Ticket to Write: 50-state milestone a lifetime in making
I hit 50 this month.
Not the birthday (that was a couple of years ago), but a “50” that might be almost as significant.
My visit to Alaska earlier in July was my first trip to the Last Frontier, as well as the last check mark on my 50-state list.
And each one of those visits has been a lot more than just a quick trip across the state line. I’ve spent enough time in each state to get to know at least one interesting piece of it.
And with today’s story on Juneau, I’ve published travel stories and photos in The Columbus Dispatch from every state, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. (Thanks, bosses.)
I was stuck at two states, Ohio and Kentucky, for the first 8 years of my life. And then a cross-country drive with my grandparents added 8 states to my list — and stirred a wanderlust in me.
But it was only in later adulthood that I really got to scratch my travel itch. And after I became a travel writer, I began traveling extensively.
As an Ohio-based writer, most of my journeys take me to destinations in Ohio, the Midwest and popular vacation spots for Ohioans, such as Florida and the Carolinas. But I also get to flit farther afield once or twice a year. My excuse is often Ohio State University football. I usually visit and write a travel article about one or two Ohio State “away” destinations each year, and about that year’s bowl destination.
In fact, I made my first visit to the Lone Star State to preview a Buckeyes football game in Austin at the University of Texas. My first trip to Louisiana came before an Ohio State Sugar Bowl appearance in New Orleans. And my first California trip was to preview the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl visit after the 2009 season.
Visiting and writing about every state became a realistic goal a few years ago when I realized just how close I was getting. I finally hit North and South Dakota 5 years ago. Last year, Oregon made the list. And now Alaska.
A few states took me a surprisingly long time to check off.
I made my first trip to Florida only after I became a travel writer 13 years ago. Since then I’ve visited nearly every corner of the Sunshine State and have become so enamored that I vacation there with my family every year.
I also first visited that state up north for a Dispatch travel story. Truth be told, I’ve come to love Michigan (the state, not the team) and try to get there as often as possible.
On the other hand, I made regular visits to Hawaii for years before I started traveling professionally, because my wife’s sister lives in Honolulu. (It beats having relatives in Peoria, Illinois.)
I’ve also explored most of the country’s major cities with a few exceptions, such as Dallas. But Ohio State plays Texas Christian University at AT&T Stadium in suburban Arlington next year, so maybe …
The state I’ve visited least is Wyoming. I made just one overnight stay to learn and write about Devils Tower National Monument in the state’s extreme northeastern corner.
I have been to Wyoming one other time, on that trip with my grandparents when I was 8, to Yellowstone National Park.
I’ll get there again. Yellowstone’s on my checklist of National Park sites, where it’s 106 down, 311 to go.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveStephens.