bejacob

Appalachian Spring

Posted by bejacob May 3, 2015

Late April found me driving through the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. As mentioned at the end of my last blog entry, I planned to visit the remaining uncollected counties in VA, as well as the last mountain counties in NC and TN. With that in mind, the trip south began.


The first stop (not counting breakfast) was Clintwood, VA, roughly 6 hours from home. Another 6 hours, and 7 county seats, brought me to Boone, NC and the CY. This location has been open for about three years and still has that new feeling. jakeal and other beer fans will appreciate the beer and wine shop right next door stocked with all manner of libations and staffed by a knowledgeable staff. Looking for something from the local area, this is the place to go.

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Following a recommendation from IAHFLYR, after getting settled, I drove another 7 or so miles to the town of Blowing Rock to eat at Woodlands Bar-B-Que.


Dinner was good, but not as amazing as I had hoped. My pulled pork sandwich was a little on the dry side, but a generous squirt of BBQ sauce and a dollop of coleslaw on top (Carolina style) solved that problem. I enjoyed dinner while listening to a local musician playing guitar and singing. Not a bad way to start a trip.


Driving the hills of western NC and eastern TN through towns like Burnsville, Bakersville, Jonesborough, brought me to Asheville, NC by the end of day 2. I had originally planned on staying at the Autograph Grand Bohemian, but when the rate jumped to almost three times the price of a room at the Renaissance, I opted for the latter. Being upgraded to a suite proved that I made the right choice. Dinner in Asheville was at the nearby Pack’s Tavern where I sampled a couple of the local craft brews. My favorite was the Hi-Wire Lager, made right in downtown Asheville. The area around Asheville has more microbreweries per capita than anywhere else in the U.S., something I learned from the front desk staff at the Renaissance.


The Renaissance in Asheville is within easy walking distance of more restaurants than I could count. It’s now a category 8 property, and while nice, I’m not sure why it’s rated so. I've stayed at nicer properties which were lower categories, so location must be a major factor. Certainly a place I can recommend, and one I would consider visiting again.


Day 3 took me farther south into NC and eventually to northeast GA. One notable stop along the way was Brevard, NC, the county seat for Transylvania County. Among other things, the area is known for its white squirrels. During my short visit, I saw three different indications of the significance these little creatures (though sadly, no actual white squirrels).


WS Shoppe.jpg  WS license.jpg  WS sign.jpg

For anyone interested the town holds an annual White Squirrel Festival the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Memorial Day. Now might be a good time to make plans.

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By late afternoon, I visited the last county on my list for the day and headed south about another 30 miles to the Springhill Suites in Athens, GA. I had previously driven through Athens and collected the nearby counties, but being so close foxglove territory, I couldn't pass up a chance to visit with a fellow Insider. Details of this meeting can be found at Another Insider meet up (bejacob and foxglove).


Day 4 took me north, this time as far as Knoxville, TN. Though the day began with rain, it cleared up by the time I reached Deal’s Gap and the Tail of the Dragon, the nickname for US route 129 between NC and TN. Route 129 winds along the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has become a favorite drive for car and motorcycle enthusiasts. For me, it represented the shortest distance from Robbinsville, NC and Maryville, TN. Over the course of about 11 miles, there are 318 curves. Some readers may remember about a year ago I mentioned this route when I drove state route 16 in western VA which has been nicknamed “The Back of the Dragon” (see North Carolina – From the Mountains to the Sea). Back then, I didn't think I'd have an opportunity to experience this route as well. Funny how things work out sometimes. The drive along US 129 is not for the timid, but it as long as traffic isn't too heavy, it can be enjoyable and the scenery is amazing. Here is a map showing the route (note the yellow mileage signs).


Dragon map.jpg


Before starting the drive, I stopped at the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort to take a few photos. One of my favorites was the “Tree of Shame” which collects pieces of wrecked motorcycles from along the route.

dragon.jpg   deals gap.jpg  tree of shame.jpg

Though not particularly dangerous if diving at a reasonable speed, every year it seems at least one reckless biker loses his life on the road. It does put things in perspective. The popularity of the Tail of the Dragon has encouraged numerous enterprising photographers to set up shop along the route. Much like roller coaster cameras, photos are available for purchase on the web after the ride. I'm still deciding if I want to buy one (I found my pictures from all the different companies, but have not yet determined which one to get, if any. It is, after all, just a picture of me in my car, though I suppose it does prove I was there).


By early evening Saturday, I arrived at the Knoxville Marriott. The properties dates from the early 1970s and is reminiscent of the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World in its A-frame design and 10-story lobby (though no monorail). Despite a couple places where it shows its age, it is well-maintained, and is a great place to stay when in Knoxville. Oh, and is still a category 5 property. It compared favorably with the category 8 Renaissance in Asheville, making it a bargain for points redemption. I would gladly visit again.


Knoxville.jpg  interior.jpg


It’s an easy walk from the hotel to downtown Knoxville where a plethora of restaurants await. I chose the Downtown Grill & Brewery. Beer is brewed on site (their coasters proudly proclaim “the cure for all your ales”) and with 7 signature beers, there is bound to be one that pleases (I liked the Downtown Blonde Ale best).


By midday Sunday, I mailed the last postcard of this trip and headed home. Of the 62 postcards sent, all but one have arrived. Hopefully the missing one (Ellijay, GA) will show up soon. If not, are return visit will be in order. As has become my habit, I have prepared before and after maps showing my continuing progress.


South.png  South2.png


The goal for the trip was to fill in that strange gap just below WV. Looking at the ‘after’ map, I’d say, “Mission Accomplished.” I still have a few counties in northern Georgia along I-75, but a flight to ATL on DL and a rental car would take care of those in no time.


Each check-in was accomplished with the mobile app which worked like a charm. Keys were ready for pickup when I arrived at each of the four hotels which happened to all be different brands. I did get one upgrade and because the lounge was closed at both the Renaissance (renovation) and the Marriott (weekend), I earned additional points.


During this journey, Virginia became the 10th state in which I have mailed and received postcards from every country. Virginia, in addition to the 95 counties, has 38 independent cities which are technically not part of any county despite the fact that 13 of these cities also serve as county seats. So I collected 120 postcards in the state, 95 county seats, plus the 25 independent cities that are not county seats (confused yet? Don't worry, it took me a while to figure out how I was going to tackle this very issue).


With no travel planned for May, it appears I will break my string of 15 straight months with at least one Marriott stay . Up next will be a short visit to Michigan in early June followed by Hawaii at the beginning of September . Although there may be one or two Marriott nights in between, my stays during the typical summer promo period are limited this year. Hopefully, I can still earn a few bonus points .


Overall my county collecting total has reached 46% of my intended destinations, up from 40% at the start the year. Hitting the halfway point is still possible this year, though it will require adding at least one trip to my already planned itineraries. Whether I cross that mark this year or next, I'll detail the trip here.


Until then…


Happy Travels,

Brian


California is the most recent state to be added to my list of Marriott stays. The tally is now 29 states, plus the District of Columbia (Re: In How Many States Have You Stayed at a Marriott Property?). The three-day jaunt to the left coast was too short by far, but having spent many weeks in this part of California over the years, the hurried pace was no problem. The goal for this journey was to collect a few dozen counties in the central part of the state.

 

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The trip began with a short flight on UA from CMH to ORD on an A319. Lake Michigan, still showing signs of large sheets of ice came into view just before arriving in Chicago. I've flown this way many times before, but don't recall ever doing so in winter, so seeing part of the lake frozen was somewhat of a novelty.


Despite continuing on to Sacramento on the same flight number, the ORD-SMF leg was on a different aircraft (A320) and in a separate concourse. Even with the distance between gates, there was enough time to grab a quick dinner. The bulkhead row ended up with considerably more legroom than I anticipated and I expected no under seat area in front of me. Finding the divider between FC and Economy Plus had a cut out at the bottom allowing room for my laptop was an added bonus.


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Until this trip, the only California counties I had visited since beginning my unusual hobby of mailing a postcard from every county seat in the country were San Diego and Imperial Counties along the southern border. My map of the state looked like this (green being for counties where I previously visited the county seat, teal for counties I have been in or through).

CA1.png


By the time I flew home, it looked like this. (Hmmm, looks like I need to plan a trip to LA soon to collect those 8 counties in So Cal.).

CA2.png

Certainly the highlight of the trip was getting to see pluto77 again. We had met in D.C. last November, but since I was passing through her home territory it seemed appropriate to visit again. Sadly we didn't think of taking any photographs. Our get together really felt more like friends meeting for dinner rather than an Insider gathering. I enjoyed a lovely dinner with her and Mr. Pluto, and naturally, much of our conversation involved Marriott, MRI, and travel in general.

 

Over the three days, I covered 1691 miles, but lest you think all I did was drive, here’s a photo from the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.


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The trip would not have been complete without at least one stop at In-n-Out burger (I managed to grab lunch there twice ) or without crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.


GGbridge.jpg


The drive through Napa County on the final day of the trip was amazing. I crossed the county roughly south to north along State Route 29 in hours just after sunrise and enjoyed the scenery immensely. No pictures, I'm sorry to say, and at the time I visited, none of the wineries were open. I'll have to make a return visit for a tasting tour some day. I did manage to hit all my planned stops, something that doesn't always happen due to traffic or weather. The trip included stays at 2 CYs and one SHS. All quite nice, though nothing remarkable. I'd stay at any of them again.


The journey home yielded one last unexpected bonus—an upgrade to First Class. Having the extra space on the overnight flight from SMF-IAH made a huge difference (I was actually able to doze off a few times which probably would have been impossible even in Economy Plus). Perhaps the pre-flight beverage helped a little.


All 35 postcards arrived within a week of the trip (the first dozen showed up an hour or so after I arrived home) bringing my collection up to 1,389, roughly 44% of the county seats in the country. With only one more aggressive collecting trip planned, reaching 50% might not happen this year, depending on what other travel opportunities come my way. With Hawaii on the agenda for September, I will be trading quantity for quality. I'll collect 3 counties in Hawaii over the course of 10 days (such is the sacrifice one must make when visiting paradise ).

 

Up next will be a trip into Appalachia at the end of April, which will involve completing the last counties in VA, western NC, and eastern TN, as well as dozen or so in northeast GA. Also included will be a visit with foxglove. I’m sure that will be fun.

 

Until then...

 

Happy Travels,

Brian

This is how the first county collecting trip of the year ended.

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I'm jumping ahead, so let me start with a more cheery tale. As my travel year beings, my county collecting map spanning a few hundred miles east and west of the Mississippi River looks like this.

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As a quick reminder, I’m mailing home a postcard from each county seat in the United States, and counties where I have received that postcard get colored blue. Counties colored teal, I have been in, but not visited the county seat, and green counties are where I have been to the county seat but not mailed, or in a few cases received, a postcard (see County Collecting 2014 - the Year in Review for my map of the entire country). I decided 2015 would be the year to create a contiguous stretch of blue counties reaching from Canada and the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico (perhaps next year I'll work to connect the east and west coasts).

 

I set out from Ohio on a Sunday morning at 2:30am, knowing it would take 10-11 hours to reach the first uncollected county (just south of Birmingham, AL) The trip started out fine, and though it was cold in Ohio, by the time I reached Alabama, temperatures moderated. As the sun set, I pulled into the Prattville Marriott (hotel/conference center), and rather than venture out for dinner, the Oak Tavern in the hotel provided a tasty, if unremarkable, dinner.

 

I used mobile check-in, but still needed to wait at the front desk to have my keys prepared. Apparently, there had been a number of late departures, so there was some question as to which rooms were ready. This somewhat defeats the purpose of mobile check-in, though I did get a nice view of the golf course which makes me think I did get an upgrade.

 

The next day, as I continued south toward the Gulf, it reached almost 70º, a far cry from the single digits back home. I detoured about a half mile off US 31 in southern Alabama to take this photo for my photo album of  State Welcome Signs.


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Since I had previous visited Escambia County, Florida where this sign is located (interestingly the adjacent counties in both AL and FL are both named Escambia), I continued though southwest AL and southeast MS ending the day at the Courtyard in Gulfport, located across the street from the beach.  By the time I arrived, the rain had started and the temperature had dropped into the low 50s (by morning is was freezing). This hotel is undergoing renovations to upgrade the front desk (and likely to add a Bistro). My ground floor room overlooked the parking lot and the ocean beyond (no way this could have been an upgrade). Dinner at the Half Shell Oyster Bar, a short drive away, consisted of char-grilled oysters (YUM!) , blackened redfish, and key lime pie, all washed down with a Lazy Magnolia Indian Summer beer (local to the area). I recommend this place if visiting Gulfport.

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From Gulfport, it was into southeastern Louisiana—bayou country. At Pointe a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish (counties in LA are called parishes), the only option was to do some serious backtracking or cross the Mississippi River by ferry. Naturally, I chose the ferry.


It’s worth mentioning that I drove through the area south of New Orleans on Mardi Gras. Having already visited New Orleans and not wanting to deal with the crazy crowds, I bypassed the area (for the most part). I did see a few floats with some already drunken revelers heading toward the parades around mid-afternoon as my route headed north across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (traffic heading into the city was starting to get ugly). At almost 24 miles long the causeway is the longest bridge over water in the word. I snapped a few pictures from behind the wheel, but none are worth sharing. Nightfall found me at the Renaissance in Baton Rouge. With the weather still cold, dining at the hotel seemed a reasonable option. Another appetizer of char-grilled oysters, this time followed up by a shrimp po boy, and accompanied by a Canebrake beer by the nearby Parish Brewing Company. Not as good as dinner in Gulfport, but still quite good.

gift.jpg

 

The next three days were nothing special. Cold, gray, and a lot of driving. Each day ended at a CY (Jackson, Tuscaloosa, and Tupelo). The location in Jackson/Pearl is less than a year old, and in addition to my regular Platinum arrival gifts, I received this little gift bag. Not exciting, perhaps, but a nice gesture.


The room had numerous power outlets (which some older locations are lacking) as well as USB charging ports both on the desk and the bedside table. This is the first time I've seen that in a CY. I hope it becomes the standard.


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That brings me to the journey home. I completed my planned county collecting early on Saturday, and began what should have been an 8-9 hour drive back to central Ohio. Winter storm Pandora (as it was named) decided to play havoc with the roads. My intention was to follow the Natchez Trace Parkway from northern Mississippi to its terminus just south of Nashville. Rain, freezing as it hit the roadway, made this route treacherous. Every bridge was a sheet of glaze ice and the two-lane parkway was slush. Figuring the interstates would be safer, I headed north to pick up I-40. About 50 miles before reaching Nashville, I hit the granddaddy of all potholes. Both passenger tires blew out and I spent the next 6 hours waiting for a tow. I was not the only one. A line of cars and trucks littered the side of the road.


Some had one flat and were able to change the tire and move on. I was not so lucky. By the time my car was put on the back of a flatbed tow truck and I was settled in my non-Marriott “Super” motel, it was about 9pm (the blowouts happened around 12:30).

 

A short cab ride on Sunday morning took me back to my car (left at the Wal-Mart auto center  in Dickson, TN the night before). By 11:00am, I was back on the road. I still had two slightly bent wheel rims (now on the back) because replacements were not available, and the wrong size tires (my size was out of stock). Still, I made it the last 500 miles home for which I am thankful. Some drivers on the ice and snow-covered roads in Tennessee that same weekend were not so lucky.

 

I managed to visit all the counties I planned and completed my north to south line of blue. Here is what this part of the country looks like now. I’m still waiting for the last 3 postcards on those green counties near the LA/MS border (hopefully they'll show up at the beginning of the week).


south2.png

I suppose with all the driving I've done over the last few years, a mishap like I had was bound to happen eventually. I made it home safely a day late, so other than the inconvenience and expense, there is little to complain about, though it would have been nice had there been a FFI or CY along I-40 near Dickson. Missing out on a paid Marriott night during a MegaBonus just added insult to injury. On the plus side, I did earn both the Marriott and Renaissance badges (and 50 bonus rewards points) during this trip, bringing my total to 8 (not sure this is particularly worthy of bragging rights).


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Up next is a trip to California. It’s only three days, but there’s lots of ground to cover. Look for a report in mid-March.

 

Until then...

 

Happy Travels,

Brian

February is approaching and it's nearly time to hit the road again. With that in mind, a brief blog entry on where my county collecting trips will take me this year is in order (To see my map from the end of last year, please read County Collecting 2014 - the Year in Review).

 

First up for 2015, is an escape from the snow in the Midwest. Last year around this time, I covered most of northern Alabama. This year, south-western portion of the state is on tap. Combined with the eastern parts of both Mississippi and Louisiana, I expect to visit about 88 county/parish seats during the 3rd week of February (note that Louisiana has parishes instead of counties, though they serve the same function ).

 

After that is a short visit to northern California in early March. Highlights include Sacramento, Monterey, San Francisco, Napa, and Fresno, home of our very own pluto77. Then comes a drive into the Smoky Mountains, planned for late April. Parts of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia (including a visit with foxglove) are on the agenda.

 

Beyond April, things get a bit fuzzy. Two scheduled trips are Hawaii, in September (just to say hello to kharada46 ), and Saratoga Springs, in November. With almost all my attention turned to Hawaii, I don’t expect to devote as much time to the mainland during the summer as I normally would, though I’d still like to visit the remaining counties in Michigan (at least the ones in the Lower Peninsula) or visit family in Iowa (with only 16 of the 99 counties complete, there is much to do). Another option is to save some vacation time for late in the year and visit somewhere warm between Thanksgiving and Christmas (Florida sounds good . Or maybe east Texas,IAHFLYR ).

 

Regardless, 2015 will not top 2014, at least as far as the numbers are concerned. Hawaii pretty much tops all, so despite only collecting 3 postcards from the islands, the trip will be the best of the year. If I can reach 308 counties this year, I’ll cross the halfway point in the overall goal to visit every county seat in the United States. Right now, I’m looking at about 200. Perhaps the trips I haven’t planned yet will put me over the top.

 

So Insiders. Watch for me coming through your part of the country. If the timing works out, we should get together.

 

Until then...

 

Happy Travels,

Brian

Although there is still just over a month left in the year, I have no additional travel planned, so it is time to reflect on where I've been in 2014.


With daylight saving time ended, my long days of driving the back roads of America are finished for this year, but what a year is has been. Over the course of the past 10 months, I have set foot in 24 states, plus the District of Columbia in the process of collecting 472 postcards from county seats and independent cities. This has been, by far, the most productive year of county collecting (the next closest was 2012 when I visited 362 counties).


Now that most of the territory within a few hours’ drive from home is complete, I expect the pace will slow down as I take fewer (but longer) trips in the coming years. Of the 3149 destinations I set for myself, I have now visited 1267about 40% of the country. Considering that I ended last year at 25%, I’m quite pleased. Reaching the 50% mark (just over 300 more counties) in 2015 while moderately challenging, looks possible. It’s always good to have a goal.


I won't go back over a detailed telling of my travels having already posted blog entries about each (which I hope you will read if you haven't already), but I will mention a few of the highlights of the year.


Perhaps at the top of the list are the two trips that included meeting other members of this community. In May, on a visit to St. Louis, I had lunch with jerrycoin. He had just returned the night before from a trip to Paris, but was gracious enough to drive downtown to meet me at the Renaissance Grand Hotel. We took a short walk down the street to a quiet Irish pub (it was early on a Sunday afternoon) where we shared travel and Marriott stories. (bejacob & jerrycoin relax in STL!).  My most recent trip, brought me to Washington, D.C. and an amazing get together with pluto77, erc, and our very own communitymanager Nathalie at the Renaissance Mayflower. That now legendary event has a discussion of its own, so I'll let that stand as the mostly accurate description of what happened. (Insiders Get Together - Mayflower Hotel).


pub.jpg  edgar.jpg


Instead of more reflection, I decided to compile some noteworthy statistics that tell part of this year’s story.


Numbers from the road – 2014

County collecting trips: 9

Average trip duration: 5 days

Postcards collected: 472

Postcards that failed to arrive: 1 (Gainesville, TX)

Postcards mailed a second time due to similar failure in previous years: 2 (Sandy Hook, KY and McConnellsburg, PA)

States visited: 24 (OH, KY, TN, AL, MS, GA, WV, VA, NC, SC, MI, IN, IL, MO, PA, NY, TX, OK, KS, NM, CO, VT, MD, DE) + DC

Miles driven: 19,691 (most in my own car)

Marriott brands visited: 7 (8 if you count Marriott Conference Centers as a separate brand, which apparently it is)

Most frequent brand visited: SpringHill Suites and Fairfield Inn (9 each)

Number of properties visited: 31 (does not include 3 stays for reasons other than county collecting)

Promo certificates used: 6

Average reward category of hotels visited: 3.6

Marriott badges earned: 6 (along with 150 rewards points. Woohoo! )


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Should I be bragging about these badges? They aren't terribly exciting,though I suppose over time they will show that I have some level of devotion to the various Marriott brands. I guess they take up less space than Marriott pens from each hotel brand.


In addition to those statistics, here are some bests and worsts of the year


Favorite Marriott property: Renaissance Charleston South Park

Least favorite Marriott property: FFI Youngstown/Austintown, OH

Best CL food: Renaissance Grand St. Louis

Best room: 2-bedroom suite at Towson University Marriott Conference Center

Highest category hotel visited: 9 (CY Ocean City)

Lowest category hotel visited: 1 (FFI Oxford, AL and TPS Columbus/Worthington, OH)

Worst traffic: Baltimore beltway (Wednesday evening & Thursday morning)


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CY Ocean City. Category 9? Really? Seriously? How does that even come close to County Hall in London?


I always like to share the maps showing my progress.


counties 2013.png


I began the year with 795 blue counties (those from which I had received postcards documenting my visit).


counties 2014.png


The year will end with 1267 blue counties. (As a reminder, green is for counties where I visited the county seat but have not received a postcard, and teal is for counties that I have been in, but not yet visited the county seat). All but a couple of the green and teal counties are places I visited before I began sending postcards to document my travels.


Looking at the maps leads me to think about where I wish to travel next. A couple things come to mind. So far I have not completed a contiguous stretch of blue either from coast to coast or from north to south. I’d like to rectify that, and as such, I’m planning to drive through southern Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana as early as mid-February. Completing the east-west piece will likely wait beyond 2015. I’m making progress along the Atlantic coast, as well as the counties along the Mexican border. Likewise completing the counties on the shores of the Great Lakes should be within reach before long. I need to begin a serious push to visit places west of the Mississippi, especially in the northern half of the country.


I did add six more states to my completed list in 2014. I have now visited (and documented) every county seat in SC, KY, IN, IL, MD, and WV. They join OH (2007), DE (2012) and AZ (2013). I also mailed a postcard from the District of Columbia which, although not a county, is a separate administrative district outside the jurisdiction of any state (so I collected it just to be safe) meaning 9 states, plus DC are now complete. I expect to add Virginia to the list next year as I have only 5 counties and the independent city of Bristol to visit (in April perhaps).


Where else I go in 2015 is still to be determined. With 60% of the counties in the United States left to explore, I've got lots of options.


I don't anticipate any more blog entries until February, but you never know.


Until then...


Happy Travels,

Brian

A recent trip to the nation’s capital (and beyond) wrapped up my planned travel for the year in fine style. Over the course of a week I spent three days in the DC area, explored most of Maryland, stayed 4 different Marriott brands, and had the pleasure of meeting several wonderful Marriott Rewards Insiders.


The drive to Washington was not direct in order to accommodate my need to visit several counties in northern Maryland. Stops in Cumberland, Hagerstown, Frederick, Westminster, and Towson filled the afternoon of the first day. The Towson Marriott Conference Center Hotel upgraded me to a beautiful two-bedroom suite, by far the nicest room I've stayed in all year. Having had a late lunch that included fresh baked apple-pie at Weaver’s Restaurant & Bakery in Hancock, MD (worth the stop if you happen to be near the I-68/I-70 interchange), dinner at the CL was all I needed.


After breakfast (again in the CL) it was off to Bel Air, Baltimore, and Ellicott City before reaching the Arlington Residence Inn around noon. Two of the three nights there were covered by category 1-4 certificates from the spring MegaBonus (had I gotten category 1-5 certs, I would have stayed at the Renaissance next door). The choice of hotel was primarily based on the location of a conference held at another hotel chain just across the street from my preferred hotel chain. The conference was good, but the highlight of the three days in and around DC was the Insider get together with erc, pluto77, and the communitymanager at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel.


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Erc began a great discussion of the fabulous event hosted by our own community manager, Nathalie, so I have no need to elaborate on that. See Re: Insiders Get Together - Mayflower Hotel for details.

 

Since this trip was built around the conference, the Insiders get together, and visiting a couple dozen counties along the east coast, I didn't devote much time to sightseeing, but I took part of Saturday afternoon to explore a little of the area around the National Mall. I stopped briefly at the Air and Space Museum, walked from the Capitol to the Washington Monument to the White House and then back to the Capitol taking a few photos along the way.


monument.jpg   whouse.jpg


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(Insert your own joke about who broke the Capitol here).


By Sunday, it was time to get back on the road again. When I visited Virginia back in July, I purposely omitted Virginia Beach so that I would be able to include it on this trip. From DC, I drove to VB and then crossed the Chesapeake Bay to collect the two Virginia ocean counties. I had considered visiting them by coming south from Maryland and skipping the bridges and tunnels crossing the Chesapeake, but that would have involved some backtracking. Besides, having never driven the route across the Bay, I wanted to experience that as well.



Here is picture of the southern approach to the bridge taken from the Buoy 44 restaurant in Chic's Beach, a good lunch stop. (foxglove, I opted for the steamed oysters appetizer followed by excellent fish tacos, though the crab cakes are good too. )

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In addition to the 2 Virginia counties, I visited 3 more in Maryland before stopping at the CY Ocean City. While it’s a very nice hotel, I struggle to understand why it is a category 9 property ( know, location, location). Undoubtedly the place is packed during the summer months, and despite the wonderful restaurant (The Captain's Table), it lacks the amenities of the full service brands. I will admit the location can't be beat and getting an ocean view room for less than a quarter of the price during peak season made it worth visiting.


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During the final two days of my trip, I visited the remaining 6 counties in Maryland, Loudoun County, Virginia, the 3 counties in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, and Fulton County, Pennsylvania. This last stop was to mail a second postcard from McConnellsburg since the one I mailed back in November 2011 never arrived. Happily this time the postal service delivered all 26 postcards I sent.


The final night on the road was in Hagerstown at the Springhill Suites, a brand which I almost always enjoy. This was no exception.


As has become my custom, here are before and after maps detailing the places I visited (the mid-Atlantic states are filling in nicely).


MD1.png    MD2.png

Over the week, I completed two states, Maryland and West Virginia, bringing my total up to 9 (plus the District of Columbia). I can now also add Maryland to list of states in which I have stayed at a Marriott property (that total is now up to 26 + DC). And most important of all, I have now met 5 MR Insiders, erc, pluto77, Nathalie, and jerrycoin. I'm hopeful that next year or two, I can meet a few more (foxglove, kharada46, and IAHFLYR you are all definitely on my radar based on my projected travels for 2015-2016).


With no more trips planned for 2014, it will soon be time for a year in review blog post. Stay tuned.


Until then ...


Happy Travels,

Brian

bejacob

A Washington (D.C.) Weekend

Posted by bejacob Oct 2, 2014

This past weekend, I took my shortest county collecting trip of the year (and the shortest since a day trip into eastern Indiana in April 2012). My journeys over the last couple years have typically been between 3 and 7 nights depending on which part of the country I visit and how much vacation time I can squeeze in to my busy schedule.


I've known for about a year that I would be taking a trip to the D.C. area in early November 2014. As I began planning so I could maximize the number of counties I would visit, I realized that no matter which route I took, I would either need to spend more time on away from work than I had allocated or have to leave some counties in the area for a separate trip. Rather than burn more vacation time, I entertained the idea that I could cover much of the additional territory in question in about two days, perfect for a weekend trip, as long as I was willing to rack up another thousand miles on my car and not get to do any sightseeing. While some might consider this a waste, for me it made perfect sense. By cramming all that driving into a weekend, I would be able to spend more time enjoying my weeklong trip at the beginning of November. And let’s not forget that I've got two overlapping promotions going on, so all paid stays have the potential to really boost my rewards points balance.


With all that in mind, I embarked on a quixotic journey to the nation’s capital to clean up the mess just in time for the upcoming mid-term elections. Oh wait, that’s the wrong story. I embarked on lovely drive through the wilds of West Virginia and across the Shenandoah Valley in the pursuit of counties that might otherwise remain uncollected until well after next spring's thaw. I decided that having never stayed in the District of Columbia before, that this trip would be a good time to remedy that. I opted for the Georgetown Marriott, and because I booked early, managed to secure a AAA rate of $134 (a week before my trip, the AAA rate had doubled to $270).


With the destination fixed, I just needed to plan my route to visit as many counties as possible. Rather than recount the boring details, I'll just share the before and after maps of my trip.


Note, for anyone who doesn't understand these maps, please read a few of my earlier blog entries for an explanation of what I am doing and what the colors on the maps mean.

VA1.png     VA2.png

I've included Maryland as I was able to visit two counties there as well as a couple dozen in WV and VA. Though I didn't get to see much, I did visit all the independent cities in northern Virginia – Alexandria, Manassas Park, Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas, and Winchester (the last three also happen to be county seats for the surrounding counties of Fairfax, Prince William, and Frederick respectively).

 

In November, I will visit the final three counties in eastern WV panhandle as well as Loudoun County, VA (the last county in northern VA). I’m also looking forward to a potential MR Insider gathering that is being discussed (see Visiting DC area in November). erc, pluto77, vaboywnder, ssindc, and communitymanager, I'll be looking for you (and anyone else who might like to join us).

 

In any case, I accomplished the goal I set for the weekend. I visited 21 county seats, plus the 3 other independent cities that are not county seats, as well as the District of Columbia (not technically a county, but I've added it to my list anyway). Most of the remaining counties in Maryland are on my itinerary for November, as is Virginia Beach (another independent city) but that's a future blog entry.

 

Apologies that this entry is so short and doesn't have much in the way of cool photos, but that pretty well sums up how the trip went. While I didn't stop for any sightseeing, this weekend jaunt will make my planned drive next month considerably easier and undoubtedly much more enjoyable.


At the moment, that upcoming trip is the last one scheduled for this year, so I'm already looking ahead to next year. I’ll save my thoughts on that topic for my year-end wrap up. Look for a mid-November blog post which I hope will have a picture or two of a few of the Insiders gang.

Until then…


Happy Travels,

Brian

bejacob

High Plains Drifter

Posted by bejacob Sep 7, 2014

For only the third time in all my county collecting trips, I began with a flight rather than leaving home in my own car. My journey started with a flight to Dallas where I rented a car for a week of driving. I set out with the goal of visiting 97 counties, as I drifted through the high plains of northern Texas and western Oklahoma.


Following I-35 from Dallas to Oklahoma City netted 8 counties along the way. Not much need to be said about them except that almost two weeks after returning home the only postcard that has not arrived was the one mailed from Gainesville, TX, the second stop of the trip.


I had a wonderful stay at the Renaissance in Oklahoma City, but after the flight and the drive, didn't feel like going anywhere for dinner. The CL already had dessert out, so I opted for the hotel bar. The meal was fine, but what really sold it was the Mustang Sixty-Six Lager, a local Oklahoma City craft beer. Excellent. I also enjoyed the upgrade to a lovely two room suite. The Renaissance is clearly the place to stay in the city.


From OKC, I roughly followed Route 66 as I zigzagged across the western part of the state toward the Texas panhandle. I crossed this historic route numerous times during the day, my favorite time being in the town of Shamrock, TX (not a county seat). The old Conoco station (below), now a gift shop and tourist information center, is just one of the restored historic buildings in town.


shamrock.jpg


I reached Amarillo a little after 6:00 so had plenty of time to explore the area near the downtown CY. Another upgrade, this time to a nice corner room overlooking the spot from where this photo was taken.


CY Amarillo.jpg

No visit to Amarillo is complete without a stop at the Cadillac Ranch. These 10 classic cars, partially buried in a cow pasture, are located just off I-40 on the western edge of Amarillo (roughly 10 miles from downtown). After dinner I realized that if I wanted to visit before sunset, I'd have to hurry. Needless to say I made it. The Cadillac Ranch is a must see site for anyone journeying along Route 66.


cadillac.jpg

From Amarillo, my route covered the northwest Texas panhandle, the north-easternmost county in New Mexico, Cimarron County, Oklahoma (at the end of the panhandle), the two southeastern counties of Colorado, and almost a dozen counties in southwestern Kansas, finally ending in Dodge City, Kansas. The only Marriott property in town is a TownePlace Suites on the western edge of town. Nice, but not much to say about it. Dodge City thrives on its old west heritage including a museum dedicated to Boot Hill. I didn't visit, but did get a photo of the old west street from outside the fence. It looks like a few tumbleweeds should be blowing through town.


dodge city.jpg

Dodge City is known as “Queen of the Cowtowns”, so naturally I visited Casey’s Cowtown Club, a local steakhouse. Not easy to find (it’s tucked behind the stockyards) but it was worth the effort. I paired dinner with another local beer, this time Gutch English Style Mild Ale from the Defiance Brewing Company of Hays, Kansas (roughly 100 miles to the north). Again, a great choice.


From Dodge City it was back into Oklahoma to collect the other two panhandle counties before returning to Texas. During the late morning and early afternoon while listening to the local NPR station, I picked up a program called “Western Swing and Other Things.” I managed to keep in range of at least one of the High Plains Public Radio stations for the entire three hour show. Fun stuff. By mid-afternoon, I was back in western Oklahoma (not the panhandle) on my way to the SpringHill Suites in Enid.


After a comfortable, but unremarkable stay, I headed north, then west, to visit a few more Oklahoma counties along the Kansas border. By mid-morning my route turned south toward Lawton. The flat scenery was interrupted only by the Quartz and Wichita Mountains rising from the plains. The temperature topped 100º (something that happened each day of this trip) reaching 103º in the town of Walters, OK. As there was not much to see in the small towns of southwestern Oklahoma, I kept my stops in Hobart, Hollis, Mangum, and Altus short preferring to be in my air-conditioned rental car. Another SpringHill Suites stay rounded out the day.


Day 6 began by visiting the last Oklahoma counties of the trip. I reached Wichita Falls by 9:00 and continued northwest along the Oklahoma border. In Quanah, the county seat for Hardeman County, I discovered this interesting display across the street from the county courthouse.


brands.jpg

While it is a little hard to make out the details, it show many of the historical cattle brands used in the county as well as listing the owner and year each brand was registered. I always enjoy finding this sort of local history. In the next town I visited (Crowell), I found this along Main Street.


arrow.jpg

No explanation or sign accompanied it, so I have no idea why it is there. One interesting note is that Crowell, TX claims to be the wild hog capital of the world. After seeing a dead one on the road just outside of town, I believe it. I finished my day back in Wichita Falls at the Courtyard.


The final day of the trip included a handful of counties on the way back to DFW. Having skipped Dallas and Fort Worth at the beginning of the trip, I visited both on this last day. I had been in each city some years back, visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards, the Dallas zoo, and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, so my stops this time included only enough time to photograph the county courthouses and mail postcards.


I left Dallas with just over four hours until my flight home with the intention of visiting three additional nearby counties not on my original itinerary. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake. I collected Rockwall, Hunt, and Collin counties and still had almost two hours to make my flight. What I had not anticipated was an accident on I-635 that virtually closed the freeway. It took almost an hour to go two miles and to make a long story short, I missed my flight by about 5 minutes. Luckily the gate agent booked me on a later flight and I made it home just over an hour after my scheduled arrival time (see United versus Delta for details of my experience).


During the seven day trip, I collected 99 counties (I'm still hoping that the missing postcard arrives to make it an even 100) in 5 states. Thank goodness for unlimited mileage because I put 3,798 miles on my rental car. Here are the before and after maps of the five state area I visited.


Texahoma.png   Texahoma2.png

Eventually, I'll have to visit Lubbock and the nearby counties to fill in that strange looking gap south of the Texas panhandle. Even after adding 46 Texas counties to my tally, I've just crossed the 25% mark for the Lone Star State, so I envision several more trips over the next few years.


With summer winding down and the days growing shorter, my county collecting trips are nearing an end for the year. I have a couple of short journeys on my fall schedule which will include the last 9 counties in West Virginia, much of northern Virginia, and parts of Maryland. Blog entries will follow.


Until then…


Happy Travels,

Brian

My most recent journey on my ongoing quest to visit every county seat in the United States covered much of southern Virginia as well as a few counties in north central North Carolina.


Unlike most of my trips this year, which have lasted about 5 days, this foray only involved 3 days on the road. With a compressed schedule and an aggressive agenda, I had less time to explore the interesting history that abounds in the area.


Below are my before and after maps showing the area I covered. As a reminder for anyone what has forgotten what the colors mean, teal is for counties I have been in, green is for counties where I have visited the county seat but not yet collected, and blue is for collected counties. To collect a county I must mail (and receive) a postcard from the county seat.


NCVA.png     NCVA2.png

One thing that makes Virginia different from most states is that in addition to the 95 counties, there 38 independent cities which function separately from any county to which they may be adjacent or in some cases surrounded by. In order to make my travels complete, I decided (several years ago) to visit each of these independent cities as if they were county seats. Ironically, 13 of the 38 actually serve as county seats, so I've already committed to mailing a postcard from these 13 cities meaning I just need to include the other 25. Slightly complicated, I know, but an important consideration when planning my travels. Incidentally, most of the remaining independent cities I need to visit are in the Washington, D.C. area.


Despite driving near several Civil War sites (Appomattox, Petersburg Battlefield), I did not stop to do anything other than mail postcards and photograph courthouses. I can imagine visiting this area to explore many of these places, but this was not such a trip.


I do however have one humorous anecdote to share. On the final day of my journey, I realized I had broken one of IAHFLYR's travel rules: “Don’t leave NC (and I’ll add VA) without stopping for some local BBQ.” I was on my way between the Virginia towns of Fincastle and Salem and found a place (Three Li’l Pigs) along US 220 just off of I-81 so I stopped for lunch. Along with my sandwich, I had a local beer (Devils Backbone Vienna Lager ). About 15 minutes later, I noticed the sign for the town of Fincastle, the county seat for Botetourt County. I was thinking back to how good lunch was and that I would have to mention it in my blog when I realized I was out in the country driving down US 220. Somehow, I completely missed the town. I made a U-turn and discovered Fincastle was about 4 miles ahead. I vowed then not to have even one beer at lunch while county collecting (I'll save that for dinner after I'm safely ensconced in a Marriott property for the night).


Speaking of Marriott properties, my stays included FFI Hopewell, VA and SHS Lynchburg, VA. There isn't much to say about either one. Both were comfortable. Both thanked me for being a Platinum Elite. The room at the SHS was a bit nicer, as was the immediate area, but both are decent representations of their respective brands. One particularly nice fact about the SHS was that breakfast was available by 5:00 even though the scheduled time was 6:00 to 10:00. I had a long day of driving to get home, so getting an early start was wonderful. I noticed several other folks eating at 5:30 who appeared to have the same thought.


Overall, I had a good trip and covered a lot of territory. As you can see from my maps, Virginia is now nearly complete. Only three area remain: northern VA (which I will visit in late September and early November), the eastern shore and Virginia Beach (also on tap for November in conjunction with a stay at CY Ocean City, MD), and a few counties near the Tennessee border (tentatively planned for Spring or Summer 2015 on a trip that could also knock out the remaining western NC counties).


Next up is a trip to madmax country in mid-August.


Until then…


Happy Travels

Brian

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

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