Thursday, July 30, 2015

SUMMER ROAD TRIP!

Our third annual summer road trip began with a Friday night drive to South Bend, IN. We stayed at the La Quinta. There were no new counties to pick up along the way. So it was a straight shot right to our hotel. The next day was a different story.

On Saturday morning we headed north into Michigan. Since we’d already visited all the northern counties in Indiana, we chose to drive through the “bottom row” of counties in Michigan instead. This allowed us to avoid the toll roads in Indiana as well. We ended up hitting St. Joseph Cass, Branch, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe Counties. We also some fake deer carcasses in the city of Jerome. A little further down the road in Somerset we made a brief stop in McCourtie Park – a place that had several concrete bridges made to resemble wood.








We left Michigan, crossing the border into Ohio. We stayed on I-90 all the way to Pennsylvania. We didn’t enter any new counties along the way. But we did take a side trip into Austinburg to see a large rocking chair. It wasn’t the world’s largest. And I don’t think it actually rocked. But it was pretty cool nonetheless.


As we entered Pennsylvania we hit our first new county since Michigan – Erie County. It’s the only county before you hit the state of New York. We ended up getting off on HWY 20 a mile from the border simply to get a decent picture of the “Welcome to” signs.



Once we got into New York we passed through Chatauqua and Erie Counties – the latter of which features the city of Buffalo. We stopped in Forest Lawn Cemetery to visit both President Millard Fillmore and the “Super Freak” himself, Rick James. Nearby there was also an art display featuring 60 canoes on a pole. Why? Who knows. But there they were.





We were spending the night in Niagara Falls, Ontario. So we had to cross the Peace Bridge into Canada. In doing so we picked up our first Canadian Municipality (county equivalent). We’re not actively collecting them. But hey, for the sake of thoroughness… Our hotel was the Hilton Hotel & Suites Niagara Falls/Fallsview North Tower. And even though we didn’t pay for a room with a view of the Falls, we were quite pleased to have received one anyway. Score!




On Sunday morning we drove back to the American side of the Falls and did the “Cave of the Winds” tour. To say it was amazing would be an understatement. There’s a reason it’s the #1 rated activity in the area. I highly recommend it. You may get wet. In fact you will get wet – in spite of the yellow poncho they provide. But it’s well worth it. The power of the Falls is an amazing thing to experience!






After leaving the Falls we started the long journey across the state of New York. We stayed on I-90 nearly all the way, driving through Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Monroe, Ontario, Wayne, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Madison, Oneida, Herkimer, and Montgomery Counties before finally getting off near Amsterdam. Wayne County required an exit toward the city of Palmyra. If we’d missed it, we’d have a huge gap on our county map with everything else completed all around it. No county left behind! From there we took a small side trip north through the city of Hagaman in order to hit Fulton County. We saw some deer on the way back. We then went east to hit Saratoga and Washington Counties before crossing the state border into Vermont. Our destination was the Best Western Plus Executive Court Inn & Conference Center in Manchester, New Hampshire. So we drove through Vermont (picking up Windham County, VT and Cheshire County, NH on the way).





On Monday we began the day by driving north into Concord to visit the grave of President Franklin Pierce. We had two counties left in the southern area of New Hampshire. So we slightly adjusted our route to pick up Belknap and Strafford and headed to the state of Maine. After a brief stop for pictures we turned and headed south. We stayed on I-495 and I-290 to go around Boston as we headed toward Connecticut. We picked up Worcester County on the way. We also stopped in Worcester to take pictures with the famous internet meme statue of Turtle Boy. What that boy is doing with that turtle, we do not know. But it’s quite amusing nonetheless.




After we crossed into Connecticut (and entered Windham County) we drove another 10-15 miles then exited onto HWY 6 to make the short trip to the Rhode Island border. We picked up Kent and Washington Counties by going south, before getting onto I-95 to head back into Connecticut, and making the journey toward the New York City area. We picked up New London and Middlesex Counties along the way. We chose to avoid the heavy New York City traffic and the George Washington Bridge. So we crossed the Hudson River over the Tappan Zee Bridge on I-287, landing in Rockland County, NY on the other side. A trip onto the Garden State Expressway as we crossed into New Jersey helped us pick up Passaic County as we approached our hotel, the Embassy Suites in Secaucus. Having survived the traffic we ordered a pizza and took advantage of the hotel pool.




On Tuesday morning we had to fight the usual Newark area traffic to get to the Statue of Liberty. We had 9:00 tickets and got there about 8:58. We didn’t get to the actual boat launch until 10 minutes later. But as it turned out it didn’t really matter. We got off the boat to explore the museum at Ellis Island. When we got back on to head to Lady Liberty, we inadvertently got on the wrong boat. Instead we headed back on the boat that left from Battery Park on the New York City side. Thankfully they let us stay on. It cost us an hour. But we finally did get to the Statue. And it’s quite a sight to see.





After leaving the Statue we’d intended to go over the Bayonne Bridge to get into Richmond County, New York on Staten Island. Apparently the bridge was closed until 3:00. Is that normal? So we had to drive around and enter it from the west. We eventually did it. From there we had to stop at a cemetery and pay our respects. Being from Wisconsin we were raised in a Green Bay Packers culture. And the namesake of the NFL’s most famous stadium has his final resting place in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in the city of Middletown. As you can see, other Packer fans visit regularly.


From there we headed south to the city of Red Bank. We wanted to visit Jay & Bob’s Secret Stash – the comic book store inspired by the characters in Kevin Smith’s movies. When we arrived we were unable to get in. It turns out that they were filming episodes of the AMC reality series “Comic Book Men.” So we had to take a pit stop in the Starbucks across the street for 45 minutes. When we came back they made each of us sign a waiver – just in case we happened to end up in a scene. We happily obliged. If you’re a fan of Kevin Smith this place is a must see. In addition to being a fully functional comic book store (which is in fact owned by Smith himself) the place is littered with props from some of his movies. On display is the store display from “Clerks” as well as the infamous “Buddy Christ” statue from “Dogma.” Needless to say we left the store with a miniature Buddy Christ statue/bank. It was worth every penny!





After we left we headed south, finishing up all the counties on the east side of New Jersey – Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland. From there we crossed over the bridge on I-295 and entered the state of Delaware. We stopped for dinner at Friendly’s (all you can eat shrimp) entered Kent County, DE., and headed to our hotel in the capital city of Dover – Home 2 Suites by Hilton.


On Wednesday we had a short day of driving. We headed south on HWY 13. But before we did, we had to stop at the Dover International Speedway to visit Miles the Monster – a gigantic fellow that bursts out of the ground in front of the track.


A little south of Dover we crossed into Sussex County – our third and final county in Delaware. Two states down, 48 to go!


A little further down the road we crossed into Maryland. We were only in it for maybe 30 miles (picking up Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester Counties) before crossing into Virginia. From there we headed east to visit Assateague Island, home of a few hundred wild ponies. How many did we see? Zero. Apparently it was too hot for them to be roaming about. So that was disappointing. However the beach was nice.





After leaving the beach we headed south to our hotel. This required us to drive on the bridge/tunnel over Chesapeake Bay. Once we got across we headed straight for our hotel, the Hyatt Place Chesapeake Greenbrier. On the Virginia side we hit Accomack and Northampton Counties, as well as the independent cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake.



On Thursday we had a busy day featuring several dead presidents. Our first destination was Yorktown. We saw both the Moore House and Surrender Field. Seeing actual Revolutionary War cannons and standing on that field was quite surreal. From there we headed northwest to historic Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. We saw the graves of U.S. Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler – which are remarkably nearly side by side. Confederate President Jefferson Davis is also there. In addition there’s a grave of a little girl who died in 1862, who is watched over by a dog statue that she loved. And nearby the girl is a giant 90-foot stone pyramid which pays tribute to about 18,000 Confederate soldiers. In getting there we passed through York, James City, New Kent and Henrico Counties, as well as the independent cities of Portsmouth, Suffolk, Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson, Williamsburg and Richmond.














Having two dead presidents under our belts, we then set out for a third one – and perhaps the most famous one. We took I-95 north, passing through the independent city of Fredericksburg, as well as the counties of Hanover, Caroline, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Prince William and Fairfax – the last of which featured George Washington’s estate of Mt. Vernon. We took the tour of his mansion (no photos allowed) and saw the actual bed and room that he died in. And of course we wandered around the grounds to see the various buildings and final resting place. But it was very hot. And we were happy to get in the air conditioned car again.



As we left Mt. Vernon we headed north, passing through the independent city of Alexandria, and Arlington County. We then crossed the Potomac River and entered Washington D.C. We stayed at the Embassy Suites at the Chevy Chase Pavilion which was located in Washington D.C. Although the Maryland State line was literally across the street from our room. However before we got there we had one final stop to make – the incredibly gothic Washington National Cathedral. The entire building was incredibly impressive. We made a stop onto the 7th floor in order to view the city from a high view. And we were treated to some music as a Mozart concert was going on. And of course we paid our respects to the only president laid to rest in Washington D.C. Woodrow Wilson can be found there. And the grave is so inconspicuous that if you didn’t know where to look, you’d probably walk right by it. We’d hoped to visit Arlington Cemetery that day as well. But it got too late in the day. So two more presidents would have to wait until the next day.






On Friday we took the Metro (which had a stop in our hotel Pavilion) into town. We were let out near the White House, and worked our way over to Ford’s Theater. We had to wait about 30 minutes. But thankfully the tickets are free. So we got to sit in the theater and see the place where Abraham Lincoln was shot. When it was over everyone ran across the street to the Petersen House to see where Lincoln actually died. But we didn’t have time for that. We had other plans.




We made our way back east to stop at the White House Visitor Center, where there are several artifacts on display, as well as lots of facts about our nation’s presidents. There are even copies of letters that school children have written to presidents. We stayed for about 30 minutes, then headed back over to the White House for the tour. We’d requested a tour about four months in advance. And about 10 days before our tour we got confirmation that we’d been approved to go in. They’d recently lifted the ban on taking pictures. So we got plenty. To say that entering the famous home was surreal would be an overwhelming understatement.




After the White House we decided to get lunch. We went a few blocks back east and stopped at the Hard Rock CafĂ©. We then realized that we were right by Ford’s Theater again. And when we looked across the street at the Petersen House, we noticed there was no line. So since we still had our tickets, we headed in. Inside we saw the room where Lincoln died. The house is also a museum which details everything about the assassination. It was quite fascinating and well worth the visit.



After we left we found a Metro station and headed right to Arlington Cemetery. If you’ve never been there, prepare to do a lot of walking. And on a hot day it can be brutal. There are several drinking fountains around the grounds. Take advantage of them! We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. We also saw the graves of both Presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy.






Exhausted as we were, we managed to get back on the Metro and go down to the Mall area. We took pictures at the Lincoln Memorial, then walked the length of the Reflecting Pool toward the Washington Monument. We were then completely wiped out. So we found the nearest Metro station (which wasn’t exactly near) and headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved swim in the pool.




We spent two nights in Washington D.C. So we didn’t start our trip back home until Saturday. We got into Maryland and headed north on I-270 toward Frederick. Once we got there we immediately turned southwest on HWY 340 toward the direction of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. We drove through Montgomery, Frederick and Washington Counties along the way. When we reached the Potomac River, we crossed it and entered back into the state of Virginia, and Loudon County. We were only in the state for less than one mile before we crossed into West Virginia. We found it odd that there was a Jefferson County sign before the “Welcome to” state sign. But that’s exactly how it was.



We wormed our way through West Virginia on HWY 9 (picking up Berkeley and Morgan Counties) before emerging back into Maryland again after crossing the Potomac River near Hancock. From there we hopped on I-68 and headed west. We hit Allegany and Garrett County Maryland before exiting onto HWY 40 and heading into the state of Pennsylvania. We crossed over the lovely Youghiogheny River Lake, as well as hitting Somerset, Fayette and Washington Counties.


We eventually hooked up with I-270 and briefly drove through West Virginia (Ohio County) before entering the state of Ohio. We stopped at Olive Garden for a late lunch/dinner, then headed for the city of Zanesville. Along the way we hit Belmont, Guernsey, and Muskingum Counties. In Zanesville we came across a sidewalk row of sculptures of animals and people. In one place there are a row of sheep. For whatever reason, one of them (just one) is wearing ice skates.





After we left Zanesville we got back on I-70 and headed towards our hotel. On our way we entered Licking County. And we took a little side trip to pick up Perry County near the city of Thornville. It was only a two-mile drive off the interstate. So it was a no-brainer. From there we headed into Fairfield County and Franklin County – where our hotel was. We stayed at the Drury Inn & Suites in Grove City, a suburb on the south side of Columbus. After we checked in we got back in the car and took a five-mile side trip due south. Why? Because Pickaway County was there for the taking. We took it. No county left behind!

On Sunday we had our final stretch. It was a rather uneventful day in terms of sights and counties. We did pick up Madison, Clark, Miami and Darke Counties before we crossed into Indiana. We found it interesting that the county signs we saw (in both Ohio and Indiana) state “Enter” and “Leave” on them. It’s not “leaving.” It’s “Leave” – like they’re ordering us to get out. Ok then!


In Indiana we drove through Randolph, Delaware, Madison and Grant Counties. In Grant County we made our only sightseeing stop of the day. Here in the tiny town of Fairmount lies the grave of James Dean. According to the Eagles’ song he was too fast to live and too young to die. The latter was definitely true.


After we left the cemetery we headed due west on HWY 26. We entered Howard County. From there we took a one-mile side trip south on HWY 26 to pick up Tipton County. And about 20 minutes later we took a one-mile side trip north on HWY 29 to reach Carroll County, our final new county of the trip. From there we continued west into Lafayette, picked up the interstate heading north, and took the quickest route back to our home in Wisconsin.


When it was all said and done we’d picked up 106 new counties and independent cities, one new district and entered 18 different states and one country outside the U.S. This was undoubtedly a new record for us county-wise for one trip. And it will probably remain the benchmark forever. (But I hope I’m wrong about that!) What's next? We're going to lay low until September. But then we have a long weekend planned for Georgia and South Carolina. (And maybe just maybe we can squeeze a road trip in for Labor Day weekend.) Either way we'll see you then!


                                                   NEW COUNTIES - 106
                                                   TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2015 - 353
                                                   ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL - 1115