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Clocking up all 50 American States

It doesn’t seem like the time or the place for a milestone moment but here I am, at 5:55 a.m.. sitting in a car with my son Avi on the shoulder of US 85 a few miles north of Ludlow, South Dakota. There is not another soul around, just the stark countryside and ahead of us a sign which we can barely make out in the early morning light: “Welcome to North Dakota”. Yet, here and now, my life is about to change.

We had awakened at 4 a.m., left my wife and my daughter asleep in a motel in the Black Hills and drove through the darkness to get here. I sit in the quiet stillness to contemplate what has brought me to this place, to the edge of an accomplishment that I have been planning since I was a child.

For 42 years, I have been chasing a dream: to be in every one of the 50 states. I had always though it was an intensely personal idiosyncracy and that no one else really cared. But, then I discovered that whenever I mentioned my quest publicly, someone would immediately ask: “Do you count airports?” There are many of us out there.

My journey to this moment was launched on Sunday, August 14, 1966 when I was 11.

It was on that early summer morning that I lay awake in a motel in Spring Valley, New York, one day into our family vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia and Washington, D.C. I couldn’t sleep from excitement. But what kept me awake wasn’t the thrill of seeing the Washington Monument; I was up half the night eagerly anticipating crossing the border into New Jersey.

Growing up in Boston and with cousins in Manhattan, I had spent my entire life in New England and New York. But in a matter of a few hours, a new world would be opened up to me when we entered the Garden State with the untamed wilderness of Pennsylvania to follow two hours later.

I have always loved geography. I knew all the states and had learned the capitals before I was 5, but had lived my whole life in only 7 states and that just didn’t seem fair. So that Sunday morning, as I anticipated the new horizons ahead, I decided to engage in the ultimate domestic quest for geographical completeness.

And, it has brought me to this place. And yes, I do count airports, as long as I get off the plane and walk in the terminal. My only rule is that I have to put my feet on the floor or on the ground and, as I sit in the car, prepared to step on the soil of state number 50, I think of where I have been and what it has taken to get here.

I think of the four hour round trip from Minneapolis to the Iowa border. I remember the harrowing drive over the Teton Pass to check Idaho off the list. I remember the carefully orchestrated plane changes in airports in Utah, Colorado, Washington and Nevada. And, I think of my children who, when promised a trip instead of a big party for their bar and bat Mitzvahs chose first Alaska, then Hawaii. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be so close.

However, I am ambivalent as I sit here. It’s been such a great trip and I feel caught between the excitement of fulfilling a dream and the reality of closing a chapter of my life. I know that once I cross this line, there will never again be the moment of exhiliration when I enter a new state. That excitement will be lost forever.

But I know I have come too far to remain in the car. It is time to get out and as I do my and step into state number 50, I feel a weight lifting from my shoulders. And, I feel the thrill of a journey completed with, God willing, many more journeys to come.

Still, I wonder if life will ever be the same.

Then, it hits me that there is a solution to my ambivalence.

Should I ever feel the least bit let down, I can just decide that airports shouldn’t count after all.

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