A year ago Dylan Dethier ’14 never dreamed that media outlets across the country, including The New York Times, USA Today, the Florida Times Union and Fox News, would be crowding his e-mail inbox with interview requests. Setting out from his Williamstown home on September 1, 2009 in a Subaru with a wad of $6000 dollars from summer jobs in his pocket, Dethier had one personal aspiration: playing at least one round of golf in every state in the continental U.S.
After receiving his fat acceptance letter to the College at the same time the members of the Class of 2013, the townie realized that the news meant four more years of cows and the Purple Valley – same old, same old. The solution? Taking a gap year to expose himself to other parts of the country. “I grew up in Williamstown, so I figured if I was going to go to school here and spend so much time in the area, it would be cool to see other places first,” Dethier said. “As much as Williamstown is the perfect place and everything.”
Covering territory with golf made perfect sense, as Dethier has played golf for his whole life (though has never taken a golf lesson in the span of his 19 years). He soon convinced the parentals that spending nine months traveling alone was a good idea, but Dethier had his own private doubts that the goal could be accomplished. “A big question mark was how far I could make it on my money,” Dethier said. “For a few months I tracked to the cent how much money I spent. I’d spend $1.50 a day on food.”
Eating cereal, stocking up on food from motel continental breakfast and stealing Wi-Fi, he did manage to golf his way through 48 states, hitting his last hole in Vermont in May of 2010 with still $200 left over. Along the way, he wrote about his experiences on his blog, http://eighteeninamerica.blogspot.com/.
Bed every night was not necessarily in his good ole’ Subaru, however. Sometimes friends, friends of friends of friends and Williams alumni opened their doors to him. In North Dakota, for example, Dethier lived in style with a livestock auctioneer. “He was my brother’s ski coach’s wife’s college roommate’s husband,” Dethier said. “There were a lot of connections like that because who do you know from North Dakota if you’re from Massachusetts?” The auctioneer hooked Dethier up with a radio announcer in Spearfish, S. D., who gave the golfer publicity on his Jim Thompson Radio Show.
A connection Dethier made with the father of Katherine Belk ’13 in North Carolina seven months into the trip led to one of the most memorable days of Dethier’s life. Belk’s father had landed the opportunity to play with golf pro Phil Mickelson, and Dethier swung by just in time to play the role of the lucky caddy. “I got to talk to him for a little bit, and he was impressed by my trip,” Dethier said. He didn’t manage to get an autograph, however, as the day’s events took an unexpected turn. “Mickelson got sick with food poisoning. He started saying really gross things like, ‘I think I’m going to explode from one side to another.’ But hey, not many people get to see that side of him.”
As news of his trip spread, Dethier started receiving e-mails from golf pros across the country inviting him to play at their clubs and Williams alumni offering their homes to him for the night. Even complete strangers contacted him: One night, Dethier stayed in the home of a good Samaritan in Knoxville, Tenn. Knoxville notwithstanding, Dethier tried to visit small quaint towns in each state. “I was really interested in small towns in middle America. I’d go into diners and strike up conversations to get a flavor of the towns,” Dethier said. “I’m definitely not a city boy.” He certainly tasted his way through the states, trying grits for the first time and eating plenty of “pasties” in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. “I have no idea how to describe pasties because I have no idea what they actually are,” he said.
Between golfing and eating and sleeping, Dethier also had a chance to explore the national parks and hiking trails in different states. In Michigan, his hiking ambitions went slightly awry. In fact, Dethier describes his one big trip into the wild as more like “a comedy of errors.” Soon after Dethier loaded his gear pell-mell into duffel bags strapped to his backpack, his sleeping bag fell out and rolled into the river. Strapping it back soaking wet, he hiked six miles, set up camp and discovered that his pancake mix was not “just add water,” but “just add milk, eggs and oil.” He forgot the no-stick cooking spray. He lost his flashlight on the trail. The temperatures dropped into the mid-20s. “Yeah … I lay wet and cold eating powdery watery pancake mix out of a cup,” Dethier said.
The crowds of family and friends who welcomed him home with a big cookout were quite a relief after life out in the wide world, to say the least. In fact, after traveling across the country, Dethier was better able to appreciate the quaintness of the Purple Valley. “I had more comparisons to draw on,” Dethier said. “I thought [Williamstown] was a small place when I left, but I realized that it feels much bigger because of the Clark and all the interesting people the College brings here.”