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  • Approved for CNN

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    Posted May 9, 2014 by
    SouthrnHiker
    Location
    Columbus, Georgia
    Assignment
    Assignment
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Visited all 50 states?

    50 Before 30

     

    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     SouthrnHiker and his wife visited their 50th state -- Wisconsin -- this past summer. "New Mexico has the most beautiful sunsets over the desert, we love Oregon's coastline, and Seattle is now one of our favorite cities. The Alaskan wildlife is unlike any other and the Grand Tetons are without compare. Ultimately Georgia will always be home, and Florida's beaches call us back for summer relaxation. We have truly loved all of the places we have been fortunate enough to see."
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    Hitting our 50th state before my 30th birthday and my wife's 28th.

    My wife and I are both school teachers. Yes, that means we share summers off without kids and nothing to do but travel. June and July can often be enviable months for the two of us, and we have used that "free time" during our first decade of marriage to see the United States.

    I have always loved to travel, and I think I inherited the gene from my maternal grandparents. I still remember watching home videos of their trip to Alaska and listening to my granddad tell stories about all of the places they had been. Declaring they have no desire to fly to Hawaii, they are 49 staters. I always thought this was amazing as a kid and wanted to travel as much as they did.

    My parents and my wife's parents enjoyed their share of vacations with us as kids too, but it was often to the same locations. For me it was a summer week in Panama City Beach, Florida and a long Christmas break weekend to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. For her it was summers in Daytona and winters in Gatlinburg as well. Who knows if our paths might have crossed at a younger age.

    When we got married, both of us had very limited, to no, travel experience outside of the Southeast. When we chose our honeymoon in Costa Rica, I think we both knew it was going to be the first of many extraordinary travel adventures.

    Our first summer as teachers really kicked off the 50 state adventure, though. I had always wanted to take a big cross country road trip, even going so far as to plan an escape out west with my high school buddies senior year (like most teenage dreams, that one never happened).

    And so, as we have almost every year since, we took off for an adventure our first day out of school. Our trip took us on a long circle from Georgia to Yellowstone, Las Vegas, and back home through Texas. We picked up 12 new states on that trip.

    A couple of summers later, we set off for another great circle out to Yosemite, Seattle, and North Dakota. That whirlwind 18 day trip gave us nine more states. Looking at our worn out road atlas, this was when I realized how close we were to hitting all 50 states. I was 27 at the time, had somewhere around 40 states under my belt, and knew the next few years could bring children, more job responsibilities, and all of the other things that can tie a person down. So we set a goal... 50 states before I was 30.

    The New England states were easy enough as our jobs had temporarily moved us to Northern Virginia, and we could bag those states on long weekends. Vermont in the fall is amazing and the Maine coastline will definitely bring me back for more exploration. I still need to see Acadia and catch a game at Fenway.

    Halfway through 28, and I was starting to wonder how in the world we would get the last four states we needed to hit: Michigan, Wisconsin, Hawaii and Alaska.

    Over spring break that year, we planned to drive up to Michigan and Wisconsin and do a loop around Lake Michigan. The Sunday before we planned to leave, I checked the weather and a snow storm was about to hit our destination. Having spent the majority of my year cooped up inside a classroom, cold weather was not what I was looking for on Spring Break. A quick check for last minute flights at 7 p.m. that Sunday night, and we spontaneously booked a flight to Honolulu out of Atlanta at 7 a.m. the next morning. The trip was fantastic! We surfed on Waikiki beach, snorkeled Hanuama Bay, and road the public bus up to the North Shore. It was a great week in Hawaii (as if a week in Hawaii could be anything else), and it knocked off a biggie on the move to 50.

    Alaska turned out much easier to get than expected. We decided we wanted to spend enough time in Alaska to really see the wildlife. To do this, we took seasonal summer jobs working at Glacier Bay National Park in Gustavus, Alaska. Working for an NPS concessionaire, we spent our time off going on whale watches, hiking near moose habitats, and exploring the glaciers around Juneau by helicopter. It was a great summer experience, but when I got home I was 3 weeks from turning 30 and still needed two more states.

    With only a week and half remaining of our summer vacation, we decided to go for it. We would drive from Georgia up to Michigan and get those last two states in a rush. It's not the best way to see a place, but it turned out to be a great trip as well. We camped for two nights in a state park walking distance to Lake Michigan, went dune buggy riding, and then drove down the southern coast of the great lake, through Chicago and up to Milwaukee for two nights. We had hit number 50.

    When I set this goal of 50 before 30, I had fully expected the great climax to end with Alaska or Hawaii, but Wisconsin is nice in the summer. A cold beer on the Miller Brewery tour and catching a game at Miller Park was a great way to finish off the trip.

    While I thought hitting all 50 might bring some sort of closure to our road trip traveling days, it mostly has just given us some ideas on places we want to go explore more in depth. It has slowed us down a little though, we are more likely to spend a more time in fewer places and maybe hit fewer "destinations" as a result.

    At 30 we still have no kids, but maybe that's on the horizon. If we do, I'm sure we will start them off young on their quest to 50 as well. Maybe a 50 before 10 or 50 before 18 could be in the works? Or maybe, we'll just go for 7 continents? Ultimately, the traveling for us is less about the check list and more about seeing and enjoying as much as we can during this short time we have on Earth.

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