My wife and I recently took a mini-sabbatical to hike the great parks of the West. We drove over 7000 miles in the course of 35 days, and visited 7 national parks. You may wonder about how a trip like this is possible (yes, I kept my job), the overall cost, and level of dirtbaggedness. I’m compiling the data for that kind of post, because I certainly believe it is possible for everyone! We do not make a lot of money, have a nice car, or outside funding. We just made this trip a priority, made the plan, and executed.
Besides the logistics and costs, traveling expands your mind, providing a different perspective on what you feel is important, and need to live. Every day I felt I was learning something new, or having an old idea pounded in to my thick skull. Here are 15 important lessons from the road.
Have a Vision, not a Plan
We knew the goal was to experience the beauty of the West and the grand parks, but the schedule was very fluid. Each decision we made was based on the level of activity and natural beauty available. The vision of our trip followed this guiding principle. At the crux of the journey, when it was time to either head to Portland, or to Glacier, the vision of pristine peaks and lush forests won out. But we could have gone anywhere! We embarked on this journey with 0 reservations, which allowed us to be flexible with destinations and length of stay. There are always hotels and campgrounds willing to take your money, so go where you want to go!
Ask for Help
One of the primary reasons this trip worked was thanks to the kindness and hospitality of our friends. We slept at their homes 14 nights, on couches, floors, and beds. Some friends we had not seen in almost 10 years! They did not hesitate to share their homes with us, and I think too often we doubt the kindness of old friends, with no reason to do so. We think the time has not helped, and it’s not worth asking. But why? My experience is that people are eager to re-connect and help.
Carry Less, Go Fast
I have been in a year-long practice and recognition that I do not need as much as I have. This is only amplified when camping and backpacking. ‘Tis better to carry the minimum food and gear, and get where you’re going with speed and flexibility. 99% of the time, you’ll be ok. If we missed a meal, we weren’t going to die. If I left a layer of clothing, I wasn’t going to freeze (though it was close). We need to be ever aware of our consumption and product usage. Do you need this to carry on? Do you have something else that serves the same/similar purpose?
I Really Care About Coffee
I’m a coffee nerd. It’s a growing edge that I don’t believe will ever be remedied. Starbucks Via Italian Roast in the backcountry, and Dynamite Roasting Suplicar Clemencia brewed on a Clever Coffee Dripper when car camping. Good coffee doesn’t stay at the house people, wake up and brew some good joe. If I had to wake up and suffer through a watered-down, medium-roast swill, WHY WAKE UP AT ALL?! Alright, a little dramatic, but you get the point.
This became a running joke with us. Rice and beans are super easy to carry, cook, and consume, all important aspects of camping. We ate them every day, but the joke was almost each time we went in to town, we ended up having tacos or burritos. This regular consumption of two simple items made me consider just how often I over think not just food, but life. I was happy and healthy without having to do too much, and put my thoughts towards other things. Keep it simple!
Unplug to Think Clearer
I didn’t have cell reception for the majority of the trip. Long stretches of forced disconnect from social media, email, and phone calls. It was great. I’m not going off the grid as a way of life, but when I stop hunching over my phone and computer like a caffeinated mantis, the fog lifts. Ideas take form, I’m more present, and sometimes all I can do is rush around trying to find a paper to begin writing.
Carry a Pen & Paper
I have begun carrying a pen and small notebook almost everywhere now. When something strikes me, whether a new idea or addition to a new one, I jot it down quickly. I realize now that much my best thinking doesn’t come at the desk or meeting rooms, but when hiking, running, driving, or sitting still. A small notebook will do just fine.
Let Go of Comparisons
The most tempting part of our journey was to make unjustified and unwarranted comparisons to other places. Asking yourself questions like “Is this the best place to ______?” will kill your experience. I do this wayyyy too much, always wanting to make sure I am experience the best of what an area has to offer. This creates anxiety, which makes it very difficult for me to enjoy the experience I’m currently having! I need to simply acceot the decision I’ve made, and enjoy it. When I’m able to let go of comparisons, I have a great time.
Follow a Routine
Wake up, coffee, bible, breakfast, breakdown, load, move. That was our morning routine, and a reliable practice helps set the tone for a good day. Setting an intention helps as well, picking the 1 or 2 tasks you decide are most important for the day. Since returning, I have implemented a morning routine that helps me prepare for the day, and move in to it with less stress and greater care.
Observe More Than You Record
When I was at Old Faithful, I noticed a old man next to me who took just a few pictures on an old 35mm camera. The man behind me took several hundred, barely taking his eyes from the viewfinder. Which person do you think enjoyed the display more? That scene served as a constant reminder to not worry too much about perfect pictures, the right hike, and the best route. I try to observe the scenes ad people in front of me instead of trying to record it all for future consumption. It’s ironic we do this! We don’t experience the present moment fully because we try to record it perfectly, and then later we look at the pictures to remind us of the scene!
The enjoyment I received when reading a good book surprised me, and I enjoy reading anyway! Since we cancelled our cable, I haven’t watched much TV, but diverted much of that time to the internet. I only read a little bit more. Not so this trip! I read a book each week, and felt more fulfilled and creative than after several hours on the internet.
Books I Read
- Through Painted Deserts – Donald Miller
- 11.22.63 – Stephen King
- Nature – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- The Princes Bride – William Goldman
- A River Runs Through It – Norman Maclean
- The Essential Smart Football – Chris Brown
Consider the Stars
The deserts of Utah offer some of the darkest skies in America. I struggle with words to describe it, laying on my back, looking up, the ebony sky with pinpricks of light shooting through. Appearing as salt thrown across black paper, the milky way a pale streak splitting the darkness. There is an old proverb which speaks great truth “Only when it becomes dark can we see the stars”. I consider this in the dark places of my own life, when God has thrown a sheet over the lights I turned on. Only then can I see the lights only he brings.
The Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, Utah, offers one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. Drunken formations of red rock, laid across untold years of sediment layers, are puncuated by beams of light. The light brings the hope of a new day, of opportunities and possibilities. Whatever yesterday held, we are made new. Forgiven, clean, loved.
Be Where Your Feet Are
My uncle has told me this on several occassions, and I had to consistently remind myself during the trip. The monkey mind jumps from branch to branch, possibility to possibility, taking me along on its wild flight through the world of “what if?” The discipline is to be present with the place and people you are with, to be “where your feet are”. When you do find yourself in a new place, be in that place.
Realize You’re in the Best Place
I can only tell the story I’ve been given. I realize I’m talking a lot about being present and appreciating the moment. This is the lesson I continued to return to and be reminded of. Each place I was in was the best place, the only place I could possibly be! I couldn’t be at another campground, in another park or city. I was constantly in beautiful places with my best friend, and there could be nothing better. We create our own mindsets with our attitudes, and I strive to be present and content with the place I’m in. Anything less is a disservice to the moment.
For pictures, videos, and musings from our travels, check out RambleWith.us
Do you have any lessons from the road, or travels you have taken? Please share what was impotant for you!