21 States In One Day

Get out of my way; I'm in a hurry today.


This is the write-up for my "21 States In One Day" trip completed on Sunday, 2003-10-26.

Motivation For The Trip:

During my "50 States in a Week’s Vacation" trip five years ago, I found I’d entered 12 states in one day (NY, MA, VT, NH, ME, RI, CT, NJ, DE, MD, WV, VA) and speculated about what the record would be if someone really tried to maximize the number of states visited in one day.

On October 15th, 2000, I made my first attempt to set a serious record and successfully visited 17 states in one day (AL, GA, TN, KY, NC, VA, WV, MD, DE, PA, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA, NH, ME) and learned a lot about how to do such a trip.  I was pretty sure that this was the record (unofficial, of course, as Guinness won’t acknowledge speed records set on public roadways) and felt I could have done better, as I had been robbed of the opportunity to get Vermont due to traffic delays in DE, NJ, and NY.  As I crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge (entering Maine) at the end of the day, I rolled down my window, cursed the east coast, demanded a rematch and shouted “Just wait ‘til next year!”.

The real inspiration, however, came from the February, 2003 edition of the Extra Miler Club newsletter.  Reid Williamson described his October, 2002 trip in which he and a buddy visited 18 states in one day, traveling from Vermont to Alabama.  When a guy in a diesel Volkswagen stops for photos and chocolate chip cookies along the way and still breaks your record, a gentleman has to respond.

While I'll claim that my solo completion of the trip was in some sense "harder" than Reid's two-person trip, on second thought I'm not so sure.  With two people there are probably extra bathroom stops, stops to swap drivers, somebody to second the motion when you want to make a stupid stop, etc.  When you go solo, you just go and go and you don't have to stop for anyone.  But for longer trips, having a co-pilot would almost certainly be better.


An important part of the planning is picking when to go.  Reid summed it up well by recommending a Sunday in the fall, to miss urban traffic, winter weather and summer road construction.  Also, heading westbound is smart because you can pick up an extra hour as you cross from the Eastern to the Central time zone.  And getting the New England cities (Boston, New York, Philadelphia) out of the way before 6:00 AM helps to avoid traffic issues.

But it turns out there’s another important timing issue.  I found I could get all of the benefits listed above, and one more, if I traveled on the last Sunday in October.  This, of course, is the day that Daylight Savings Time ends, and thus two hours into my trip I could “fall back” one hour (hee, hee, hee).  Thus, I was able to take advantage of a perfectly legitimate 26-hour day.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


The preparation for the trip wasn't very involved, perhaps because this was the fourth time I've done a trip like this.  I used frequent-flier miles for the plane ticket (San Francisco to Boston, Nashville to San Francisco) and made a rental car reservation.  I signed up for a one-way rental and found an especially low rate, probably because they needed to move the fleet south for the winter (fewer rentals in New England, more in Florida).

I bought a box of maps and brought them with me, and bought a cheap ice chest and some drinks and food in New Hampshire the day before.

The Big Day:

Just before midnight on Saturday, October 25th, 2003, I was parked on the side of the road near the southernmost Maine (#1) on-ramp to I-95 South, just north of the Piscataqua River Bridge.  I’ve become very familiar with this little patch of dirt because I finished my previous record attempt here three years ago and also drove right by it while visiting Maine on my "50 States in a Week’s Vacation" trip five years ago.  It’s amazing that I am so familiar with this little wide spot on a Maine country road, given that it’s 3,000 miles from my home in San Francisco.  This is a strange hobby.

I had a full tank of gas, an empty bladder, an ice chest full of Coca-Cola and finger food, and a box of maps with a route all planned out.  Thirty seconds before midnight, I eased my rental car up the on-ramp and hit the gas as I started across the bridge.  I crossed the border at full highway speed just seconds after midnight.  I was determined to make momentum and internal combustion my friends for the day.

The other side of the bridge was in New Hampshire (#2) of course, and I was on my way.  I drove down I-95 through Massachusetts (#3), where it becomes the inner beltway around Boston and on through Rhode Island (#4) and Connecticut (#5).  In New York (#6), it becomes the Cross Bronx Expressway and then crosses over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey (#7).

At this point, the “Pennsylvania problem” moved to the front burner, as it’s really not far off the most efficient, most direct path, but still hard to get to.  I chose to leave I-95 at  Hedding, NJ, and headed west on the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parkway Extension (I-276), crossed the Delaware river and headed into Pennsylvania (#8).  I was expecting it to be easy to leave this freeway and head south on I-95 again within just a few miles.  I was wrong, and it was the major routing error of my trip.  I had to go several miles further, get off and pay a toll, and then go several miles on surface streets (some under construction) to finally wind around again to get back on the freeway.  My error was in thinking that when two U.S. Interstate Highways cross, there always has to be an easy set of ramps from one to the other (Readers:  are there any other famous instances where this doesn’t happen?).  My mistake.  Total time lost:  15 minutes.

I cleared Philadelphia by 6:00 AM and then just south of the City of Brotherly Love the traffic came to a complete stop.  I never got to see what the problem was, but the highway patrol must have sized it up quickly because we were soon encouraged to turn around and drive the wrong way, northbound in the southbound lanes, back to the first exit (on to which they were diverting all southbound freeway traffic anyway), after which I raced through city streets for a mile or so until I was able to find another on-ramp to I-95 south and got back on the freeway.  Total time lost:  15 minutes; far less than it could have been.

Heading south, I quickly grabbed Delaware (#9) and then Maryland (#10) while still on I-95.  Approaching Baltimore, I took the I-685 beltway in the counter-clockwise direction over to I-70 west through Frederick to Hagerstown, where I caught I-81 south through West Virginia (#11) and settled in for the long haul through Virginia (#12).

As of the time of this writing, I am aware of Reid Williamson’s resounding endorsement of the chocolate chip cookies at Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant, on US 250 at I-64 near Staunton, Virginia, but on the day of this trip I had forgotten this crucial piece of EMC culture and roared right through the area.  Also, due to a lack of sleep the day before, I was now really tired and actually took a nap in Mint Spring, just a couple of miles south of Staunton.  Total time lost to napping:  15 minutes.

Back on I-81 South, I headed for Tennessee (#13).  About 35 miles before Knoxville, I zipped out on I-40 East to do an out-an-back to catch North Carolina (#14). On I-81 again, I continued through Knoxville and took I-75 south where I caught I-24 West and followed it to where it barely loops through Georgia (#15) and then at Exit 172 drove a few miles south on US 72 to the Alabama (#16) line.  It wasn’t obvious at first where the border was, so I had to ask someone in a pickup truck “Where’s the Alabama state line?”.  “It’s about a mile that way”, he said, pointing further south.  Lucky for me there was an easy place for a U-turn just after the state welcome sign.

Back on I-24 west, I roared up northwest towards Nashville.  I don’t remember where, exactly, but there was a very beautiful stretch through there where the highway climbs steadily up for ten miles or so through the mountains, and it was all fogged in with traffic slowing down to 40 MPH or so.

Through Nashville, I kept on I-40 West and into Kentucky (#17).  At this point, I had matched my October, 2000 performance of visiting 17 states in one day.  In my back-of-the-envelope plan for the trip, I expected to arrive in Nashville by about 9:30 PM (that’s EDT, the time zone of my starting point; of course, but by the time I got there, it would be CST, and thus about 7:30 PM local time).  In fact, everything had gone very well (despite the three incidents that cost me 45 minutes total), and I found that I passed through Nashville essentially right on time and thus I still had about 4-1/2 hours left before midnight!

My first priority was to beat Reid’s year-old record and vindicate my honor (although, if the truth be told, you sort of forfeit your right to “honor” if you’re even considering doing something like this).  Therefore, I had been hoping to make it to Missouri, state #19.  I now realized that I had even more time than that, and I redoubled my efforts to make the most efficient use possible of my time and kept heading north into Kentucky.

I stayed on I-24 all the way to Paducah and instead of making the easy move of crossing the Ohio River right there and getting Illinois, I jumped off the freeway at Exit 4 and headed west on US 60, through about 25 miles of small towns (including lots of 25 MPH zones that I obeyed religiously, congratulating myself as I crept past an observant policeman in Barlow, KY) and then over the Ohio River to Cairo, Illinois (#18) and then over the Mississippi River into Missouri (#19).  The record was mine.

But I still had plenty of time left!  So I kept moving on SR 60/62 west to Charleston, Missouri, where I picked up I-57 South and hit the truck stop for gas and munchies at 9:30 PM (CST) and then headed south on I-55.

At the 24-hour mark, I pulled over and made a few notes.  I was at 36-38-09.8 N and 89-32-45.1 W, and I had traveled 1,571 miles.

But Arkansas and Mississippi awaited!

I kept up a good, steady speed down through Arkansas (#20) on I-55, back into Tennessee and then finally barreled over the border into Southhaven, Mississippi (#21) just nine minutes before midnight.  I rolled up to the Comfort Inn and within 15 minutes was safely ensconced in my room and sound asleep.

The next morning I drove the 200 or so miles back to Nashville where I dropped off the rental car and flew home.

By The Numbers:

States visited in the first 24 hours: 19
Miles driven in that first 24 hours: 1,571
Average speed for that 24 hours: 65.5 MPH
States visited in one day (Sunday, October 26, 2003): 21
Miles driven on that day: 1,706
Average speed (for 25:51, as I finished nine minutes early): 66.0 MPH
Stops for gas: 4
Miles driven going the wrong way on I-95 in Pennsylvania: 0.5

Bragging Rights:

At this point, I think I’ve earned EMC bragging rights in a couple of categories.  Now, of course I realize that setting any sort of a speed record is not really the official EMC goal (although, being a specific travel goal, it is an acceptable alternate goal, and I did pick up a bunch of new counties on the way).  And besides, trying to visit every U.S. county in one lifetime might seem to some to be a speed travel goal.  But I digress.  And, I realize that for a lot of members the whole point of roaming our nation’s highways with impunity is to actually get out there and see something, take pictures, sample the food and talk with locals, and that a high-speed trip like this left very little time for sightseeing.  And, lastly, I understand that driving 1,706 miles non-stop is just simply dangerous and not recommended.

But I still think I’ve accumulated these bragging rights:

Fastest visit to all of California’s 58 counties:                      52:56:00 (10/9/1993)

Fastest solo visit to all of the 50 states:                               199 hours (7/6/1998)

Most states visited in 24 hours:                                            19

Most miles driven in 24 hours:                                             1,571

Most states visited in one day:                                             21

Most miles driven in one day:                                              1,706

If I’ve got my facts wrong on my holding the bragging rights on any of these, please let me know and I’ll buy you a cold beer at our next annual meeting, with my apologies.

2012-05-02:  Mark Allen writes that he once drove from Reno, NV to Paris, AR, covering 1804.58 miles in a little less than 24 hours.  He's earned bragging rights!


What suggestions do you have for someone who wants to beat your record?

Assuming you wish to break the “Most States Visited in a Day” record, I’d recommend pulling the same time zone/daylight savings time scam, as having a perfectly legitimate 26-hour day is particularly helpful.  I had about 45 minutes of “wasted” time on the trip (I chose a bad route, faced a blocked freeway, took a nap) that you could eliminate, and if you were lucky you wouldn’t have your own routing/traffic issues that slowed you down.

There may be a better route overall, but I didn’t see it in my research.  Assuming the same basic route, if you wanted to find a way to add on an additional state, the likely candidates for consideration might be Vermont, South Carolina, Indiana, or Louisiana, but it looks like they would all take substantially longer than 45 minutes to visit.

Keep in mind there’s a significant learning curve to a trip like this.  There are a lot of subtle skills involved, including food and water intake management, route planning, gasoline management, etc., and doing it your second time will be much more successful than your first.

My advice:  Extend the route to one of these states.  Drive fast.  Be lucky.  Be safe.

Any speeding tickets?

Nope.  My strategy was to set the cruise control to eight or nine miles per hour above the speed limit and just sail right through.  I dialed in my speed using my GPS receiver for verification.

Speeding can have a mixed effect on your total time to completion.  At a minimum, a speeding ticket means you’re parked for ten minutes, and a ticket for going really fast might mean a longer delay and perhaps arrest and towing.  Ten minutes out of 26 hours is 0.0064 of the trip.  Being delayed for this much time would reduce your average speed for the day by over 0.4 MPH.  So, sure, speeding could raise your average speed, but then each ticket would also lower it.

And then there’s the cost of the ticket and the increased insurance rates, and, of course, the safety issue.  No thanks.  I felt things were optimized at around eight or nine miles per hour over the speed limit.

Any rental car issues?

No.  They knew it was going to be a one-way rental from Boston to Nashville, so they were expecting some miles.  The total for the three-day rental was about 2,000 miles; nothing too crazy.


Essentially none.  I planned the trip around my being a lean, mean, perpetual motion machine for converting gasoline and Coca-Cola into world records of dubious value.  Sure, I took a photo of the car in New Hampshire the day before leaving, but I was so focused on just getting the miles done that I didn’t take any other photos.  I was really worried about running out of time at the end of the trip, so I just focused on keeping my speed up and not slowing down for anything.


None other than I saved all my receipts and documentation from the trip, including tolls, purchases, etc.  A problem with doing the trip on the day Daylight Savings Time ends is that some of the receipts have time stamps that are off by an hour.  Also, some of the state visits involved simply a quick U-turn (North Carolina, Alabama) or end point (Maine, Mississippi) and finding someone or someplace to get “proof” would have been very time-consuming.  The focus was on doing the deed and getting bragging rights, not on getting “proof”, and Guinness wouldn’t have accepted it anyway.

This is not to minimize the efforts of the many EMC members who do get proof of one sort or another when visiting a new county, or Reid Williamson’s diligent photographing of signs on his various trips.  More power to them, but I was in a hurry.

Didn't you have trouble staying awake?

Nope.  I don't find driving to be mentally taxing (a different part of the brain?), especially when I'm on a mission like this.  The 200 mile drive back to Nashville the next morning was certainly boring, probably because it was so anti-climactic and because I was driving somewhere because I had to, rather than just trying to see if I could make it.

Did you visit any new counties for your EMC count?

Yes.  I picked up 22 new counties, bringing my total to 1,105 counties.