This week we’re talking all about road trips, and a pretty epic road trip would take you through the lower 48 states. Every single one.

That’s my kind of trip. I used to play with one of those US map puzzles as a kid, and dreamed about going to all 50 states over time. I got a late start, though. By the time I finished college I’d been to four states, I think? I’m now past the halfway point, so that’s something, but to really get on track I should probably follow the advice of scientist Randal S. Olson.

He developed a computer algorithm that was able to find the shortest, most efficient way to drive through all 48 contiguous United States, and not just driving through, either. The trip includes stops at fifty of the country’s most memorable landmarks, from Pike’s Peak in Colorado to Acadia National Park in Maine to the French Quarter in New Orleans.

When I say it’s the shortest route, that doesn’t mean it’s short. Olson calculated it out as 13,699 miles, or around 224 hours of driving, not to mention the time spent sightseeing, sleeping, eating and refilling your gas tank over and over again. But, if you’ve got a few weeks to spare and you really want to check off all these states on your lifetime travel list, now you’ve got a route.

If you aren’t worried about reaching all 48 lower United States and just want to cross the continent, how about trying the Race Across America?

It’s a more than 3,000 mile road race from Los Angeles to New York. Once the clock starts, participants have 12 days to make it through 12 states, with no rest days.

Did I mention this is not an auto race? It’s a bike race, longer than the Tour de France. Winners have completed the entire route in just over eight days.

3,000 miles in eight days, on a bike. I’m tired just saying that.

Computing the optimal road trip across the U.S. (Randal S. Olson)

Race Across America

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Photo by Nicholas Cole via Flickr/Creative Commons