Image: Alaska fishermen
Al Grillo  /  AP file
Fishermen float down the Kenai River under a rainbow near Cooper Landing in Alaska earlier this summer.
By Travel writer
Special to msnbc.com
updated 10/17/2006 6:46:42 PM ET 2006-10-17T22:46:42

Feeling a little hemmed in lately? If so, you’re not alone — literally. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. hit a major demographic milestone early Tuesday: the resident population of the country hit 300 million.

That’s a pretty big crowd, especially when you’re stuck in traffic or waiting in line at the grocery store. When that happens to me, I usually end up daydreaming about quiet beaches, distant mountains and other uncrowded places. It doesn’t have to be Tahiti or Timbuktu — just someplace where a guy can get a little privacy, you know?

They’re out there; you just have to look for them.

Head for the center
First, consider the numbers, which are posted on the U.S. population clock here. It's estimated the U.S. population gains one person every 10 seconds.

So, how are you going to get away from them all? Ironically, you could head to the so-called population center of the country, which refers to the theoretical point on which the nation would balance if you factored in where we all live and how much we all weigh.

According to the 2000 census, that point is just outside Edgar Springs, Missouri, which had an estimated population of 191 in 2003. Apparently, the population center of the country is more like the unfilled hole in America’s demographic donut.

To escape the mass of humanity in Edgar Springs, head down the road to nearby Duke (pop. 85, give or take) and the Wilderness Ridge Resort, which sits beside the Big Piney River in the Mark Twain National Forest. Whether you’re paddling the river, fishing for smallmouth bass, or just enjoying the surrounding silence, jostling for a spot probably won’t be a problem.

The resort consists of a lodge, bunkhouse, and six cabins amid the pines and maples. The cabins offer the most privacy, especially cabin #2, a hillside hideaway dating back to 1932. All cabins feature cooking facilities and space for 4–7 people; alas, they also share a communal bath/shower house.

If you go, go soon. For one thing, the resort closes for the winter in mid-November. For another, that whole “population center of the country” thing could become a problem. As the nation’s population increases, the balance point continues to move south and west. By the next census, the nation’s population center could be smack dab in the middle of the resort.

Head for the highlands
On the other hand, if the nation’s population is shifting south and west, you might want to consider heading north and east — and you can’t get much more north and east than Maine. Sure, summers in the Kennebunks and Acadia National Park can be a circus, but come fall, the whole state gets nicely quiet.

That’s especially true in the Highlands region, where Mt. Katahdin stands like a silent sentinel, moose can outnumber people, and 5 Lakes Lodge sits on the shore of South Twin Lake, just outside Millinocket. Opened in July 2004, this comfortable, yet cushy B&B proves that getting away doesn’t have to mean going without.

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The rooms — there are only five — feature fireplaces, heated tile floors, and rocking chairs with window-filling views of the lake and Mt. Katahdin. The bathrooms have heated towel racks and jetted tubs for two. And with just 10 guests per night, don’t be surprised if the nation’s other 299,999,990 people seem very far away.

North to Alaska
Of course, if you really want to get away from everybody else (without leaving the country), there’s only one place to go: Alaska, where the population density barely breaks one person for square mile. Clearly, a sudden onset of agoraphobia — fear of crowds — isn’t likely.

At Winter Lake Lodge an hour’s float-plane ride northwest of Anchorage, it’s all but impossible, since the resort sits in the middle of a roadless area on the edge of the Tordrillo Mountains. Between a spruce-log lodge and five cabins, it can handle just 20 guests at a time, although 10 or less is more often the norm.

Despite its remote location, the lodge offers a surprisingly civilized ambience with yoga sessions, wine tastings, and cooking classes. And after a day of canoeing, hiking, or berry picking, you’ll be ready for a complimentary massage from the lodge’s resident therapist.

Finally, if it’s true solitude you seek, consider visiting the lodge during its namesake season when the lake freezes over — think ski-plane, not float-plane — and the aurora borealis fires up the sky.

A word of warning, though, if you go in early March: The lodge is an official checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which means you may find yourself sharing your seclusion with some rather fuzzy and noisy visitors.

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