English Teacher Visits All 50 States

by Julia Robins ’20

Many know English teacher Lori Leonard for her vibrant personality and kindness- but many don’t know her love of traveling and how she has visited all 50 states.

Until Leonard was 16, she had only traveled to places within Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and DC. But her upperclassman years in high school provided her the opportunity to visit Toronto, Canada and Hawaii. Visiting Hawaii was the first time she witnessed a different culture (native Polneisan Hawaiian), which started her desire to travel and see the world. When Leonard was 28, she helped a friend move from California to Ohio, and it really opened her eyes to how diverse and vast the country was. It’s safe to say she caught the travel bug. By the time she was 30, she had driven to more than 30 states.

A few months after Leonard got married, her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease. But rather than sitting around and feeling sorry for themselves, they packed their bags and hit the road. Driving over the Rocky Mountains and seeing its vastness and beauty put their life into perspective. 

“They were huge and the volcanic forces that pushed them upwards were extremely powerful.  I remember reading a quote on that trip that said ‘a river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.’ Nature is powerful and teaches a lot of lessons if people are open to learn them,” said Leonard. “I truly now believe that if people are willing to keep going, if they don’t give up, they will eventually be able to get through anything. When we got back from that trip, we knew our marriage was powerful enough to get through anything together.”

In 2013 she filled out a map with all the states she’s been to and was shocked to find that she only had 10 states left. Leonard started thinking about what it would take to visit all 50. She decided that she would only count states where she had spent the night, eaten at least one meal, and visited a historically or culturally important site. She set a goal to visit all 50 states by the time she turned 50 and revisit some of her favorites. She started traveling every school break and met her goal early last Spring Break.

Leonard has had amazing experiences. Last winter when she went to Alabama, she went to a small zoo with an enclosure of lemurs that climbed all over her. This past summer she swam with sea turtles in Maui, Hawaii, and in the summer of 2014 in Alaska, Leonard got to feed puffins and one tufted puffin fit 29 fish in its mouth. But one experience that she will remember forever was seeing the Northern Lights. “We went out with a professional photographer to film the aurora for about four hours in -17 degree weather and watching the green and purplish lights dance across the sky was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” she recounted.

Her favorite states are ones with natural beauty, like Utah, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Maine, and Alaska. “I truly believe our National Parks and National Monuments are our nation’s greatest treasures.  My favorite views are cascading waterfalls, snow-covered mountains, and stunning red rocks. My favorite things to do are to hike through slot canyons and relax in natural hot springs or swim under waterfalls.”

Leonard is happy to meet her goal, but still has plenty on her bucket list. She can’t wait to see polar bears in the Arctic tundra, visit Australia to see a high school best friend, and see the historic architecture in Rome, Italy. Her advice for those who wish to follow in her path? “Every day is an adventure, get a good pair of hiking boots, a decent camera, and a sturdy backpack, and get out there and explore our big beautiful world!”