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.


edgar.jpg


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


capitol.jpg


(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. )

bridge.jpg

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.


CY_OC.jpg


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

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