Tuesday, December 29, 2015

CHAMPAIGN!

Our final trip of the year was a little car ride (little for us anyway) to Illinois and Indiana. We had originally planned to start this trip on a Saturday morning, then drive a little over 10 hours to our destination. But instead we chose to leave on Friday night to knock four hours off Saturday's drive.

Our destination Friday night was Champaign, IL. We took a rare direct route for us and arrived at the Hyatt Place sometime around 11:00. While my fiancée stayed in the room, I drove a mile down the road to stop in a bar and see an old friend of mine playing in a karaoke band. I spent about an hour there, made plans to meet him for breakfast the next day, then headed back to the hotel to sleep.

On Saturday morning we met my friend at his bar/restaurant for breakfast. If you're ever in Champaign be sure to visit Boomerangs! We left around 1:00 and began our new county quest. We headed east on I-74, then went south on HWY 49. Near the tiny town of Allerton we headed one block into it, and entered Vermilion County. We then turned around and continued south on HWY 49. A few miles later we crossed into Edgar County.



We continued a mostly southerly route, crossing into Clark and Crawford Counties on the way. At the city of Hutsonville we crossed the Wabash River and entered into the state of Indiana and Sullivan County. We continued south picking up Knox County. Within the city of Vincennes we crossed the Wabash River yet again, this time going back into Illinois and picking up Lawrence County. From there we turned around and went back into Indiana.


We headed south on HWY 41 entering a couple of counties we’d previously been in. But once we got onto I-64 and headed west we crossed into Posey County, our last Indiana County for the trip. Crossing the Wabash River once again we entered Illinois and White County. As we headed north we entered the small town of Grayville. We took a right turn, traveled about a mile, crossed a small bridge (over a run-off from the Wabash River) and found ourselves on a dirt road – and Wabash County. This was our 500th new county of the year. From there we turned around and went back. Once we got on the main road going north again, we crossed into Edwards County a block later.

From there we put our hotel in the GPS. We spent the night at the Comfort Inn & Suites in Champaign. On the way back we drove through Richland and Jasper County. We ended up getting dinner at Monical’s Pizza in Tuscola. And like the night before, before going to bed, we drove to the city of Clinton to see my old buddy performing with his karaoke band at Snapper’s Bar & Grill. And this time, in spite of a head cold and throaty voice, I got up and sang two songs with him – which was very cool!This little weekend getaway ended up netting 13 new counties, bringing our yearly total to 503. Our grand total now stands at 1265. Although I hope I’m wrong, it’s probably safe to say we’ll never have another year as productive (county-wise) as 2015.

So what’s next? Well we do have a wedding to go to in January. It’s in the St. Louis area. There are a couple of nearby counties in Missouri that we haven’t been to yet that we might possibly drive to just because – just because that’s what we do. We also have an Alaskan cruise scheduled for August. But beyond that, there is nothing planned. Yet. Stay tuned!


                                                NEW COUNTIES - 13
                                                TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2015 - 503
                                                ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL - 1265

Thursday, November 12, 2015

EVERYTHING IS BIGGER IN TEXAS!

Including the number of counties… The massive state of Texas has a mind-boggling 254 different counties. And prior to this past weekend we’d only been through nine of them. So we had some serious work to do. We knew this was going to be a fairly county-intensive trip through some very remote areas of the Lone Star State. And it certainly was.

We got up early to make a 7:00 Saturday morning flight to Dallas, which found us setting out from the car rental place around 10:00. We had a long day in front of us. Our trip started with our touchdown in Love Field which was in Dallas County. Our destination for the night was El Paso. We headed southeast and picked up Ellis, Johnson and Somervell Counties. Near the colorfully-named city of Rainbow we took a side trip up HWY 144 a few miles to reach Hood County. After turning around to come back we continued west, picking up Erath and Eastland Counties before taking a one-mile side trip in Desdemona to pick up Comanche County.



From there we hooked up with I-20 and stayed with it most of the remainder of the day. Right away we picked up Callahan and Taylor Counties. But we stopped in Abilene to visit a park full of Dr. Seuss statues.



We got back on I-20 and drove through Nolan, Mitchell, Howard and Martin Counties. As we got into the city of Stanton we veered off to the south a few miles to pick up Midland and Glasscock Counties. We then went west, once again hooking up with I-20.


About this time I started to not feel well. Was it a spoiled Twix candy bar purchased in Abilene? I don’t know. But the rest of the day and night was very painful. But like a trooper, we carried on. Ector, Crane and Ward Counties were next.

In the city of Winkler we got off the interstate and headed north, picking up Winkler County. And at the small town of Kermit we headed west on HWY 302 and entered Loving County – the least populated county in the entire U.S. Apparently there’s only 82 people currently living there. Although you wouldn’t know it from the traffic. There are oil fields in the area. And there are a lot of big trucks zooming by. They can be especially intimidating going 75 MPH (like most of the back roads are in Texas) when you get out of your car to take a close up picture of the county sign.


From there we headed south and picked up I-20/I-10 again, for the final stretch to El Paso. We picked up Reeves, Jeff Davis, Culberson, Hudpseth and El Paso Counties on the way. Once we’d finally made it to El Paso we went north to briefly cross over the New Mexico border to enter Otero County. We then turned around and headed straight to the hotel. Although instead of stopping at it right away, we drove right past it for a couple of miles in order to cross the New Mexico border once again. Only this time we picked up Dona Ana County. With 28 new counties under our belt we finally headed back to our hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites El Paso for some well-earned sleep.

On Sunday morning we stopped by the Chamizal monument which marks the original Mexican/American border. The spot is a stone’s throw away from the current border. And we could see the fence as well as the road that crosses over. From there we set out for southeastern New Mexico to visit Carlsbad Caverns, in Eddy County. Unfortunately the elevators were broken. So the only option was to hike down into the cave the natural way. Since we had an additional eight hours of driving to do once we left, we didn’t have time to fully explore the caves. But we did spend some time inside. And since the elevators were down they let people in for free. The views were breathtaking. And we’re definitely planning to go back with our children someday soon. This is a place everyone should visit. We highly recommend it.







After leaving the Caverns we set out for Lubbock, Texas – in a roundabout way. When it comes to county collecting, a direct route rarely suffices. We headed east towards the Texas border, picking up Lea County, New Mexico along the way. When we finally crossed the state line we were in Andrews County. From there we headed north. Our route more or less circled around the west, north and east sides of Lubbock. There were also a few small “turnaround” side trips that picked up an extra county. Along the way we picked up Gaines, Yoakum, Terry, Cochran, Hockley, Bailey, Lamb, Castro, Parmer, Swisher, Briscoe, Armstrong, Floyd, Hale and Lubbock Counties. This area of Texas features an endless sea of oil fields and pumpjacks. And to be perfectly honest, it smelled. There are poisonous gas warning signs all over the place. Although in all honesty I think they’re placed in order to discourage trespassers. But there’s no doubt that there’s gas around. Because we smelled it for hours. According to the Mob Rule County Website this area (save for Lubbock itself) is one of the most remote and least-visited areas in the state of Texas. We definitely concur. At one point we went about 30 minutes without seeing another car. We did however see plenty of animals. We almost hit a deer, several rabbits and a few other unidentified critters. Unfortunately there was also one giant rabbit that we were unable to avoid. Based on the speed of these roads, I’m sure it didn’t suffer.



As we pulled onto HWY 62 to drive west into Lubbock, we instead took a left turn to hit Crosby County a few miles down the road. From there we turned around and headed straight toward the La Quinta Inn & Suites Lubbock North for another well-earned night of rest after a very long day.

On Monday morning we set out for our trip back to Dallas for our 6:40 flight back home. Before we left we stopped by the Buddy Holly Center. Although it was closed, we did get to see a few statues, as well as the house where he wrote the hit “That’ll Be The Day.”




Once we left town we headed south on HWY 87 (picking up Lynn County) until we got to the city of Tahoka. From there we headed east on HWY 380 and drove 14 miles through cotton fields to the Garza County border. We generally don’t drive that far just to “turnaround” and go back. But in the spirit of “No county left behind” it made much more sense to hit this one now than to go even further out of our way to reach it in the future. So we enjoyed our 30 seconds in Garza County.



Once we turned around we eventually hooked up with HWY 180 going east toward Dallas/Fort Worth. And in a very rare move for us, we actually stayed on this road for several hours. Along the route we picked up Dawson, Borden, Scurry, Fisher, Jones, Shackelford, Stephens, Palo Pinto, Parker and Tarrant Counties. Once we got into the Fort Worth area we realized that we had some extra time to kill. So we headed northwest and picked up the bonus counties of Denton and Collin. After that we simply headed 10 miles south to the car rental place to catch the shuttle to the airport. We still had some extra time. But instead of more county hopping we opted for the Whataburger inside the Love Field Airport.

When it was all said and done we’d traveled just over 1800 miles in three days. We got into 61 new counties. County-wise this was one of our most productive three-day weekends ever. And as big as Texas is, it was nice to finally make a major dent into it. The remote areas we went through made it a little less interesting than some of our other travels. But it was still fun. We can’t wait to go back and see some more of what Texas has to offer.

So what’s next? We have a small road trip planned for December which will cover some areas in southeast Illinois and southwest Indiana. We also have a wedding to attend in the St. Louis area in January. We might possibly pick up a couple of bonus counties there too. We’ll find out soon. We’ll see you then!

            NEW COUNTIES - 61
                                                TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2015 - 490
                                                ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL - 1252

                                                

Thursday, October 15, 2015

FINISHING MICHIGAN WITH A VISIT TO HELL!

The second weekend of October found us on a mission to complete our third state. So on Friday night we set out for the U.P. We got as far as Escanaba, where we spent the night at the Sunset Lodge Motel. As far as we could recall, this was the first time we’d ever spent the night at a motel. They had actual keys! And in spite of its somewhat rustic appearance, the motel was incredibly well-kept and up to date. And the staff was incredibly friendly as well. As it turns out it’s the #1 rated hotel (motel) in Escanaba. It’s well earned. We can’t recommend it enough. And you can’t beat the price.



On Saturday we got up and out the door by 8:30. After a brief stop for a McDonald’s breakfast, we headed north on Highway 2, following the northern shores of Lake Michigan, and crossing into  both Schoolcraft and Mackinac Counties – our first new ones of the trip. From there we headed north to pick up the elusive Luce County. We then picked up Chippewa County on the way back down towards the Mackinac Bridge.



Once we crossed the bridge on I-75 we found ourselves in Emmet County. Continuing south we entered Cheboygan County about 1.5 miles later. We stopped in Indian River to fill up on gas and get a quick lunch at Burger King. From there we headed east on HWY 68/33, into one of the least-visited areas in Michigan for county collectors. We immediately picked up Presque Isle County – where we found a giant head of George Washington near the town of Onaway. Then we headed south, picking up both Montmorency and Alpena Counties. Generally speaking when we do a quick “turnaround” in a very rural area, we never see a county sign. But Alpena one! (Notice the dirt road.)



We continued with a southerly route, picking up Oscoda, Alcona, Iosco Ogemwa, Arenac and Bay Counties. By this time we had hooked back up with I-75. But somewhere near the city of Pinconning we had to get off and head west a few miles to pick up Gladwin and Midland Counties. We then looped back to I-75 and continued south. Near Bay City we got off the interstate and headed east on HWY 25. We picked up both Tuscola and Sanilac Counties before we hit HWY 53. We drove north on it for one mile to hit Huron County. We then turned around and went south and picked up Lapeer County.



From there we headed south and east for a little “off roading.” This is where the phrase “no county left behind” becomes very accurate. We worked our way through the small town of Allenton, picking up both St. Clair and Macomb counties along the way. We then weaved our way through some back roads, before heading due west for eight miles on what was no more than a dirt road with occasional pot holes. But our destination was the northeastern tip of Oakland County. And after those eight miles we were able to make a left turn to get into it and say we were there. From there we put our Flint hotel (The Courtyard Flint) in the GPS and went right to it. In doing so we entered Genesee County – our 25th new county of the day. For supper we picked an Italian place called Italia Gardens. The spaghetti sauce was very flavorful. And in spite of it being an Italian place, I highly suggest getting some ribs. They’re fantastic! And if that isn’t enough, the bathroom has a Three Stooges motif!



On Sunday we had a quick breakfast at Bob Evans Restaurant, then headed south on HWY 23 out of Flint. Before long we entered Livingston County. From there we took a detour because we wanted to go to Hell. But since we were going to Hell we stopped to see Jesus first. We got off the highway and found a church with a quick photo opportunity with Jesus. We took full advantage of it, including putting a pair of sunglasses on him. From there we went west a few miles and stopped to get gas in Pinckney. We then went a few miles south to cross into Washtenaw County before turning around heading into the very small town of Hell. In a matter of minutes we saw both Jesus and Hell. It was quite a day. Apparently lots of people like to get married in Hell. So there is a very small church in town.






We continued west, picking up both Ingham and Jackson Counties, before finally getting back onto the interstate. We followed I-94 into Calhoun County. We then headed north and west, picking up both Eaton and the rarely-visited Barry Counties. From there we went south through Battle Creek, found I-94 again, and headed west right into Kalamazoo County – where there was a perfect photo opportunity right by the exit ramp before hitting it. And with Kalamazoo County finished, we had completely finished off the state of Michigan. A few months earlier we’d only been in 13 of Michigan’s counties. We visited the last 70 (in three trips) very quickly.



Our trip was not yet done though. We decided to seek out a bizarre statue entitled “The Committee” which rests on the Western Michigan University Campus in Kalamazoo. The students simply refer to it as “Face Full of Crotch.” Once we left there we also found a “Dinosaur Farm” near the city of Coloma.




We then left Michigan and headed home. All in all we visited 33 new counties and completed our third state. What’s next? We have a weekend getaway planned for Texas and New Mexico next month that covers a lot of ground. We’ll see you there!


NEW COUNTIES - 33
                                                TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2015 - 429
                                                ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL - 1191

Friday, September 18, 2015

SOUTH CAROLINA!

September brought us on a long-planned long weekend getaway to Georgia and South Carolina. My fiancé had gotten into Georgia a few days earlier. So she drove up from Savannah to pick me up at the Atlanta airport.
 
We immediately headed southeast on I-75 back towards Savannah. This is a great highway for county collectors, as it crosses into several of them in a short amount of time. We crossed into Henry, Spalding, Butts, Lamar, Monroe and Bibb Counties along the way. We then got off the highway to fill up on gas at the far northern side of Macon. We had an alternative reason as well. The exit was about one mile away from the border of Jones County. The only problem was that the only road that crossed over the Ocmulgee River (the border) was in a gated community. And they won’t let you through. Knowing this we’d called ahead of time. And thanks to a "police escort" from Lt. Douglas of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department, we were able to cross the bridge and enjoy what Jones County had to offer - for about 10 seconds, before turning right around to come back. Our thanks to Lt. Douglas for making this possible. No county left behind!




After gassing up we got back on the interstate (which turned into I-16 somewhere around Macon) to continue our journey. We hit both Twiggs and Bleckley county before veering off the highway near the city of Allentown to head east on HWY 112 for one mile until we reached the Wilkinson County border. After picking it up we got back on I-16 and drove through Laurens, Treutlen, Emanuel, Candler and Bulloch Counties. When we were about 25-30 miles outside of Savannah we took another side trip to pick up Evans County. It was only two miles off the interstate. From there we finished the first part of our trip to Savannah and picked up Bryan, Effingham and Chatham Counties.


Our destination for the night was Charleston, SC. So after a brief stop in Savannah we headed north on I-95 towards South Carolina. After we crossed the state border we entered Jasper, Hampton, Beaufort, Colleton and Charleston Counties. We spent the next two nights at the Homewood Suites by Hilton in North Charleston.


The following day we stayed in the Charleston area. There was a bus tour of the city, followed by a boat tour to Fort Sumter. After the tour we had to find a Buffalo Wild Wings for lunch in order to watch the Packers/Bears game – which the Packers won.





On Monday we visited Boone Plantation in nearby Mt. Pleasant. We crossed into Berkeley County. I highly recommend staying to watch Jackie Mikel’s Geechee Gullah performance. You won’t regret it.  Upon leaving we started our drive back to Atlanta to catch our late flight home. We went northwest on I-26, crossing into Dorchester and Orangeburg Counties. We stopped at Zaxby’s in Orangeburg to eat. After lunch we got back on the highway, heading north into Calhoun County. Instead of going all the way to Columbia, we got off the interstate and headed west on HWY 6. We passed through Lexington County on the way to hooking up with I-20 to Atlanta. A few miles later we entered Aiken County, which bordered the state of Georgia. However one mile before the state line we got off at exit 1, went north about 2000 feet, and found ourselves in Edgefield County – where we stopped at a gas station.






After entering Georgia we drove the final stretch to the airport. Along the way we picked up Richmond, Columbia, McDuffie, Warren, Taliaferro, Greene, Morgan and Walton Counties. The next county was Newton County. And we had one final stop. Being a big fan of “The Dukes Of Hazzard” we got off near Covington and headed north. About three miles off the interstate is the New Vision Baptist Church. Of course in 1979 the building was used as  the bar, “The Boar’s Nest.” How times have changed.


After we got back on the highway we crossed into Rockdale County before finally making it to the airport and bringing our weekend getaway to an end.
 
We ended up picking up 41 new counties. What’s next? In two weeks we have a brief weekend getaway that takes us to Michigan. We’ll see you there!
 
 
                                                   NEW COUNTIES - 41
                                                   TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2015 - 396
                                                   ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL - 1158