Cross London Drone Journey 156km - is this the furthest possible in the UK?
Earlier this year, while England was in its 3rd lockdown, I started to plan my drone's cross London trip. Despite looking at a few places in England where there are cities reasonably close together, I could not find anywhere better than London for making a long drone journey. A quick look at Scotland and Wales, and I didn't think there were viable options. Just as well, as I am not sure that would have passed the family tolerance test.
I had already made an 86km journey across London with (almost) no keys. I could not resist getting a couple of keys when I dropped my drone off at the west end of that route which I combined with a trip to Southampton to collect one of my uni kids just before Christmas. This meant I was able to make a journey of 86km, rather than the max achievable without keys of 84km.
After Easter, I was back at Southampton to take uni kid back for the summer term, and on the way home I made a rather longer than expected detour to collect keys for the western part of the trip. I collected all the keys I needed myself - except for one particularly awkward one. This included a canalside walk as dusk turned into night - but it was a good path and I had a torch. There was one key where I could not spot the access - but fortunately someone knew someone who knew the place and they agreed to meet me and hand over a key - thanks for the help, guys!
Sadly, the start of this epic journey did not go well. A busy couple of days, and my drone did not move very far before it was sent home by a fellow ENL agent. And this was before drones became visible.
All was not lost - I knew I needed to collect keys for the eastern end - and I had ensured I had keys to allow me to travel both west to east and east to west. I wasn't relying on completing the trip first time.
Coronavirus restrictions gradually eased in England, and once we were at the point I felt I could safely and legally make a key collecting trip (overnight stays/UK holidays, visiting friends outdoors, non-essential shopping all allowed again). Shortly after I had agreed this with family, Niantic launched the DroneNet View, and I felt like the journey would be impossible. But I still wanted to try. A couple of days later, Niantic announced a weekend event including reduced drone jump interval. This was too good an opportunity to miss. 10 minute jump time, and straight through central London actually felt sensible. A more direct route, fewer jumps, and less chance of someone spotting my drone and having time to get to it. So, key collecting was rapidly rescheduled and drone was dropped off a few hours before the event started. I focused on getting the essential keys - the ones that were needed to cross gaps without enough portals for keyless jumps - and while I was there, I opportunistically grabbed keys from other portals I passed. Once home, I revised my route and reduced the number of jumps I needed to make so I could reach London proper sooner.
Even with the more direct route, it would still take more jumps to complete the route than I could sensibly spend awake over the event. All I could do was get as far as possible, and hope that I would be able to avoid trouble in the west once I got there. I crossed the M25 into London on Saturday morning, and out again on the Sunday evening. It then took another week for the last 30km or so - with many nail-biting moments as the drone passed through and around some very active areas, and an hour to wait after every jump.
Until the introduction of the Maverick badge, I seldom hacked with the drone. I was more interested in the unique drone visits (3326 at journey's end) and the distance metrics. But to celebrate reaching my goal, the final portal was my 250th hack and I earned the bronze Maverick badge. My drone hack count is slowly increasing, but hopefully the drone will never be stuck in the same place for long enough that hacks will catch up with my visits stat.
Drone play is different to the classic Ingress I started playing in 2016, but as well as helping people maintain Sojourner streaks during the pandemic, I feel it adds some interesting aspects of gameplay to the Ingress experience. I was pleasantly surprised I was able to complete this journey after drones became visible but almost certainly being able to make the bulk of the journey during the event made a huge difference.
I know a number of people think I am crazy going out to collect keys to enable a longer flight for a virtual drone to make a journey, but, hand on heart, is it REALLY any crazier than doing the same to make virtual triangles? I think my antics demonstrate that the drone can be part of play that takes people out to new places in the real world - with the added benefit that I am able take more time to look at portals and their descriptions on a drone journey. Contrast that with walking a new area - I am far too interested in increasing my Pioneer/Explorer stats in the time available and do not spend it learning about the portals I visit. Often I don't even see the real life object as I pass it.
I hope Niantic see the value the drone brings and continue to develop it. I would love to see options that allow further travel with the drone and allow some form of exploration of distant places without the environmentally damaging aspects of international holidays.