The Extra Milers Club organizers (Photo: Extra Miler Club)
Traveling to all 50 states in the U.S. is kid stuff. Members of the Extra Milers Club go, well, the extra mile. Their goal is to visit every county or equivalent jurisdiction in the U.S., a total of 3,143 as of July 1, 2013.
County collecting is a strange hobby, but it’s one that keeps you on the move. Reid Williamson (final jurisdiction: Aleutians East Borough, Alaska) has been interested in counties for more than 50 years. “When I was about 10 years old, my father used an atlas to show me where my uncle was living in Arizona,” the self-described “list keeper” says. “The map was the kind from 1940s that had very vividly marked county lines. When I was 14, my aunt gave me another atlas that I promptly started desecrating by marking the counties that I had been to.”
He joined the Extra Milers in 1991 after a chance meeting with one of the co-founders in the parking lot at the Grand Canyon. The two knew of each other from the License Plate Collectors club, to which they both belonged.
Williamson completed his journey at Dutch Harbor in Alaska in 2007. He is now 74 percent of the way through his quest to become the first person to visit all 3,143 counties twice.
Williamson was such a fan of his county-counting odyssey that he opted to do it twice! (Photo: Reid Williamson)
Membership in the Extra Milers (motto: “Because the shortest distance between two points is no fun!”) costs $12 per person per year or $15 for an entire family for the year. Nearly 50 out of the 290 members attended the recent annual meet-up. The next one is scheduled for July 18, 2015, in Rogers, Arkansas. Attend and you’ll have only 3,142 to go.
Because the idea of visiting all of the country’s counties is both daunting and fascinating, we asked Williamson to share the 10 most difficult counties to reach. These are the ones you will want to plan ahead for.
Kalawao (Photo: Jomilo75/Flickr)
County: Kalawao, Hawaii
Why it’s difficult to get there: It’s on the northern side of Molokai island, and the local population of less than 100 battles Hansen’s disease (leprosy), meaning visitors need a special permit from the county to visit.
How to go: Take a flight from Honolulu to the Kalaupapa Airport. There’s also a long, steep mule trail from a more central part of the remote island.
Who is afraid of leprosy? WIlliamson in Kalawao in 2005. (Photo: Reid Williamson)
What to see: The Molokai Lighthouse sits on a cliff almost 2,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.
Related: 18 Stops on the Pan-American Highway
Nantucket lighthouse (Photo: Thinkstock)
County: Nantucket, Massachusetts
Why it’s difficult to get there: “If you were a reasonably accomplished tourist but were just going by car, how are you going to get to Nantucket?” Williamson asks. “No road in the 50 states will bring you there.” Roy Carson, one of the founders of the Extra Milers Club, finished his journey there.
How to go: Ferries leave from Hyannis and Harwich Port, Massachusetts. You can also take a short flight from many southeastern New England cities and New York to Nantucket Memorial Airport, the second-busiest commercial airport in the state.
What to see: The entire island is a National Historic Landmark.
Akutan Harbor, Alaska (Photo: Delta Whiskey/Flickr)
County: Aleutians East Borough, Alaska
Why it’s difficult to get there: It’s the westernmost point on the Alaskan Peninsula, a place from which Sarah Palin might think she could see Russia (questionable).
How to go: A ferry runs during the summer months, which is when you want to go, and frequent float planes make trips as well.
What to see: If you’re feeling really adventurous, Attu Island — almost 2,000 miles from Anchorage — boasts some of the most unusual bird watching in the U.S.
Williamson hit Chignik, Alaska, in 2007. (Photo: Reid Williamson)
County: Keweenaw, Michigan
Why it’s difficult to get there: "There’s nowhere to go but back,” Williamson says. “Or out, via ferry, to Isle Royale National Park.”
How to go: Take your pick: It’s a 350-mile drive from Milwaukee and 400 from Minnesota.
What to see: The county’s website calls Keweenaw “Michigan’s top of the world” and lists activities including ATV riding, curling, and rock hounding.
County: Henry County, Missouri
Why it’s difficult to get there: According to Williamson, “It has one state highway and one ferry crossing, which come in from the east and two minor roads going out the north side.” In other words, it’s in the middle of nowhere and on the way to nothing.
How to go: This perfectly square county, which is home to Calhoun, is less than 1 square mile and only 90 miles southeast of Kansas City.
What to see: Well, it’s not far from Number 111 Lake.
An orca off the coast (Photo: Jonathan E. Shaw/Flickr)
County: San Juan, Washington
Why it’s difficult to get there: There are no bridges to the island chain off the coast of Washington and British Columbia. There aren’t any bridges between islands, either. Luckily, “any one of them will count,” Williamson says.
How to go: Take a ferry from Anacortes, Washington, or Sidney, British Columbia.
What to see: Sea kayaking and orca watches are extremely popular. Plus, the islands are gorgeous.
A roadside barn in Door County (Photo: Pumcus/Flickr)
County: Door, Wisconsin
Why it’s difficult to get there: According to Williamson, “the tiny thumb of Wisconsin won’t be on your route because it’s a dead end.”
How to go: It’s only an hour from Green Bay.
What to see: Everything, apparently. From the county’s website: “Be you outdoor enthusiast, art lover, theatre goer, boutique shopper, history buff, adventure seeker or rest‐and‐relaxer, start your seeing and doing here!”
Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park (Photo: James Marvin Phelps/Flickr)
County: Wayne, Utah
Why it’s difficult to get there: The desert.
How to go: Drive 250 harsh miles south from Salt Lake City or 420 west from Denver.
What to see: Capitol Reef National Park is pretty much the only thing in Wayne. It’s 100 miles long, very narrow, and incredibly beautiful.
Westhampton Beach (Photo: John St. John/Flickr)
County: Suffolk, New York
Why it’s difficult to get there: It’s not far from the biggest city in the country, but if you’ve ever tried to battle traffic on the Long Island Expressway or squeeze onto a crowded train to get to one of Suffolk County’s most well-known spots — the Hamptons — you’ll know why it made the list.
How to go: A car or train ride from New York City.
What to see: Montauk, way out on the eastern tip, has some of the prettiest beaches in the country.
Sandy Neck Lighthouse (Photo: Chris Martino/Flickr)
County: Barnstable, Massachusetts
Why it’s difficult to get there: Another county at the end of the land, Barnstable makes up the biceps and fist of Cape Cod’s curled arm shape.
How to go: The drive is a couple of hours from Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.
What to see: Head all the way to the tip — Provincetown — for an experience like none other.
Bonus: The independent city of Bedford, Virginia
You quite literally can’t get there from here. On July 1, 2013, the city became a town and, as a result, part of Bedford County. Extra Milers who went to Bedford when it was independent are allowed to count it, but it’s not required for 100 percent completion. “I’ve read that Virginia is not going to allow any more towns to go out of business,” Williamson says. “But they said that before Bedford went out of business.”