Around the states in 50 days

GVSU alum travels US in van

By Kyle Doyle | 4/12/17 10:00pm

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GVL / Courtesy - Christopher Thomas Grand Valley State University alumnus Christopher Thomas poses for a photo at Thunderbird Falls in Alaska on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.

by Christopher Thomas / Grand Valley Lanthorn

Taking in the fresh winter air of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Grand Valley State University alumnus Christopher Thomas had an idea: He was going to go to all 50 United States in 50 days.

Thomas set out on his quest and posted photos and updates to his Facebook page, 50 States in 50 Days. He had always wanted to visit all the states, and it seemed to make sense to do them all at the same time.

Christopher Thomas

GVL / Courtesy - Christopher Thomas Grand Valley State University alumnus Christopher Thomas poses for a photo at the Hoover Dam on Friday, March 3, 2017.

Christopher Thomas

GVL / Courtesy - Christopher Thomas Grand Valley State University alumnus Christopher Thomas poses for a photo at the Badwater Basin on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017.

Christopher Thomas

GVL / Courtesy - Christopher Thomas Grand Valley State University alumnus Christopher Thomas poses for a photo at Grand Canyon National Park on Sunday, April 2, 2017.

“I just kind of realized I’m in grad school, I got online courses, I can travel to all fifty states,” Thomas said. “I can just do it all at once.”

Beginning Friday, April 1, 2016 and running through Friday, May 20, 2016, Thomas traveled to all 50 states in 50 days in his van (excluding Hawaii and Alaska), visiting at least one different and unique attraction in every state, starting in Indiana and ending in Michigan.

Traveling alone, Thomas used his van as his primary place of rest, sleeping in the back of it at truck stops where he could also get a hot shower and Wi-Fi to do homework for his online classes and living by one rule: no fast food.

Thomas said he didn’t want to “cop out” and take the easy route, so he only ate at traditional restaurants and made sandwiches and had snacks in the van.

In each state, Thomas made sure to go somewhere or do something the state is either known for or something unique that exists inside its borders that doesn’t anywhere else, like eating lobster and seafood in Maine, a personal favorite of Thomas, and visiting the Monument Rocks, a large sandstone structure in the middle of the Kansas plains.

“It’s a seven-mile drive out on these bumpy dirt roads, and you get out there and there's this rock formation out in the middle of nowhere and the rest of the land is flat,” Thomas said. “And you’re like, ‘How the heck is this thing even here? It shouldn’t be here.’ But it is.”

Along his journey, Thomas encountered several people who were both baffled and impressed by his ambitious undertaking. Talking to them, he learned different historical facts about each location he was in and gained different perspectives on how the people there learned about U.S. history.

While in Louisiana, for example, he visited Oak Alley Plantation and New Orleans and talked to a native about the plantation. The topic turned to how schools taught the subject of slavery and plantations in both the North and South, and Thomas said the difference was stark.

“I talked with him for about an hour and told him about stuff I was taught in school, and he said, ‘Well, we teach it differently down here,’” Thomas said. “It’s cool, you know, to look at something from a different perspective.”

The only leg of the journey not taken by car was Hawaii and Alaska. Thomas said he found tickets in Oakland, CA, and flew to Hawaii and Alaska and then back to Oakland where he got back on the road.

Prior to leaving on the trip, Thomas mapped out the entire journey in Google Maps, took note of each attraction he was going to be stopping at and put together a budget. He said in doing this, he would be able to reach his goal of 50 states in 50 days.

Thomas said the goal wasn’t to spend one day in all 50 states, but to travel to all 50 in 50 days. For example, he spent three days in Hawaii and two in Alaska.

Overall, Thomas wouldn’t trade the experience for the world and encourages others to do the same. He hopes his trip will inspire others to do their own because everyone deserves to see the beauty that the “nifty fifty” have to offer.

He encourages interested individuals to make a similar trip while they still have time.

“Once you get into the workforce, you know, you’re not going to have two months off to do something like that,” Thomas said.

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