I have spent the last year crisscrossing the United States in my pursuit of running an endurance race in each of the 50 states. I ran races in cold weather and warm weather, up mountains and along beaches, checking off 12 more states. My travels also gave me an opportunity to see the rich tapestry that makes up our nation.
On my trips I took time to visit historical sites that I came across. Both Louisville, Kentucky (where I ran the Kentucky Derby miniMarathon) and St. Charles, Missouri (MO’ Cowbell Half Marathon) had connections to the Louis & Clark Expedition. The explorers met in Louisville and the expedition set out from St. Charles. Each city had statues and informational plaques about their journey. In both St. Charles and Olathe, Kansas (Garmin Half Marathon), I discovered historic sites related to the Santa Fe Trail. When I ran the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon in Springfield, Illinois, I visited all the Lincoln-related attractions including his tomb and the only house he ever owned. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum had a multi-media presentation that rivals anything at Disney World. I toured the USS Midway in San Diego, California (US Half Marathon Invitational), an aircraft carrier that was at one time the largest ship in the world. In Charleston, South Carolina (Kiawah Island Half Marathon), I made a side trip to see the Hunley, the first combat submarine that was used by the Confederates during the Civil War to sink a ship. It was hard to believe that eight men fit inside this tiny vessel.
I was able to enjoy our country’s varied landscapes. In Estes Park, Colorado (Rocky Mountain Half Marathon), I was treated to breathtaking views of Rocky Mountain National Park. I enjoyed watching the shimmering water of the Pacific Ocean in sunny San Diego. I ended the year enjoying views of wildlife, Live Oaks covered in Spanish Moss, and the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina (Kiawah Island Half Marathon). My travels took me from sea to shining sea.
In addition to the natural beauty, I delighted in the art and architecture of many of the places I visited. I love looking at old buildings to see the interesting windows, stone carvings, and decorative iron work many of them have. In looking through photos I took on my trips, I found photos of stately old homes in Louisville, Savannah, Georgia (Rock ’n’ Roll Savannah Half Marathon), and Charleston.
I enjoyed the urban art I found throughout New York City (New York City Half Marathon), particularly in the subway stations. I stopped in Boulder, Colorado on my way to Estes Park and came across fascinating oversized animal sculptures along a pedestrian mall. I still give the best street art prize to Louisville for their functional bike rack art. Close second goes to the Tom Otterness “Life Underground” Bronzes in the 14th St & 8th Ave Subway Station in New York City.
As the funatical runner, I especially enjoy coming across the quirky things that don’t make it into anyone’s tour book. There was my visit to the Museum of the Dog (a short drive from St. Charles, Missouri) and the Airport Art Gallery in the Savannah Airport. I was amazed by Princeton Antiques Book Shop in Atlantic City (Atlantic City Half Marathon) where I found a fascinating out-of-print book on the history of Atlantic City. My hotel in Atlantic City had an exhibit of shoes worn by Miss America contestants in the Miss America parade displayed in the hotel’s appropriately named Shoe Bar.
My favorite was Lucy the Elephant in Margate, New Jersey, just a short drive from Atlantic City. It represents an era when unusual roadside attractions dotted the highways all over the country.
There were things I didn’t get to see. If I had more time when I went to St. Charles, I could have visited Warm Springs Ranch where the Budweiser Clydesdale horses are bred. I might have to go back to Missouri just to see them. It would have been interesting to visit Bonaventure Cemetery and the 8th Air Force Museum in Savannah but again, I ran out of time. The Steel Pier in Atlantic City had closed but through the gate, I could see a colorful old two-level carousel. I recently read that the Steel Pier may not reopen due to financial reasons. Even if I travel back to Atlantic City, the Steel Pier may just end up being another lost treasure.
Wherever I traveled, there was one sight that was not so pleasant. That was the number of closed businesses and shuttered shopping malls. In some places, like Cincinnati, Ohio (Flying Pig Half Marathon), I could tell that a storefront was formerly the home of a family-run business. When things like that are lost, they are lost for good. I don’t think the big box stores and large national chains provide better products and service than small businesses do. Fortunately there are still a few of them left and I try to visit them when I travel. I stopped in an independent book store – E. Shaver Booksellers – in Savannah that was the nicest book store I have been in years. I didn’t have much time before my flight home or I would have been in that place for hours.
The other day I was thinking again about that question “If I had a million dollars to spend…” I decided that I would buy an RV to travel to my races. Traveling by RV, I could see the country, taking extra time to stop and explore all the historic, scenic and even quirky sights that are out there, the part of the country that most people zip past. Those things have made my funatical running adventures so enjoyable.