September 02, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

How did SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt spend his summer vacation? ”For the first time in my life, I autographed body parts,” he says. Get your mind out of the gutter, sports fans: ”These were the backs of, like, 10-year-old boys’ hands. I signed flip-flops, swim shorts — I signed until the Sharpie ran out of ink.” Van Pelt’s rock-star moment came at a lifeguard competition in Ocean City, N.J., during ESPN’s ”50 States in 50 Days,” a 71,000-mile trip that wraps Sept. 5 in Washington, D.C., stop No. 51 (poor, nearly overlooked D.C.). Along the way, the SportsCenter staff endured travel delays, lost luggage, and innumerable spins of the 50-in-50 theme song, ”Open Road,” by Bryan Adams (inexplicably Canadian); they attended a pie-eating contest, softball tournaments, a cardboard-boat race, and a motorcycle rally (Kenny Mayne did the honors). During the NYC stop at Harlem’s street-ball mecca Rucker Park, Van Pelt waxed rhapsodic: ”The fact that we’re bringing this out to people’s neighborhoods and they’re showing us love — I can’t tell you how gratifying it is. But I don’t ever want to hear that Bryan Adams song again as long as I live.”

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