Brad Burris has covered a lot of ground in the past six years. Since 1999, the freshman, his parents and younger brother, Brian, have visited all 50 states, driving through the lower 48 and flying to Alaska and Hawaii.
The idea for the trips originated on a family vacation to Florida, when Brian, looking at a puzzle in the form of a United States map, asked if the family could see the whole country before he graduated from high school. It seemed like a good idea, so each summer the family plotted out a section of the country and hit the road in their trusty Ford Explorer. Most of the trips spanned two or three weeks, and the time spent in each state varied—from two or three days in larger states to a brief stop for some of the smaller ones.
Along the road, some indelible images burned themselves into Brad’s memory—the excitement of large cities like New York and Seattle, the near-absurdity of South Dakota’s Corn Palace and the army of outlandishly coiffed youth dining at the Jack-in-the-Box drive-in in Needles, Calif. The long ride—and some of the shorter stops—only whetted his appetite for more. “Spending a short time in each state makes you want to go back because you didn’t get to do all the things you wanted to do,” he says.