50 states of being
A determined domestic traveler finally achieves her goal and finds more than a few kindred spirits — a club, in fact — along the way
My father, a traveling businessman, likes to joke that I would happily tag along with him to Ames, Iowa; Gary, Ind.; or any other American town that’s not on most tourist maps. It’s true. If you have an open mind and an adventurer’s spirit, every place has something worth your time.
Had I believed the nonsense about Nebraska being a “flyover state,” for instance, I would never have herded cattle on horseback through rolling grasslands lush with purple wildflowers and tall pines. Had I stuck close to home, I might not have tasted heavenly banana pudding in Selma, Ala., or bought stamps from the cutest darn post office you’ve ever seen, snuggled in the snow in tiny Plymouth, Vt. Rooting out such gems has been a longtime joy of mine, and around 10 years ago I realized that I had gone to 30-odd states in the process.
That’s when I started getting serious about seeing all 50.
I pinpointed my weak spots — the Great Lakes, the Dakotas, parts of the South — and planned how I’d get there. I didn’t set a particular deadline, but prioritized about two states a year.
I had a decent head start: Growing up in Maryland (and taking frequent sojourns to Walt Disney World) meant that I had been to most of the Eastern Seaboard. Two years of graduate school in Colorado allowed for easy camping or hiking adventures to Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas and Arizona. Reporting trips took me to Idaho, Rhode Island, Michigan, Alaska and Mississippi.
When I could, I tacked new states onto trips to visit friends and family. My sister-in-law in Peoria, Ill., for instance, lives a short drive from Iowa, where I hiked among the songbirds in Lake Macbride State Park.
In September 2016, I ended — you could say with a bang — in Hawaii, watching fountains of bright-orange lava spew from the Big Island’s Kilauea Iki Crater. I felt elated, but also a bit like an oddball. That’s because most people I know can quickly count off how many countries they have visited, but have only a vague idea when it comes to states. I wondered if there were others
there like me. Are there ever. The All Fifty States Club, I n discovered, has about 2,800 members o have accomplished the same feat, from all tates and 13 countries. Like me, many get idea once they hit 30-or-so states and finish either Hawaii or Alaska — the farthest, iest, and most time-consuming trips to n, says Alicia Rovey, who founded the club in 6 to celebrate and encourage travelers on r journey. he organization, which operates on the or system, asks that you put your foot on ground and breathe the air of a state. (My n requirement was having a meal in a town.) d in $13 with a membership application you’ll get an official certificate; for more gging rights, you can buy a T-shirt, pin or er wares on the website. The club makes it more official,” says Rovey, o lives in Nashville and hit her 50th, Oregon, 015. “Sometimes, you want that extra recogon that the goal is validated.” here’s no typical 50-stater, she says — some motivated by patriotism, meeting new peoor a desire for new experiences. To her, the ective also infuses vacations with a greater se of purpose: “You’re not just going to waii to lay on the beach, you’re going to waii to complete this lifelong goal of visiting 0 states.” Members often have their own spin on exring the union, setting records along the . Sweden’s Douglas Eriksson is the youngat 5. Some have done it twice or more, uding James Marchino, with nine (yes, e) repeat visits to all 50. Several people have dived or golfed across the nation. John gerald ate a slice of pie in every state, and mer Mentzer drank a beer in each. (Presit Obama — who has visited every state as sident, and Al Roker, who has reported the ther in all 50, are honorary members.) hough the few 50-staters I talked to had ous missions and methods, we all had mething in common: Travel has rewarded us ways we didn’t expect. o celebrate his 50th birthday, David Miller, Orinda, Calif., set his sights on an epic r-long trip. He carefully mapped out a bicyg route throughout the United States — iding New England winters and Southern mmers — with his Weimaraner, Max, from ober 2011 to November 2012. Miller asked supporters to donate to four charities in the me of his project, Bike 50 at 50. The very first lesson that I learned is that we underestimate ourselves,” Miller says. “If ’re willing to take that one step forward out our own comfort zone, you realize, ‘I can do .’ ” Anne Corlett, a landscape artist from Saugck, Mich., was newly single in 2010 and nted a big project, the visual equivalent of big American novel.” ventually, the idea came to her: paint a dscape in each state. “Travel is a powerful ng, which I didn’t even think about when I ted,” says Corlett, an honorary club memNot only did she build up her confidence eling solo, she challenged herself as an st, painting environments so different that y could have been on the moon, she told me. I realized later I was testing my courage,” lett says. ike Corlett, the more I explored the country, more I learned to trust myself and be ourceful. When badly blistered feet forced to backpack through the Grand Canyon in dals, I found out I was tougher than I had ught. Another common theme: We all experienced kindness of strangers. On Miller’s bicycle trips, random people on street gave him money a few times, pushing s into his hand even after he told them he n’t need it. “I don’t have enough fingers and and arms and legs to count all the times I extraordinary, surprising, wonderful inctions,” he says. While I was visiting Greenh, N.J. — which threw a little-known tea ty to protest the British in 1774 — Joe one and Linda Hull Felcone invited me to ner and showed me their historic home. bett says she was similarly “adopted” by a ple while in Mississippi. ongtime blood donor and club member Al itney, of Avon Lake, Ohio, is accustomed to ng things for others. “I don’t sight-see,” says itney, who completed his 50 between 2007 2012. “My goal is to get to the blood bank.” when he went to South Dakota in 2009, “my e made me promise to go to Mount Rushre,” he says. In the gift shop, a woman nearly cked him over in a bear hug to tell him she d her life to a blood donor. (She had noticed atelets Across America logo on his jacket.) “I shocked,” he says. f you’re thinking of joining the club, a few ces of advice: Keep costs down by staying in e parks or short-term home rentals. Add w states to trips to see friends and family. “Be ntional,” Rovey says — plan a long trip to a ticular region, say Yellowstone National k, to visit as many states as you can in one go. y the way, there’s a bonus for us locals — if District ever becomes the 51st state, we’ll ady have it covered.
“I realized later I was testing my courage.” Anne Corlett, of Saugatuck, Mich., who not only visited all 50 states but painted a landscape in each one
The author’s path to all 50 states — starting in Maryland and ending in Hawaii — was by no means simple, as illustrated above. The All Fifty States Club has about 2,800 members who have accomplished the feat, from all 50 states and 13 countries.