Becoming a not-so-hidden pearl
I focused on my home state and my ‘second home state,’ Ohio and Michigan, to force myself to discover what has been unseen by my eyes for the last 26 years and help others discover the ease of exploring within their goals, abilities, and passions.
from Amanda Williams' blog Unpacking Hidden Pearls
Amanda Williams: Becoming a not-so-hidden pearl
Ohio State Lima alum Amanda Williams should probably come with a warning label. Spend any amount of time with her and you are likely to find yourself trying things you never expected. Her enthusiasm is infectious. A passing conversation and you could be off to the local museum. A dinner and you’re buying an atlas and plotting a trip to the Dum-Dum factory with a side visit to a nearby winery.
Williams’ own atlases (plural) are dog-eared, colored on, and come complete with notes about her two-year travel adventure that spanned all 50 states, all the counties of Ohio and Michigan, and a summer side trip to Norway. Did we mention that Williams is a full-time third grade teacher? She is and did not miss a day of work for her travels. Her visits were made on the weekends and in the summer.
When Williams graduated from The Ohio State University in 2015 with a bachelor of science in early childhood education and embarked on a career as an educator, she found herself sitting at home with more free time than in college.
“I started walking at nine months old, so I have always been on the move. There is something that is not fulfilling to me about waking up, going to work, coming home, watching television, and going to bed just to wake up and do it all over again,” Williams said. “Finding joy in life and looking for new things has kept me exploring.”
By 2017, Williams had aimed her car to the west to explore the United States.
“I turned on my inner Dixie Chick and screamed ‘Wide Open Spaces’ while I traveled out west by myself for four full weeks,” Williams said.
Her travel goal for 2017 was to visit all the continental states, beginning with a trip to Key West. It soon expanded to all 50 states, with Hawaii coming in at the end.
Her 2018 travel goal encompassed visiting all 88 counties of her home state of Ohio and 83 of her “practically home” state of Michigan and doing two things in each county she had never done. She hit them all. In the process she did a cave trail and a donut trail and has the T-shirts to prove it. She camped in cars, tents and twice in a hotel room, and met countless people happy to talk about their local claims to fame.
“I focused on my home state and my ‘second home state,’ Ohio and Michigan, to force myself to discover what has been unseen by my eyes for the last 26 years and help others discover the ease of exploring within their goals, abilities, and passions,” she wrote in her blog.
Hints of her enthusiasm for adventure were clear during her time at Ohio State Lima. She bloomed where she was planted and brought her friends, classmates, clubmates and assorted acquaintances along for the ride. The littles to her big in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program went to the Allen County Fair, campus art openings and any other place she could think of to expand their horizons. After graduation when she discovered that her second graders at the Liberty Arts Magnet saw the university as some far-off, unachievable place, Williams loaded them up and brought them out for a day-long visit to Ohio State Lima.
Williams now teaches third grade at Bath Elementary. Her current and past students are an inspiration and captivated audience for tales of her travels. She takes Pearl the Peacock, a thrift store “travel companion” find, along as their representative on her trips.
“There are two things we always say on Fridays: ‘Read, read, read’ and ‘Make every day an adventure,’ ” Williams said. “We talk about different ways you can have an adventure rather than you going out of your home. You can build a fort, read, play outside. You know, whatever you do make it an adventure because I want to encourage them to try something new.”
Williams’ adventures are infinitely achievable even for those pressed for time or money. She never took a vacation day from teaching to travel and gravitated to free or low-cost activities, preferably with an outdoor element.
“Going somewhere new that you read about is one thing. Discovering a hidden ‘pearl’ that is rarely seen is another,” Williams said. “I encourage my students to play outside, so why should adults be any different? It really shouldn't be a surprise that that best kept secrets are free, outside, and ready to be unpacked!”
Pinning her down to her favorite state is hard.
“Definitely Alaska. There is nothing like it – the colors, the lifestyle, the culture of it. I just really like that a lot. I also really liked the Pacific Northwest. I particularly liked Alabama. Pretty much, I like the Gulf of Mexico with the little shore towns similar to those along the Great Lakes, and there’s always the mountains,” she said. “Michigan was right up there because it’s so diverse. Ohio, it’s home. There’s so much to do here in Ohio and I think the people here forget that, especially over the weekends. People in Ohio don’t realize the goods we produce, the rich history we have, the trails already paved for us. All within our fingertips.”
Williams is secure enough in her Buckeyehood to travel deep into Michigan on any given football Saturday and yell out “OH” to anyone wearing scarlet and gray. She has good reason. Williams comes from a long line of buckeyes. She attended Ohio State Lima with a cousin and later a sibling. Other relatives are attending or have graduated from a variety of Ohio State campuses. Her grandfather is better known to Buckeye Nation as BuckeyeMan. OH comes naturally.
While her friends and relatives were reliable traveling companions, much of Williams’ travel was solo. Before embarking on her tour of the 50 states in 2017, she tried out some smaller trips to prove to herself that she could.
“While working in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in college, I took multiple trips to experience Michigan in a positive light. Then I started looking at maps and obscure geographical places. Before too long, I created a list of places I wanted to go,” Williams said. “The first two stops happened to be the continental US' northernmost and southernmost points: Angle Inlet and Key West. Driving to them is no small feat. They seemed obscure and notable, so why not see it for myself?”
Williams’ experience is designed to show people that all you need to push your own boundaries is curiosity and a willingness to explore. With those qualities, you can find something to see and do regardless of job, health or relationship status.
The last official visit in Ohio to reach her goal was to her home county of Champaign and the Ohio Fish and Shrimp Festival in landlocked Urbana, where she petted a sturgeon. In Michigan it was to Luna Pier in Monroe County to visit a tiny but delightful library, enjoy a Polish lunch and take Pearl the Peacock to visit Lake Erie, as Pearl had never been.
After she wound up her visits, Williams asked her blog and Facebook followers to weigh in on which was the better state to visit, Ohio or Michigan. Her answer – “WHEREVER I AM!”
Williams already has some goals for 2019. One of the enduring takeaways has been her love of the lighthouses and shores of the Great Lakes. On any given weekend in the summer, she might be crewing on a scientific field trip boat or keeping the lighthouse at St. Helena Island in the Mackinac Straits.
“I’m going to go back to all of the places that I really enjoyed and visit a few national parks,” she said. “I’m also trying to stay more active to celebrate my ability of being able to, so I’m going to do one mile of running every day and one set of active events every month. And then, we’ll see how far we go: maybe 1000 miles in a year. A snowshoe 5K and some snowshoeing events are happening, too, that I’m going to do. And then, there’s this mini triathlon that I’m going to do. It’s like a run, bike, polar plunge thing. So this whole next year is focusing on being mindful of what is important. Less is more.”
2018 Travel Statistics
• Did two new things in Ohio’s 88 counties
• Did two new things in Michigan’s 83 counties
• 230.5 days in Ohio
• 67.5 days in Michigan
• 67 days internationally
• 31,000 miles on her cars, including 16,633 on her new car
• 1 fewer Michigan deer that caused the need for a new car
Amanda's travel tips
1. Plan, plan, plan. “When I went out West, I spent three solid weeks just coming up with a route. I would come home from work at 3:00 and spend late into the night planning. It took me that long because I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss a spot and then have to go back. It’s not hard, it just takes time. And you can always ask people.”
2. Check out the local library. “When you do this you become acquainted with how the town was established, learn quirky facts, and discover significant landmarks and locations. I always learn more about the geography, careers, and culture by doing this.”
3. Work up to big trips. “Start small and start with what you’re comfortable with. And then try to expand on that. Obviously, you want to stretch your comfort zone. Don’t do anything crazy or deadly but you do have to trust your gut a little bit.”
4. Be flexible. If the weather is too bad for your tent, the car is cozy.
Advice that didn’t really work out: Watch out for crazy people
“What people don’t think about is the good people that are all around you during these trips. I know that it only takes one bad person, one bad situation and then it changes everything, but people really do look out for other individuals. Mankind is pretty good overall I would say. One thing that people also don’t think about is the people who are not here who are good people – people that are thinking about you, praying for you, cheering for you.”
Pearl the Peacock originally came from the San Diego Zoo and became Amanda's travel companion by way of the local thrift store. She is named after Amanda's blog Unpacking Hidden Pearls.
Interesting places to visit near Lima
- Spangler Candy Factory in Bryan, home of the Dum-Dum
- Columbus Grove Municipal Pool in Columbus Grove
- Temple of Tolerance in Wapak
- Glass Pavilion in Toledo
- Old Fort Defiance in Defiance
- White Star Quarry near Gibsonburg
- Simon Kenton’s grave in Urbana
- Piatt Castles in West Liberty
Photos from the top: Maumee Park; snorkeling in Gibsonburg; the corner of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana; amphicars in Celina; Pearl the Peacock on St. Patrick's Day in Dublin; kayaking in Lima.