Thursday, September 8, 2016

ALASKA!

For our family’s summer “road trip’ we decided to take a seven-day cruise instead. Our destination was Alaska – a place that we hadn’t yet visited as a family.

We all flew out to Seattle (via the awesome Southwest Airlines) on the Friday before Labor Day, spending the night at the Hampton Inn & Suites Seattle-Airport/28th Ave. On Saturday morning we boarded our home for the next seven days, the Norwegian Jewel. We’d gotten a suite. So with all the room, we felt like kings. We spent the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday traveling the north Atlantic. Then early Monday morning we docked in the Alaskan city of Ketchikan – located in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, our first new “county” of the trip.



We spent the day wandering the town. It was a little rainy. But we still managed to check out several of the shops, some totem poles and the (now-closed) last brothel in the city. We even saw some seals chasing after salmon.





Later that evening the Jewel took off and headed further north. The following morning we docked in the capital city of Juneau – located in the aptly named Borough of Juneau. We took an excursion out to Mendenhall Lake, where we had a great view of Nugget Falls and the Mendenhall Glacier.


                                      


The ship set out again on Tuesday afternoon and headed back south a little bit in order to turn into the Tracy Arm and get to Sawyer Glacier. Since we’d gotten a suite for the cruise, we were invited to a special rooftop viewing complete with blankets, hot chocolate and wine. The views were spectacular. And as we neared the glacier, the water was dotted with various icebergs – remnants of the glacier that had fallen into the water previously. And though it was brief, we were able to see a tiny bit more of it fall into the water. But even that little bit let out quite a thunderous boom.






On Wednesday morning we docked in Skagway – and the Skagway Borough, which was to be our final new U.S. “County” of the trip. While there we took an excursion into the wilderness by way of the Klondike Highway. We actually crossed into Canada, which got us the rare opportunity to get a picture with a “Welcome to Alaska” sign. On the way back we even stopped to drink some water from a waterfall. Our guide assured us that this glacier water was the most pure you could find on Earth, and was perfectly safe to drink. So of course we all tried it – with no issues.








After we got back on the ship, we spent the rest of Wednesday, all day Thursday and Friday morning at sea. On Friday we arrived in Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. We had no real excursions planned. But we did wander into the city to see the Parliament Building. We also stopped at Starbucks to take advantage of the free internet.



On Saturday we arrived back in Seattle. Our cruise was over. But we decided we wouldn’t fly back home until Sunday. So we checked into the Hyatt Place. And since we had virtually all day, we decided to check out Pike Fish Market, the infamous Gum Wall, the Chihuly Garden & Glass Museum, and of course the Space Needle.








All in all it was a great vacation. We were quite impressed with the cruise ship. The staff were beyond excellent. And we met a new friend in a waiter named Prince. We highly recommend him if you ever take an Alaskan cruise. So ask for Prince. He's the best! The Norwegian Cruises are top of the line. You won't find any better.

County-wise we only picked up three new ones. In this case they were our first boroughs. Clearly we’ll need to visit Alaska again. And we will! Incidentally, although we don’t actively collect them, we also picked up two new areas in Canada.
So what’s next? Well we have a brief two-day weekend getaway planned in October for Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Beyond that we have a long weekend planned in November for some of the New England states. Hopefully it won’t be too cold. Stay tuned!

                                                NEW COUNTIES - 3
                                                TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2016 - 215
                                                ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL - 1480

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

VIRGINIA!

Over the 4th of July long weekend we decided to take a trip to Virginia. The drive time involved was pretty lofty even by our standards. And for the first time ever we were unable to hit every county as planned. More on that later…

We set out on Friday night, fighting holiday traffic in Chicago and eventually getting to our hotel – the Sheraton Indianapolis Hotel at Keystone Crossing. On Saturday morning we got an early start, leaving before 7:00. We had a long day planned. Our destination was Raleigh, NC. We never made it.


We initially traveled south from Indianapolis towards Cincinnati. Once we got close we veered off onto I-275, essentially going around Cincinnati, crossed the Ohio River and found ourselves in Boone County, Kentucky – our first new county of the trip. From there we followed the interstate east picking up Kenton and Campbell Counties before exiting onto HWY 9 and heading southeast, where we picked up Pendleton, Bracken and Mason Counties.



As we neared the city of Maysville we hit our first two bonus counties of the day. Heading south on HWY 68 we drove to the Blue Licks Battlefield State Park. In doing so we picked up Robertson and Nicholas Counties. From there we wormed our way through the middle of nowhere (a theme on this particular trip) towards the city of Elliottville, picking up Fleming, Rowan and Carter Counties along the way.



As we headed towards the Virginia state border we picked up Elliott, Morgan, Magoffin, Johnson and Floyd counties in Kentucky. We even passed through Pike County – a county we’d been to before. But finally we reached Virginia. As we crossed the border we found ourselves passing through the lovely wilderness area of Breaks Interstate Park. By this time our path had become pretty mountainous as well. It would stay that way for quite awhile. Once we got out of the mountains we headed to Bristol – our first independent city (which are basically county equivalents). On the way we picked up Buchanan, Dickinson, Russell and Washington Counties as well.



While in Bristol we stopped to eat an early dinner at Olive Garden. After a long day of driving with no fun stops the meal seemed to recharge our batteries – which was perfect since we still had several hours of driving to go that day. We even decided to travel a few miles south and cross into Bristol, TN (Bristol VA's sister city) which resides in Sullivan County Tennessee – an unplanned new county. From there we traveled east on the Jeb Stuart Highway. I don’t know who Jeb Stuart was. But I curse him for this road. The road hovered just above the Tennessee and North Carolina borders for mile after mile of twists and turns. I love roller coasters. But those usually end after a minute or two. This one went on forever. And my stomach was hurting. Nonetheless we endured, picking up Johnson County, Tennessee, Ashe and Alleghany Counties in North Carolina, and Grayson County in Virginia. When we finally got off the twisty roads and into relative civilization we found ourselves in the tiny independent city of Galax.





After we exited Galax we got into Carroll County. And here’s where our trip found another twist – this one unexpected. As we were about 1000 feet from the Floyd County border a deer jumped in front of our rented Jeep Renegade. And we hit him hard – hard enough to shatter the headlights, lose the license plate and cause all the transmission fluid to drain onto the road. We were so remote that the sheriff’s office couldn’t get a deputy to us for about 40 minutes. The closest town was about five miles away. But Meadows Of Dan, VA has very little to offer. Thankfully they had a motel – The Blue Ridge Motel. It’s the kind of place that when you call, they answer the phone by simply saying “Hello?” It even had actual keys. The accommodations were not what we were used to. But they were perfect! It had a bed. There was also a friendly cat named Bootsy. And it was a welcome sight considering the lack of anything else around – not to mention the pouring rain that started just after the tow truck driver pulled up. Our drive to the hotel ended up picking up both Floyd and Patrick Counties. Did I mention that I kept the license plate?







After spending a couple of hours on the phone that night and the following morning we were finally able to arrange a ride. Our car rental place insisted that the car be towed to their nearest location – which was the Greensboro Airport, 100 minutes away. Their nearest service driver was in Wytheville – about an hour away in the opposite direction. So when he got there (an incredibly nice guy by the way) he picked up our vehicle and drove us to the airport. So we picked up Henry County in Virginia, as well as Rockingham and Guilford Counties in North Carolina. From the airport we picked up a new Ford Fusion car rental and were on our way. We had to cancel our previous night’s hotel reservation in Raleigh-Durham. And we had lost several hours of drive time. But by noon on Sunday we were back on the road. Our destination was Monticello – home of former President Thomas Jefferson. Our drive there had us pass through Caswell County in North Carolina, the independent city of Danville in Virginia, Pittsylvania and Campbell Counties, the independent city of Lynchburg, then Amherst, Nelson and Albemarle counties.


We had tickets to tour Jefferson’s home. Our time was 11:15. We didn’t get there until around 3:00. And being the 4th of July weekend, they could not squeeze us into any other tour group. Everything was sold out. They did refund our money though. And we were still able to walk the grounds. So we were able to visit his gravesite.






Since we were still several hours behind schedule we decided that we really had no choice but to drive a direct route to our hotel. Although being county collectors, even a “direct” route is never completely direct. As we left Monticello we briefly drove into the independent city of Charlottesville before hopping onto I-64 west. From there we drove through Augusta County and the independent cities of Waynesboro and Staunton. At Staunton we had to briefly exit the highway in order to officially cross the city border. Then we headed north on I-81 hitting Rockingham County and the independent city of Harrisonburg.


At Harrisonburg we ventured west into the mountains on Highway 33, eventually crossing into Pendleton County, WV. With a slight route adjustment we drove through Randolph, Barbour, Tucker, Preston and Taylor Counties – with Tucker County requiring a five-mile turnaround.



As we neared our hotel we had one bonus county to hit. As we headed north on Highway 119 we turned off the road into what appeared to be a trailer park. Although there were some non-mobile homes there as well. By this time it was night. And the neighborhood was unpaved. But we found our way though a few blocks and crossed into Marion County. There were no signs alerting us to this fact. But we were there. We then got back onto the highway, crossed into Monongalia County a minute later, then went right to our hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn) in Morgantown. We got there around 10:00, grabbed a quick bite from McDonald’s, and ate it in our room. Needless to say we slept very well that night.

On Monday morning we set out for home. We got on I-79 north. And 10 minutes later we crossed into Greene County, PA. At the city of Washington we got onto I-70 and headed west back into West Virginia followed by Ohio. But before we crossed into Ohio we got off the interstate and went south for a few miles in order to pick up Marshall County, WV.  Once we got into Ohio we headed northwest picking up Jefferson, Harrison and Tuscarawas Counties. From there we headed mostly west, picking up Coshocton, Knox, Morrow and Delaware Counties. At that point we headed sharply north straight into Marion County and the city of Marion itself. We stopped for lunch at Arby’s and paid our respects to President Warren Harding.





After we left President Harding we set out for the final stretch home. We headed southwest into Union County. And after putting in an address in our GPS, we found that we were only about five miles away from another bonus county. Some quick math found that if we were to get this one later on (it would have been the only non-visited county in the area) it would have cost us over 90 minutes of time. So it was a no-brainer to get it now. So we went a little further south, crossed into Logan County, then entered the city of North Lewisburg – and the elusive Champaign County.


Feeling quite satisfied with ourselves we headed back northwest onto our planned route and went through Shelby, Auglaize and Mercer Counties before crossing the border into Indiana. From there we hit Adams, Wells, Huntington, Wabash, Miami, Cass, Fulton and Pulaski Counties. With Pulaski County we notched our 79th (and final) county of the trip.



County-wise it was our most productive three-day weekend ever. However it would have been 93 counties had we not run into that deer. And it was disappointing that we didn’t get to see some of the fun sights we’d planned to visit. But we still had fun. And we had an adventure to talk about. As for the missed fun sights, we’ll simply have to go back. And you know we will.


The 79 new counties gave us a grand total of 212 for the year. What’s next? Well next month we’re going to a place we haven’t been to as a couple yet – Alaska. We’re taking our four kids on an Alaskan cruise. And the stops will net us (I believe) three new county-equivalents. Beyond that we have nothing planned until a visit to Mammoth Cave in October. Will anything additional take place before then? Well, there’s nothing planned. But you never know. Stay tuned!


                                                NEW COUNTIES - 79
                                                TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2016 - 212
                                                ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL - 1477