2015 Michigan Tech Magazine: Issue 1

From Abbeville to Ziebach and Sea to Shining Sea

By Danny Messinger

A Michigan Tech couple spends nine years and 500,000 miles proving there’s plenty to see in our United States.

Jon and Jenn Riehl have seen it all. After traveling over 500,000 miles in one truly intrepid Dodge sedan, the adventurous Tech couple has completed a tour of all 3,108 counties in the lower forty-eight—and gained a new appreciation for the United States' geographies and cultures.

"What most people have when they're planning a trip is an understanding of how to get from point A to point B," says Jon. "They want to go from here to there in the quickest time. But the shortest trip between two places is no fun."

fundamentals lecturer and civil engineering PhD candidate, and his wife Jenn '14, a forestry research scientist with a PhD in Forest Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology, have both had a penchant for adventure since childhood. Between visiting her family in Texas and his family on the East coast, the couple realized they could easily check off a large number of counties if they took a new route each trip home.

"We had always wanted to get around the whole country, and we've always wondered what's between here and there, no matter where we're going," says Jenn.

The couple's journey, which began in 2006, has taken them in surprising directions—enough so that they hope to pen a book about their adventures in the near future.

"We ultimately love going to a place with a preconceived notion and then having it get totally destroyed,"Jon Riehl

"We ultimately love going to a place with a preconceived notion and then having it get totally destroyed," says Jon. "That happened a lot in the Midwest, actually. People think of it as just flat farms. But we've seen bluffs in Iowa. Agate fossil beds in western Nebraska. Beautiful wetlands all over. We never intentionally set out to get those experiences. But this trip has been all about the stuff we see along the way."

Rest assured, the couple isn't cutting corners by only venturing a mile into each county on the interstate. They drive back roads often and try to get out of their car to walk downtown as much as they can. "It's not a trip until you've driven on a dirt road," jokes Jenn.

The journey has helped the couple with their Michigan Tech duties, too. Jon says the motivation for his doctoral research on urban sprawl was based on their travels, and Jenn says she's gotten a first-hand look at the nation's incredibly varied forests and soils along the way.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.