Travel Visiting the 50 states: A reporter's journey

23:40  19 may  2017
23:40  19 may  2017 Source:   USA TODAY SPORTS

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This small town on the St. Croix River will always hold a special place in my heart — and I’ve only been here for five minutes.

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Sure, there’s a beautiful downtown and hundreds of happy people enjoying the early summer sun on this gorgeous Saturday as boats cruise past. Kids splash in the water and couples hold hands, walking barefoot across the bright green grass. It’s the kind of idyllic place lodged deeply into our national consciousness, the kind of town we want America to be like, full of opportunity and hope and long summer afternoons.

But for me Hudson, and Wisconsin in general, represent something more: A number. The number 50, to be precise.

Years of travel around our country have brought me to nearly every state. On this day, I set foot in the last one on my list, Wisconsin.

Born in Massachusetts, I grew up in Vermont, and knocking off other New England states is as easy as an afternoon drive. Four years of college in Boston helped add more of the eastern seaboard, and I added most of the south thanks to a month-long road trip when I moved to Colorado in 2001, and I’ve been adding the Western states ever since. Backpacking and mountain bike trips have taken me into Utah’s red rock deserts, to the bottom of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and far from anywhere in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness. I’ve hiked across lava fields in Hawaii and clambered on Alaska’s glaciers, rolled through North Carolina’s tobacco fields, watched the Milky Way wheel overhead in Wyoming and chased grizzly bears (from a safe distance, with a camera) in Montana.

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But three states eluded me for years, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and I finally persuaded by bosses to send me on assignment to Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota. From Grand Forks, I walked across a bridge into Minnesota. But Wisconsin would require a bit more driving.

  Visiting the 50 states: A reporter's journey © Provided by USA Today Actually, this entire project has required a lot of driving, mostly because it’s a great way to see the USA. While stretching my legs during long drives, I’ve visited with small-town farmers and big-city tech workers, shared meals with dozens of strangers and made bad instant coffee on a camp stove in more places than I’d care to count.

The rules of my visits were pretty simple: I couldn’t count a simple drive through or airport stop. Instead, I had to either sleep there, visit some sort of monument or point or interest, and, if possible, eat and drink something local. From cheese curds to Navajo tacos and lobster rolls to reindeer sausages, loco mocos (Google them!), pierogis and lots and lots of pizza, I’ve eaten my way around our great country. I’ve camped out under the stars, crashed on friend’s couches and slept in the back of my car more times than I can count. I’ve drunk chili beer and locally made wine and fresh-pressed cider and eaten an awful lot of baked goods.

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CLOSE. Skip in Skip. X. Embed. X. Share. Half of all Americans see fewer than 10 states in their lifetimes, but not USA TODAY' s Trevor Hughes. He tackled all 50 states and never passed up the chance to try local eats or snap memorable photos. USA TODAY.

Friends have joined me along the way as I’ve visited the southernmost point in the United States and the westernmost point on the continent, where you really CAN see Russia. My dad and his buddies have led me though slot canyons and over mountain passes, and I’ve walked alone along the edge of the Bering Sea. I've squeezed every dollar of value out of annual national park passes and diverted money from my corporate employer into the cash registers of small businesses across the country.

Now the challenge is over, thanks to the hospitality of Hudson, but also to all the great Americans I've met over the years, along with international tourists visiting our national parks and monuments, our bustling cities and wide open spaces.

And now, it’s time for a new challenge: My passport could use some exercise, there’s only seven continents, I’ve already been to four, and Antarctica does seem nice this time of year …

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