50 states in 30 days

Our boys complete their epic mission to visit 50 states in 30 days

By Wild Sky Media 07/02/2013 10:22

On the 30th day of our breakneck dash across America, we've landed in our 50th and final state: Texas. 

The sprawling, spiritual home of the cowboy is a worthy finishing point for our mammoth journey. To put its humungous size into context, it could easily swallow England three times over, belch, and still have room for dessert.  

A cowboy is cheered on by a rival at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, Texas: a nightclub with live bull riding

Over the past month, we’ve driven thousands of miles and boarded dozens of planes. We’ve covered ground in everything from an Amish buggy to a state of the art jet pack, and learned to master sports we’d never even dreamed of - from mountain coasting to roller skiing.   

But from the tropical swell of Hawaii to the freezing mountains of Montana, one absolute constant throughout (apart from large espressos and country music) has been the friendliness of the people. 

America is far too big to be considered a single “country” in European terms, but in every corner - from snowy Seattle to the sweltering Florida Everglades - everybody found time to help us, to offer directions, to laugh at how mad we were, or just to chat about our challenge. 

Admittedly, many of them thought we were Australians. And a group of local teenagers did wipe the floor with us during a Giant Slalom skiing lesson in Maine. (And then mercilessly ridicule us afterwards.) 

Jon is firmly put in his place by teenagers on the slalom slopes in Maine

Overall, however, this trip has been a phenomenal, life-affirming look under the bonnet of the most ubiquitous nation on Earth. 

The good news is that from the devout ‘Plain people’ of Pennsylvania to the larger-than-life roadside buskers of Utah, we found a real sense of fun, warmth, tradition and intelligence everywhere we turned.

A busker plays ‘Dead or Alive’ by Bon Jovi on the roadside near the Utah/New Mexico border.

The two questions we have been asked most often on our journey are: 'Which is the most beautiful state?' (Answer: Oregon or Vermont in terms of pure scenery),  and 'Which city would you like to live in?' (Answer: Portland, Oregon for quality of life or New Orleans for pure fun).

A brass band parades through the streets of New Orleans in the run up to Mardi Gras 

We were worried that this trip might put us off US ‘vacations’ for good, once we’d turned Uncle Sam’s pockets inside out. But on the contrary, we're both already planning our next visits out here. And we haven’t even left yet! 

The message is simple: when it comes to transatlantic travel, the biggest is still very much the best. And America has so much more to offer than the well-trodden flight paths to New York, Florida and California.

They call Montana ‘Big Sky Country’. But that might as well apply to the whole of this vast, beautiful mega-nation.  

So what’s stopping you from flying?  

//Do it Yourself//

You can read more on our adventure across the 50 States  - and win a holiday of your own to the US - at www.AA.com/UnitedStatesofAdventure 

To plan your own trip to America, visit www.discoveramerica. com


Jonathan gets re-acquainted with his breakfast during his space 'mission'

By Wild Sky Media 30/01/2013 11:02

Hunstville, we have a problem. 

My breakfast is attempting re-entry. 

Moonraker is widely regarded as the worst Bond film ever made. But it also contains some of the best action sequences - particularly when Roger Moore struggles to stay alive at an astronaut training facility. 

I now know exactly how he felt. 

We’re in Huntsville, Alabama - attending ‘Space Academy’ at the US Space and Rocket Center. And, dressed in full space suit, I’m bouncing up and down on the end of a 1/6th gravity simulator like a human tennis ball full of Mexican jumping beans.

Jonathan tries out the 1/6th gravity simulator at the US Space and Rocket Center

Space Academy - with its various contraptions, machines and missions - is even more fun than it looks. We pretty much have to be dragged away from its gravitational pull, and back to the road.

The 'MAT' (Multi Access Trainer) at the US Space and Rocket Center

After leaving the snow and rain of the North West in our mirrors, we’re now accelerating through the beautiful heart of the Deep South, like Bo and Luke Duke on the run from Boss Hogg. 

In a Honda Accord.

Keeping the spirit of the Dukes of Hazzard alive, however, we stop in the pretty town of Greenville, North Carolina, to sample some moonshine.

South Carolina was infamous for manufacturing and shipping the strong, illegal liquor during Prohibition in the 1920s. Now, moonshine is not only perfectly legal but also very much in vogue. And Greenville is home to the state’s first legal distillery. 

Jonathan helps the pit master throw a pig on the BBQ at The Pit in Raleigh, NC

South Carolina - along with pretty much all of the South - claims to be the spiritual home of barbecue. Each state has its own way of preparing pork and beef, and its own traditional accompaniments. We enjoy doing some firsthand research as we race through the southern states, collectively known as ‘Old Dixie‘.    

The verdict? North Carolina is the best by a prairie mile. And specifically a little restaurant in Raleigh, the state capital, called ‘The Pit’. They serve Moonshine here too, and we kick back with a couple of glasses to toast our 37th state. I just hope - to paraphrase Roger Moore’s 007 - that we can continue to keep the British end up. 

Do it Yourself

Create your own adventure in Old Dixie: Rides on the Space Shot, the G-force Accelerator and the Apollo Simulator are all included in the cost of admission to theUS Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. A nano taste of NASA starts from $25. 

Our favourite barbecue restaurant in the Deep South was The Pit in Raleigh, North Carolina: www.thepit-raleigh.com

You can follow our adventure  - and win a holiday of your own to the US - every day in January at www.AA.com/UnitedStatesofAdventure 

To plan your own holiday to the US, visit www.discoveramerica. com


The lads find that snow-shoeing and wine make an excellent pairing.

By Wild Sky Media 23/01/2013 12:12

Wine goes well with a lot of things: cheese, fruit and Belgian chocolates all spring to mind. But here in Washington State, they’re pairing it with something entirely different: snow shoeing. 

We’re in the Cascade mountains, an hour north of Seattle, for one of the area’s ‘ActiVino’ tours. It’s pure carrot and (frozen) stick; you spend the morning snow shoeing up some serious gradients to work up a sweat. Then, in the afternoon, you’ve earned yourself a leisurely tasting tour of the region’s award winning wineries. 

Jonathan snow shoes in the Cascade Mountains, Washington State

Our journey up here, to the far north western corner of the continental US, was somewhat convoluted. After leaving our new Amish friends in Pennsylvania (strangely, despite them not having access to the internet, one of them emailed us the day after we left - we’re still trying to figure that one out), we drove into New York, via New Jersey.
A day and a half later, after some schedule shuffling, we’d boarded a late flight to our 13th state: Washington. 
Leaving the Big Apple for rainy Washington

Surprisingly, ‘The Evergreen State’ is second only to California in terms of wine production, and its unique climate (think the Lake District on steroids) makes for some outstanding vintages. In particular, the small town of Woodinville - on the same latitude as Bordeaux - is a wine lover’s dream. 

Sadly we don’t have long to enjoy the grapes of our labours: we have a flight to catch to America’s other big north western hub: Portland, Oregon.  

The home of Nike’s global headquarters and the nation’s Bike City, Portland is probably the fittest town in America. Runners, skaters and cyclists flow along both banks of the picturesque Columbia River at all hours, in deep numbers.

It’s ironic then, that Portland is also famous for doughnuts. 

Biting into a maple and bacon Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon

Voodoo Doughnuts, a tiny 24-hour cafe, has achieved nationwide fame thanks to its madcap, cream-filled creations. I sink my teeth into one of the cult favourites: maple syrup and bacon flavour. Like snowshoeing and wine, you’d never think to put them together. But somehow it works. 

We finish the day as we started - with some exercise. Cycling back through America’s two wheeled capital, we pass its most famous piece of graffiti: “Keep Portland Weird.”


If this is weird, then we could all do with more of it. Portland is one of the most welcoming, vibrant towns we’ve visited on this madcap dash around all 50 states. You can keep your cheese platters and plain doughnuts - the weird northwest is a winner.  

Jonathan rides along the riverbank in Portland, America's most cycle friendly city

Do it yourself

Create your own adventure to Seattle and Portland: adventure travel company Evergreen Escapes operate in both northwestern cities and have a great range of activities including sea-kayaking and hiking, as well as cycling and their trademark ‘ActiVino’ tours. 

Direct flights to Seattle from London Heathrow start from £671, while Portland is accessible via Chicago or LA from £637. To book, visit www.americanairlines.com

In Seattle, we recommend the funky Hotel Five, while Portland’s boutique Hotel Monaco is also an absolute winner.

You can follow our 50 states challenge  - and win a holiday of your own to the US - every day in January at www.AA.com/UnitedStatesofAdventure 

To plan your own holiday to the US, visit www.discoveramerica. com


Our lads play ambassador and 'have some crabs'

By Wild Sky Media 19/01/2013 11:28

“So do they speak English in England?” asks the Amish teacher innocently, as we sit down to dinner. 

It sounds a ridiculous question, but when you have no access to TV or the internet, and boarding an aeroplane is strictly forbidden, “England” might as well be Mars. 

David Fiedler, an Amish guide in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

The eight silent children, lined up politely in descending height order across the table, are certainly staring at us as if we’re from another planet.


It’s day five of our breakneck tour of America and we’ve arrived in Pennsylvania - our 10th state - by way of Maryland and Delaware. We're in Lancaster County to be precise: the heartland of America's Amish community. 

A girl on a scooter passes a traditional Amish buggy on a farm road in Pennsylvania

In the former, we stopped for dinner at a 70-year-old crab shack in the coastal town of Havre de Grace, and unwittingly picked up a third member of the team: whiskey swigging local goldsmith, harmonica player and force of nature Wayne Werner. 

After showing us the correct way to dismember our dinner (“Hey, having crabs is a very social thing”), Wayne insists on taking us to a Blues bar across the border in Delaware, where he strolls straight up onto the stage and joins the startled band, harmonica in hand. 

Luckily Wayne has the musical talent to match his bravado, and soon the bar is rocking, with our new friend at the heart of the action. 

Wayne Werner (right) joins the band on stage in a bar in Wilmington, Delaware.

Our time with the Amish - once we’ve bid Wayne a fond farewell - is a completely different experience. 

After a lesson in driving their horse drawn ‘buggies’ (surprisingly easy) we are asked to help milk the cows (surprisingly hard) before sweeping the barn and then sitting down to dinner with Steve and Martha Stoltzfus and their eight immaculate children.  

Jonathan receives a lesson in Amish buggy driving 

The conversation is fascinating - from the youngsters’ fondness for Amish volleyball tournaments, to the parents‘ uncertainty about whether the British royal family are fact or fiction. 

Wayne Werner and the Stoltzfus family are so different that in American terms they might as well represent Hawaii and Alaska. But they also have an awful lot in common. 

For two consecutive nights, we’ve been warmly welcomed by local people, who’ve gone out of their way to help us experience their way of life first hand. On both occasions, they were strangers at the start of the evening and bona fide friends by the end of it. 

Perhaps this mad mission to hit all 50 states in 30 days won’t be so impossible after all.

Do it Yourself

Create your own adventure in Pennsylvania: Steve and Martha Stoltzfus, along with their family of eight children, are wonderful hosts with a guesthouse and idyllic self-catering cottage in Lancaster County.

Rooms at the Homestead Guesthouse are from £92 per night. For the best way to explore Amish country, try an Amish Buggy Ride – a horse-drawn carriage with an Amish tour-guide. A one-hour tour costs approx. £6 pp. Combine a visit to Lancaster with the historic and vibrant city of Philadelphia. Flights from £448 at www.americanairlines.com 

You can follow our adventure  - and win a holiday of your own to the US - every day in January at www.AA.com/UnitedStatesofAdventure 

To plan your own holiday to the US, visit www.discoveramerica. com


The lads encounter the dreaded 'Papagator' and move on to Virginia

By Wild Sky Media 15/01/2013 10:25

“Right now he looks friendly enough, but this fella would rip your arm right off - no problem,” says Johnny Tigertail, as he strokes the 9ft alligator under the chin. 

Johnny, a Miccosukee Indian, grew up on a tree island right here in the Florida Everglades. And that was where he learned to speak ‘gator. 

Alligator whisperer Johnny Tigertail talks to 'Papagator' in his native Everglades

The sound that emerges from his throat as he communicates with ‘Papagator’ is best described as somewhere between a good seal impression and a bad case of the hiccups. Either way, it works. Within seconds he has the vicious looking beast eating out of his hands - fresh frog legs to be precise. 

Florida is the fifth state on our 30-day dash around the entire US. Despite the fact that it is early January, the weather is still scorching enough to burn our unsuspecting necks as we speed across the vast swamplands and towards Miami airport in Johnny’s airboat.

Johnny Tigertail navigates the Everglades on his airboat

Next up for us is the significantly colder Washington DC - a short flight up the East Coast, but a world away from Johnny’s tree island. The US capital conceals more spies than any other city on the planet, so it’s fitting that it’s also home to the International Spy Museum.

Upon entering the museum, everybody is provided with an alias. Mine is ‘Gary Wozniak’ a 25-year-old teacher from Canada, in town on a stopover between Vancouver and Beijing.  

The museum itself is extremely impressive. In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out here (well, Gary is at least) and say it’s one of the very best I have/he has ever visited. From an exploration of ‘Ninja surveillance’ to examples of foreign agents’ “rectal tool kits”  and the evolution of 007 theme tunes, Nobody Does it Better.   

Mark and Jonathan go undercover at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC

As we cross the border into Virginia, we spot the first snow of our trip - and start adding layers like a pair of shivering Russian Dolls. We were wearing shorts, t-shirts and flipflops in the Florida Everglades just a few hours ago, but further up the East Coast, winter bites almost as viciously as Papagator, given half a chance.
The golden forests of Virginia: America's oldest colony

Our final state of the day is neighbouring West Virginia, which split from its eastern namesake during the American Civil War. We make a beeline for Harpers Ferry, the rugged 18th-century town which was decimated by fighting and changed hands between various groups of soldiers eight times, before subsequently been restored as a national historic park. 

The sun sets over battle-scarred West Virginia in a gobsmacking explosion of golds and crimsons as we enjoy a pint of the local Miner’s Daughter ale. Somewhere up there, Gary Wozniak is on a plane bound for Beijing. In the meantime, we’re heading for Maryland...  

Do it Yourself

Enjoy a Miccosukee-led airboat tour through the Florida Everglades from approx £400pp, including transfers, gourmet lunch and private guide. See Dragonfly expeditions for more. General admission to Washington’s outstanding International Spy Museum costs £14.50 per person.

You can follow our adventure  - and win a holiday of your own to the US - every day in January at www.AA.com/UnitedStatesofAdventure 

To plan your own holiday to the US, visit www.discoveramerica.com


The boys spend a day at a ranch and finish at Gordon Ramsay's crazy Vegas pub

By Wild Sky Media 08/01/2013 18:14
Speeding down the cavernous, gaping maw of the Grand Canyon in a helicopter feels a lot like being in a film. Actually, it feels like being in a lot of films: from Honey I Shrunk the Kids to Innerspace, with a healthy sprinkling of the podrace from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.  
Visitors to the Grand Canyon Ranch pass over Hoover Dam in a helicopter

Our hosts for this 45 minute cinematic uber-flight are Heli USA Airways (www.heliusa.com), who operate 70 “birds” out of Las Vegas - and there's not a single feather boa in sight. 

Our destination this afternoon is Grand Canyon Ranch, which sits almost directly on the Nevada-Arizona border. To get there, we fly directly through the Grand Canyon itself -  one of the Seven Wonders of the World.   

We’re in luck when we touch down at the ranch too. The owner - amiable Mancunian multi-millionaire Nigel Turner - is on the property today. As we step off the helipad, our fellow Brit strides towards us, leather coat swirling and spurs glinting in the golden sun. 

A Grand Canyon Ranch cowboy rounds up the horses 

The ranch is absolute fun. We ride away from the helipad in covered wagons, bouncing our way up to the main house, where we’re served a cowboy feast of hot beans, corn and beef.


Afterwards, we saddle up and ride our own horses to a vantage point overlooking nearby Spirit Mountain - a sacred place to the local Native American Indian tribes - as dusk starts to clear its throat. 

Visitors are driven to the ranch in the back of a horse-drawn wagon

With four tourists from Guildford riding back to Las Vegas in the helicopter alongside us, the pilot jokes he’s aiding and abetting a British invasion of Sin City. It’s ironic, because tonight we’re eating at the hottest new restaurant on the strip: Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Pub and Grill’ at Caesar’s Palace (www.caesarspalace.com)

Inside Gordon Ramsay's Pub and Grill at Caesar's Palace

As the slot machines sing and laugh at their endless conveyor belt of hopeful duellists, we sip Boddingtons and eat shepherd’s pie under two enormous posters: one of Matt Goss and the other of Rod Stewart. It’s rather odd.


Today has been hectic to say the least  - but also the best day of our month-long adventure so far. At the end of a long day on an Englishman’s cattle ranch in Arizona, then in a Brit-smitten Super Casino in Vegas, it’s like we never left home. We still have nearly a while until we see Old England again though, with no less than 46 states to go... 

Do it Yourself

Perfectly positioned, a little beyond the brightest lights of The Strip, The Hilton Grand Vacations Suites Las Vegas costs from £80 per suite per night. 

An easy day trip from Las Vegas, see the stunning Grand Canyon from the sky with a helicopter ride from £170 pp with Heli USA. Combine this with a true cowboy experience at The Grand Canyon Ranch, (www.grandcanyonranch.com) Gordon Ramsay has just opened Gordon Ramsay’s Pub & Grill at Caesar’s Palace (www.caesarspalace.com)

You can follow our adventure  - and win a holiday of your own to the US - every day in January at www.AA.com/UnitedStatesofAdventure 


The lads create a stir in Honolulu, Hawaii

By Wild Sky Media 04/01/2013 12:12

Days in US: 1

States visited: 1

Number of times mistaken for Australians: 2

Modes of transport: 6 (plane; car; bus; boat; jet pack; surfboard)

It’s day one of our breakneck tour around the United States, and by my reckoning we’ve already clocked up five different modes of transport. 

It’s the fifth one in particular that’s creating a stir around me - both in the ocean itself and on a number of passing boats. 

This is Hawaii, the first of our 50 States, and I’ve found the perfect way to decimate any lingering jetlag after our long flight over from London: the Jetlev R200

Jonathan rises out of the Hawaiian water strapped into a Jet Lev. 

Built as an homage to the jet pack that Sean Connery’s 007 flies in the opening sequence of Goldfinger, the JetLev is propelled skywards by two powerful water jets. It’s superb fun to fly once you get the hang of the steering, but I do have to grapple with my fair share of ...ahem... Skyfall first.  At least the water’s nice and warm. And soft to land in. 

After parking the JetLev and checking into our hotel - The Outrigger Waikiki Beach -  (www.outriggerwaikikihotel.com), we make the short drive west out of Honolulu to Barber’s Point for a surf lesson.


Hawaiian Fire (www.hawaiianfire.com), one of the island’s biggest surf schools, run two classes a day from this sheltered, idyllic beach and can boast alumni - former ‘members of the board’ if you will - ranging from Mena Suvari to the mighty Chuck Norris. 

Jonathan gets some instruction from the Hawaiian Fire Surf School.

Either the teaching is extremely good or the Jetlev has imbued me with some serious balance and confidence, because I’m up and riding on my first wave, and spend two happy hours repeating the feat in the sunshine. (It probably has a lot to do with the fact that none of the waves here get much over  four foot too!)   

An old VW Camper parked up in Haleiwa on the Hawaii's North Shore.

Later, we drive up to Oahu’s famous North Shore to see some “proper” waves hammering the coast near Haleiwa like heavy artillery. The waves here are so big that even vastly experienced surfers have to be ‘towed in‘ with jet skis to ride them. Yet another mode of transport for the day? I think I’ve ridden my luck enough. It’s time to fly onto our second state, California...
The sun sets over the famous big waves of Hawaii's North Shore.

Do it Yourself

An introductory jet packing experience in Hawaii with Seabreeze Watersports starts from £110pp. A group surf lesson with the Hawaii Fire Surf School costs £67pp.

You can follow our adventure  - and win a holiday of your own to the US - every day in January at www.AA.com/UnitedStatesofAdventure 


Bloggers Jonathan and Mark attempt to visit a record-breaking 50 American states in 30 days

By JRThompson 31/12/2012 10:37

Location: England (The 51st State)


So this is it. In a few short days, Mark and I will be crossing the Atlantic to chase our very own American Dream around every super sized corner of the USA. 

We’ll be stopping in all 50 States during our epic journey, from the frozen mountains of Alaska to the white sand beaches of Hawaii, the Everglades of Florida to the skyscraper canyons of New York. The catch? We have to prove we’ve set foot in all 50, we have to find an adventure in each one, and we only have 30 days to do it.  

It’s possible, but it’s going to be difficult. We’ll not only have to struggle against airport schedules and the vagaries of public transport, but also against potential temporary obesity and inevitable accusations of Australianism.

Mark and Jonathan fighting the freezing conditions in Antarctica on a recent adventure

Together, the two of us have been lucky enough to make adventure travel our living over the last decade, and it’s presented us with some serious challenges - from a near miss in a Mauritian canyon to overnight survival on Antarctica. But this is the biggest gauntlet that’s been slapped in our faces to date, and for that we need to be prepared.


Jonathan canyoning in Mauritius recently. Mark was suspended upside down under a waterfall for most of the day waiting for the money shot

With temperatures ranging from nearly 30C in Hawaii to -3C in the Alaskan capital of Juneau, clothing and kit is going to be crucial. We have to be clever about what we pack in our official ‘Juggernaut’ bags from trip sponsors Mountain Hardwear because America might well be The Land of the Brave but during January, it’s also The Home of The Freezing. 

Kit for 30 Days of Adventure in the US. Temperatures will go from +30C in Hawaii to well below zero in Alaska as the team traverse all 50 States

So what are we hoping to find in Uncle Sam’s back pockets as we rummage around his closet? Adventure, a new perspective on well-known destinations and above all - fun. In fact - you're welcome to set us dares while we're out there.


Our first few adventures include riding a jet pack in Hawaii, a night out in Las Vegas and riding through the alligator-infested Everglades. Either comment underneath or have your say on the MSN Lifestyle Facebook and Twitter accounts.


If you like, you can follow our adventure every day in January at www.AA.com/UnitedStatesofAdventure

About the bloggers
  • Jonathan Thompson, Mark ChilversJonathan and Mark

    Jonathan Thompson and photographer Mark Chilvers have travelled to all seven continents together, producing travel features for national newspapers and magazines over the last decade.

    Their multi-award winning stories have seen them visit more than 40 countries, with assignments ranging from Cosmonaut training school in Russia to the elephant polo world cup in Thailand; jet pack testing in Florida to ice climbing in Antarctica.
    Over the month of January 2013, the fearless duo will be touring all 50 States of America: against the clock and in search of adventure.  
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