I selected Michigan for our summer holiday this year. I won’t pretend that the drive was fun or easy although depriving greedy airlines of revenue certainly enhanced the appeal. I described my distaste for airlines before and I reveled in the many hundreds of dollars I denied them with this trip and several others over the years. We loaded the Family Truckster and pointed our sights northwest on a track towards Lake Michigan.
I considered multiple factors before choosing Michigan. I always want to go someplace I haven’t covered in depth before. It needed to have interesting hooks. It needed to be low-hassle, with room to stretch out. It needed to interest the rest of the family while indulging my geo-geeky curiosity. The southwestern corner of Michigan met many of those criteria, and I will describe what we found in subsequent articles. County Counting always fell high on my list and that may have been the most important factor this time around. I’d skirted edges of Michigan previously although I’d never pushed deep into its interior.
Maybe it was the second most important factor. I’ll save that for next time. Subscribers to the 12MC Twitter feed probably already guessed the other major reason based on my frequent tweeting as I rolled along.
Grand Rapids became our home base for the week. We took the fastest route available on the way up, shooting along the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes into Michigan, and staying overnight in Cleveland along the way. I gained no new counties during this initial leg until we passed Detroit. We arrived in Grand Rapids the second day and radiated from there on side trips, filling in much of southern Michigan with county captures.
Only once did I make a specific effort to prevent a doughnut hole. I noticed that none of our daily excursions went through Barry County (map), southeast of Grand Rapids. It fell within a ring formed by Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Lansing with no major highway running through it. I got up early one morning for a half-hour drive to fill the void. I spared the rest of the family. I’m sure sure they appreciated sleeping more than the possible irritation of leaving a stranded county behind. Somehow they didn’t feel the same pain.
We came home via a longer route, swinging south and staying overnight in Columbus before cutting through West Virginia. I picked up a bunch of new counties. I’d also never seen Ohio’s Appalachian corner either. Who knew Ohio had mountains? I plan to keep Ohio’s Hocking Hills on the list of places I want to see again someday, and them visit in a more proper manner.
Schoolcraft and Cabinets
Two distinct forces contributed to the designation of Michigan counties. Henry Schoolcraft named many of them in the mid Nineteenth Century, a curious case I discussed in Schoolcraft Daze. He made them up, drawing from pseudo-Native American etymologies blended with Latin, Greek or whatever else came to mind. The Schoolcraft counties included Alcona, Allegan, Alpena, Arenac, Iosco, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Lenawee, Oscoda and Tuscola. I captured Lenawee and re-visited Allegan.
Michigan also contained the Cabinet Counties. The Michigan Territory hoped to curry favor with President Andrew Jackson in a border dispute with Ohio involving the Toledo Strip — I’ll talk about the Strip a little more in a future installment so hang on — and named a bunch of its southern counties for Jackson and his Cabinet:
- Barry: Postmaster General
- Berrien: Attorney General
- Branch: Secretary of the Navy
- Calhoun: Vice President
- Cass: Secretary of War
- Eaton: Secretary of War (prior to Cass)
- Ingham: Secretary of the Treasury
- Jackson: President
- Livingston: Secretary of State
- Van Buren: Secretary of State (prior to Livingston; later Vice President and President)
My final count of Cabinet Counties lacked only Cass by the time I finished the trip. I’d captured Berrien and Van Buren previously, and hit the other seven for the first time during this latest excursion. Incidentally, while Jackson signed a bill making Michigan a state in 1837, the Toledo Strip went to Ohio. The county name pandering failed to produce its desired result although Michigan did get the Upper Peninsula as a consolation prize.
Grand Rapids in Kent Co., MI (my own photo)
I did well during this exercise, tallying initial visits in three different states.
- Sixteen in Michigan (Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lenawee, Livingston, Muskegon, Oakland and Washtenaw)
- Seven in Ohio (Athens, Delaware, Hancock, Hocking, Marion, Washington and Wyandot)
- Three in West Virginia (Doddridge, Ritchie and Wood)
That came to a respectable Twenty Six new counties.
The Counties that Got Away
I could have visited more, and in fact that had been my original plan. Several years ago I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and I thought the kids would enjoy it. However they were simply too tired from our relentless touring to drive another six hours in a single day. We hung around Grand Rapids that day instead. I willingly abandoned the opportunity to capture seven counties to preserve family peace. I took that as a sign I needed to visit again someday!
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
Each road trip I took offered different opportunities for County Counting, whether as a stated goal or as an amusing side project. I examined the situation carefully before departing so I could see how I might augment my lifetime list. I’d done pretty well in New England during previous visits. Nonetheless those earlier trips had occurred for different purposes. Their distinct objectives left behind a number of unsightly doughnut holes of yet-to-be-visited counties. My map looked something like this prior to my departure:
Those counties in white represented places I hadn’t captured. Some were contiguous and could be combined into sets. Overall they were spread into distinct pockets cast broadly across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. That presented some challenges. I needed to devise a plan that aligned with race locations and minimized detours. The Mob Rule county counting website and its driving directions utility helped immensely. I could enter exact latitude/longitude coordinates while drafting prospective routes, overlaying my map of visited counties to see see how and where I needed to move. I designed a target course that in fact I finished in its entirety:
Readers familiar with highways in the northeastern United States probably noticed that I avoided the most obvious, most direct route between Virginia and New England; the dreaded Interstate 95. We left on a Friday and I didn’t want to thread the needle in narrow windows that avoided morning and afternoon rush hours in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Also, nobody could ever predict when an accident might clog I-95 with a multi-hour delay. That route was too unpredictable. Instead I decided to take a wildly inefficient path that would grant me an opportunity to fill a few doughnut holes in Pennsylvania and New York along the way.
We began heading due north into the heart of central Pennsylvania, then due east, essentially two legs of a triangle where the hypotenuse of course would have been the shorter I-95. That allowed me to pick up two clusters of previously non-visited Pennsylvania counties: first Northumberland, Montour and Columbia, and later Carbon and Monroe. Next the path cut diagonally across the lower corner of New York — although way beyond the sprawl of New York City — capturing Sullivan and Columbia (not to be confused with the Columbia County in Pennsylvania). We hadn’t arrived at our primary destination and I’d captured seven counties already!
The three New Hampshire counties were easy grabs. Carroll and Belknap needed only tiny detours. Cheshire fell directly on the path between races and I didn’t have to detour at all. Massachusetts was similarly easy. One of the races took place in Franklin County so that was certainly convenient. Hampshire County was just a short drive south so I snagged it with little effort.
Then there was Vermont
I agonized over Vermont as I planned the trip. The drive between our New Hampshire race and Vermont crossed the southern tier of both states, a direct route that would take about an hour under ordinary circumstances. I needed to drive the length of Vermont and loop around its northern tip along winding country roads to visit three scattered counties. That would turn a single hour trip into a six hour expedition for little payday. It seemed excessive and I planned to pass it up. However, little else seemed to interest me along the most direct route. I’d scoured that corner for attractions during a previous trip back in 2010, and I’m not one who generally wants to see the same place twice. How many times does someone need to visit the Phineas Gage Monument? I’d undertaken more elaborate efforts than this six hour county counting quest, I supposed, so that’s how it unfolded. We ran into a couple of interesting places along the way so it all worked out. For instance, I didn’t realize ahead of time that Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory fell directly along our path until we drove through Waterbury. Nothing said Vermont more than Ben and Jerry’s and that became a nice break after several hours on the road.
I also spotted a sign for a brewery as we drove through the town of Morrisville, the Rock Art Brewery, and the place was open. That was another nice break. Beer Geeks might wonder why we didn’t stop at Alchemist Brewing as we drove through Stowe. It was closed to the public at the time.
I am a meticulous planner. That’s just the way my mind works. Nonetheless it was enjoyable, and perhaps a bit liberating to go largely unscripted for much of a day. We discovered plenty of unexpected amusements as the path unfolded. I was exhausted as the sun set and we had another race at 6:00 am the next morning. I’d have to think twice about taking such a long detour next time for the sole purpose of counting counties.
My total hit 100% completion for three new states by the end of the trip; Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. I also filled in doughnut holes in Pennsylvania and New York, bringing the total haul of new counties to 15. I left a good reason to return, too. I am now only three counties away from finishing all of New England. Someday I’ll have to travel to the northern tip of Maine and get those final three. Maybe I could combine it with a trip to Atlantic Canada.
Several 12MC readers have alerted me to an article that I found fascinating and I’m sure the rest of you will too: Altered state: Border redraw moves 19 homes in the Carolinas.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
I returned recently from another one of my hurried trips, this one to the New England states. All of them. Plus New York for good measure. Those of you who followed Twelve Mile Circle’s Twitter account knew that already. The rest of the 12MC audience may not have noticed anything at all. I wrote a bunch of articles in advance and they posted automatically, quite happily, as I cruised backcountry roads for a week.
Once again, I chauffeured my favorite runner through small town America as part of a Mainly Marathons event, this time to the New England Series. This group catered specifically to people hoping to run marathons or half-marathons in all 50 U.S. States (my favorite runner focused on half-marathons), stringing together back-to-back races. The 2016 New England series stopped at Sanford, Maine; Greenfield, New Hampshire; Springfield, Vermont; Northfield, Massachusetts; Coventry, Rhode Island; Simsbury, Connecticut; and New Paltz, New York, on succeeding days, May 15-21. A race happened at dawn, then the circus packed up and moved on to the next state, and the cycle repeated itself. Seven races, seven states, seven days.
This was the fourth time I’ve attended a Mainly Marathons series, with my runner completing the Dust Bowl, Riverboat and Center of the Nation series previously. That was a lot of states. With New England now done, I’ve attended their races in obscure corners of 23 different states. Recently the Mainly Marathons group added a five kilometre option mostly for those of us who attended along with the longer-distance runners. I actually ran the 5K each day mostly so I wouldn’t stand next to the snack table for a couple of hours and stuff myself silly. I don’t have any intention of moving up to the half-marathon or marathon distances though. 5K each day was plenty enough for me.
We made time, as usual, for touring during the afternoon as we traveled between races. I’ll get into all of the details in the next batch of articles. I thought I’d start things off more scattershot with a few signs I noticed along the way. I’ve had a thing for unusual signs and this trip was no different. Ordinarily I’d present these at the end of a series although I thought I’d use them to whet the 12MC appetite. Think of today as an appetizer.
Welcome to Vermont
Surprisingly, I stopped at only one state border to record my crossing. This one occurred on U.S. Route 5 / Vermont Route 11 just after we passed the Connecticut River, as we left New Hampshire (map). This photo was particularly notable for my lack of skills as I managed to capture the top of the side-view mirror at the bottom of the image. That happened because I was too lazy to get out of the car when we stopped, and too incompetent to hold a camera high enough to get a decent picture. That was also the only photo I took of the car, now as I considered it, although I probably should have taken more. We rented a compact car because it was just the two of us. We figured it would be fine and we’d save some gas money. The rental agency must have given away all of the compacts on the lot though, because we ended up with a black, two-door Ford Mustang with only 500 miles on the odometer. We cruised around New England for a week in a sweet ride.
Think of the Children
I still wasn’t sure why the Toonerville Trail in Springfield, Vermont (map) felt it was necessary to ask us politely with a please and a thank you to think about our children in ALL CAPS. So I thought of the children. Unfortunately my only thought was a sign invoking the overworn and pandering expression "Think of the Children."
While fixated on thinking of the children, or so I thought, I began to notice strange minivan school buses in multiple New England states. I’d never seen anything like them before. Were they used by private schools with far-flung pupils? Or for select children in special programs? I could definitely consider a role for these non-bus buses, and wondered if this was a common solution in New England (or elsewhere) or if I’d focused on them simply because they were unusual. I spotted this example on Interstate 91 near Deerfield, Massachusetts (map).
Also, before anyone becomes too concerned with my driving skills and posts a disapproving comment, let it be known that my passenger took this photograph. I kept both hands on the wheel and maintained a safe distance.
I’ve often featured street names on 12MC, the more unusual the better. Generally I’ve only observed them on a map. That’s why I was so pleased to find Marginal Way in Sanford, Maine in the wild (map). It was right on the race course! Runners actually plodded directly down Marginal Way. I wondered about the name. How should a homeowner feel about property considered marginal? Would it affect its resale value? It ran along the edge — maybe the margin? — of a nearby pond. Was that how it earned its weird designation?
This was an instance where I thought a sign might be overkill. Certainly people have jumped from bridges, although generally very high ones and often quite tragically. That wouldn’t be the case here at the Henniker Bridge in Henniker, New Hampshire (map), only a few feet above the water. This was a covered bridge of recent vintage constructed as a pedestrian pathway over the Contoocook River. It served as a footpath between the main campus of New England College and various athletic fields.
College students do seem to get into all kinds of antics. Maybe the sign was necessary after all.
The driving force, the entire premise of this series, were races held in different states. Travel distances ranked higher in important than sightseeing for most participants. As a result, races generally fell within rural, out-of-the-way places near state borders. Sometimes this took us onto America’s Byways, for example the beautiful Connecticut River Byway extending through several states including this spot in Northfield, Massachusetts (map). We ended up putting a little over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) on that Mustang, many of them on winding country roads through quiet scenery.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr