40 for 39


At the age of 38, I realized that I had been to 39 states and 38 countries and territories, and that felt pretty neat. Because I like finding arbitrary ways to make my life needlessly challenging, I decided I would always try to keep my state and my country counts at or ahead of my years-on-earth count.

In September I went to Idaho for the first time, sliding into 40 states one month ahead of my 39th birthday. Last March I went to Vietnam and Hong Kong, which I thought brought me to 40, until I realized I could count Vatican City and Palestine and be all the way up to 42.

In January I’ll be visiting Togo and Ghana for the first time, which means I will be relatively safe in the countries department for awhile. However, I’m already a little anxious about how I’m going to rack up state number 41. I’m overdue for a visit to Missouri to see my friends, Ryan and Tom (hi!!!), and that’s probably what I’ll do. But I keep thinking I should knock out Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, and Kentucky in one fell road trip swoop and you know it’ll take me like ten years to execute on that plan. I could more easily go to Georgia, the only state on the eastern seaboard I haven’t technically visited, but I have grand plans for that state, too. When it comes down to it, I have grand plans for everywhere I want to go, so I either need to start spending more time and money on vacations or become more at peace with breaking them up into little bite sized chunks. I’m not sure which option is less improbable.

Portland! (Plus a quick trip to the Oregon coast)


In September I flew to Oregon to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and three year-old niece. I stayed in their new house on the southern edge of Portland, in a town called Oregon City, which was the terminus of the Oregon Trail. Even though I miss them terribly, it seems apt that my sister ended up there since she played that game obsessively in grade school. 

I had already spent time exploring northeast Oregon and Washington five years ago, and my family would be at work/preschool during much of the week, so I decided to rent a car and take a few days for a side trip to a new place: Idaho. I ended up doing one giant loop, from Portland southeast to Crater Lake, east to Boise, northwest to Pendleton, and back to Portland, with some detours and stops along the way for good measure. It was a feast for the eyes the entire way around. 

I’m splitting up the pictures into three parts. First: Portland and vicinity.

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My gray places


Much as I wish I were a laid-back person who could live easily with uncertainty, I am not. Though theoretically wonderful, in practice I don’t like gray areas of any kind. One of the gray zones I am most annoyed by is the one created by layovers in states or countries I’ve never been. Having touched down on Chilean tarmac and spent three hours in the Santiago airport en route to Buenos Aires, for example, I might claim to have been to Chile. But having never actually stepped foot on Chilean soil or breathed in fresh Chilean air, I don’t feel that I can. Instead, I imagine myself occupying an uncomfortable liminal state between having been and not having been, that must be rectified by going on a real visit to Chile as soon as possible. Most people could shelve that feeling, or would not have it in the first place. But I like things black and white, and so it nags at me.

Here are my gray area places. Fortunately, I actually do want to visit most of them. Unfortunately, I don’t have plans to do so anytime soon. As the list grows, so does my discomfort.



(The most notable detail of my layover was when a woman in the bathroom stall next to me puked all over the floor and it started seeping into my view. How can I have not truly been to Chile when I was traumatized by an experience I had there? It’s a paradox.)



(Below, a view of Bamako, where I spent an hour sitting on a plane with the doors wide open, troubling my “no fresh air” rule.)

bamako from the air


(I took a train from Nice to Rome and it went underground through the entire tiny country of Monaco in less than twenty minutes. I only saw a glimpse of it out the rear view mirror from Italy, so to speak.)

Cote d’Ivoire

(Abidjan airport: twice; country: never.)

U.S. States:


(I’ve been through the Atlanta airport twice. Georgia remains the only state on the East Coast that I haven’t officially visited.)

Ohio / Kentucky 

(This one is a double whammy because I flew through the Cincinnati, Ohio airport only to later learn it’s technically in northern Kentucky, which means I now have to visit both states to put the discomfort to bed…)

…Or I could just learn to live with the gray areas of through-travel, and life in general.

Does anyone else have this particular brand of neurosis or am I the only one wasting brain space on it?



Vietnam part 4: Trang An


The day after my Halong Bay trip, I boarded another bus, this time to Ninh Binh Province. I spent the day touring Trang An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of the Bai Dinh Buddhist temple complex (the largest in Vietnam) and a system of waterways and grottoes in which other temples are hidden.

The landscape was just as beautiful as Halong Bay (in fact it is sometimes described as Halong Bay on land), and the temples were stunning, too. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  Continue reading