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Columbia’s Penwell remembers trip of a lifetime

Carleton Penwell, of Columbia, talks about a trip he took in 1969 when he and a friend traveled to all of the U.S. capitals in 80 days. Jesse Jones / Union Democrat, Copyright 2014.
Forty-five years ago today, Carleton Penwell, of Columbia, was making his way cross-country in the trip of a lifetime, “Around the states in 80 days.”

This summer Penwell is taking a trip down memory lane that spanned 50 states, meetings with 35 governors and a lifetime of lessons learned. 

On June 20, 1969, Penwell, then 23, and his best friend, Gary Benedick, 22, both college students, left Sacramento in a brand new — borrowed — 1969 Dodge Charger, painted fire-engine red. 

They returned 80 days later, exactly at 10:02 a.m.

“I’m reliving it to the day,” Penwell said. “When I saw that June 20 was going to be on a Friday, I said, ‘I’m going to remember that this summer.’”

Penwell graduated from University of the Pacific in 1968 and was attending San Francisco Theological Seminary, working odd jobs when he and Benedick embarked on the cross-country trip.

“It took seven months of planning. It (the trip) was the equivalent of a college education, I learned so much,” Penwell said. 

The friends, who grew up near each other in Sacramento, were talking one evening in November 1968 about taking a vacation to the Pacific Northwest. It wasn’t going to be anything ambitious, just friends in cutoff jeans with a cooler in the backseat seeing the sights for a few weeks, Penwell said. 

Lying in bed, about 1 a.m. Penwell started to imagine taking a more significant trip and thought about visiting the state capitals in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. 

Being from a capital city himself and having studied political science, Penwell was interested in the capitals and thought they’d show a good geographical and demographic representation of the states. 

He got out an atlas, which he still has to this day, and started drawing lines. The lines spread and soon encompassed the entire 48 contiguous states. The decision to see all 50 states was added later. 

“When you get a brainstorm, don’t kill it,” Penwell said sagely.


For the complete story, see the Aug. 20 edition of The Union Democrat.      

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