Mission accomplished: The 50 states bucket list trip

Published 9:40 am Monday, May 1, 2017

For me, the idea of a bucket list started after watching the 2007 movie “The Bucket List,” featuring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. I have always had a strong desire to travel, and while in the Air Force had already visited many of the 50 states of our country. So, it became my focus to visit the remaining states.

I decided to visit the states first that were the greatest distance from the city of Franklin, and then re-examine the idea to see how long — if I would even attempt — to finish the remainder of the list.

Being in parks and recreation for the City of Franklin, as well as a tennis coach for Franklin High School, my wife, Almeta, and I would use the school system’s spring break time each year for vacation time and travel. For 2015, we were able to travel to Honolulu, Hawaii. For 2016, we eliminated New Mexico, Oregon and Alaska from the bucket list.

As I looked at plans for the 2017 bucket list elimination of states, I realized that I had nine states remaining. Eight of those states were out west and, in the east, there remained Vermont. I debated about a weekend trip to Vermont to get it out of the way. But as time continued to pass I was seriously studying going to all nine on one massive trip. I did some research using the AAA travel service and my favorite travel agency. So, after much consideration, I shared with my wife that we were going to do them all on one continuous trip.

So, early on Friday, April 14, we departed out of our favorite airport, the Newport News/Williamsburg Airport, to Burlington, Vermont, for the first leg of our air travel. Our layover was long enough for me to get a very Vermont breakfast, which consists of crepes with Vermont maple syrup, eggs, sausage, hash browns and a ginger beer.

Back to the air in order to get to our next destination — Salt Lake City, Utah — we had to fly back to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then on to Salt Lake City, arriving late that night. On Saturday morning, we picked up a pre-arranged rental car, and the plan was then to drive through the needed states to arrive at the final destination point of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

While in Salt Lake City, we had to see the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. During our time of touring and taking images in Temple Square, we were greeted by a Mormon who informed us about the noon organ recital in the Tabernacle. He further encouraged us to visit the family history library, which featured the largest genealogy library of it kind in the world.

Once we arrived we were both amazed at the reception that the staff give us, and they immediately went to work by intensely researching our family history for both of us on both our mother’s and father’s sides of our families. They further provided us valuable family information and produced our family trees.

Another point of interest was the Great Salt Lake. This is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. We toured Antelope Island State Park and were able to see the Great Salt Lake. This area is the home of free-roaming herds of bison, bighorn sheep, mule deer and the pronghorn antelope.

Back on the road we reached our third state, Idaho, and visited the small town of Fish Haven, Idaho. Continuing on we came back into Utah and traveled across the snow-covered mountains into the State of Wyoming. In Wyoming, the roads were long and there were still many snow-covered mountains. Our next destination was Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Once reaching this point we stopped to view one of America’s most cherished symbols of freedom in the massive sculptured grand mountain monument of the heads of four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore, Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Continuing the same day within a few miles of Mount Rushmore was the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse was a legendary warrior and leader of the Lakota Sioux Indians. He is known in history for fighting alongside of Sitting Bull and instrumental in the defeat of General George Custer in the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The face of Crazy Horse was completed in June of 1998 and work continues to complete his hand, fingers and the horse’s mane.

While traveling across South Dakota, road signs along the road arose curiosity in both my wife and I to make a pit stop in the town of Wall. The town, with a population of 766, is a landmark in American tourism. Located in the Badlands, the town became famous for the Wall Drug Store, which opened a small pharmacy in 1931 during the Depression, and eventually developed into a large roadside tourist attraction.

The next stop of our journey was in Sioux City, Iowa, which has the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center that commemorates the explorer’s time in this area.

Traveling on, we next stopped briefly in Omaha, Nebraska and walked in a downtown riverside park along the Missouri River.

Our next major stop was Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. While there we viewed the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and walked in the famous 18th and Vine District. This area is internationally recognized as the cradle of jazz music and a historic hub of African-American businesses.

After an overnight stay, we were now within a few hours of our final destination, Tulsa, Oklahoma, which we reached on Thursday, April 20.

So after seven nights in various hotels and flying for over 5,000 miles and driving about 1,800 miles, on Friday, April 21, I arranged for us to be able to fly out of Tulsa to Franklin. Our mission was complete and my 50 states bucket list adventure was over.

At the Fish Daddy’s Grill House in Tulsa, Almeta and I celebrated the success of the mission and gave thanks to God for allowing the success of our trip. We reflected on many of the experiences and people that we met along the road. Many people along the way when they knew about our mission they gave kind words of encouragement and were very friendly and kind. Also, from social media, so many of our friends and many others followed us on Facebook as we posted each day images and comments.

In conclusion, we both enjoyed the massive trip. We are most thankful and blessed that we live in America, but more so, that we live in the great city of Franklin, Virginia.