As many Insiders know, my long-term goal is to visit every county in the United States. From each county seat, I mail a postcard home noting the location, date, time, and a brief note about the place. At the request of a few folks, here is a progress update.
In the summer of 2007, I decided to visit all the counties in Ohio, my home state since 1977 (except for 1997-2006 when I lived near Seattle). I chose to do this because, between 1945 and 1976, my grandfather visited every U.S. county seat and mailed a postcard from each (he required a clear postmark showing the date and the town/city name). With the recent consolidation and automation of mail facilities, I knew collecting postmarks would be impossible, but I could still document my travels.
It took most of the summer, but I did it. I visited all 88 counties by taking day trips from my home in Columbus. I didn't plan on reaching beyond Ohio, but on some trips I crossed into neighboring states to collect a few bonus counties, just in case. By the end of the year, my total stood at 95 (88 in Ohio, plus 1 in Indiana, 2 in Kentucky, and 4 in West Virginia). Before embarking on this quest, I kept track of my travels by highlighting the routes I traveled in a Rand McNally road atlas. Using this, I created a map of the places I visited before 2007 (Major interstate highways are easy to pick out).
After collecting all the counties in Ohio, my map looked like this (end of 2007).
For those who have not previously seen my maps, dark blue is for counties from which I have mailed (and received) a postcard. Green is for counties where I have been in the county seat, but not yet collected a postcard. Four times the U.S. Postal Service has lost my cards so they remain green until I make a return visit and collect them (I've gone back to 2 of these already). Cyan is for counties I have been in (or in most cased through), but not visited the county seat.
I didn't do much traveling in 2008 and 2009. I had still not committed to expanding my goal to the rest of the country. Over the years, I visited 45 states (missing Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, and Mississippi). In March of 2010, I decided to see the three missing southern states. I was still not certain I would try to visit all the county seats in the U.S., but I made a half-hearted effort to collect a few on my way bringing my total up to 113 (updated map).
In 2011, things changed. I joined Marriott Rewards while on a business trip to Indianapolis. I began to take a more overnight trips, staying a Marriott properties, especially when promotions were offered. I also spent a long weekend in the Florida Keys and another in San Diego. In late summer, I drove out to Iowa to visit my uncle picking up 41 counties on the way. During this visit, he gave me my grandfather’s postcard collection which he had inherited 30 years ago.
By the end of the year, my tally stood at 201.
Now that I had committed to collecting the entire country and to using Marriott Rewards, I went all out. I still had a lot of territory to cover in the states near home and began racking up the mileage on my car (and elite nights). I used a couple promo certificates on a trip to Georgia and South Carolina in March, I explored most of Indiana and Kentucky over the spring and summer, I visited my aunt in Wisconsin (who I had not seen in a decade), and decided to drive the only state in the contiguous U.S. that I had not visited, Delaware (picking up counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland along the way). I also drove to Toronto for a conference via northwest Pennsylvania and far western New York.
2012 turned out to be the busiest year so far. I collected 362 counties, ending the year with 563.
For 2013, I wanted to visit somewhere a bit farther away. I decided on Arizona and New Mexico. In May, I flew out to El Paso and explored the large chuck of blue which included a good portion of west Texas (see below). I drove almost 5,000 miles and accomplished the mid-year Mega Bonus promotion in one week. I also completed Kentucky (with the exception of Elliott County (one of the postcards lost by the USPS) and all but two counties near Terre Haute, Indiana. I made my first foray in the upper peninsula of Michigan and blogged about it on this site.
I had planned on a trip to North Carolina, but the death of my aunt (who I had visited a year earlier) brought me back to Wisconsin. After the service, I visited the graves of my father and grandfather as a way of sharing with them the stories of my travels. My dad often accompanied his father on the road, so I imagine they both would approve.
My most recent trip was a three-day-weekend jaunt down to Richmond, Virginia. For the year, I collected 232 postcards, bringing the total to 795 which represent 25% of all the counties in the United States. Looking at the map, I’m not sure it looks like almost one quarter of the country is complete, but it is beginning to fill in.
I’ve begun making plans for my travels in 2014, but I have no doubt some of those plans will change. This time next year, I’ll compare maps again and see where the road has taken me.
In the meantime …