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November 11, 2001

They go the extra miles

These travel club members take tourism to extremes

By Craig Wilson USA TODAY

Some people travel to exotic places. Some seek out the world's great museums. Others just want Disney World. And then there's Alan Schmidt of White House Station, N.J. Travel for him has always been, well, goal-oriented. A game. He has to down seven more Dairy Queen Blizzards before he dies, for instance. But it's not quite as easy as it sounds. The Blizzards are in seven different states. Schmidt is a member of the Extra Miler Club (, whose 300 members aim to visit not only all 50 states and the District of Columbia, which he's already done, but also all 3,141 counties, parishes (Louisiana) and judicial/census districts (Alaska) in the United States. Fourteen members have already reached the goal.

These travelers are not your average vacationers - they all readily admit they harbor a quirky travel gene, but in many ways they're the ultimate see-America-first crowd. And they do so for a variety of reasons. To run a marathon in each state. To play golf in each state. To seek out the smallest post office, or every ballpark in the major leagues. It doesn't matter. It's the quest that counts. Their motto? "The shortest distance between two points is no fun!"

At one time, EMC member Darrell Dady even aspired to eat a Big Mac in every McDonald's in North America. Reid Williamson of suburban Washington, D.C., chose a healthier pursuit: collecting photos of state highway signs corresponding with the order of each state's entrance into the union. For instance, Delaware was the first state, so he has a picture of Delaware Route 1. Vermont was the 14th state, so his Vermont picture is of Route 14. Get it?

Schmidt, like all Extra Milers, is a man on a mission. "My current total is 2,863 counties with 45 states completed," says the retired sales director for a pharmaceutical company. "I should finish Arkansas and Louisiana in early November, bringing my total to 47 states and 2,909 counties." But perhaps more impressive is the fact that he's played golf in all 50 states and D.C., twice in 38 states. He's visited every state capitol, flown in and out of every state, slept and eaten in every state, visited every major league baseball park and medical school and most importantly, enjoyed a Dairy Queen Heath Bar Crunch Blizzard in 43 states so far. He hopes this total will rise to 45 by November. "My wife knows I have this gene flaw. We took our three kids to all 50 states," he says. "So once, while visiting friends in Florida we went to a Dairy Queen and my wife, Kathy, said, 'You know, you should have a Blizzard in each state. He's almost there.

Being a good sport Jeff Thorner of San Anselmo, Calif., also has played golf in every state. Actually, in 1997 he played 50 rounds of golf in 50 states in 50 days. "It was a dream I had, and I talked about it for a long time," says Thorner. "My wife finally started getting a little irritated with me about it. We were down in Mexico and after a couple of margaritas she said do it or shut up. So I did it." "I felt a little guilty when I found a course near Fargo, N.D., that actually had nine holes in North Dakota and nine on the other side of the Red River in Minnesota," he confesses now. "So my solution was to go around twice, completing 18 holes in each state." A few people look out at the par five, 543-yard 18th hole of the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif. April 26, 2000. Pebble Beach is known as the ``greatest meeting of land and water in the world.'

Chuck Ballinger, a scuba diver from Marin County, Calif., was so inspired reading about Thorner's exploits that he called to say he was heading out to make a dive in every state. He finished his mission Oct. 8, 2000, in Alaska. He now has a Web site:

Caroline and Gene Myers of Laughlin, Nev., have a different goal. For more than 15 years they have been seeking out the smallest, most out-of-the-way post offices they can find. "We then get the cancellation and I take a picture of my sweetheart standing in front so we can prove we've been there," says Caroline. The smallest so far: Odell Lake, Ore. "It's a four-by-four blue box hanging on the wall of a campground and when you open it up it says official United States Post Office," says Gene. The most interesting: Sand Creek, Texas. "We drove for miles and miles of nothing but miles, absolutely nothing, when, at last, appeared one lonely small building. The post office." The first: a tiny post office in Silver Star, Mont. They began their search because Caroline collected postcards and Gene was a member of the Universal Ship Cancellation Society, whose members collect postmarks from maritime services. "We wanted a hobby that fit us both," he says. "And it gets us off the freeway. We've been to some pretty weird places. Try Annapolis, Calif., sometime!"

Mike Jobes, 38, a director of business development for a software company in Dallas, did his 50 states solo. "I could never convince anyone to come with me," says Jobes, who is now married. "So there was a lot of time for introspection. I didn't come up with any grand revelation, but it was a good time to get back to simpler times, to see the country from a car window instead of plane." Jobes sent postcards to himself to prove to everyone back home that he, too, had been to each of the state capitols. "Sometimes just finding a postcard of the capitol building was more difficult than getting to the building itself. After all, who goes to Hawaii to visit the capitol, although it was one of the most interesting."

Rules of the game

Nancy Darter and her husband, Lloyd, understand completely, although they found the capitol building in Jefferson City, Mo., the most interesting. The governor was gone the day they visited and friends of a friend took them into his office. They photographed themselves sitting in his chair, a photo they used for their Christmas card that year. They did all 50 states in the summer of 1989, putting 20,000 miles on their old Oldsmobile before they ended up back in their driveway in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Labor Day.

Steve Lake, a floor supervisor at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, has done all 50 state capitals. Long ago. He's now moved on to four-year colleges and universities. Having gone to an urban college in Montreal, he feels he got cheated out of a real campus experience, so he's making up for it now. So far he's visited 233 campuses. "I was just in Milwaukee and I found myself visiting obscure schools I'd never heard of," admits Lake. "But I have my rules. It has to be a four-year school and if I get out of the car and step on the campus, it counts. I've actually even taken tours of the school if I like the looks. Dartmouth. Harvard. University of Kansas."

Bill Garvin of Kahului, Hawaii, gets even more specific. A few years back he started visiting college football stadiums every autumn. "It's fun, there's the regional food and the joy of the open road in the fall when travel is easier," he says. "This year we'll see games at Laramie, Wyo.; State College, Penn.; Raleigh, N.C., and Fort Worth, Texas."

Chris Guenzler, a teaching assistant in Santa Ana, Calif., visited all 50 states but made it a little bit harder on himself. He went to them all, many of them twice, by train. It isn't as easy as it seems. He had to go to Canada to take a train from Halifax to Montreal in order to remove Maine from his list. And he admits he was in New Hampshire for only 20 miles before the train crossed back over into Vermont. But it still counts.

Which brings up the rules. Depending upon whom you're talking to, there are rules in this road game. Does a state count, for instance, if you just drive across the border and turn around? "My only rule for being in a place is that you have crossed the border in a car or on foot," says Robert Burke, 37, of Redlands, Calif. "I drove from Wisconsin to Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1985 for a spring break and I count each county that I passed through. And I count Lubbock County, Texas. I passed through there on a Southwest flight. I got out and walked around a bit and even took a picture." To those whose rules include having to sleep over or eat or whatever in a state, Burke has this retort: "On July 20, 1969, two guys visited the moon. They walked out of their vehicle, walked around a bit, took a few photos and then left. ... (Some) would say they were 'cheaters.' That they really haven't been to the moon because they didn't spend enough time there or do anything significant."

Case closed.

Robert Tiritilli, who works at KPMG Consulting in New York, has a completely different criterion for visiting a state. It doesn't matter how long you stay. You only have to do one thing. "He only counts states in which he has urinated in the open air," says his coworker, Adam Burstow. "So far he's up to 32." Tiritilli admits this, somewhat hesitantly, but insists that's not the sole reason he would go to a state. "I was in Montana for two days a while ago and I didn't get 'outside,' so I can't count Montana," he says. But he might be getting some extra help. This summer Tiritilli donated one of his kidneys to his sister.