I did it. It's over. It worked. Proof of concept.
Redline route of my tour through the United States of America. The blue circles mark US National Parks. Here is a link to my planned route for comparison.
I finished my 10 month solo tour of all 50 States and 50 US National Parks in October. I came in over schedule, over budget, and overwhelmed.
During my trip I drove on the Pacific Coast Highway, Route 66, The Natchez Trace, The Blue Ridge Parkway, Lewis and Clark Highway, The Trail of Tears, The Oregon Trail, and all 1,390 miles of the Alaskan Highway.
I now know the character of America's most iconic mountain ranges, the Appalachians, Rockies, Cascades, and Sierra Nevadas.
I hiked up volcanoes in Hawaii, Washington, and California, and down into caves in New Mexico, Kentucky, and Idaho. I experienced the long standing spectacle of Niagara Falls, The Grand Canyon, and Old Faithful. I admired Redwoods, Sequoias, and Bristlecone pines, respectfully the tallest, largest, and oldest trees in the world. I stood under pouring rain at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. I stood under gnawing heat at the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers.
I've now been inside the Seattle Space Needle, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, and the Statue of Liberty. I wandered in amazement through the Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, Museum of Art in Philadelphia, and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
I saw horses race at the Carolina Cup and cars race at the Indy 500. I camped out at a mud bog rally in Florida and a music festival in Michigan. I paid homage to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Kennedy Space Center, and the immigrant intake building on Ellis Island. I visited George Washington’s birthplace and Martin Luther King’s tomb.
I paid respects to the Oklahoma City Memorial, the 9/11 Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.
I’ve seen coal mines in West Virginia, Uranium Mines in Utah, and Copper mines in Michigan. I’ve seen the oil fields of North Dakota and Texas, the refineries of Louisiana, and the Tanana River crossing of the Trans-Alaskan pipeline.
I savored fresh lobster in Maine and fresh crab in Alaska. I sampled New Orleans gumbo, Kansas City BBQ, and Yooper pasties. I snagged a Philly cheesesteak, a Chicago dog, and a New York slice. I picked Huckleberries in Montana, Blueberries in Washington, and Salmon Berries in Alaska. I bought Florida Oranges, Washington Apples, and California Avocados.
For the first time I saw moose, prong horn antelope, big horn sheep, bison, killer whale, wild turkey, fox, fireflies, beaver, and bald eagle.
I removed the rear seats and installed a platform to sleep on. I brought a cooler, stove/cookware, laptop, backpacking gear, 10 days worth of clothes, my mountain bike (not pictured), and a bunch of other gear.
I achieved the four goals I set for myself:
1) I went to every national park in the lower 48 states.*
2) I stayed at least one night in all 50 states.
3) I collected a state flag that had flown in each state that I visited.
4) I wrote about it.
* I began planning this trip before Pinnacles National Monument had been promoted to National Park in January of 2013, so all through the planning process my list didn't have it. Whoops-a-daisy. On the one hand, I'm bummed I can't yet say I've been to every national park in the lower 48. On the other hand, Hooray! What a perfect excuse for another road trip.
UPDATE: It was rad.
There are a lot of ideas clanging around my head for how I want to conclude my writing on this tour. The issue I'm finding is that for every "Truth" that I've discovered, there is a skeptical voice in my head arguing the opposite. At some point I will write about these tricky "Truths" in detail, but for now I'd like to keep it simple.
Here are a few things I've found:
- The people you meet will define an area as much as the things you see and do. Pay attention to them. They know where the best food and happy hour deals are.
- Stereotypes have a nugget of truth to them, but if you expect these stereotypes you may cheapen your own experience.
- Try to have a daily objective and be open to improvise.
- Appreciate the little things, like driving next to flying birds or finding an inexpensive shower.
- You will not enjoy yourself all the time. Exercise, call home, take a deep breath, and trust the process.
- Go ahead and have expectations, but don't forget to compare them to your actual experience. I think this is the only way to internalize the fact that culture is complex, and it's the most valuable lesson traveling offers.
Here are a few less serious personal recommendations:
- Public Libraries are the best source for Wi-Fi.
- The $80 Interagency National Park Pass is the best money I've ever spent.
- Save money by sleeping for free on National Forest land, BLM land, or at Walmart.
- Save money by preparing your own food.
- Save money by planning ahead.
- Wiki Travel provides trustworthy information.
- Don't litter. Don't complain.
My personal motto is "You don't know if you don't go."
I expect to be a lifelong traveler, and I am excited to see the world. I decided to start with a road trip through America because I figured I should explore my own backyard first. This is my country and my home. People have certain perceptions about The United States, and before I could have an honest opinion, I had to go see for myself. I wanted to get a baseline.
I view traveling as an investment in myself. The money spent is a financial investment, leaving my comfort zone is a psychological investment, learning to rebuff waves of loneliness is an emotional investment. The payoff is subtle and sweet. For the rest of my life I'll be able to hold a conversation with anyone in the US about anywhere in the US, and that's the coolest takeaway I can think of.
Thanks to everyone who helped me out along the way.
I will continue to write. I enjoy writing because it forces me to articulate what I think and how I feel. Writing helps me organize my thoughts, and it has become such a habit that things I see and do don't feel complete until I've gotten them down on paper.
Ideally, I'll start making money writing for travel magazines, websites, or newspapers. Thing is, I don't know anyone in the industry or have a clue about the process. My career plan looks something like this:
1) Travel and write.
3)Profit (AKA: support myself through travel work and writing)
So without further ado, I urge you to scroll through the links below, click your fancy, and let me know what I should do next time i'm in town!
National Parks listed in the order that I visited them:
1) Haleakala NP, Hawaii
2) Joshua Tree NP, California
3) Petrified Forest NP, Arizona
4) Saguaro NP, Arizona
5) Carlsbad Caverns NP, New Mexico
6) Guadalupe Mountains NP, Texas
7) Big Bend NP, Texas
8) Hot Springs NP, Arkansas
9) Everglades NP, Florida
10) Biscayne Bay NP, Florida
11) Dry Tortugas NP, Florida
12) Congaree NP, South Carolina
13) Great Smokey Mountains NP, North Carolina & Tennessee
14) Mammoth Cave NP, Kentucky
15) Shenandoah NP, Virginia
16) Acadia NP, Maine
17) Cuyahoga Valley NP, Ohio!
18) Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado
19) Rocky Mountain NP, Colorado
20) Wind Cave NP, South Dakota
21) Badlands NP, South Dakota
22) Isle Royal NP, Michigan
23) Voyageurs NP, Minnesota
24) Theodore Roosevelt NP, North Dakota
25) Yellowstone NP, Wyoming
26) Grand Tetons NP, Wyoming
27) Glacier NP, Montana
28) North Cascades NP, Washington
29) Wrangell-St. Elias NP, Alaska
30) Kenai Fjords NP, Alaska
31) Denali NP, Alaska
32) Mt. Rainier NP, Washington
33) Olympic NP, Washington
34) Crater Lake NP, Oregon
35) Redwood NP, California
36) Lassen Volcanic NP, California
37) Yosemite NP, California
38) Great Basin NP, Nevada
39) Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, Colorado
40) Mesa Verde NP, Colorado
41) Arches NP, Utah
42) Canyonlands NP, Utah
43) Capitol Reef NP, Utah
44) Bryce Canyon NP, Utah
45) Grand Canyon NP, Arizona
46) Zion NP, Utah
47) Death Valley NP, California
48) Sequoia NP, California
49) Kings Canyon NP, California
50) Channel Islands NP, California
51) Pinnacles NP, California
People I wrote about in the order that I met them:
1) Seyon (from South Korea) in Arizona
2) Dace (from Chicago) in Arizona
3) Don from Phoenix, Arizona
4) Paul from Marfa, Texas
5) Thomas from Slidell, Louisiana
6) Elizabeth from Savannah, Georgia
7) Ryan in North Carolina
8) Tom from Hendersonville, North Carolina
9) Morris from Tennessee
10) Ben from Narragansette, Rhode Island
11) J.T. (from Mass.) in New Hampshire
12) Julius from Buffalo, New York
13) Shelley from Ranier, Minnesota
16) Chris from close to Tok, Alaska
17) Cheney from Homer, Alaska
18) Skip (from Detroit) in Bend, Oregon
19) Jesse (from Wisconsin) in Colorado
20) Rock from Ballarat, California
Cities I wrote about in the order that I visited them: