bejacob

Counties and Lakes of New York

Posted by bejacob Jun 13, 2014

As part of my quest to visit every county in the USA, my most recent travels took me through northern Pennsylvania, much of upstate New York, and the northwest corner of Vermont. Over the course of 5 days, I visited 66 county seats in 65 counties (explanation embedded below).


Typically, my county collecting road trips begin early in the morning so I can make the 3-4 hour drive through areas I have already visited before dawn. This time, because knew I needed one extra night (in addition to the 4 nights planned for this trip) to achieve the “Taste of Platinum” promotion, I chose to leave after work on a Tuesday and get this 3 hour drive out of the way. My first night was spent in the FFI Youngstown Austintown, barely a stone’s throw from I-80. I can't really recommend this location. For details, here is my review (Not quite up to standards)


I rose with the sun and after grabbing an early breakfast (which was still being set up by the FFI staff) got on the road just before 6:00am. Winding my way across north-central Pennsylvania, I reached the SHS Scranton Wilkes-Barre Wednesday evening. On the way, I made about a dozen stops in different counties to mail postcards. I also made a brief visit to Punxsutawney, home of the famous groundhog. While not a county seat, my route went right through town so I took a few photos. Here is one as I arrived in town.


punxsutawney.jpg


Later that afternoon, I visited Williamsport, the county seat for Lycoming County, which happens to be the home of Little League baseball and the site of the Little League World Series. I didn't have much time to explore the town, but it turned out to be one of several baseball related towns I visited. Speaking of baseball, the lights of the PNC Field (below) in Scranton drew me like a moth to a flame The AAA ballpark is just down the hill from the SHS. I was too far away to see much of the action, but I did have a view of home plate and could hear the crack of the bat when one of players got a hit. 


baseball.jpg


I enjoyed the SHS in Scranton (actually Moosic, PA) very much and will likely stay here again in November 2015 on my way to Saratoga Springs, NY. If in the area, this is a good place to overnight.

From Scranton, I headed north toward NY. Stops for Thursday included Binghamton, Ithaca, Utica, Cooperstown, Troy, and Albany (among others). I traversed the campuses of Cornell and Colgate Universities as well as some beautiful scenery in the southern Adirondacks on my way to and from Lake Pleasant (the Hamilton county seat). Cooperstown, home to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame was packed with baseball fans (often fathers and sons, but not always). I plan to return to visit the MLB HoF someday (maybe after Seattle Mariners great Edgar Martinez gets inducted ). On this trip, my primary purpose was to mail a postcard. The limited parking and crowds actually made this more difficult than it needed to be, though I accomplished my goal, and within 20 minutes was back on the road again.


The SHS in Albany-Colonie was fine. Nothing remarkable, but a good representation of the brand. On Friday I took I-87 north from Albany toward Plattsburgh (with a few stops in between). I saw a bit more of the Adirondacks as I made my way to Queensbury, past Lake George (a former county seat), and onto Elizabethtown. From there, Middlebury, Burlington, St. Albans, and North Hero, Vermont were my next destinations. I couldn't resist a photo of Lake Champlain and the new bridge (opened in 2011) I would use to cross into Vermont.


Champlain.jpg     bridge.jpg


My last visit to Vermont was 1985 and I’m pleased to report that Burlington is just as great as I remember it. It may be bit more crowded, but Church Street still has the same character. After visiting North Hero in Grand Isle County, I had planned on crossing back into New York near the northern end of the lake via US route 2, but instead caught the ferry from Grand Isle to Plattsburgh (technically Cumberland Head). Interestingly, my last three trips have all include ferry rides, though this one was the first one that was not free. Still, I can't complain as it cut about 30 minutes off my trip.


ferry.jpg


From Plattsburgh, I crossed the northern-most counties in NY and ended the day at the FFI in Watertown, NY, one of the nicest FFIs in which I have had the pleasure of staying. This is a relatively new property, and my room had a desk with more outlets than I needed. At some older properties, I have a hard time finding enough outlets to charge my phone, kindle, and plug in my computer at the same time.

 

Saturday, my last full day in the state, took me from Watertown to Corning. Had I driven directly, it would have taken roughly 3 hours, but that is not how my county collecting trips work. By trying to visit as many county seats as possible, I often end up with strange routes. Here is the route I followed that day.


Day 5.PNG


A couple of notes may be in order. Destinations E (Ovid) and F (Waterloo) are both county seats for Seneca County, NY which has the distinction of being the only county in the state with two county seats (this is much more common in the South). I mailed a postcard from both, and thus managed to visit 66 county seats in 65 counties. Another oddity of my route is the detour I made between stops I (Auburn) and J (Batavia). Finding postcards is often a challenge, so I detoured to an exit just off the NY Thruway where both a Truck Stop of America and a Flying J were located. Usually, I can find postcards at both places. So instead of a 3 hour drive from Watertown to Corning, my day lasted about 14 hours (3½ hours for stops along the way).


I saw several interesting courthouses on this trip. One of my favorites was in St. Lawrence County, NY. It looked more like a castle than a courthouse.


StLawrence NY.jpg

Another castle-like building was the Federal Courthouse (below left) in Auburn, NY which I preferred to the Cayuga County courthouse (below right) across the street.


Cayuga Federal.jpg          Cayuga County.jpg


County courthouses were not the only sights. I passed by numerous lakes as well. In addition to Lake Pleasant, Lake George, and Lake Champlain, I saw many of the Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario. There are also a multitude of small lakes and rivers in the Adirondacks. I didn’t get photographs of many, but here is a picture of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse (below left) on Lake Ontario and a shot from the southern end of Seneca Lake from the village of Watkins Glen.


Ontario.jpg          Seneca.jpg


My final night was at the FFI Corning Riverside, a very nice property. From there it was back into Pennsylvania on Sunday to collect 6 more counties and then home.


Several Insiders have enjoyed seeing the before and after maps from my trip. A quick reminder on the color coding (white = never visited, teal = been in the county but not to the county seat, green = visited the county seat but have not collected a postcard, and blue = visited the county seat and received the postcard mail from the county documenting my visit). Here are the maps showing the area this trip covered.

NY.png          NY2.png

 

As it stands now, no trips are schedule for the rest of June or July (though that could change). In August, I plan to fly to DFW and then drive into Oklahoma and southern Kansas, as well as the panhandle of Texas. That trip could add another 100 counties to the tally depending on how much driving I am willing to do.

 

In any case, my current total stands at 1068 county seats (out of 3149) or 33.9%, so I have now passed the one-third mark. Already this year, I've added 273 to the completed list, and should have no problem reaching 400 for the year. Wow!


Two other accomplishments for this trip. I achieved Platinum elite status and I added another state in which I have stayed a Marriott property (NY). I have now stayed at Marriotts in 23 states with a few more to come later in the year. Lots more places to visit and plenty to blog about.


Until then…


Happy Travels,

Brian

bejacob

Meet Me in St. Louis

Posted by bejacob May 16, 2014

As some of you may already know, I recently returned from a visit to St. Louis, where I had the wonderful experience of visiting with a fellow well known to Marriott Rewards Insiders. I am, of course, referring to Mr. jerrycoin, long-time MR member and all around good guy. His travel tips on London are unsurpassed. But, I digress.


My latest trip in my ongoing quest to visit every county (and county-equivalent) in the United States lasted just 3½ days but I added 52 more counties to my growing total, which now stands at 1,002. That means over 2,000 still to visit, leading to years of travel stories to share (for details on my hobby, please look over earlier blog posts). Notable about this journey is that I completed two more states, Indiana and Illinois bringing the total to 7 (OH, DE, AZ, SC, and KY are the others – in order of completion). In addition to the counties in IN & IL, I collected 7 counties in Missouri, plus the city of St. Louis (which is not officially a part of St. Louis county and thus stands alone as a county-equivalent).


Overnight stays at the Courtyard in Springfield, IL and the Fairfield Inn in Mount Vernon, IL were generally unremarkable except for the wonderful, welcoming staff in Springfield. My Gold Elite status was recognized with a lovely room upgrade which included a balcony. I don't have much to add about the FFI but, I did find an interesting display across the street. See what you make of it. It sort of sums up traveling the roads of this country.

signs.jpg


The best lodging of the trip was at the Renaissance Grand in St. Louis. I arrived a few minutes past noon and had no trouble getting checked into my 18th floor room, just down the hall from the Concierge Lounge. I don't know if it was an upgrade, but since I was staying on a category 1-5 promo certificate, it didn't really matter.


Grand.jpg          atrium.jpg

As it was almost lunchtime and I had arranged to meet jerrycoin, I hastened down to the lobby and encountered him just as he arrived. We walked a couple blocks to the Dubliner, an Irish pub that, except for its spacious interior, would blend in almost anywhere in Ireland. Jerry has already done a great job of describing our get-together, so I'll let his fine words be the official record of that encounter (Re: bejacob & jerrycoin relax in STL! ).


pub.jpg

I will add that, though this was the first time we met in person, we already knew each other due to our interaction on MR Insiders. He is the first of this group I have met, but certainly will not be the last. I hope next time I get to St. Louis, he and I can do this again.

After lunch, I visited a three more county seats in Missouri (St. Charles, Troy, and Warrenton) before returning to the Renaissance by late afternoon. I took the opportunity to wander around the city for a short time and naturally sought out its most famous landmark. Having such a filling lunch, I skipped dinner (though I snacked in the CL).


Arch.jpg

Over the weekend, I experienced several interesting places. One was a short (5 minute) ferry ride across the Illinois River near the town of Kampsville. Though considerably shorter, it reminded me of the ferry ride on my trip to North Carolina at the end of March (read North Carolina – From the Mountains to the Sea for details).


IL ferry.jpg

Another fascinating place was the city of Chester, along the Mississippi River in southern Illinois, the home of Popeye (I would have expected a seaside town ). As it turns out, E.C. Seger, the man who created Popeye was born and raised in Chester. Driving into town, one can't help but notice signs such as the one below. Throughout the city are statues of the various characters from the Popeye comic strip including Wimpy, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and of course, Popeye himself.

Popeye.jpg

Speaking of statues, one thing I noticed in many of the counties across Illinois were statues of Abraham Lincoln. As the state is known as the Land of Lincoln, I shouldn't have been surprised, but this is the sort of thing I would never have discovered by driving along the Interstates. Here are three examples from (L to R) Hillsboro in Montgomery County, Vandalia in Fayette County, and Marshall in Clark County.


Lincoln (Montgomery).jpg  Lincoln (Fayette).jpg Lincoln (Clark).jpg

I don't know if similar monuments exist in every county and in some ways it saddens me that I only discovered the statues as I was completing my county visits in the state. I don't intend to revisit every county just to find out if there is a bronze Lincoln statue, but if I happen to been in one of the towns for another reason, I’m sure I will make at least a cursory effort to look for one.


My next adventure is set for late June. If all goes as planned, I will drive through northern Pennsylvania and into New York. I’m hoping to cover most of the Empire state, with the exception of the area around NYC which I'll save for another time. I have no idea what I'll discover, but you can be sure I'll blog about it when I get home.


Until then…


Happy travels,

Brian

bejacob

Green Thumb

Posted by bejacob Apr 27, 2014

Chalk up a few more counties, this time in Michigan. After attending a one-day conference at Kent State University in northeast Ohio, I headed a bit farther north (and west) to the Great Lakes state (or the Wolverine state if you prefer).


The night before the conference, I overnighted at the Fairfield Inn in Streetsboro, Ohio, a typical representation of the brand. While I didn't get the usual, “Thank you for being a Gold Elite member” greeting, I did see a my first name and last initial on display at the reception desk along with the other MR members staying that night.


The drive to the Detroit area took about as long from Kent as it would have from Columbus, so I'm not sure I saved any time by combining these trips, but since the conference was on Thursday, I preferred collecting a few more counties over going back to the office on Friday.


I chose the lovely and historic Dearborn Inn based on several recommendations from MR Insiders. It is well worth a visit. Automotive historians will love all the photos and lithographs of old Fords (both the cars and the people). Aviation fans will enjoy similar treatment of the Ford Tri-motor. While not the most luxurious property I have ever visited, it is one of the nicest. Certainly one that oozes with both character and history. Definitely worth a visit.


Having arrived relatively late, I opted for dinner in the bar. Quite a varied menu and if for some reason nothing appeals, guests can order off the menu from Edison’s restaurant, just across the hall. One thing to note—the hotel is near several Ford facilities as well as Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum, but distant enough from everything else that dining elsewhere will require a short drive.


Dearborn Inn.jpg


Friday morning dawned overcast and rain was forecast by midday. Not the best driving weather, but not the worst either. After a nice breakfast in the Concierge Lounge, my route took me north by way of Pontiac, the Oakland County seat (which I collected in July 2013) and on to new territory. Here is a look at the Lower Peninsula before and after (once the postcards arrive early in the coming week, my green thumb will turn blue).


thumb0.png     thumb1.PNG


I stopped in the county seats of Lapeer, Caro, Sandusky, Bad Axe, Port Huron, Mount Clemens, and Detroit (in that order). The rain began about the time I reached the shores of Lake Huron. From Bad Axe, I drove the extra 15 miles to Port Austin (at the tip of the thumb) and followed the lake all the way to Port Huron figuring it might be a scenic drive. On a nicer day, I probably would have stopped for a few pictures, but the steady rain kept me in my car. Despite that, I enjoyed views of the lake for well over an hour as I traveled M-25. The rest of the trip was unremarkable—a brief stop in both Mt. Clemens and Detroit, followed by a 3½ hour drive home to Columbus.

 

Twenty-five counties in the Lower Peninsula remain uncollected. I may try to knock those out later this year. If not, certainly in 2015. I still have the two far western counties in the U.P. to visit, but those will likely come as part of a visit to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

 

Up next is a long weekend visit to St. Louis in a couple weeks. My goal is to complete both Indiana and Illinois (2 and 42 counties respectively). I’ll add a few in Missouri as well. Also on tap is lunch with MR insider jerrycoin. Between the two of us, I have no doubt there will be pictures of that meeting posted on this site.

 

Look for the next blog entry in mid-May.

 

Until then…

 

Happy Travels,

Brian

I just returned from my most recent county collecting road trip. This one took me through a good cross section of North Carolina. On the way I made stops in West Virginia, Virginia, and South Carolina. Before returning home, I detoured into northern Kentucky to revisit one final county.


Here are some of the highlights.

 

First, a map showing the area through which I traveled (the green counties ranging from WV through VA, NC, and SC). While almost 20 of the 70 postcards I mailed during my five days on the road have arrived, I'll wait a few days before recoloring these counties blue. Details of my odd obsession with county collecting can be found in earlier blog posts, but here is the condensed version. I visit a county seat and mail a postcard to myself. When the postcard arrives home, I change the color on my map to blue and consider that county collected (other colors are also explained in earlier entries).


NC.GIF

 

The trip began and ended with snow in the WV mountains. I had hoped that by traveling in late March, I would avoid such weather, but it was not to be. The weather in NC was generally in the low 60s so that part of the trip was pleasant.

 

My first night on the road was at the SpringHill Suites in Winston-Salem. Nice property with a very helpful staff. I lucked into “Wind down Wednesday” which featured complementary appetizers, beer, wine, and soft drinks from a nearby restaurant. Not a bad way to begin a trip. I stocked up on North Carolina postcards at the nearby Hanes Mall after a dinner of Carolina BBQ (as suggested by IAHFLYR)

 

Day two might be dubbed “military day.” I passed Fort Bragg, Cherry Point Marine Corp Air Station, and Camp Lejeune, before stopping at the new Courtyard in downtown Wilmington, just across the river from the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina. Two places really stood out for me on this day. The first was the town of New Bern. Truly a gem. It happens to be the birthplace of Pepsi (though I am a Coke drinker). The German influence in town is impossible to miss. I’ll consider going back someday and if I do, I would probably stay at the CY overlooking the river.

 

The second highlight of day 2 was the ferry across the Neuse River. I left the town of Bayboro (Pamlico County seat) with hopes to catch the 3:00pm ferry (I looked up the schedule before I left home). Based on the distance (about 17 miles) and the time (2:40pm) that it would be a close call. I decided to chance it knowing that the worst that could happen would be that I had to wait 30 minutes for the next ferry. I pulled onto the ferry at 2:59 and watched the crew close the gate behind me. By the way, Google maps suggests that it should take about 22 minutes to make that drive (I’ll let you do the math).


ferry.jpg

(my car is the silver Honda Insight closest to the edge of the boat)

 

The Courtyard in Downtown Wilmington opened about a month ago. It still feels new. One nice feature is the outdoor fire pit in an open air courtyard on the 2nd floor (my room was almost adjacent). I’ve seen similar outdoor areas at some SpringHill Suites, but this is the first time I’ve seen one at a CY. Even the rooms reminded me of a SHS, which, in my opinion, is a very good thing. I recommend this CY to anyone visiting Wilmington. Definitely one of the best of its brand. Taking foxglove’s advice, I dined at the Dock Street Oyster Bar.


firepit.jpg

 

On the third day, I drove across the bottom of the state and dipped into South Carolina to collect the final six counties there before stopping in Charlotte for the night. I chose the Renaissance South Park and got to use one of my category 1-5 promo certificates from last spring's MegaBonus. Again, following the advice if Marriott Rewards Insiders (jerrycoin and shoeman1000) I ate at Rooster’s Wood-Fired Grille, not far from the hotel. One thing great about MRI is the willingness of others to share ideas of what is worth seeing as well as good places to eat.


I always love staying at a Renaissance and this location lived up to my expectations. I had a nice room on a high floor at the end of the hall (Gold Elite upgrade?) and experienced the most comfortable bed of the entire trip. Before calling it a night, I had a bit of a craving for some cheesecake and popped down to the restaurant to see what I could find. Success!

 

From Charlotte, I zigzagged my way north back into the North Carolina mountains and on to Virginia, where I drove along “The Back of the Dragon.” Virginia route 16 winds through the mountains between Marion and Tazewell (both county seats). The 32 miles of road has 260 switchbacks and is popular with bikers and car enthusiasts. I am neither. I did enjoy the scenery when I was able, but the road took most of my attention. Had I been a passenger, I might have needed something to settle my stomach, so I was glad I was behind the wheel.


VA16.jpg

(In case you are wondering, the words "eleven...try thirty-two" are a reference to the road in the Smoky Mountains called "Tail of the Dragon" which is 11 miles long as opposed to this 32 mile stretch of VA 16)


I returned to Beckley, WV (actually the first county I collected on this trip) to spend the night at the Fairfield Inn. I wish I had stayed next door at the CY. The FFI was actually very nice. I had a top floor room and thoroughly enjoyed breakfast on Sunday morning before I left. The major problem was that I had no hot water. While unexpected bad events do happen, I don’t like when they happen to me. The only positive spin I can put on this, is that I would be home the next afternoon.

 

The final day of the trip began with snow (again). I had so hoped winter was over, but in the mountains, spring is late in coming. The snow slowed traffic on the roads and reduced visibility. Early in the day, I drove across the New River Gorge Bridge not once, but three times. I realized after I crossed the bridge (almost completely obscured by snow and clouds) that I missed the turn to the town of Fayetteville (the Fayette County seat). I had only driven about a mile beyond the gorge when I noticed my error. It only took a few minutes to retrace my steps allowing me to collect the county. Then back across the bridge on my way to Summersville. It would have been nice to see the bridge and possibly stop at the scenic overlook, but given the weather conditions, it was pointless. From the middle or the bridge, I couldn’t see either end because of the low clouds/fog and blowing snow.

 

My final stop before returning home was Sandy Hook, Kentucky (Elliott County). I had previously visited in December of 2012, but the postcard I mailed never arrived, so I have no proof I was ever there. While the detour added several hours to the last day of my drive, I knew I would not soon have a better opportunity to revisit this town. My fingers are crossed that this time, the USPS delivers.

 

Once all the postcards arrive, my collection will stand at 943 (out of 3149). I’ll easily top 1,000 this year. The next definite trip is to St. Louis in May, though I am considering a weekend trip up to Michigan in late April. Wherever I go, I’ll blog about it.

 

Until then…

 

Happy Travels,

Brian

As warmer weather approaches and the days grow longer, my county collecting trips begin anew. To start 2014, I journeyed south to middle Tennessee and northern Alabama with the hopes of escaping the snow blanketing Ohio. With temperatures in the 60s for most of the trip, I can say I succeeded.

 

My route included stops at the Courtyard Decatur, AL; Fairfield Inn Oxford, AL; Springhill Suites Chattanooga, TN; and Fairfield Inn Cookeville, TN and would allow me to collect between 75 and 80 county seats. The final tally was 78 county seats in 77 counties. St. Clair County in Alabama is one of 35 counties in the U.S. that has 2 county seats so to be complete, I visited both towns and mailed home a postcard from each. This brings my entire tally up to 873, comprising about 28% of all the county seats in the country.

 

Here are the before and after maps (of the relevant area) showing my progress.


       TN.gif          AL.gif


For the benefit of new readers of this blog, the dark blue color represents counties from which I have mailed and received a postcard documenting my trip. Green is for counties where I have been to the county seat but not documented my visit. Teal is for counties I have been in or through, but not visited the county seat (most, but not all, of the green and teal counties predate my quest to “collect” every county in the U.S.) A close inspection will reveal that I crossed into one county in Mississippi (Monroe County) and one in Georgia (Carroll County) on this trip as well as collecting 5 counties in NW Georgia along the Alabama border. (To see my complete progress maps of the U.S. see Traveling the United States one county at a time).

 

On the road, I usually see something interesting or amusing worth photographing. Here are a few examples.

seat.JPG

 

In Centre, AL (Cherokee County), I came across a true “county seat” just outside the county history museum. (The brick building in the upper left corner is the county courthouse). I actually sat on this bench while writing my postcard. Considering my quest, I thought it a must.



Another interesting sight was sign for a law office across the street from the courthouse in Cleveland, TN (Bradley County). I guess hobbits need lawyers too.


bilbo.jpg

My visit to Moore County, TN required a stop in Lynchburg, home of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. Need I say more?

Jack.jpg


As far as the Marriott properties at which I stayed, only the SpringHill Suites in Chattanooga is worth mentioning (the others were all fine examples of their brand, but nothing special). The SpringHill Suites is right on the Tennessee River several blocks from the activity of Chattanooga, but close enough to walk if the weather is nice (I had to drive due to heavy rain). My 5th floor room faced the parking lot, but luckily I was in a corner room on the east end of the building, so one window had a great view of the river. The staff was friendly and helpful and the property immaculate. This is definitely a place worth staying.

 

This trip complete, I am already contemplating my next journey. I’m now planning routes and hotels for a trip to North Carolina in late March or early April. I expect to include southern WV, parts of western VA, and if all goes well, the last 6 counties in SC. Look for details in my next blog post.

 

Until then …

 

Happy Travels,

Brian

As many Insiders know, my long-term goal is to visit every county in the United States. From each county seat, I mail a postcard home noting the location, date, time, and a brief note about the place. At the request of a few folks, here is a progress update.


In the summer of 2007, I decided to visit all the counties in Ohio, my home state since 1977 (except for 1997-2006 when I lived near Seattle). I chose to do this because, between 1945 and 1976, my grandfather visited every U.S. county seat and mailed a postcard from each (he required a clear postmark showing the date and the town/city name). With the recent consolidation and automation of mail facilities, I knew collecting postmarks would be impossible, but I could still document my travels.

 

It took most of the summer, but I did it. I visited all 88 counties by taking day trips from my home in Columbus. I didn't plan on reaching beyond Ohio, but on some trips I crossed into neighboring states to collect a few bonus counties, just in case. By the end of the year, my total stood at 95 (88 in Ohio, plus 1 in Indiana, 2 in Kentucky, and 4 in West Virginia). Before embarking on this quest, I kept track of my travels by highlighting the routes I traveled in a Rand McNally road atlas. Using this, I created a map of the places I visited before 2007 (Major interstate highways are easy to pick out).


counties 2006.gif


After collecting all the counties in Ohio, my map looked like this (end of 2007).


counties 2007.gif



For those who have not previously seen my maps, dark blue is for counties from which I have mailed (and received) a postcard. Green is for counties where I have been in the county seat, but not yet collected a postcard. Four times the U.S. Postal Service has lost my cards so they remain green until I make a return visit and collect them (I've gone back to 2 of these already). Teal is for counties I have been in (or in most cased through), but not visited the county seat.

 

I didn't do much traveling in 2008 and 2009. I had still not committed to expanding my goal to the rest of the country. Over the years, I visited 45 states (missing Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, and Mississippi). In March of 2010, I decided to see the three missing southern states. I was still not certain I would try to visit all the county seats in the U.S., but I made a half-hearted effort to collect a few on my way bringing my total up to 113 (updated map).


counties 2010.gif


In 2011, things changed. I joined Marriott Rewards while on a business trip to Indianapolis. I began to take a more overnight trips, staying a Marriott properties, especially when promotions were offered. I also spent a long weekend in the Florida Keys and another in San Diego. In late summer, I drove out to Iowa to visit my uncle picking up 41 counties on the way. During this visit, he gave me my grandfather’s postcard collection which he had inherited 30 years ago.

 

By the end of the year, my tally stood at 201.


counties 2011.gif


Now that I had committed to collecting the entire country and to using Marriott Rewards, I went all out. I still had a lot of territory to cover in the states near home and began racking up the mileage on my car (and elite nights). I used a couple promo certificates on a trip to Georgia and South Carolina in March, I explored most of Indiana and Kentucky over the spring and summer, I visited my aunt in Wisconsin (who I had not seen in a decade), and decided to drive the only state in the contiguous U.S. that I had not visited, Delaware (picking up counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland along the way). I also drove to Toronto for a conference via northwest Pennsylvania and far western New York.

 

2012 turned out to be the busiest year so far. I collected 362 counties, ending the year with 563.


counties 2012.gif



For 2013, I wanted to visit somewhere a bit farther away. I decided on Arizona and New Mexico. In May, I flew out to El Paso and explored the large chuck of blue which included a good portion of west Texas (see below). I drove almost 5,000 miles and accomplished the mid-year Mega Bonus promotion in one week. I also completed Kentucky (with the exception of Elliott County (one of the postcards lost by the USPS) and all but two counties near Terre Haute, Indiana. I made my first foray in the upper peninsula of Michigan and blogged about it on this site.


I had planned on a trip to North Carolina, but the death of my aunt (who I had visited a year earlier) brought me back to Wisconsin. After the service, I visited the graves of my father and grandfather as a way of sharing with them the stories of my travels. My dad often accompanied his father on the road, so I imagine they both would approve.

 

My most recent trip was a three-day-weekend jaunt down to Richmond, Virginia. For the year, I collected 232 postcards, bringing the total to 795 which represent 25% of all the counties in the United States. Looking at the map, I’m not sure it looks like almost one quarter of the country is complete, but it is beginning to fill in.


counties 2013.gif

I’ve begun making plans for my travels in 2014, but I have no doubt some of those plans will change. This time next year, I’ll compare maps again and see where the road has taken me.

 

In the meantime …

 

Happy Travels,

Brian

bejacob

Richmond and Central Virginia

Posted by bejacob Oct 17, 2013

With the days growing shorter, my recent county collecting trip through West Virginia and Virginia is likely the last of 2013. Over the three-day Columbus Day weekend, I mailed 50 postcards from county seats and county equivalents (independent cities in Virginia).

 

Before this weekend, I had collected 22 of the 55 counties in West Virginia (mostly in the western part of the state). This trip included 4 more on the way east and 9 on the return trip. In Virginia, I had only collected the two counties at the far western tip of the state. While I still have about a dozen counties in northern Virginia, and a large swath of the south and western portion of the state, I did visit a wide stretch of counties from Highland and Rockingham counties in the west all the way to the cities of Hampton and Newport News in the east. I also got as far north as Stafford county, only 50 miles south of Washington, D.C.

 

My two nights on the road were spent in the Richmond area, the first at the Marriott Richmond West, and the second at the SpringHill Suites Richmond Virginia Center. Looking back, I should have skipped the SpringHill Suites and booked two nights at the Marriott. While the Marriott was nothing spectacular, it was clean and comfortable with a friendly staff. It was also near a huge number of shops and restaurants. The SpringHill Suites had multiple issues. My air conditioner leaked condensation all over the carpet and I could hear conversations from the adjacent room until 2:00am. The room was not much larger than a typical Fairfield Inn, though it did have the normal sofa, desk and mini kitchen area common to the brand. I barely saw the hotel staff. While I love SpringHill Suites, I would not stay at this property again and would not recommend it.

 

I didn’t do much sightseeing, as I spent about 12 hours each day on the road. I enjoyed the scenery around Shenandoah National Park and the area in West Virginia near Seneca Rocks. I drove past Monticello and saw all manner of signs for Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields and sites, but did not stop. I did wander around Yorktown for a short time, but due to the Government shutdown, some National Park facilities were closed. I also saw parts of Williamsburg, mostly poking my head into a few shops. Having arrived late in the day, I did not have time to explore. With rain a constant threat throughout the weekend, being in the car was actually preferable to getting wet. I would like to go back to Yorktown and Williamsburg, as well as see more of Richmond and the area around Hampton Roads. I will need to visit Norfolk and Virginia Beach at some point, so perhaps I’ll have the opportunity.

 

My postcard collection now stands at 795, 618 of which are from the last 24 months when I really got serious about this unusual hobby. Adding the other 528 counties that I visited before I began collecting postcards, I have now been in about 42% (by number not by area) of all the counties in the United States mostly in the Midwest, Southwest, and west coast.

 

Here is my map to date. For reference, dark blue are counties where I have received my postcards and are considered “collected.” Green counties are ones where I have visited the county seat, but not yet collected a postcard and teal is for counties I have been through, but not been in the county seat. My diagonal trek through Virginia is easy to spot on the map.


counties 2013.gif


I’m already looking forward to trips in 2014. I will be attending a conference in Minneapolis in June, so I know I will be collecting some counties there. I also plan on being in Arlington, Virginia in early November, so I’ll visit a few more there as well. Beyond that, I have no firm plans. I may try to finish the 29 counties in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan or knock out the rest of Illinois and Indiana. I suspect I will take at least one trip farther away (Colorado, Utah, Texas or Florida are all possibilities) to add to my tally. Next on tap is a trip to England (unrelated to my county collecting). I won’t blog about it here, but look for a photo album on MRI when I get back.

 

Happy Travels,

Brian

While I had planned to visit rural West Virginia on my way to Charlotte, NC, sometimes things don’t go as planned. A few days before my trip, I received a phone call that my aunt had passed away. My dad’s brother is the now last survivor of my grandparents’ five children.

 

Since I had already had scheduled Friday and Monday off work, I cancelled my Marriott reservations in WV and NC and quickly replaced them with stays in Wisconsin. I collected 28 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties exactly one year earlier when I visited my aunt and did not anticipate returning to the state until next June. Likewise, I visited the eastern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and did not expect to get back there any time soon. Strange how events twist our expectations.

 

Over the course of the four days, I visited added 39 counties to my collection (12 in Illinois, 18 in Wisconsin, 8 in the U.P. of Michigan, and 1 of the 3 remaining Indiana counties). Here is a picture of the postcards from the trip.

collage.jpg

 

Stays at the FFI in Middleton/Madison, and Stevens Point bookended my trip with the SHS in Green Bay sandwiched in between. Neither FFI was spectacular, but both lived up to the Marriott name. The SHS in Green Bay was great. It’s a new property, a couple blocks from Lambeau Field (I could see the stadium from my window). This is going to be a place many football fans will choose when coming to see a Packers game. The free parking alone would make it worth the price of a room. Plenty of sports bars and restaurants are near and the rooms are very nice. SHS has definitely replaced CY as my favorite Marriott brand when on road trips (I still love Renaissance when I can find one).

 

Perhaps the most interesting part of the trip was visiting Keneenaw County, Michigan. The county seat, Eagle River, is small, but the county is a peninsula extending far out into Lake Superior. I drove the extra 25 miles to reach Copper Harbor at the tip. The lake is on three sides and watching the wind whip the water into a frenzy is amazing. I didn’t linger long as it looked as though a rainstorm was approaching. This truly is the top of Michigan (unless you count Isle Royal farther out in Lake Superior, which can only be reached by boat). I retraced my route as I headed south and realized that the trip up to Copper Harbor and back took almost 4 hours.

 

I still have 2 counties left in the U.P., but I’ll have to collect those on a trip that will probably include Duluth, MN. I’ll be at a conference in Minneapolis next June, so perhaps that will be the time. Overall, I had a wonderful trip. I didn’t visit as many counties as I would have had I gone to Charlotte, but I feel good about attending my aunt’s funeral. I also reconnected with two of my cousins that I had not seen since 1986. I logged a lot of miles, but had good weather almost the entire time.

 

I expect I will take at least one more county collecting trip this year. I haven’t decided where to go (WV or IL are most likely), but with a trip to England scheduled for late October, I now turn my attention across the Atlantic. I have no desire to visit every county in England, but I would like to set foot in Wales (having already visited Scotland and Northern Ireland, I can complete the set of countries in the U.K.).

 

I’m still a few nights short of reaching Gold Elite status for next year, even with my planned stays in England, so I’m looking at ways I might achieve the 50 night threshold (charging up the MR credit card on my trip abroad, for instance). I’ve collected 182 counties this year bringing my total up to 745. That still leaves over 2,000 to go, but I’ve tallied almost one-fifth of the U.S. in the past few years. Not bad.

 

Happy Travels,

Brian

bejacob

County Collecting – WV to SC

Posted by bejacob Aug 11, 2013

My next county collecting road trip is planned and scheduled. In a couple weeks, I’m on the road headed for Charlotte, North Carolina. On the way, I’ll be visiting about one-third of the counties in West Virginia, roughly a dozen counties in the western part of Virginia, and 18 in North Carolina. I’ll even drop down into South Carolina to collect the six northern counties that I missed on a trip to that state back in March 2012. All together, I plan on visiting 58 county seats in 4 states. Though I’ve been through North Carolina before, this will be my first visit to the state to collect counties.


With the western portion of West Virginia completed in 2011, this trip will focus on the southern part of WV and counties roughly following Interstate 77 in Virginia and North Carolina. My route will take me south through Winston-Salem and into Charlotte. Heading north, I’ll go along I-77 (including a few counties a bit farther west) in order to maximize the territory covered.


Part of my planning involves determining the Marriott hotel at which I will stop during my journey. Beckley, WV turns out to be a good stopping point in both directions and since the city has both a Courtyard and a Fairfield Inn, I will stay at both, one on Friday, the other on Sunday. In Charlotte, I opted for the Renaissance Charlotte Suites. During my county collecting trips, I usually stay at Fairfield, Courtyard, or SpringHill, so it is nice to occasionally choose an upscale brand like Renaissance.


Some of the counties on this trip I have previously driven through (before I began county collecting), but many are entirely new destinations for me. In some ways, the places I explore for the first time are the most fun. Sometimes I find a place I wish to visit again, other times I am pleased to have seen a place and see no reason to return. The latter is usually the smaller category.

I’ll post hotel reviews and thought from the road once my trip commences.


Happy travels,

Brian

During my 3½ day Michigan road trip, I logged 1,909 miles and spent roughly 45 hours on the road (inclusive of stops in the county seats). I drove through 40 counties, visiting 39 county seats along the way (I crossed into Emmet County for about half a mile at the southern end of the Mackinac Bridge).


On my color-coded maps below, teal is for counties I have been in or passed through. Green in for counties where I have visited the county seat, and blue is for counties where I have mailed (and received) a postcard from the county seat. Before this trip, I had collected only the 5 counties in the far southwestern portion of Michigan (shown on the left map). After all my postcards arrived, I updated my map (right). Being able to collect many of teal and green counties is always a goal, but getting any of the white counties is even better because it means I’m traveling in places I have never seen before.

MI (before).png       MI (after).png


Looking at Michigan, I expect I will complete the Lower Peninsula on my next trip to the state. It will not be this year, but I had such a good visit, I plan on returning next summer. The western U.P. will have to wait for a trip to northern Wisconsin.


My postcard collection now stands at 706, about 22% of the country, and I’d like it to be approaching 800 by the end of 2013. My current plans involve driving to Charlotte, NC by way of West Virginia in late August. I’ll get some of western Virginia and North Carolina on the way. I’m estimating about 50 counties on this trip.


For anyone interested, my map for the entire country is at http://www.mob-rule.com/counties/user-gifs/bejacob.gif. Looking at it makes me realize how much there is still to do. Nonetheless, my trip to Michigan was a huge success, and even if I didn’t get to spend much time in any one place, I had a wonderful time. I saw several places I would love to visit again and explore further.


Time to look at my routes and plan my Marriott stays along the way. Until then…


Happy travels,

Brian

bejacob

Hotels in Northern Michigan

Posted by bejacob Jul 26, 2013

Drawing a line across Michigan, roughly following Interstates I-96 from Muskegon to Lansing and I-69 from Lansing to Port Huron, divides the state with roughly one-third of the Lower Peninsula located south of that line. Of the 93 Marriott branded properties in Michigan, only 13 are north of that line. With the business and population centers located in south, it makes perfect sense, but for a Marriott Rewards member traveling farther north, finding hotels at which to earn points and elite nights is difficult. I faced such a challenge on my recent road trip through the state.

 

It gets even tougher when traveling north of U.S. route 10 (which runs from Ludington to Bay City, cutting the state in half). North of this line, one finds only 3 properties, 2 in Traverse City and the Inn at Bay Harbor (a Renaissance resort). As these are all in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula and my trip covered the eastern portion, these hotels did not fit into my plans. My solution – the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.

 

On my way north (from Ohio), I stayed at the Courtyard Flint. On my way back home, I chose the SpringHill Suites, Saginaw. Here are my thoughts about each hotel.

 

Courtyard, Flint. Nice hotel and convenient location just off the freeway. The property is surrounded by an office park mostly occupied by healthcare firms (very quiet on a Friday night). Dining choices within walking distance are limited, but several fast food restaurants are only a short drive away. I ended up eating at the Bistro, and despite my earlier assessment that the food is not a good value, enjoyed my meal very much. During my visit, the swimming pool was being refurbished but access to the pool at the Holiday Inn next door was available. I did not utilize it, but it was nice to know that I could. Though from check-in to check-out, my stay lasted only about 9½ hours, it was comfortable.

 

Fairfield Inn and Suites, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. My only reason to cross the border into Canada was that the closest Marriott property in the U.S. was almost 100 miles away (The Inn at Bay Harbor). Even though the border is relatively easy to cross, I will probably not visit Canada solely for the purpose of earning Marriott Rewards points again. Explaining to the Canadian border agents why my visit to Canada would only span 12 hours elicited additional questions and cursory search of my vehicle. I encountered no trouble, but when I visit Canada again, I will plan on a longer stay. The hotel was nice, the location was convenient, and my stay was pleasant. Only two factors marred my experience. The first was the extremely bright lights just down the street from the hotel. I like to keep my curtains open at night (which I did), but doing so at this hotel meant waking up to floodlights shining in the window. Add to this the strange noise that emanated from my refrigerator several times overnight and I didn’t get the restful sleep I had envisioned. Picture waking up because of an odd noise and then seeing bright lights shining through the window. If I stay here again, I will request a room on the north side of the building or close my curtains all the way. I will add, that the staff here were helpful and friendly.

 

SpringHill Suites, Saginaw. Convenient to the freeway, there were dozens of restaurant choices within easy driving distance. The common area was attractive. A fire pit graced the nearby patio. The room was spacious and comfortable. The only negative was a housekeeping lapse. During my stay, I discovered pizza and soda left in the fridge by the previous guests. I also found the trashcan beside the desk had not been emptied. Minor inconveniences, but it gets one thinking about what else might not have been properly cleaned. Had I noticed these issues immediately upon entering, I might have requested a different room, but I had already unpacked and set up my computer, so I removed the offending trash and notified the desk staff. In general, this was a wonderful hotel, but the cleanliness issue, though minor, did affect my opinion of this property. I can imagine staying here again, but sadly, I will check the fridge and the trash before I unpack.

 

I’d love to see another Marriott property in north central Michigan. Almost anywhere along I-75 between Grayling and Sault Ste Marie (the Michigan side) would suit. I could envision a Fairfield Inn somewhere along this stretch, perhaps near Gaylord. I plan to stay in Traverse City when next I head into the northern part of the Lower Peninsula.

 

My next visit to the U.P. will come from the Wisconsin side and since there are no Marriott properties in that part of Michigan, I’ll likely spend the night in Green Bay before heading north. I think I can make it from there to Duluth, MN in day and still visit the counties on my list. As a points junkie, I’m always on the lookout for Marriott properties where my county collecting road trips take me.

 

I’ll add some final notes about my experiences on the road in Michigan in my next post.

 

Happy travels,

Brian

bejacob

Bonus counties

Posted by bejacob Jul 22, 2013

My road trip to Michigan is complete. I arrived back home in Columbus, Ohio a little after 5:00p.m. I had only planned on visiting 5 counties today, but due to a combination of fortunate circumstances, I added 3 more. While I intended on leaving the counties of Calhoun, Branch, and Hillsdale for a future trip, I was able to visit them today, adding about 75 minutes to my drive. The final tally for the trip is 39 county seats visited.

 

Already 11 of my postcards have arrived. I expect the other 28 will take a few days depending on the collection schedule of the mailboxes I used. One key element of my particular hobby is that I cannot consider a county collected until the postcard arrives at my house. Only 4 times (out of about 700 so far) has the postal service disappointed me by losing one of my postcards. In such cases, I revisit the county and try again. Of those 4, I still need to collect 2, 1 in Kentucky and 1 Pennsylvania, but I digress.

 

Looking back over the log of my 3½ days in Michigan, I drove 1,909 miles to visit the 39 county seats (plus the overnight in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario). While that’s many hours of driving, it doesn’t compare to my 8 day trip in Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas back in May. Over the course of that week, I logged just shy of 5,000 miles diving over 14 hours a day more than once. While I like to think of these trips as vacations, I usually return home more in need of relaxation than when I left. There is a definite quest element to my journeys, and spending all day driving is not really a good way to vacation. I accomplished my goal and discovered a few places I would love to visit again. Munising and St. Ignace are on that list. Both will require a drive across the Mackinac Bridge unless I go via Wisconsin.

 

I’ll go over my notes during the next few days as the postcard arrive. I’ll post a couple follow-up entries and provide some thoughts on the Marriott properties at which I stayed. By the end of the week, I’ll provide final thoughts and statistics from the trip for anyone interested. Until then …

 

Happy travels,

Brian

bejacob

Three Great Lakes in one day

Posted by bejacob Jul 21, 2013

County collecting in Michigan continues for a third day.

 

After an overnight stay at the Fairfield Inn in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, I crossed back in the U.S. about 6:30 Sunday morning. With a long day of driving, I decided not to wait for breakfast at the hotel. Having visited the two easternmost counties in the Upper Peninsula, I turned west only a few miles into the U.S. The drive to Newberry and Munising was beautiful. Fog hung in the branches of trees especially along the rivers. The sun climbed higher behind me, but the temperature remained chilly (mid 40s). By 9:00 I had already mailed two postcards. I got a nice view of Munising Bay (part of Lake Superior) before beginning my trek south across the U.P. to Manistique on the northern shore of Lake Michigan. Having completed the 5 eastern counties in the U.P. it was time to head back to the lower part of the state.

 

By noon, I had once again crossed the Mackinac Bridge (picture below). For some reason, my nerves were much calmer than on the first crossing (was that just yesterday?). I breezed through Cheboygan and gave a mental shout out to trippin’. I spent most of the afternoon driving along the shore of Lake Huron. Every state has some great scenery, but it’s hard to beat the natural beauty of the extensive Michigan shoreline.

 

Mackinac.jpg

I completed 13 more counties today arriving at the SpringHill Suites in Saginaw around 7:30, just a little earlier than my plan. Tomorrow only 5 stops to make. I anticipate getting home by mid-afternoon. I’ll post an update then and in a few days some additional thoughts about this trip

Happy travels,

Brian

bejacob

North to Canada

Posted by bejacob Jul 20, 2013

Day 2 of my county collecting trip in Michigan took me from the Courtyard in Flint to the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. Nice hotel. Easy to find and the staff I interacted with were great.

 

Today turned out to be a perfect day for driving. Not sure if they temperatures topped 80, but certainly by the time I crossed the Mackinac Bridge, I was looking at mid-70s. Final tally – 13 counties collected, 8 of which I had not previously visited. As I suspected yesterday, finding postcards turned out to be more difficult than I had hoped. By the time I reached Mt. Pleasant (Isabella county), I had run out of all the generic Michigan postcards I bought. Luckily, a corner discount store (reminded me of and five and dime) had a rack of cards, so I stocked up. I always prefer a postcard specific to the county. Barring that, anything related to the state will do.

 

I covered over 500 miles as I worked my way north, zigzagging a bit to pick up an extra county along the way (I stuck exactly to my preplanned route). Including stops, I was on the road for a little over 12 hours, but I saw some amazing scenery. The drive along the eastern shore of Torch Lake was memorable. So was the crossing into the U.P. Tall bridges can make me nervous, and today was no exception. It was truly a magnificent view, but there is always a bit of relief upon reaching the other side even though I never doubted I would make it safely. Strangely, I didn’t experience that adrenaline rush in the Florida Keys a couple years back. I suppose it could be that the bridges there are quite low in comparison.

 

So far this trip has been great. The first day dragged on, but day 2 was almost exactly on schedule (yes, I have an estimated schedule. Remember these trips are logistical exercises). Tomorrow will be a long day as I plan to visit a three more counties in the U.P. before crossing back over the bridge and along the Lake Huron shore.

 

Look for another update tomorrow night (if I don’t get to Saginaw too late). I may have to compile a highlight post when I return home to fill in some of the things I forgot to include.

 

Happy travels,

Brian

Over the next few days, I plan to visit 36 counties in Michigan and mail postcards home from each of the county seats. Here is how day 1 turned out.


Leaving Columbus just after lunch, I crossed into Michigan just before 3:00 this afternoon. First stop, Monroe. I bought a few Michigan postcards at the truck stop as I anticipate difficulty finding local postcards in some of the counties I intend to visit. One lesson I have learned on past trips is that keeping a few extras on hand is important (with e-mail, postcards are being somewhat scarce except in popular tourist destinations).

 

In addition to Monroe, I visited Ann Arbor, Howell, Pontiac, and Flint. Traffic and weather were challenging today (heavy storms in southeast Michigan). As such, I didn’t get checked into the Courtyard in Flint until about 8:00, a couple hours later than I anticipated. Nice hotel, but the pool is being renovated. Access to the pool at the Holiday Inn next door is available, but I’ll pass. A dip in the spa would be nice, but not essential. Not many places to eat nearby, so I dined at the Bistro. Never my first choice as the food is a bit overpriced, but I was pleased with my meal. Tonight, convenience trumped value.

 

Tomorrow I begin driving west toward Lansing (the only state capital that is not a county seat). I don’t need to collect it, but will get Mason (the Ingham county seat). Then I head north through the middle of the state and across into Canada to spend the night at the Fairfield Inn in Sault Ste Marie.

 

I’ve mailed 5 postcards today with 31 more counties to visit over the next few days. I’ll try to post at the end of each day with updates.

 

Happy travels,

Brian