Walking 51 Capitals

US Capitol

We began with tentative conversations: You know, it might be interesting to try that. Sure, it’d take forever, but we could just start and see how it goes. We ordered the record books from AVA and on 3 October, 2004, entered our first capital stamp a few miles up the road at Olympia, Washington.

A few weeks later, we visited my brother in the Washington, DC metro area and added the national capital and Annapolis, Maryland to our record books. But we were still tentative.

We plodded along, adding three state capitals in 2005, another in 2006, and three more in 2007. Which is about when we sat down and did some math, compared it to our ages, and learned we probably should hurry a bit and (gasp!) needed a plan. We agreed to drive only as a last resort – we each had a preference for rail travel – and to use local public transit as much as possible. We would experience capital cities more from the view of locals, who, we learned, often were our best tour guides.

We agreed we had great plan, but first we threw our tent and clothes in the car and in the 2008 Summer, looped the mostly un-trained Midwest, picking up several capitals which have transit access but were conveniently on or near our driving route, for a total of eight. A few weeks later, a train and ferry ride took us to Juneau.

A fall 2009 train journey gave us an additional seven mountain and Midwest capitals, and a very positive experience in traveling on a 30-day USA Rail Pass.

The distances for our fall 2010 northeast rail trip were much shorter from capital to capital, making it fairly easy to walk eleven capitals. The densely populated northeast corridor provided many options for train travel, and (almost) made-to-order schedules. As we were planning the northeast journey, a note popped up on Expedia about a short sale on tickets to Honolulu. Providential we thought. Two weeks after our return train ride from Washington, DC, we flew off in a somewhat westerly direction for Hawaii. We were seriously tempting the Time Zone Gods.

We were evolving an effective travel system, and felt ready to test our resolve, our planning, our … mettle. Activating a 30-day Greyhound pass at the end of a mid February, 2011 overnight flight to Atlanta, we stitched together eight southeast states. The bus served our need to travel east and west through the territory, rather than the mostly north-south Amtrak routes. We began apprehensively and learned that bus travel is easy, after one learns the system and the protocols. At the end, we again did the math and learned we had only six states remaining. Hey! We can do that! The planning began on the flight back home.

The final capital assault began with an overnight flight to Indianapolis. We had again chosen the 12-segment 30-day USA Rail Pass and our first segment took us to Cincinnati. Arriving at 3:17 AM, we napped, toured the magnificent Cincinnati station, and took a taxi to Greyhound for the two hour ride to Columbus, knowing that in four days, we would trash another night doing this in the reverse. Other than a later bus ride from Charlottesville, VA to Richmond, the remainder of our travel was by train.

Our last capital Volkswalk was Columbia, SC. Despite the city’s hideous traffic, Columbia has a grits mill, the Blue Marlin Restaurant (serving delicious locally milled grits with cheese and shrimp), and a wonderfully welcoming host at the visitor center walk start who used our camera to record our grand finish.

That was it! All the spaces in our books were stamped. Fortunately, when in 2008 we drove the Midwest capitals, we had ordered a Canadian provincial capitals record book.

Planning our travel had developed into an enjoyable challenge. We reached one capital by ferry, six by air, eleven by bus, thirteen by car, and twenty by train. We used local transit regularly, although a few of the smaller capitals cities have none available.

We early on learned that capitals exhibit the best of the citizen’s aspirations and are true works of art and repositories of state history, even with 200 fourth graders clogging the stairs. Finding food specialties and traditions often included lessons in local culture. Nearby brewpubs provided regenerative stops after walking.

Beginning with an “another stamp in the book” mentality, we quickly learned to appreciate and enjoy the range and diversity of capitals and capital cities, and the kindness, interest, and helpfulness of their people.

VIA Rail Canadian

VIA Rail Canadian