Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wrapping up the Pacific Northwest

Entering Astotin County, Washington from Wallowa County, Oregon on OR-3 and WA-129
This post is being written from the Travelodge in Newburg, Yamhill County, Oregon, my last county in the Pacific northwest.  Yamhill is the 22nd and final county of my current 10-day road trip around the states of Washington and Oregon, completing both states.

My brother, Philip, was on the first four days of this trip with me, in Washington's Olympic peninsula.  He flew back to his home in Lexington, Kentucky and I have continuted another six days alone.  This was Philip's second time to join me on my county counting adventure, having toured southwest Colorado with me about three years ago.

This has been my penultimate (next to last) trip of my county quest, bringing my grand total of counties collected to 3,125.  Next month, plans are to fly with my wife, Karen, to Reno, Nevada, where we will rent a car and visit the final 17 counties in California and Nevada.  In a couple of hours I catch a plane in Portland which will take me back to Cincinnati and Karen.

This past ten days have been very inteesing and fun - as all county counting trips are.  It's great to know I am nearing the finish line which gives me mixed feelings.  After one more grand trip next month the quest will be completed.  I'll miss it - but am also looking forward to focusing on new adventures - especially the adventure of developing my mountain homestead in Tennessee.   

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Entering Wahkiakum County, Washington
Today I am in western Washington state at the beginning of a 10 day road trip which will wrap up the scattered counities I have not yet visited in Washington and Oregon.  My brother, Philip, is with me on this trip.  We flew to Portland yestereday, rented a car, and will spend the next three days touring Washington's Olympic Peninsula.  Philip then flies back to his home in Lexington, Kentucky, and I will continue for six more  days to visit spots in Washington and Oregon.

The finish line is almost in sight.  With the two new counties I collected yesterday, Wahkiakum and Grays Harbor in Washington, my grand total now stands at 3,105 counties, with only 37 to go.  A couple of those we hope to get today, along with Olympic National Park.

After this trip, I will lack only several scattered counties in California and Nevada.  Plans are to make the final trip 10 day trip with my wife, Karen, and complete my County Quest over Labor Day week-end in Carson City, Nevada.  More details about that later.

I have not kept this blog updated in the past year or so.  Sorry about that.  As the quest now nears completion, I hope to add several new blog entries over the next several weeks.

Friday, January 8, 2010

For those who keep a count, what counts as a visit?

I was interviewed and am quoted on the following article which appeared in The Boston Globe on December 27, 2009

By Christopher Klein

As the verdant peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains nestled under a blanket of Tennessee fog, the magnificent panorama rewarded our decision to take a short detour across the border from North Carolina.

I had still another reason to be happy about our jaunt to the Volunteer State.

"Well, Tennessee is number 25! I’m halfway home to visiting all 50 states,’’ I boasted to my wife as we approached the state line for our return trip.

“That doesn’t count,’’ she said, throwing water as cold as the mountain streams on my milestone.

“Why not? We were in Tennessee for three hours. I even got out of the car a few times and walked around.’’

“Yeah,’’ she said, “but you didn’t have a meal in Tennessee, so it doesn’t count.’’

“Of course it counts,’’ I replied. “If you drive in a state, you’re there. If I get pulled over by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, I don’t think it’s going to fly if I say, ‘Sorry, officer. You see I’m not really here in Tennessee because I haven’t yet gorged myself at a local Waffle House.’ ’’

While I had a sneaking suspicion that my wife, feeling me catching up to her tally of 26 states, was grasping for a technicality to deny me credit for a state she had checked off years ago, our disagreement as to what constitutes a “visit’’ to a state, country, or any geographic jurisdiction was just the latest in an ongoing debate.

Nearly every traveler holds a strong opinion as to what qualifies as a “visit’’ - and what does not. Do you need only to plant two feet on the ground? What about riding in a car or on a train without stopping? Jet-setters looking to rack up states and countries like frequent flier miles may count places they fly over, while strict constructionists believe you need to buy something from a local store or stay overnight or - ahem - use a toilet before adding another notch to your fanny pack.

The desire to quantify our travels has given rise to online applications such as Where I’ve Been, which allows you to post a map to your Facebook profile with all the states and countries you’ve visited highlighted in color. There are even a handful of membership organizations devoted to the quest to visit every country, every state, and even every US county.

Most of these clubs simply require that you get your boots on the ground in a geographic area for it to be classified as a visit. For example, the All Fifty States Club considers it a visit if a person “has set foot on the natural ground of that state and breathed the air.’’

What are not visits, however, are airport layovers, undoubtedly the source of the most contentious arguments among travelers enumerating states and countries. “Counting airport layovers is cheating,’’ says Alicia Rovey, founder of the All Fifty States Club. “The confines of an airport do not allow you to truly experience a state for what it is. You can’t truly experience the people or culture because the airport is full of travelers, not locals. You can’t truly experience the landscape because you’re inside an airport facility. You can’t experience an Arizona dry heat or the windy Chicago cold if you don’t leave the airport building.’’

To many travelers like Rovey, airport terminals should be treated like Cinnabon-laden foreign embassies, within the geographic confines of a country but neutral territory. To others, airports count since they are technically within the borders of a jurisdiction and you can easily spend more time in them than, say, driving through Delaware or Liechtenstein.

Airport layovers and ports of call qualify as visits for the Travelers’ Century Club, whose approximately 2,000 members have visited 100 countries or more. Klaus Billep, club chairman, says its criteria have been unchanged since the origin of the club in the 1950s, when short stopovers may have been the only practical way to visit some countries.

The standards on prohibit the organization’s 8,000 members from adding airport transits to their global tallies. “In my opinion, the absolute minimum requirement for a visit is to arrive legally in a place, which means going through the trouble of obtaining a visa if it’s required, and going through immigration,’’ says Charles Veley, the group’s founder. “Where immigration is required, an airport transit is not a legal entry to a country.’’ There is no minimum time requirement for a visit to qualify, but members of are required to have both feet on land fully within an entity’s border for it to count.

What about travelers riding the rails through a country? “During the day, count it,’’ Veley says. “At night, you should at least wake up and stand down at a station. Sleeping through the night on a train across an area is the same as flying over - you haven’t consciously experienced it. Same with driving. If you’re navigating yourself through an area, count it, but being asleep on a bus doesn’t meet the common-sense test.’’

Counting states or countries visited is a somewhat useful metric in determining how well traveled someone is, but like many statistics, there are limitations. Am I really more of a seasoned traveler than other Americans who have set foot in far fewer states or do I just benefit from living among the Lilliputian states of the Northeast? If I can color in Mexico on my map because I walked a few blocks in Tijuana, does that carry the same weight as another who spent weeks hiking the Yucatan? No way.

The rankings of the number of geographic entities visited by members of read like high scorers on a video game. Veley, one of the ultimate globetrotters who has racked up more than 1.5 million miles and visited all 192 countries recognized by the United Nations, acknowledges that some travelers might be too focused on amassing passport stamps than truly experiencing foreign lands. Next year, the organization plans to work with local tourist offices to establish checklists of places and activities that would encourage depth and quality of visits.

“You can’t say you’ve seen the country just because you’ve visited each state,’’ says J. Stephen Conn. When Conn hit the magical 50-state mark 15 years ago, he pulled out a map. “It struck me all the places where I hadn’t been, and I decided to go back and visit every county.’’

Conn, among several hundred “county collectors’’ in the Extra Miler Club, is just 91 counties shy of visiting each of the 3,142 counties across the country. He adds to his total whenever he sets foot across a county border, no meals or overnight stays required. “The way I look at it is this: If I was struck by a bolt of lightning or hit by a meteorite, the obituary would say I died in Podunk County. How could you die there unless you were there?’’

Here is the link to the story at

Monday, November 16, 2009

Only 100 Counties To Go

This past week I took a road trip in which I completed visiting each of the 67 counties in the beautiful state of Pennsylvania.  I stopped to take this photo upon entering Wyoming County from Sullivan County, traveling east on PA-87. Wyoming County was my 66th Pennsylvania county and #3,042 in my overall quest to visit each of the 3,142 counties or county equivilents in the United States at least once in my lifetime. From here, there are only 100 counties to go.

The first time I remember visiting Pennsylvania was a trip to to preach revival services in a church in Erie in August, 1964.  I was a 19-year-old youth evangelist then.  Nine years later I moved to the Keystone State for a total of four years (1973-1977), living for one year in the Philadelphia area and three years in Harrisburg.  During that time, and on subsequent visits, I traveled over most of the state.  Still, a few spots waited to be filled in on my County Quest.   

I have seen much of Pennsylvania on foot - hiking literally hundreds of miles through the state during the time I lived there.  My hikes included the entire 232 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, from the Maryland, on the Mason-Dixon line, to the Delaware Water Gap on the New Jersey state line.  Also, I hiked the entire 140 mile length of the Horse Shoe Trail, and parts or all of several other Pennsylvania trails.

Before ever visiting Pennsylvania, I always thought of it as a place of big cities and heavy industry - like steel mills.  Actually, most of the state is made up of beautiful wooded ridges interspersed with fertile green valleys, clear running streams, abundant wildlife, and some of the prettiest farms to be found anywhere.  "Penns Woods"  is a state of delightful discoveries.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Geographical Center of the United States

Travel to every county of the United States and eventually you may come across the center of the whole country. I did just that in a visit with my wife to South Dakota this past September - and we discovered that the "Center of the Nation" is in the middle of nowhere.

This flag, on a private ranch in Butte County, South Dakota, marks that spot. We found it by following an unpaved road for several miles, then climbing through a barbed wire fence and hiking the last hundred yards or so. The nearest town is Belle Fourche, about 20 miles to the south.  

Embedded in concrete at the base of the flag is a reference mark (Center - No. 1) placed by the U. S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survery in 1962. The flag and marker is surrounded by open prairie as far as the eye can see in all directions. It's a great spot in which to stand and contemplate the eternal verities of life.