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Alabama Journey Mississippi

Ending 2020 on the Road

I’ve been really lucky in 2020 – have managed to avoid COVID-19, my family has stayed safe and healthy, and we’ve all remained employed. Grateful would be an understatement.

As part of our year-end festivities, I was able to recruit my oldest son (currently 4 years old) to be my partner as we collected the rest of the north Alabama counties and grabbed a few in Mississippi as well.

Collecting with a Partner

County collecting for me – barring a few day trips – has been a solitary affair. Things just hadn’t worked out to have family or friends along for the ride. As part of Christmas, we got my son a sleeping bag and told him to get ready for a car camping adventure – he was elated!

Since this was his first overnight county collecting journey, there were a lot of unknowns. How would car camping logistics work? Can we successfully socially distance? Would things be less fun since we can’t do as many museums or tourist-focused attractions?

We were about to find out!

The Route

Like I advise, we had a general route that we wanted to follow: drive south to Decatur, AL, make our way across to Mississippi, loop around and finish in Florence, AL before driving back to Nashville.

We didn’t have any set timeline for when we hit all the counties, so there was no pressure to hustle. We were game for any diversion or fun aside – of which we found many!

Kicking Things Off

We got a late start on Day 1 and didn’t get on the road until 1PM! With Decatur being about 1.5hrs south of our starting point, we made tracks to get in what we could before camping out.

Morgan County (Decatur)

Lawrence County (Moulton)

Franklin County (Russellville)

With our 2 playground stops knocked out, we had just enough time and some off-roading at Little Bear Dam.

The only thing left to do was head to Fulton, MS and find a place to get out the sleeping bags and car camp for the night.

Completing the Loop

Day 2, we were up with the sun – starting with Fulton. By breakfast we had seen Tupelo, MS. By mid-morning we had added the rest of the Mississippi county seats of Booneville, Corinth, and Iuka…

…including the old county seat of Tishomingo County, Jacinto!

It was quite the change to have to hunt for local playgrounds and pack twice as much food and drink (4 year olds just need their chocolate milk!) in the cooler, but the extra walking and running made the post-trip recovery much easier.

After making such good time, we ate lunch on the Tennessee River in McFarland Park in Florence, AL.

All-in, we covered close to 700 miles – time for an oil change!

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Guide

Beginner’s Guide to Visiting Every County the USA

Everyone has a different motivation for wanting to travel roads less trod. If you’ve decided to jump in head-first and start collecting counties, first-off: congrats! You’re now part of a tiny cohort of folks that spend weekends and vacations on backroads and hamlets. Welcome to the madness!

This is not intended to be persuasive or all-encompassing. Guide is probably a misnomer. Truth be told, I just wanted to put together a list of things that I wish I knew when I started in 2013 so that others can learn from my pain.

Plan, but not too much

It might seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. The first trips I went on in middle Tennessee were really spontaneous. My wife and I would take a day trip to a few places, I’d take a solo overnight trip to gather several counties in a chunk. These trips were fun and I really got excited about the project doing these. When you try to plan every single minute of your trip, you end up feeling pressure to stay on track to get as many counties as possible in the day or two (or more!) that you’ve allocated.

It’s the most fun when you have time to see the sights and spend some unstructured time in an area with history. It’s not to say, don’t try and research interesting things ahead of time …just don’t go overboard.

Start local

It’s the easiest approach – see the things that are around you. There’s no pressure to see everything, as you can easily return if an attraction isn’t open or a restaurant is closed. Ultimately, the smaller towns have a lot to offer and you almost never have the same hassles of metropolitan life (paying for parking, waiting an hour for a table) and you might find that you have some new favorite spots to return to with friends and family!

It may be tempting to hop on a plane and head to Delaware or Rhode Island to be able to knock out a whole state in a weekend… and hey, maybe that’s what gets you motivated! However, I’d advise you to start local as that’s where you can have a more easygoing and continuous relationship.

Find Personal Connections

One of the most interesting things I’ve done is visit some of the counties that my ancestors have lived. Whether you already have a good understanding of your roots or need to spend a few hours sleuthing on Ancestry.com, there’s a satisfaction to walking down the same Main Street that was there when your great-great grandparent lived there.

Talking to friends from across the country & coworkers that have relocated from far and wide, I’ve also gotten great suggestions of places to visit from folks that grew up in small towns or knew of attractions that’d I’d be passing on my journey. The best stuff is usually inside the heads of people we know!

People Want to Share Their Story

As a general rule of thumb, people in small towns are more than willing to share their story. Pride for where you live runs especially deep in places that don’t get many visitors. Don’t be afraid to strike up a convo with a waitress or a gas station worker. Often county seats have antique shops or other local establishments run by long-standing residents that are a treasure trove of local knowledge! A basic convo can turn quickly into a history lesson depending on who you meet and how busy they happen to be.

Happy hunting, and most importantly – get out there and see something you haven’t seen before!