I have officially visited every national park within the contiguous United States.
I felt such a sense of accomplishment adding the last stamp to my passport booklet in Cuyahoga Valley, a park snuggled neatly in between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. Huge bridges overhead shuttled cars along the interstate while visitors and wildlife enjoyed this small piece of nature hidden within an urban landscape.
There was an incredible amount of history that I found fascinating. Who knew that canals played such an integral part in America’s development? I rented a bike and pedaled along the old canal, admiring abandoned locks and water fowl. I even saw a big ol’ snapping turtle resting on a log.
There were some charming waterfalls that I had to myself briefly during the early morning hours. Water cascaded down and I took the time to appreciate every second. I was intent on eking out the last drop of enjoyment from my year-long nature exploration.
Only Ansel Adams, the famous photographer, could so perfectly sum up my thoughts as I officially wrapped up my trip.
“I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful – an endless prospect of magic and wonder.”
Or in my case: When life throws a deer in front of your car, fly to Acadia National Park.
It just didn’t make sense to hang out in Wisconsin for a week while I waited for my car to get fixed. Hotels were pretty pricey, and I knew that I would be going stir-crazy lingering in a city.
I crunched some numbers. When I calculated the cost of gas, lodging during the drive, and tolls, taking a last-minute flight to Maine didn’t seem like such a bad decision.
So I spent a glorious 2 days on Mt. Desert Island, the largest and most popular part of Acadia.
I drove my sweet rental car, a Jeep Cherokee, along the coast, marveling at the rugged rock meeting the Atlantic Ocean. I laced up my hiking boots and explored the mountains and unique ecosystems, the sound of the crashing sea in the distance.
On one occasion, I decided to do a quick 0.4 mile hike to a lookout point. I soon realized that the majority of the hike was iron ladders, and that the “trail” was really more of a nontechnical rock climb.
It was fun.
Even though flying is a pain, I’m happy that my impromptu decision will save me hours in the car in the long run.
Now, my trip is officially back on track. One more park to go!
I was struck by a feeling of melancholy yesterday morning as I hiked along a trail, alone with my thoughts.
My trip is almost finished. My trip is almost finished. My trip is almost finished.
This phrase rolled over and over in my mind, beating rhythmically in time with my steps.
Two hours later I was overwhelmed with excitement, celebrating the fact that I’ll soon be done — home at last. I’m definitely experiencing the gamut of emotions regarding the forthcoming conclusion to my year-long trip. It’s bittersweet; my brain and heart don’t know quite how to handle it.
I’m looking forward to a real refrigerator, an indoor bathroom, and not driving so much. I daydream of sleeping in one place for more than three nights. I eagerly anticipate seeing my friends and family again.
But I’ll miss so much, too. I know I’ll pine for the vagabond lifestyle once I’m settled. I’ll miss the adventure of constant motion, the beauty of experiencing nature to the fullest, and the contentedness of personal reflection. I’m already becoming nostalgic for each memory I’ve collected.
When I first set out on my 47 parks in 47 weeks journey, I considered it would be a fabulous blip within my life. I assumed I would spend time traveling and having fun, and then return to my normal adult existence.
But it’s not like that. I feel that 47 Parks is the beginning of something grand. It is the rekindling of my love of learning and the launching point of my passion for nature. Each national park has affirmed my child-like wonder and drawn out my desire to help others find this as well.
I may only have 2 more parks to see, but this isn’t the end.
I plan on exploring the world, one wild place and natural space at a time.
It just might look a little different than this past year, and my pilgrimages will be spread out as I find a healthy balance between travel, work, and rest.
I invite each one of you, dear readers, to continue to take this journey with me. I plan on making some slight changes to my website and Instagram (@theparkpilgrim).
Here’s some things to look forward to, post-wise, this summer:
Behind the scenes stories that haven’t quite made the blog yet (some funny, some creepy)
Another contest, wherein you have a chance to win jelly beans or photo prints
Isle Royale is one of the least visited national parks in the United States. It’s no wonder, given the fact that it is extremely difficult to get to. A seaplane would have taken me directly to this island in the middle of Lake Superior, but would have cost a pretty penny. I opted for a ferry ride – a drawn-outexcursion that lasted over 3 hours.
While I gazed out on the horizon of the largest fresh water lake in the world, I mulled over the fact that my water journey was longer than any of the island parks I had visited in the ocean. Dry Tortugas and Channel Islands were two other water-bound destinations that seemed much more accessible than this isolated piece of land.
As the Island came into view, I finished guzzling my coffee, eager to get out there and explore. This was wilderness in all of its glory – a pristine, nearly untouched piece of land.
And it was mine to discover for the rest of the day.
I took a hike out to Scoville Point, stopping every couple minutes to just stand and marvel at the world around me. I caught glimpses of the Lake as I wandered along, avoiding Moose poop along the trail. I enjoyed scrambling along the rocks on the shore, viewing the small surrounding islands and circling birds.
I felt alone, out in a big, wide world full of possibility.
I felt detached from the cares and responsibilities of being an adult, just for a moment.
I reluctantly boarded the ferry when it was time to return, regretful that I couldn’t remain in this isolated piece of paradise for a couple more days.