It was too early to eat ice cream when I pulled into Velvet Cream, better known locally as “The Dip,” in Hernando, Mississippi. But I had some anyway. Because at 29 years, 10 months, and 23 days, I had made it to my 50th state, just under the wire of my 30th birthday. It felt like a momentous occasion, as if I’d suddenly joined a club of adventurous, well-traveled people who’d trekked to every corner of our inarguably vast country to take a peek. (And that’s as good a reason for ice cream as any!)
My accomplishment is nothing compared to those for whom just stepping foot into all 50 states isn’t enough. Some set more ambitious goals — tighter time limits or specific criteria, such as a night spent in each of the capital cities. Lance Longwell learned something new in each state by visiting a national park, a museum, or an educational institution, and he did it all before he was old enough to get his driver’s license. Cari Sheets drove a golf cart, inspired by her father, Bud, who knocked off his 50 by playing golf in every state. Bob Bentz made it his goal to either see a professional baseball game in each state or walk onto an infield and touch home plate. North Dakota was the last piece of the puzzle. “Since it was February, it was tough to find home plate, but I did it,” he says.
Why do people take on missions like this? “People who set very ambitious travel goals tie the goal to personal fulfillment,” says Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. “It becomes a kind of obsession.”
And once you’re finished, what next? For some, the impulse is to do it all again, as in the case of Frank Bartocci, who ran a marathon in every state a total of nine times. For others, once around the loop is enough to satisfy their sense of adventure and their craving to know their beloved country a little more deeply. “There’s always something in every state that makes it worth visiting,” says Paula Boone, expressing a feeling common to many 50-staters. “You never know what’s going to be around the bend.”