Gawker’s Worst 50 States

I’ve been following Gawker’s newest series, The Worst 50 States. I’ve been enjoying following this series. In an effort to pin down not only the best states in the US of A, but, more importantly, the worst states, Gawker compiled a Gawker-invented rating system in order to rank our fair fifty. Granted, this rating system consists solely of the viewpoints of those on staff for Gawker, so the viewpoints are just about as biased as you would deem Gawker (Which might be not at all according to you!), but there’s some interesting stuff in there. Yes, they’re focusing on the bad more than the good, those damn pessimists, but all in all, fact or fiction, the commentary on the 50 states is makes me laugh. And, I’ll just throw this in there, I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states and much of every summary they make rings true to me. They’re not done wrapping up the states yet, but check out their analysis of most of the states here.

If you’re inflamed, saddened, or curling over with laughter after reading what’s so bad about your home state, come back here and tell us in the comments how Gawker made you feel.

Study Ranks States By Individual Freedom

Stand up paddling the length of the Mississippi River

Stand up paddling the length of the Mississippi RiverAt more than 2400 miles in length, the mighty Mississippi is one of the longest rivers in North America. The iconic waterway, which has become an indelible part of American folklore, stretches from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, passing through the heart of the nation in the process. Over the years, the muddy waters of the Mississippi have been explored by every kind of watercraft from steamboat and simple river raft to kayaks and modern motorboats. Now, British adventurer Dave Cornthwaite is attempting to become the latest person to travel the length of the river from source to sea, but he’s doing it on a stand up paddle board.

In recent years, stand up paddling (SUP) has become a popular activity amongst outdoor enthusiasts looking to spend some time on their local rivers, lakes, or even ocean. The sport is a combination of surfing and paddling, that has participants standing on a surfboard while using an oar to help maneuver and generate forward momentum. Most stand up paddlers restrict themselves to relatively calm bodies of water, but the more skilled athletes have taken to challenging themselves on big waves and wild rapids.

Back in early June, Cornthwaite traveled to the headwaters of the Mississippi located at Lake Itasca, and started his southward journey. By last week he had arrived in Minneapolis, having already covered approximately 500 miles. That leaves him with more than 1900 miles yet to go, and he expects that it will take him well into September before he reaches the finish line in New Orleans, where the river enters into the Gulf at last.

This stand up paddle adventure is just the latest long distance journey that Cornthwaite has undertaken. He has already traveled from Vancouver to Las Vegas on a tandem bike and kayaked Australia’s Murry River – a distance of nearly 1480 miles. Even more impressive, he once went 3618 miles coast-to-coast across Australia using only a skateboard. All of these trips are part of his Expedition 1000 project, during which he hopes to complete 25 unique journeys of at least a 1000 miles in length, while only using non-motorized forms of transportation. Along the way he also hopes to raise £1 million ($1.5 million) for charity.

So what’s it like for Dave while he’s out on the water? Check out the video below for an idea.




[Photo courtesy of Dave Cornthwaite]

How to be a good house guest when visiting a friend abroad

good house guestIf you ever have a friend living abroad or meet someone traveling who extends you an invitation to come to their city, take advantage of the opportunity and go visit. Seeing the city with the help and knowledge of a local or native is invaluable, especially if they know you and your point of view, plus it can save you money in travel expenses (see more reasons to visit a friend from Mike Barish, who was an excellent guest last year).After a year in Istanbul, I’ve hosted a dozen or so guests and seen all the big tourist sites more times than I needed, but also had a great time showing friends and new acquaintances around my new city.

No matter how well you know your host, you still should aim to be a good house guest (you want to get invited back, right?). After you book your tickets, here are some more pre-travel plans to make before visiting a friend abroad.

  1. Do your research before you go – When your host asks, “What do you want to do while you’re in town?” you might think that saying “Oh, whatever, I’m here to see YOU!” shows how flexible and low-key you are. What it really does is put pressure on your friend to come up with a plan to entertain you and show you the best side of the city. You may not want to present them with a checklist either, but knowing what sights are important for you to see and what interests you can help your host figure out where to take you. You might learn what’s overrated or stumble upon something no tourists know about.
  2. Bring gifts from home – I’ve asked for a lot of oddly specific items in the last year from visitors from the US – Ziploc bags, Easter candy, and the ever-popular expat-in-a-Muslim-country request: pork. But some of my favorite gifts have been unsolicited: two friends brought me things from their home cities, including wild rice from Minnesota and Ghirardelli chocolate from San Francisco. Imagine what you’d like if you were away from home for an extended period of time: gossip magazines? Beef jerky? Some New York bagels? Just because it seems common to you doesn’t mean your friend (expat or foreign) won’t be delighted.
  3. Give your hosts some space – Whether your friend has a night or a week to spend with you, respect their time and space, especially when they are spending it playing tour guide with you. While I’m lucky to work from home, I still need time every day to answer emails and write fine blog content like this, and appreciate friends who have found other ways to entertain themselves for a few hours. Take the time to do a super-touristy activity your friend wouldn’t be caught dead doing, catch up on the local history, or just go hang out at a cafe on your own. I spent a great afternoon last summer with a visiting friend sitting by the Bosphorus, drinking beer and reading books – no itinerary required.
  4. Share your “fresh eye” with your host – No matter how long your friend has lived in town, they probably don’t know EVERY restaurant or piece of local trivia. If you read about a cool new restaurant, make reservations and treat your host to dinner. Taking a walking tour one afternoon? Maybe your friend would like to learn more about the area too. This makes your pre-trip research all the more valuable and take the pressure off your host to come up with fun new things all the time.
  5. Stay in one night – While it’s a lot of fun to eat out when traveling, it can get old fast, not to mention expensive. If you are in town more than a few days, offer to make dinner or order take-out for your host. Just going to the supermarket in a foreign country or discovering what Chinese food is like in Turkey can be a memorable travel experience. A night staying with your friends, sharing some good duty-free wine (another thing to add to your host gift!), can be a perfect way to end your visit.

Any other tips you’d share with house guests (or hosts)? Leave them in the comments below.

5 great ways to explore national parks under your own power

Traveling through the national parks under your own power is its own rewardThere is no doubt that America’s national parks are popular tourist destinations. The past few years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of visitors to the parks, and many of them have been setting attendance records as a result.

With the summer fast approaching, many of us are no doubt making plans for our vacations, with many electing to visit a national park once again this year. The vast majority of those visitors will never wander far from their car, but to get a true sense of what the parks have to offer, you really should ditch the vehicle and strike out under your own power. In doing so, you’ll get a much better sense of the landscapes around you, and have a better chance of connecting with nature too. Here are five ways that you can do just that.

Hike the Great Smoky Mountains
With more than 800 miles of trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, there is a route for just about everyone. From short excursions and day hikes, to multi-day epics for the backpacker crowd, this is a park that is sure to please any outdoor enthusiast. With lush green forests, crystal clear streams, and breathtaking mountain tops, the Smoky Mountains have it all. But you can’t experience the best they have to offer from you car, so put on your hiking shoes and hit the trail. I recommend the 8-mile round-trip hike to Charlies Bunion, a popular mountain walk that is more than worth the effort.

Raft The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is truly one of the great natural wonders of the world. It is so vast in size and scope that you simply have to see it to truly understand just how large it really is. That size is magnified even further while you’re rafting the mighty Colorado River, with the mile-high walls of the Canyon looming far overhead. Visitors have a number of options when it comes to paddling the river, ranging from short half and full day excursions to multi-day options lasting as much as 25 days in length. The whitewater in the Grand Canyon will have your heart pounding in your chest, and once you’ve calmed down from the adrenaline rush, you can enjoy a gentle drift down the Colorado, with those amazing landscapes completely surrounding you.
Go Climbing In Yosemite
In addition to being one of the most beautiful places you will ever see, Yosemite also happens to be one of the great rock climbing destinations on the planet. Each year, climbers from all over the world descend on the park to test their skills on its legendary rock walls, some of which are so famous that they are well known by their unique names. There are routes available for all skill levels, including beginners, but obviously this is not an activity for everyone. For those not wanting to climb rock walls, I’d recommend the Half-Dome Summit Trail, which offers access to the top of one of Yosemite’s most famous landmarks along a route that includes cables to help you make your way. (Permit required!)

Kayak The North Woods in Voyageurs
Voyageurs National Park, located in the extreme northern border of Minnesota and Canada, is one of the best hidden gems in the entire National Park System. It is remote, pristine, and quiet, with some of the thickest forests you’ll find in the U.S. The best way to explore this park, no, the only way to explore this park, is from the seat of a kayak. Visitors can paddle through a series of interconnected waterways that wander past wilderness islands and shorelines with plenty of wildlife to view along the way. If you have more than a day, you may want to camp at one of the campsites that are only accessible by boat.

Cycle Through Acadia
With its spectacular mix of ocean views and mountain vistas, Acadia National Park, located in Maine, makes for a fantastic summertime destination. But to really see the park, you should leave your vehicle behind and hop on your bicycle instead. The 27-mile long Park Loop Road is an excellent ride for those who want to explore the park, but that route can get crowded with cars, especially in the summer. For more solitude, hit the Heart of Acadia loop trail, which is a 22-mile long road that is completely free of motor vehicles. The path is best suited for mountain bikes, but offers some of the best views in the park, including scenic overlooks that will take your breath away. You won’t be disappointed!

While these are perfect examples of national park adventures sans cars, nearly every park in the U.S. system has similar options. Need further incentive to explore the park under your own power this year? Consider this, the price of gas is expected to hit record levels this summer, which means you can save a little cash by leaving the car behind and exploring on foot, bike, or other means.

[Photos courtesy of the National Park Service]

Whale burps found on Lake Superior shore

If you’re unclear on what a whale burp is, you’re not the only one. Often misconstrued to be connected in some way to whales (and I wonder why that is… ), whale burps are actually purely environmental–no whales necessary. They don’t look too unlike rubberband balls. Except they’re made up of pine needles, bird shells, twigs, and other natural debris… as well as a disconcerting unnatural item: strands of plastic.

It’s believed that these bad news balls form when strands of plastic roll around with natural debris.

And they’ve formed and come to shore in Duluth, Minnesota.

A Lake Superior beach sweep in 2010 yielded thousands of pieces of plastic items. Volunteers collected the plethora of garbage, but there’s clearly more where all of that came from. This particular plastic appears to be the kind often used in contruction, in silt fences, for example.

I spent a week this past summer on Lake Superior. After watching the sunset on those ostensibly sparkling clean shores so many nights in a row, it breaks my heart to know that the lake’s pollution is now rolling up on the shores.

[Thanks, Treehugger]

[photo by Ben Britz]