Friendship: A Brief Look Back

Nature and I used to be acquaintances. We would interact on an occasional basis, exchanging pleasantries and sticking to surface-level subjects. I’ll admit that I was closed-minded when it came to the great outdoors; I rarely noticed nor cared to explore anything that didn’t suit my immediate purposes.

And then I went to Zion National Park in the fall of 2015.

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Zion National Park (Fall 2015)

Everything changed.

For the first time in my life I was 100% completely and utterly overwhelmed by my outdoor environment. I felt as if the sky was soaking me up with its vivid colors of blue and its lazy clouds that wandered contentedly across the sky. The air felt almost juicy – thick with possibilities and awareness. But it was the mountains that called me. I had been to my fair share of highlands and had a pretty deep appreciation for areas of great elevation. Zion, however, was in a whole other league. John Muir’s much-recited quote about the mountains calling him came to mind as I simply stared at the world around me. My eyes worked hard to take it all in, and my brain worked harder still to keep up with what my senses were discovering. The colors of the rock, the shapes of the fissures, the form of the cliffs – the whole scene left me awe struck. Moving ever so slowly, I turned around, engaged in the landscape. This fantastic place was one big playground that I would spend the next couple of hours exploring. It didn’t matter that it was below freezing – this was an opportunity to connect with nature and I was resolved to seize it.

This is the moment when nature and I became friends.

It required a shift in thinking on my part. I wasn’t looking to receive or get something from being outside. I had come to the realization, standing by the Weeping Wall in Zion, that being outside is about discovery. It’s about enjoying all of the living and nonliving aspects of an ecosystem. It’s about investing time to find the beauty in the great outdoors.

Returning home to my suburban lifestyle was difficult. Traffic was suddenly more annoying and the concrete felt like a disease that ate away at my outdoor world. This is why, in January of 2016, I decided to quit my job and visit all of the national parks in the continental U.S. Surprisingly my friends and family didn’t think I was crazy, yet I questioned my own sanity countless times. Purchasing a teardrop trailer and downsizing my living situation were some of the final steps I took before embarking on my epic road trip. I wanted to find that bond I had experienced in Zion a couple months prior. I wanted to develop that friendship I had forged with nature while standing surrounded by the sandstone cliffs.

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Zion National Park (Fall 2016)

 

I’m at the halfway point in my trip, gearing up for another trek westward. Each park I have visited so far has allowed me to view another fascinating characteristic of nature. In Dry Tortugas I marveled at the spread of blue that blanketed the horizon. In the Smokies, I came face to face with the attractiveness of running water, the backdrop of the Appalachians adding to the magic. In Great Sand Dunes, I fell back into the role of a child, tromping up the piles of sand and playing under the steady heat of the sun. The national parks are unique. They each have something special to offer, yet it can only be found with an unpretentious humility. I know that I can’t afford to make the mistake again of assuming that nature is at my disposal. During Part II of my journey, I want to be more than simply familiar with America’s outdoor landscape. I want to connect, relate, commune, empathize, cooperate, and converse with nature.

I want to be best friends.

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Yellowstone Lake

Second Departure

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A brief recap of Part I of my trip

My winter hiatus has absolutely flown by. It seems like I pulled back into the Northern Virginia area only a short time ago, tugging along Clarence (the teardrop trailer) like a faithful pet.

Now the days are getting longer, and the temperature is gradually rising. I’m eager to get back on the road to visit the remaining 23 national parks. The Pacific Coast promises a whole new world of discovery: deserts, mountains, forests, and beaches. The northern border of the U.S. will be rife with intriguing flora and fauna, adjoining up with the natural areas in Canada, my homeland.

will do some things differently. I’ll plan out my time a little better depending on the size and available activities in each park. I’ll be smarter with where I lodge each night – warmer temperatures will mean less need for pricey electric hookups. I also intend to adjust what I’m bringing with me. During Part I of my trip, I toted a variety superfluous goods around the country that I barely even looked at, nevertheless touched.

What’s Staying Behind:

  • Half of my clothes, particularly cotton
  • Unnecessary camping gear
  • My climbing rope (I decided I didn’t trust strangers to prevent me from falling)
  • Some books, puzzles, office supplies, and activities

What’s Coming Along:

It’s going to be good… stay tuned for pictures, stories, and happiness.

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Looking forward to more days like this – drinking my morning coffee and reading a book before hitting the trails. Livin’ the Pod life! 

 

 

Responding First

It’s been quite a week.

I was ice-climbing in Vermont and fell on my ice-pick, resulting in a pneumothorax.

I was mountain biking in Utah, acquired a head injury when I crashed, and then fractured my wrist.

I was horseback-riding in West Virginia when my loyal steed, Mr. Bojangles bucked me off, leaving a nasty bruise below my sternum and a twisted ankle.

JUST KIDDING… sort of.*

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This is not real!

Back in October, I decided to sign up for a Wilderness First Responder course. For the past 10 days, I have spent countless hours learning how to provide medical care in the backcountry. It’s involved an inordinate amount of book-learning and countless real-world scenarios. I can confidently reduce an anterior shoulder dislocation, splint a wrist using a jacket, and treat high altitude cerebral edema. I brushed up on my CPR skills, learned about handling snake bites, and acquired a ton of other medical knowledge/skills.

The course was intense, but invaluable. Who knows when I’ll need to help out a fellow outdoor enthusiast during the second part of my trip? Who knows when I’ll need to provide skilled assistance to someone in an urban setting? Who knows when I’ll have to practice on myself?

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Snapping a quick selfie with my CPR buddy, Actar

* I am, in fact, completely kidding. In the scenarios we acted out during the course, however, I played the patient who had all of these crazy, and unlucky, experiences.

Bad Snow and Bear Spray

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The first run of the day  (before the snow turned evil)

There were simply too many people.

I had woken up early, hoping to hit the slopes before the crowds moved in, but unfortunately, other families had similar ideas. The snow was a granulated mush, making snowboarding more vexing than usual. Bald patches of earth peeked through, and after a couple hours, the snow had taken on a dirty-brown tint.

I was frustrated. In my opinion, enjoying nature goes hand in hand with getting-away-from-it-all, a nearly impossible task in the Northern Virginia area. I tried to enjoy the sunshine and crisp air as I made one last run down the mountain, avoiding fallen children and gangs of college kids.

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For Christmas, I unwrapped a can of bear spray – a pleasant reminder that I have much more of the country to explore and many more parks to discover. For those of you who aren’t entirely bear-literate, here’s an important fact: American bears (commonly referred to as black bears) are much less aggressive than their grizzly bear cousins. So far, I haven’t ventured too far into grizzly territory, but during the second part of my trip, I know I need to be prepared.

And that means it’s time to start planning, yes? I ordered a 2017 calendar online today, ready to map my route, figure out the order, and determine which adventures I want to have.

Of course, I’ll have to leave room for some surprises!

Calendars for Education

47parks.com has a 2017 calendar for sale!

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All proceeds will go towards Open Outdoors for Kids, an initiative that seeks to connect kids to nature through experiential outdoor explorations and events. Not only does Open Outdoorsopen-outdoors focus on getting kids to learn about our natural world through investigation, they also provide multiple training opportunities for teachers.

Calendars are spiral-bound and feature some of my favorite pictures from Part I of my trip. You can order them online by clicking here.

Short-Term Roots

It’s been a week since I’ve temporarily ended my lifestyle as a traveler and put down some short-term roots in Northern Virginia. Transitioning from a nomadic lifestyle to a more settled one is a much-needed break, but I still can’t quite shake the feelings of restlessness.

I said goodbye to Clarence, placing him in a spacious home where he will live out the winter months until we’re reunited in the spring.

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I miss the open road already, the wide spaces, and the newness of each day. I miss being immersed in nature and having hours to reflect upon the beauty of the natural world. Yet I have a newfound appreciation for this area, as well. It’s got a contagious energy, a myriad of opportunities, and a unending supply of things to do and see.

So for now, I rest. And in the resting, I rediscover the joy of what it means to be alive.