In 1984 my father began a quest, albeit unconventional. He was 47 and his mission was to visit the capitols of the lower 48 states on foot, starting in Illinois, where we lived, following a counter-clockwise roadmap of his own making. By age 72, he’d trekked to 23 capitals walking approximately 4,085 miles.
Unfortunately, at 87, my father will not finish his quest. Therefore, I am assuming my father’s mantle to complete the last 26 capitol routes –– with a small tweak. I’m going forward by bike.
I was 14 when my father started his unusual pursuit, which made me an embarrassed and frustrated teenager. No teenager wants ‘weird parents’. And this was just one more thing in a long line of traits that made my parents ‘weird’ in my teenage eyes!
I had no idea what motivated my head-down midwestern engineer father to embark on such an unorthodox journey. I couldn’t explain it to my friends, and I knew we couldn’t possibly share anything in common; I just wanted to fit in, he wanted to always be doing something different.
But I am starting to believe I was wrong all along. Ironically, I grew up and undertook my own unusual nomadic quest, quitting my IT analyst job at 36 years old to travel to over 75 countries and live location-independent for 11 years. The older I became, the more I wanted to blaze my own trail, skip the conventional parts of life, and be different. Suddenly I was my dad.
By continuing my father’s quest to visit all of the capitols in an unconventional way, I hope to examine my evolving relationship with my parents more.
Capitol to Capitol Route and ‘The Rules’
Every big quest needs some rules. When my dad started this – he had certain ‘rules’ that he followed. Many of these rules were created out of necessity. My dad worked full time and had to work on this quest little by little during his time off and weekends.
- You had to walk into and out of a capitol
- You didn’t have to do it all at once. He could walk 3 days on a route and then not get back to do more on that route until 3 years later, where he could walk another 4 days.
- You didn’t have to do them in order or wait to finish one to start another. He had multiple routes in progress at once. In fact, when he stopped walking, he had 7 routes that were in progress.
- You never took a ride. Boots on the ground the entire way.
YouTube Capitol to Capitol Docu-Series
When I started the quest, I knew I wanted to cover it in a different way than my normal blogging. I asked one of my best friends and past business partner, Michaela Potter, to help me with covering this documentary style. It would be a chance for me to record what my parents accomplished all those years ago so that it wouldn’t be forgotten when they were gone.
So we headed to South Dakota, dug maps out of the attic and started to document this crazy quest.
Why Walk Capitol to Capitol
The burning question on everyone’s mind is why…why did your dad do this? That’s a great question – yet I don’t have a solid answer.
When I ask my dad this question directly, I don’t get the answer I’m looking for – some big revelation, emotional, touching, relatable ‘why’. Instead – I get exactly what I should know I’ll get from my dad – pragmatism.
He says he simply liked big projects, and why stop at one capitol – why not walk to all of them and make it a big project. No, there was no event that sprouted this idea; no big life change, no mid-life crisis – he just woke up one day and decided he would walk from Springfield Illinois to Madison Wisconsin.
This has led me to believe that my dad was Forest Gump before we had Forest Gump.
My dad was a lot of things…but he was never emotional, sentimental, or even talkative really. He was and still is a hard worker. My parents have a German Lutheran background which basically equates to a family culture of emotional blindness. We aren’t over expressive, we tend to keep our thoughts/feelings inside and to ourself, we don’t confront, we don’t analyze our existence and try to create meaning out of it…we just are.
Therefore, it didn’t really surprise me that my dad didn’t have some meaningful answer to why he decided to walk from capitol to capitol.
Why Cycle Capitol to Capitol
I can’t answer the why for my father, but I can answer it for me. I’m re-starting this quest at 52 years old – not too far off from the age my dad was when he started walking. I’ve thought a lot about why I’m doing this – because I do examine my thoughts and feelings constantly – probably too much! But the key here is that all of these ‘whys’ are integral to who I am – it’s the stuff that drives me; it’s the ingredients to what makes me Sherry Ott.
I live for having purpose in life. From 2016 forward, I had been losing my purpose little by little. By then I had been traveling and blogging about it for 10 years, and quite frankly – it was getting predictable. The world of blogging and social media was morphing into something that I was frustrated by, and I felt like I was floundering to find my place in it. I didn’t feel like I had anything that was driving me to get up every day. I was devoid of purpose and flirting with depression.
Once I decided to take over the Capitol project, suddenly I had purpose again. Much like my dad, all I needed was a big project to latch onto. But unlike my dad – part of my excitement of purpose is that I get to share it with people and hopefully inspire people.
This project is so big that it can be overwhelming at times, but it also gives me a reason to get up every morning, be creative, push myself and have a unique purpose again.
Finish What Was Started
Parents shape and mold you – whether you like it or not. My father influenced me to be a hard worker, be productive, be a Cornhusker fan, and my mother influenced me to be caring, love to cook, and have a creative imagination. Both of them also instilled in me to finish what we started.
When I was in high school, I wanted to quit the basketball team. But there was no way that my father would allow me to quit in the middle of the season – no matter how unhappy I was. I finished out the season and didn’t try out again the next year. For my dad, that was an example of how to be a good human being.
I was always a bit sad that my father never finished his unique quest. It seemed to go against his DNA. The ‘never quit’ trait that my father instilled in me played a big role in why I decided to resurrect this quest.
It Scares Me
I have a magnet on my fridge that says “Do one thing that scares you every day” these are words I live by. I hate being fearful. And I find that the one way to get over fear is to take on the thing that scares you. Sometimes you jump into them, and sometimes it’s baby steps…but you need to confront it.
Fear can be motivating. This is why I left my job in 2006 and traveled around the world by myself. It is why I moved to Vietnam for a year so that I could learn how to ride a motorbike in the scariest traffic I had seen in the world. I also did the Mongol Rally because I was scared to drive in foreign countries.
The concept of biking across America on busy highways, backroads, and relying solely on my aging leg power scares me. In addition, to pull this off, I need to convince people to help me – and asking for help is something I’m not particularly good at. But I know there is only one way to get over it and build my confidence as a cyclist – I just have to confront my fear and do it.
I hated my dad’s project as a teenager – I thought it was an embarrassment to me personally! As a twenty something – I just sort of ignored it and chalked it up to another weird thing my dad did to be different and difficult. In my 30’s, I think I started to grow some admiration for it as I started nearing middle age and started my life of travel and discovery. In my 40’s I became impressed with it.
There are few ideas in this world that are truly unique – and somehow my dad started this unique quest back in the 80’s that no one has ever done thru all of these years.
That’s just downright amazing to me – to have come up with an idea that no one else has done and it has stood the test of time. I’ve done research and have not found any information about anyone else attempting to walk from Capitol to Capitol in the US.
However – sadly I have found out that there is at least one person who has cycled from capitol to capitol – and that nearly wrecked me and stopped this project right away for me. Yes – I’m just that crazy about wanting to be unique. But as I thought about it, I still wanted to finish what my dad started, even if someone had done it by bicycle before. After all – this joint quest was still different and had a lot of meaning to me.
Travel and See the US
I’ve been traveling all over the world as a career since 2006 – I love traveling and visiting new places and remote cultures. Travel is in my blood. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t get burned out on travel. When the pandemic hit, it forced me to sit still which I desperately needed. As I survived those 2 years of little travel, I realized that I spent 14 years traveling internationally, but very little time traveling domestically.
I had a big interest in seeing more of the US, at a slow pace. The capitol to capitol quest was the perfect way to do that. It would primarily take me through the rural parts of the US where I could soak up that lesser seen American culture. I have a love of traveling to the lesser-known places, and this project would take me through the heart of America and those less seen regions.
Promote the Capitol Cities
The capital of Illinois is Springfield, not Chicago. The capital of California is Sacramento, not LA. The capital of Florida is Tallahassee, not Miami. Often times the state capital cities are obscure, smaller cities. And nothing makes me happier than traveling to and promoting travel to places that people often overlook.
I knew that as a travel blogger, I wanted to promote more of the 2nd and 3rd tier cities in America and this project would do just that.
Cycling is New to Me
I have a powerful addiction to ‘new’. It’s the reason I fell in love with travel, why I stayed nomadic for so many years, why I moved around the US in my previous corporate career – I love experiencing new things and places.
Cycling is completely new to me. I started biking during the Pandemic as a way to get out and explore my city. But soon my love for learning about cycling paths, gear, etiquette, cyclists, tools, was all swimming in my mind – and I loved it. It has been a great journey for me to learn about this new sport and on each capitol route there is something more I learn!
Combine all of these things – and it’s the perfect recipe for a big epic adventure for me. One that motivates, excites, and challenges me. This is the stuff that makes me happy.
Read about my other Big Projects and Epic Quests I’ve done
Mongol Rally – Driving London to Mongolia in an inappropriate car
Niece Project – Taking each of my 6 nieces traveling with me
Rickshaw Run – Driving an Indian rickshaw across India 2000 miles
Cycling Capitol to Capitol
The quest has started! And I’ve already experienced every type of emotion I can about it. I’m scared, happy, fearful, confident, frustrated…you name it. But with this I feel alive and purposeful again.
I have already learned so much about bike travel, route planning, and cycling in traffic. And the best part is that every time I finish a route – there’s a part of me that is sad that it’s done. Who knows how I’ll feel after doing 26 of them!
Logistics Queen and Support Vehicle
I enlist the help of a support person for each route. My ‘Logistics Queen’ drives my car and is there when/if I need support, food, water, help, cheerleading, etc. I have traveled all over the world solo, and I live my life pretty solo (unmarried, no kids). That is great, but it’s also a challenge and I get tired of doing everything on my own. Having a Logistics Queen gives me a partner – something I rarely have. I find a special joy in experiencing these routes with another person – it truly is a team effort.
I need them for physical and emotional support as well as comradery – and for that I am so grateful for the Queens.
This Capitol to Capitol quest is not only a way for me to honor what my father and mother set out to do back before technology ruled our lives, but to know them and, in doing so, learn more about how we relate to our family through our lifetime. This is an adventure about what drives us, our family connections, rural cultures, and the lesser seen United States – how we are all different, yet maybe more alike than what we think.
I hope you’ll join and support me on this quest.
Commonly Asked Questions About the Capitol to Capitol Quest:
Why Capitol Buildings?
My father chose to go from Capitol building to Capitol Building because it was a specific place within a city that presumably wasn’t going anywhere over time.
How will you complete Alaska and Hawaii?
My father always planned to do the lower 48 states plus DC – he never planned to do those two hard-to-reach capitols. Currently I’m following his plan.
How many miles do you have left to finish the quest?
I will have to bike about 8000 to 9000 miles to finish his quest!
Has anyone ever done this before?
No one has ever walked from capitol to capitol before, however there has been someone who biked from capitol to capitol. But of course this project is unique to my family.
How long will it take you to finish cycling to the capitols?
I don’t know! Currently since I still need to work and make money – I plan to do about 4 routes a year. At that rate it’ll take about 7 years.
How do you determine your capitol routes?
That is one of the hardest parts to this quest – if figuring out my cycling route between capitols. Unlike my father who could walk off road fairly easily – I cannot – so I have to stick to cycle friendly roads. I currently use a combination of Komoot – an app that helps me plan multi day routes to start route planning. Then I take that and use Google street view to see the status of the roads. It’s a very long and tedious (and stressful) process so far!
Will you write a book about this?
I hope so…but I can’t commit to it yet. Right now my focus is to get the Docu-series going and hopefully get it funded to help with expenses.
What bike are you riding?
Currently I ride a Women’s Trek Checkpoint ALR5. It’s a gravel bike that allows me to have some choices in my routes which is key on a quest like this. I love my bike!!
How Can I Help?
Thanks for asking! You can help in any number of ways…and I appreciate any one of them you can do!
- Be a Logistics Queen for me. Email me for more info on how and what it entails. I keep a running list of people who want to be future Queens.
- Subscribe to my YouTube Docu-series. Subscribers help me monetize my channel.
- Follow my live adventures on Instagram each time I attempt a capitol route and cheer me on…I need a cheering section!!
- Provide places to stay along my route. These trips can be expensive and I’m currently funding everything myself – so any help in reducing my expenses is appreciated.
- Help with publicity – Know any writers, editors, podcasters, news shows, magazines that would be interested in covering this story? Please tell them about it – and pass on their info to me to follow up.
- Ride with me! Are you a cyclist? Want to ride with me for a day – or an entire route? Email me for more info on joining me!
- Tell your adventure loving, bike loving friends about this. Audience is king in my world of trying to secure sponsorships, etc.
- Do you know a brand or company who would like to sponsor a route, a video episode, etc? Please let me know and I’m happy to follow up!
Capitol to Capitol Quest Coverage
Capital Journal Newspaper Pierre South Dakota: Continuing the Joitalurney – Daughter Picks Up Father’s Journey to Pierre and Beyond
KFYR Bismarck ND: State Capitol Honor Ride Years in the Making
KXNET Bismarck ND: Travel Blogger Takes a Unique Journey to North Dakota