One thing about riding a bicycle is that most cyclists try to find the most direct route to their destination. The shorter the route, the easier it will be physically, barring the existence of steep hills, for them to get there.
Regular bike riders learn how to conserve energy. They want to have enough energy to get to their destination, do whatever they were planning to do once they arrived, and to have enough energy in reserve to make it home.
Doing this requires planning. Sometimes it involves scoping out new, more efficient routes.
But, even when old routes are used, planning is still necessary. Novice cyclists often find this out the hard way, by failing to plan for something an experienced cyclist would have assumed to be the case.
Whenever physical energy is expended, one must consider one’s limits. Once an assessment has been made, it is necessary to pace oneself in whatever way is possible in order to achieve the desired goal. This is what travel was like up until the invention of vehicles which carried their occupants from one place to another.
First, there were floating objects, probably simple rafts which allowed our ancestors to travel on water. This type of travel was the easiest to accomplish.
Observation would tell one that certain materials could float. And trial and error would demonstrate that some materials could float even under the weight of a human. And so the idea of a boat was borne.
Then, of course, came the advent of the wheel. It opened the door for additional forms of travel.
Wagons which could be pulled by animals reduced the amount of physical effort required for humans to travel. Later, motors were invented.
Motors allowed us to invent cars and trains. Eventually, by combining knowledge of motors and certain principles of physics the airplane was invented, thereby making travel faster. Air travel allowed humans to cover great distances in a relatively short period of time.
Yet something unusual occurred along with the ability to travel long distances in a short time, namely, the act of traveling out of one’s way.
Traveling out of the way can be intentional or unintentional. Sometimes people travel off the beaten path for the purpose of sightseeing. They want to take in the scenery, or see someone or something which is out of the way. Often this is thought of as a detour.
Detours are circuitous routes which can be taken to avoid an obstacle or to travel to some place near a planned route. Without vehicles to lessen the physical burden of travel, detours would be a real hardship.
With vehicles, detours are little more than a nuisance, most commonly causing the traveler to lose time. Lost time is generally preferable to lost energy.
In modern times a new type of travel has led to even more interesting trips out of the way. The form of travel most likely to result in strange routes is systematic travel, usually undertaken for the delivery of a thing to a distant location.
This concept can be seen most clearly with a serviced called “package tracking.” Most people who shop online or via mail order catalogs will be familiar with package tracking.
Once a package is in the delivery system, it is scanned via a bar code as it travels from one location to the next. As each scan is made, the data is entered into a central database where it can be accessed from various locations.
Both the package’s sender and receiver can follow the package’s progress as it travels to its destination. What makes package tracking interesting is not the tracking part of the process, but the routes shipping companies have created to make moving large numbers of packages more efficient.
At times, these delivery routes, which are designed to systematically carry packages from one part of the country to another, are baffling. Take the tracking information shown at the top of this post, for instance.
A close inspection will reveal something very strange. Packages often travel great distances — in the name of efficiency — when the final destination is a fraction of the distance away.
In the example above, a package was shipped by overnight service from White River Junction, Vermont to Boston, Massachusetts. The driving distance between these two destinations is about 135 miles.
Most reasonable people would expect a package sent from Vermont to Massachusetts to travel by motor vehicle, most likely by truck. The distance is not very far, and even in heavy traffic, it should not take more than a few hours to drive to Boston.
Certainly, the route would not be as direct as a private passenger vehicle would take. The shipping company must drive from one depot to another in order to move a package through the system.
The depot where a given package must be sent can be a fair distance from the recipient’s address, especially in rural areas where there would be fewer depots and they would probably be a greater distance apart.
Nonetheless, these shipping systems can have some strange consequences. In our example above, instead of having the package driven from Vermont to Massachusetts, it was driven to a depot in Londonderry, New Hampshire. This seems reasonable, since the depot is probably a sorting location.
It’s probably from this point that they process packages for shipping to different parts of the country. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that they would transport the package from Vermont to New Hampshire. Still, what happened next is nothing short of unbelievable.
The shipping company, which is this case was FedEx, routed the package to Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis, Tennessee is roughly 1,350 miles from New Hampshire, by car. This is ten times the distance required to drive from New Hampshire to Boston.
Although one would think this must have been a mistake, the last time I saw something this strange on my FedEx tracking information, I called to enquire about it. On that occasion, my package was sent from Woburn, MA — which is located approximately 11 miles north of Boston — to Providence, Rhode Island.
Providence is about 50 miles from Boston. This meant that the package traveled 100 miles out of its way, round-trip.
Even though it arrived only a day later than anticipated, as a result of this circuitous route, I thought that FedEx had wasted a lot of fuel taking the package 100 miles round trip rather than sending it to a depot near Boston for delivery to my home.
They informed me that my package had taken a normal route and that it had not been misrouted, as I had suspected. Now, the example above is even more egregious.
What excuse could there be to send a package, addressed to Boston, Massachusetts to Memphis, Tennessee and then back to Boston? Was this the only way they could get the package to the East Boston sorting facility?
If my last conversation about this practice is any indication, FedEx sees nothing wrong with sending a package 2,700 miles out of the way in order to “efficiently” ship it from Vermont to Massachusetts.
Despite its journey to Tennessee, I am pleased to report that my package is on the truck scheduled for delivery today. FedEx said it would be delivered in one business day, and it was. I guess they think if they have a plane going to Tennessee anyway, they might as well put a Massachusetts package on the plane so that it can arrive in Boston along with the packages shipped from Tennessee.
Well, now that humans have invented motors and air travel, both of which take travelers out of their way, with no additional energy expended, I might add, what will they think of next?