When It Counts

My boyfriend spent several years of his childhood living in Europe. His family always said that it counts as visiting a country if you go to the bathroom there.

I’ve been asked many times how many states I visited on my trip. I always struggle to do the math, and often find it’s easier to work backward. I count the states I didn’t visit. But even this isn’t as easy as it seems. For example, I can say for certainty that on this particular trip, I never set foot or wheel in the following states:

North Dakota
West Virginia

So that’s a list of 10 states, meaning that I visited 40 states on this trip. But it’s not as easy as that. I’d always wanted to know how quickly a person could drive across Rhode Island, so I never got out of the car the entire time I was there. I did the same thing in New Hampshire, but that was because there didn’t seem to be anything worth stopping for. Does that count?

BenchI ended up leaving Madison a day earlier than planned, so I decided to swoop down to Dubuque, Iowa after a brief detour in the northwest corner of Illinois. I was probably in Illinois for about 20-40 minutes, though I do believe I stopped to get out of the car and stretch my legs. Does that count?

My first night in South Dakota I slept in Vermillion, which is just across the river from Nebraska. It was so close, I went ahead and drove my first hour of the day inside the Nebraska borders. I got out at least once to take a picture of a tiny Statue of Liberty, and nearly ran out of gas I was so far from civilization. Does that count?

I’m starting to think that whether or not it “counts” is based less on time or distance, and more on what you expected the place to be. I spent the night in Iowa, and took a couple hours the next morning to see the local museum. I even went to the Effigy Mounds National Monument, though I’ll admit that the heat kept me from hiking up to see most of the park. The point is, I put in my time in Iowa. I slept there, I talked to people there, I went to the bathroom there, I spent money there, I have memories there. But in my mind, Iowa isn’t the roads along the west bank of the Mississippi River. Iowa is that great stretch of boring farmland in the middle. Iowa isn’t Dubuque, it’s Des Moines.

Perhaps that’s why it’s easier for my to say that I went to New Hampshire and Nebraska, even though I barely did anything there. My experience in those states matched my perception of them. I went to Nebraska and I saw farm land. That’s what I assume most of Nebraska to be. I don’t think of native burial mounds and river museums when I think of Iowa. When I look back on those experiences, it’s as though they must have happened somewhere else.

Back to IowaForty is a nice, round number, so I think I’ll stick with it. Were I to remove every state I was unsure of I’d be down to 35, which it still round but not as much. The other thing to consider is when I might count them in the future. It was easy to not count every state for this trip, since I knew I wasn’t going to visit all 48 in the continental United States. However I’ve already been to Ohio and Indiana, and one could make a solid argument that I’ve been to Colorado. Hawaii and Utah are both states I’d like to see within the next 5-10 years, which leaves only five out of fifty. Once you start getting that close, it becomes nothing short of a mission. Kentucky and West Virginia are right next to each other, and I’ve got a friend who’s itching to have me see Louisville. A few choice members of Rob’s family are moving to the Washington D.C. area, so Delaware isn’t much of a stretch, and I’ve always been a bit intrigued by those cruises up to Alaska that are regularly pushing off from the Port of Seattle.

I guess the point is that whether or not I want to count it is entirely up to me. If I never make it back to New Hampshire but I visit every other state, you can be certain that I will count it. I guess that means I only have one problem left.

Anyone know a good reason to go to North Dakota?

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