Road Trip: Around the Nation in 80 Days

My dog Rhapsody and I are about to embark on an 80-day road trip that will take us to four WPT tournaments, the Winter Olympics, all 50 states, Mexico, and Canada. And it just sort of ... happened.

It started out as a plan to drive out to California for the WPT Commerce LA Poker Classic, where I will be working from February 20 - March 4. I thought it would be a nice excuse for a road trip. Then I realized the Winter Olympics would be starting in Vancouver, Canada earlier that month, and thought it would be a lot of fun to drive up there, watch a few events, and then drive down to LA. I've been to the Olympics twice before (Atlanta in 1996 and Salt Lake City in 2002), and it's an extraordinary experience.

That was the plan four days ago.

Photo: This is everything that I packed for our 50-state road trip. As soon as I finished packing, I started loading the car, and then we left.

As you can see by how much stuff I'm packing, the plan has grown.

Looking ahead on the schedule, I realized that the WPT Bay 101 tournament in the San Francisco area started just a few days after I finished the LA Poker Classic. Since there's no way I could drive home in time to catch a flight, I'd obviously need to extend the trip to include that tournament as well.

At this point, the itinerary was getting pretty large. I looked over the route on a map, figuring I could visit Iowa and Nebraska on my way out (two of the six states I've never visited). Then I realized I would be as close to Alaska as I've ever been, and I started thinking about making the drive. Someone had told me it was only eight hours away from Vancouver, so I figured I'd take two days to cross Alaska off my list of life goals.

I started drafting a rough schedule, and decided to add the WPT Indiana event to the trip. I'd have just enough time to make it back to Atlanta and fly to Indiana, but at that point, why not just keep driving? At that point, I will have hit most of the states west of the Mississippi, and I'd be staring straight at the eastern U.S. There would be three states left that I had never been to (West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Maine) -- so why not keep driving so I could knock them off my list too?

Photo: Rhapsody on the shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 2009.

At that point, if I'm driving up to Maine and back down the coast, I'd be hitting nearly every state in the union on this trip. That's when I first thought, "Would it be possible to hit all 50 states?" I didn't know how I'd handle Hawaii, but I sketched out a route that wouldn't have too many zig-zags that would take me through all of the lower 48.

I looked for boats or ferries to Hawaii, but they pretty much don't exist. (Cruiseline rules are a little weird, and there are no cruises from a U.S. port of call to Hawaii; you have to leave from a foreign port.) A boat would also take too long; the only way I could get to Hawaii would be to fly, but as you'd guess, flights aren't cheap. Fortunately, I've racked up a lot of frequent flier miles the last few years, and I actually have enough to cover a round-trip to Hawaii from California. I've been to Hawaii before, but there is a big difference between visiting 49 states on a single trip and visiting 50.

As long as I'm visiting all 50 states and Canada, poking my head down into Tijuana, Mexico was a no-brainer.

I originally planned to leave on February 3rd (when Rhapsody turns exactly 13 years, 6 months), but two days ago I decided to leave this weekend so I could include WPT Biloxi as part of the trip. It allows me to hit more states naturally. If there is too much random zig-zagging across the country, it just feels a little bit like cheating.

I started detailing my potential route across the United States, and that's when I hit a pretty major snag. Juneau, Alaska isn't eight hours away from Vancouver -- it's 39 hours away (1,811 miles on a deserted two-lane road). I already had it in my head that I would visit Alaska, so I started researching alternatives. There is a ferry service called the Alaska Marine Highway System, which provides access to the little towns along the coast that can only be accessed by air or water. After some online research and a phone call, I could catch a boat to Juneau for $450, plus another $50 for Rhapsody. This is no pleasure cruise -- I'm simply paying for a ride, and I don't even get a cabin. (The only cabins available would cost me an additional $1,000 or so.) The boat trip will take a week, and I'll be sleeping on a deck chair. It's sure to be an interesting experience.

One more complication -- the shortest trip to Alaska is one week. And it only leaves once per week, so I have one shot to get to the departure point in time, or I won't be able to visit Alaska on this trip.

Now I know I won't be the first person to visit all 50 states on a single trip, and it's not difficult to hit them all in 80 days. But this isn't purely a vacation -- I'll be working for about 30 of those days. And there are several hard schedule points that I can't miss -- the Winter Olympics, the boat to Alaska, and the days I need to work for the World Poker Tour.

Photo: Rhapsody peers into the Grand Canyon as we road trip our way to the 2009 WSOP.

Another complication is money. It's gonna be tight. I'll be earning money on this trip, but most of the money won't start coming in until the trip is nearly complete. I had to spend some money up front, particularly on cold-weather gear, the boat to Alaska, and prepping my car, so I'll be penny-pinching as much as I can. I still plan to visit the cool sites, and definitely want to hit a few of the major National Parks that I love so much (the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park -- I hear Yellowstone is much more magical in the winter).

My dog Rhapsody will be along for the entire ride, except for Hawaii -- the quarantine laws make it impractical. So she will stay with a friend while I spend a day and a half in Hawaii. Rhapsody is no puppy; she's 13 1/2 years old, and this will be a long, arduous trip.

My car is also 13 years old, and has nearly 150,000 miles on the odometer. As you can see, there are a lot of things that could go wrong on this trip, but at this point, I'm optimistic. I'm ready to take whatever comes.

Photo: My car overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, California.

Looking at the calendar, it looks like the trip will take about 80 days -- so that's my target. I love the novels of Jules Verne, and there's a nice parallel with the classic novel "Around the World in 80 Days." If Phileas Fogg could take his (fictional) trip in 1872, then I should have no problem taking mine in (a relatively futuristic) 2010.

Of course, I'll be twittering my journey the entire way, and taking plenty of photos for a book I'm planning. It's a specific idea I've had for a while (though I wasn't planning a 50-state road trip), although it won't really be about me or the road trip. I won't get into details of that book idea until I begin editing it together after the trip is complete.

For those of you following my progress, be prepared for a slow start as I spend four days in Biloxi, which is only about six hours away. (I'll be leaving in about an hour.) But once I finish working the WPT tournament this week, the epic part of the road trip will really begin.

Photo: Watching sunset from Mallory Square in Key West, Florida in November, 2009.



Sounds like an amazing trip B.J. I'm thinking of doing something similar - though not nearly as ambitious - over the summer.



I was going to write the minute I saw that you wrote "Alaska is only eight hours away from Vancouver" but I'm glad I read through the rest of the outline. I'm extremely jealous of this plan, especially the Alaska Marine Highway idea. Where are you getting on the ferry? Bellingham?

One option if you miss the departure date for the ferry up to Alaska is to drive from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, BC (roughly 1k miles on slightly better highway). Prince Rupert is on the tip of the Alaska panhandle and the Marine Highway leaves from there with a lot more frequency than it does the Lower 48. So you could catch a boat to the first stop on Alaskan soil and then take it back to Prince Rupert and drive back, which might save you some time. But I think the weeklong boat ride would be fun.

Anyway, best of luck. I'll be watching with envy.



good luck BJ and be careful! Stop in and say hi to us in Gresham OR on your way to the Olympics! Are you still going to call in for the Poker Beat?


BJ, I'm very jealous, and excited for you. A 50 state trip was something I wanted to accomplish in this lifetime- not all at once- but I've come to realize it's never gonna happen. So, I'll just enjoy your pictures and adventures instead. I'm sure your car and Rhapsody will be just fine, but I'll cross my fingers for you just in case. Alaska will be so beautiful I bet. Have fun!!


Already loving your trip tweets... What an exciting few months you have ahead! And I can't wait to see you in Los Angeles. Safe travels to both of you!


Have a great trip BJ - I enjoyed your tweets from your road trip back from the WSOP and am looking forward to them from this journey as well! Safe travels to you and Rhapsody!

Mark Kilgore

Just don't eat McDonalds in al 50 states. Fruit and veggies are necessary for sustained life!


Beeeeeeeej! One thing I've always loved about you is your spontaneity/sense of adventure. I don't have a lot of that in me, so I look forward to following your trip instead! Oh, and since you're hitting New Hampshire/Maine, get in touch and let me know your ETA.....I am within an hour or so drive of both states....or even better, you can stop by Boston on the way back home. Rhapsody and my dog Jake can hang out at my apartment, and I can show you my city :-) Safe travels....hope to see you soon. ---Jen