I saw 48 states and 6 Canadian provinces during my 282 days of #RunningTo. I could tell you at least one distinct moment from each state and province visited, though certain ones were more diverse and memorable than others. And so . . . I compiled this controversial list.
To be clear, this top-11 list is not my “favorite” states and provinces. I don’t know how I’d craft such an impossible list. But over the course of my 26,000+ miles on the road, these are the places that gave me the most bang for my wandering buck.
I’M SO SORRY IF YOU’RE READING THIS AND WE HUNG OUT IN ANY OF THE OTHER 42 PLACES AND KANSAS.
Never on my journey did I feel more lost in my wanderlust than I did in the nation of Québec (which is technically not a nation, but they’re legally allowed to call themselves that because those Quebeckers kinda have a complex). I’d seen glimmers of a foreign French culture in five other Canadian provinces, but nothing to the extent I experienced in Québec. From the architecture to the language, it’s like I hopped over Lord Atlantic and lived a European existence for a few days. I’ll never forget walking into that first Montréal Starbucks, startled by every single sign in French with not a lick of English in sight. I was blessed by two sets of elite Couchsurfing hosts in Montréal, including this awesome couple I met as fellow Couchsurfers in South Dakota. We watched a Canadiens game while eating the tastiest pepperoni poutine. Québec stands out as refreshingly unique, and I’m glad that privileged “nation” was the cap on my epic string of Canadian journeys.
Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tempe
The Grand Canyon alone would have launched Arizona onto my list of most memorable states visited. Words can’t describe the magic of starting my road trip with a descent to the bottom of the deepest hole you can find. I’m so glad I saved seeing the Grand Canyon for this road trip. Add to my christening Grand Canyon hike and campout some phenomenal friend reunions in Phoenix a few months later, and this ruddy state always makes me smile.
Portland, Salem, Eugene, Bend, Crater Lake National Park
When Washington drained me after my first month on the road, Oregon refueled me. The people alone accomplished this, as I reunited with a long lost friend and met a couple of my readers too. We went hiking, we saw waterfalls, and we went tubing down rivers! When you combine the ever eclectic Portland with a deserty Bend with my #1 Instagram’d moment of the entire trip in Crater Lake, well, you have quite the state in Oregon.
Colorado Springs, Denver, Boulder
Colorado gave me some of my fondest people-moments of this entire road trip. There was the high school reunion in Colorado Springs and our ensuing hike at the Garden of the Gods. There was the camp counselor reunion outside Boulder and the subsequent stroll through one of the hipsterest towns I’ve ever seen. And finally, there was the Denver wedding of the same dear friend who drove with me a month earlier through the Canadian Rockies — which, oh yeah, the Rockies are in Colorado, too. There’s also the fun story involving my Couchsurfing host with all the pot, but I haven’t told my mother yet so we’ll save that tale for another time.
Memphis, Nashville, Franklin, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tennessee was quite possibly the most randomly awesome of all my states visited. If you would have told me Tennessee would personally introduce me to Jon Acuff and a girl from Survivor, I wouldn’t have known how to believe you. Nashville and Chattanooga are some of my favorite cities anywhere, so much so that I visited each city on two separate occasions. I closed out my long winding road trip with a solo retreat deep into the Smokies; from there, I charted my next course beyond #RunningTo. From the places to the people on three separate entries, Tennessee gave so much to my journey. I’m beyond grateful for the Volunteer State — even though I still don’t know what they’re volunteering for.
Red Deer, Carstairs, THE GOPHER HOLE MUSEUM, Rocky Mountains, Lake Louise
So, I spent a couple weeks in Alberta and didn’t see A SINGLE wild rose. Or maybe I did and I just didn’t know what I was looking for? In any case, Alberta gave my first real taste of Canada: the cities and the fields and the mountains and the turquoise Lake Louise I never knew existed. I painted barns and trees on a friend’s barley farm, and I drove with him through the Rockies on Canada Day, a $1 Canadian flag flapping out my driver’s side window until it ripped off halfway through British Columbia. Oh, and lest we EVER forget the Gopher Hole Museum . . .
Savannah, Brewton-Parker College, Dublin, Atlanta, Gainesville, Athens, Watkinsville
I like to rag on the Peach State. Georgia’s like my little red-headed, red-clayed step-brother who deep down inside I truly do love. From the bottom up this state gave me fantastic moments with people, including a visit to a cabin community with a bar deep in the South Georgia woods. There were also Brewton-Parker College reunions, high school reunions, reader meetups, a Ridgecrest camper meetup, and precious recharging time back with family and friends. One of those friends even took me muddin’ in his jeep where Georgia’s aforementioned red clay splattered my entire frame (the jeep’s, too). I suppose I don’t hate you as much as I used to, Georgia. Promise.
#4: SOUTH CAROLINA
Travelers Rest, Pretty Place, Clemson, Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Hunting Island State Park
I feel bad that I’d never given much thought to South Carolina before this road trip. It was practically next door for 11 years of my life. I’d enjoyed such incredible experiences in that Carolina to the north, and I always neglected this smaller Carolina to the south. But from historic Charleston to that giant wooden cross in the western mountains, the Palmetto State opened my eyes. I Couchsurfed with the kindest Mormons and French dudes, and I also stayed with the parents of a Couchsurfer I’d met in Denver. Columbia probably gave me my most people-centric stop of my continental trek, as I met with bloggers and authors and readers and just plain awesome people on a daily basis. Hunting Island showed me her unique tropical foresty beach side before I sadly exited South Carolina’s borders. Consider me a huge new fan of this state; it surprised me more than any other.
Sacramento, San Francisco, Monterey, Big Sur, Los Angeles, Fullerton, La Jolla
It’s just hard to go wrong with California. Top to bottom, it’s the most gorgeously diverse state. You can’t beat that coastline. Big Sur is my favorite drive I’ve ever taken, and I wanted to stretch that blessed afternoon drive over an entire week. I made some new friends in northern California and reunited with treasured others back in SoCal. It was surreal returning to Orange County two whole months after I first set sail on this quest. I said goodbye to Lady Pacific during a La Jolla sunset as the seals ARP’d all around me. Gosh I long to see California again someday.
Langhorne, Philadelphia, Shanksville, Pittsburgh, Erie, Punxsutawney, State College, Harrisburg, Reading, Gettysburg
Home sweet home. I never knew how strongly I resonated with the Keystone State until I spent several weeks there at multiple junctures throughout the endgame of my road trip. From Thanksgiving to Christmas to a cousin’s wedding, there were some phenomenal family times spent in my old Eden of Langhorne. But there were also many other adventures from one side of Pennsylvania to the other: horse-drawn carriages in Amish Country, rock climbs in Reading, mountain views of Pittsburgh, groundhogs in Punxsutawney, strolls in the hallowed fields of the Flight 93 memorial, and Gettysburg. Dear sweet Gettysburg — a newly beloved city where I very nearly moved upon my road trip’s conclusion. I love the people of Gettysburg. I love the people of Pennsylvania. Border to broad border.
#1: NORTH CAROLINA
Ridgecrest, Asheville, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham, High Point, Charlotte
How do you top the Tarheel State? It has my cherished Camp Ridgecrest, it has the charming weirdness of Asheville, and it has those beautiful rolling Blue Ridge Mountains. North Carolina also introduced me to a Raleigh Couchsurfing host who let me play his accordion, a wise wandering UNC freshman who let me sleep in his dorm, and a chipper New Zealander who interrupted my precious introvert-time at a middle-of-nowhere Starbucks to invite me to come visit him in Georgia (which I later did). North Carolina was an unexpected adventure at every turn, culminating with my favorite church stop in 282 days and an eventual move to my new home of Charlotte.
Yeah. It’s kinda hard to top North Carolina.
Did we share any moments in these 11 states and provinces? If so or especially if not, share a story of our time spent in your state or province in the comments below! I never want to forget.