding and unique adventures, hopefully inspiring other families to get out and do something similar, but we also realized the potential to use such an endeavor as a platform to raise awareness and contribute to wildlands conservation.”
Calculating “remoteness” is not straightforward. Road data is not always consistent, especially when traveling on unpaved and private thoroughfares. The process can take weeks, and Rebecca Means has found herself repeating calculations up to 40 times to ensure accuracy. Along the way, the family has also encountered lightning, hail, snowstorms, and poor water conditions.
So far, the family has tackled 38 states and is working on the remaining 12.
Rebecca Means hopes that Project Remote will raise awareness about the ecological impact of the country’s vast road network and highlight the importance of public lands in preserving wild areas. Documenting the remotest location of each state is just the beginning of the family’ s adventure.
The Means are enlisting help to assist in their research. To get involved, visit projectremote.com.
Rosie Hutchison, a senior majoring in public relations, is an intern with Virginia Tech Magazine.