49 Down, 1 to Go

Leigh Ann and I are planning a trip to Alaska, which besides being a beautiful state to visit, will complete a special list of mine, for after being there I will have spent a significant amount of time in every one of our fifty states.

When I mentioned this to someone recently, they asked just how it was that I had been able to achieve this personal milestone, which is what prompted today’s little journey back in time.

I grew up in central Illinois, which proved advantageous since it is located near the center of the country. As a child, visiting relatives, attending ball games, and short family outings quickly took care of the neighboring states of Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. When I was fifteen, my grandparents took me and one of my cousins on a two-week road trip to the upper West Coast, riding in the back seat of my grandfather’s new Chrysler while touring Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Three years later, I took my own road trip to New York City the summer before I headed off to college, driving solo in my old blue Chevy through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey, and New York, all of which I have returned to several times since them.

As for the rest of the Northeast, a few weeks ago I spotted a t-shirt which read: “The three best things about being a teacher are June, July, and August.”

While not totally true, during my first two years of teaching high school English, I took a series of summer literary road trips. With my camping gear crammed into a tiny Opal hatchback, I headed to Walden Pond, the House of Seven Gables, Salem, Samuel Clemmons’ Hartford mansion, and other points of interest, which added Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont to my growing list. Years later I picked up two tough ones — Rhode Island and Maine — when one of my editors invited me up to her family’s summer home in Maine.

Near the end of my time teaching in Iowa City, I headed southwest in a Volkswagen Rabbit, visiting some states I had already seen, but checking off some new ones: Oklahoma, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. I missed California, which I did not pick up until Minwax sent me out to San Diego and Los Angeles to film the first of several television shows in the Golden State.

Once settled in North Carolina and being willing to jump in my Dodge Caravan and drive wherever it took to see a great piece of Arts and Crafts, I soon added Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida to my list.

Taking my two sons Eric and Blake to Washington, DC, also checked off Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. Another road trip with them to Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone added two other tough ones, North and South Dakota, along with Wyoming and Montana.

Which, of course, left the two most distant, but perhaps the two most exotic: Hawaii and Alaska. It soon became apparent that Minwax wasn’t going to send me to either one, and I have yet to receive a call from someone in either state with a great piece of Stickley, Roycroft, or Grueby at a bargain price. And neither seemed likely candidates for a road trip, literary, historic, or otherwise.

So, for the final two states I relied on Leigh Ann, who had been to Hawaii as a teenager, but never to Alaska, to plan a couple of vacations for us. The first was to Hawaii a few years ago. I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t have a great time in Hawaii, and we were no exception.

Alaska, we have discovered, is generally visited by tourists via cruise ships making their way up and down the coast. Now, I have been on three cruise ships and did not come back from any of them completely satisfied. Apparently, I’m a slow learner, but we did rule out any more cruise ships.

So, we are going to see Alaska from the inside out, flying to Anchorage and staying at a fishing camp, sleeping in a lodge rather than a tiny stateroom (or a tent!), and spending our days fishing, hiking, kayaking, and swatting black flies and giant mosquitoes — which, I have been warned, is the unofficial state bird.

Fifty states. And more than fifty good memories.

Now I’m ready to go back and start all over again.

Until next Monday,

“Have you checked your list lately?”


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