I am not talking about being 50 years of age. Unfortunately I am way past that celebration. No, I am talking about the completion of my longest held bucket list item. This article comes to you from the balcony of my hotel in Hawaii, the 50th state that I have been able to visit.
I got a good head start on this goal of visiting every state. By the time I graduated from high school, I had visited all of the 48 continental United States. It helped that I had family on the west coast, parents that liked to camp, and grandparents that liked to take their grandson on some of their traveling adventures.
With such an early start to visiting every state, who would have imagined that it would be 43 years later before I would be able to check Alaska and Hawaii off the list. Both of those states take quite of bit of effort to visit. You get married, have children, and start building a business; well, we all have dreams that are put on hold along the way.
Finally, I ran out of reasons to put off visiting these two last states. My wife was retired, my children were gone, and time was marching on. If not now, then when?
Alaska was a gift my college roommate and I, along with our wives, gave to each other last year for our 60th birthday. Two weeks of good company and incredible scenery put the travel bug solidly back into our plans.
A Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. Convention in Hawaii was just too convenient to pass up. We left Friday on a nine and a half hour flight from Atlanta. I was excited enough that I did not sleep a wink on the flight across six different time zones.
It is beautiful, I have to admit. The fact that these islands sit in the middle of absolutely nowhere makes them even more special. There is a rich history here that goes beyond Pearl Harbor. It is a place that has lost its innocence as an undiscovered destination, but still manages to embrace the visitors from around the world.
No matter how pleased I am to finally say that I have completed this lifelong goal, I can’t help but reflect on the amazing places in this country that I have already been. Certain cities stick out in my mind like Washington, DC, New York City and San Francisco.
Visiting other places like the redwood forests, the Mississippi River, and mountain ranges both east and west, are memories that I cherish. The most stunning recollection of all is probably the Grand Canyon. I have been back many times and it always takes my breath away.
There are memories of out of the way destinations like the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, where the exterior of the building is covered each year in murals made from corn and other grains.
I have seen Mt. Rushmore, stayed at Yellowstone when it was truly remote, and stared at the ocean from the shores of the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. I have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and floated along the Colorado River.
What did I learn from my journeys around this country? There is unspeakable beauty everywhere. Our regional differences, from food to traditions, make every part of this nation special.
Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and I have seen beauty everywhere I have been.
As always, however, when the visit is done and when I have seen all there is to see, I am ready to return home. After visiting all 50 states, I still know that my roots in Alabama and Georgia will pull me back to where I belong. As I have said before, there is no place like home.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]