Half of all Americans see fewer than 10 states in their lifetimes, but not USA TODAY’s Trevor Hughes. He tackled all 50 states and never passed up the chance to try local eats or snap memorable photos.
HUDSON, Wisc. — This small town on the St. Croix River will always hold a special place in my heart — and I’ve only been here for five minutes.
Sure, there’s a beautiful downtown and hundreds of happy people enjoying the early summer sun on this gorgeous Saturday as boats cruise past. Kids splash in the water and couples hold hands, walking barefoot across the bright green grass. It’s the kind of idyllic place lodged deeply into our national consciousness, the kind of town we want America to be like, full of opportunity and hope and long summer afternoons.
But for me Hudson, and Wisconsin in general, represent something more: A number. The number 50, to be precise.
Years of travel around our country have brought me to nearly every state. On this day, I set foot in the last one on my list, Wisconsin.
Born in Massachusetts, I grew up in Vermont, and knocking off other New England states is as easy as an afternoon drive. Four years of college in Boston helped add more of the eastern seaboard, and I added most of the south thanks to a month-long road trip when I moved to Colorado in 2001, and I’ve been adding the Western states ever since. Backpacking and mountain bike trips have taken me into Utah’s red rock deserts, to the bottom of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and far from anywhere in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness. I’ve hiked across lava fields in Hawaii and clambered on Alaska’s glaciers, rolled through North Carolina’s tobacco fields, watched the Milky Way wheel overhead in Wyoming and chased grizzly bears (from a safe distance, with a camera) in Montana.
But three states eluded me for years, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and I finally persuaded by bosses to send me on assignment to Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota. From Grand Forks, I walked across a bridge into Minnesota. But Wisconsin would require a bit more driving.
Actually, this entire project has required a lot of driving, mostly because it’s a great way to see the USA. While stretching my legs during long drives, I’ve visited with small-town farmers and big-city tech workers, shared meals with dozens of strangers and made bad instant coffee on a camp stove in more places than I’d care to count.
The rules of my visits were pretty simple: I couldn’t count a simple drive through or airport stop. Instead, I had to either sleep there, visit some sort of monument or point or interest, and, if possible, eat and drink something local. From cheese curds to Navajo tacos and lobster rolls to reindeer sausages, loco mocos (Google…