South Sound family to finish 51-capital walking adventure Sunday in Olympia

Tristan Johnson will drive in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., before his 16th birthday.

At 13, Nicholas Johnson will find a geocache in every state, a feat most geocachers won’t accomplish in a lifetime of playing the worldwide treasure-hunting game.

Dina Johnson is celebrating her impending 51st birthday by visiting 51 capitals.

And Alisa Johnson, 52, is just excited to be on the road trip of a lifetime with her sons and sister.

The Federal Way family owes their ultimate summer to their favorite exercise activity — volksmarching — and a dream.

On Jan. 5, Alisa woke up infused with energy. She’d just dreamed that she’d loaded the family in the car and visited all 50 state capitals and Washington, D.C., in 51 days.

She went to the computer and mapped out a route to see if it was even possible. It was.

“It was a crazy dream,” Alisa said by phone in late July as she sat shotgun in the family’s 2008 Toyota Sienna as Dina drove through Bowling Green, Kentucky. “... But for the rest of their lives, they (Tristan and Nicholas) will be able to say, ‘I did this with mom.’  ”

At 2 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 17), the Johnsons plan to wrap up their journey on the Capitol steps in Olympia with one last volksmarch. When they’re done, Alisa estimates they will have driven 15,000 miles, stopped for three oil changes, taken quick flights to Hawaii and Alaska, and they will have walked more than 350 miles.

The family has long had an interest in volksmarching and has partnered with clubs in almost every state during their trip. At most stops, members of the local clubs have joined them for their walks and to share a little history about the states’ capitals.

In Vermont, a club that regularly intertwines volksmarching and geocaching, even named a cache after the boys: “Nick and Tristan’s Excellent Adventure.”

Geocaching is a worldwide game in which players use GPS coordinates to find hidden items. The game is free to play through geocaching.com and there are more than 2.4 million caches hidden around the world.

“It’s fun and interesting,” Tristan said.

The Johnsons enjoy staying active. Alisa and Dina are regulars at their gym. Tristan is excited about trying out for the Decatur High cross-country team later this month. And Nicholas loves exploring the outdoors. But volksmarches are the activity they do together.

A volksmarch is a noncompetitive walk — usually 5 or 10 kilometers — that comes in several forms. They can be organized events with a few hundred participants. Or they might be an established route people can walk anytime. The Johnsons are doing the latter on their trip.

Volksmarches are free, but participants can choose to pay a small fee (usually $3) for credit toward pins and patches commemorating achievements such as walking 100 kilometers, finishing 10 volksmarches or other challenges.

There are patches for different types of volksmarches: visiting Civil War battlefields, passing family-owned bakeries, visiting cities mentioned in song lyrics (“I found passion for life in Tacoma” — Neko Case) and for walking in each of the state capitals.

Typically, participants would have to stamp a passport booklet and mail it in for approval before they receive their prize, but the American Volksport Association granted an exception for the Johnsons so they’d have their 51 Capital patch and shirt for Sunday’s walk in Olympia.

The final week was to be one of the most challenging for the Johnsons. Here’s what the itinerary was to look like coming down the home stretch:

Aug. 10: Celebrate Alisa’s 52nd birthday with volksmarches in South Dakota and North Dakota.

Monday: Drive to Helena, Montana.

Tuesday: Walk in Helena and then drive to Boise.

Wednesday: Walk in Boise then drive to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Thursday: Catch an early morning flight to Juneau, pick up a rental car, walk, geocache and then fly back to Seattle.

Friday: Fly to Honolulu to walk and geocache.

Saturday: Fly back to Seattle and rest up for Sunday’s grand finale in Olympia.

This intense commute begs the question, “Why in the world aren’t you starting in Alaska and ending in Hawaii so you can spend more time there?”

“Yeah, we hear that a lot,” Alisa said. “But we want to finish at home with friends. That’s important to us.”

In each state, Tristan, who received his learner’s permit shortly before the trip, has practiced his driving. But Dina has handled “about 95 percent of the driving,” Alisa said. Tristan and Nicholas pass the drive time reading and playing games on their tablets.

“It is fun,” Nicholas said. “I enjoy seeing new places.”

But as the adventure winds down, there’s one thing the Johnsons says they’ve enjoyed more than checking off their volksmarch and geocaching lists.

“It’s the people,” Alisa said. “We’ve met so many nice, interesting people. I think that might be the best part.”