If Not Now, Then When? A Cross-Country Tour of the National Parks

Approaching the end of one career, seeking a new career, I set forth to do some adventuring while job searching, and took my search on the road for a cross country National Park tour!

By: Jason Leach
October 29, 2016

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Grassy Knolls in MD

May was fast approaching and still; jobless. As the end of my contract loomed over me, I became increasingly aware that I might be surviving off my savings for a while. As many articles have referenced it is a tough market, particularly when making a career shift. Regardless, application after application I pressed on. Silence begetting more silence. An interview here or there, but nothing. As I drew nearer to the end of my time working in New Hampshire, it came down to two options: 


1) Move in with friends/family then keep applying and waiting.

OR

2) Drive across the country (something I’ve always wanted to do), stopping along the way apply for jobs, visit old friends, and see new sights. It was an easy choice.

It was fascinating however, to see a pattern emerge when I spoke with people about my plan, my generation and younger were all about it, “you’ll never get another chance,” “of course I would take the option.” Older generations, seemed a bit more hesitant. With my mother’s voice echoing in my ears, “what will you do about health insurance,” I left my belongings with friends, packed enough things in my car to live with in the event I got a job offer and headed down to Maryland.

Gettysburg PA

I had a loose plan, and being a schedule driven person, it was certainly uncomfortable. Many times I figured I would bail, but as I reached Maryland my resolve grew. I had built my plan around stops with friends or family, hoping to cut down on costs and nights crashing in my car (there were plenty still). Logistics dictated that I would be taking the southern route along I-40 most of the way until Arizona, all new terrain for me (the furthest west I had been at this point was Memphis, TN). My partner lived in Maryland and was heading out on her own adventure shortly, so some time together was important to me. Ironically I was hooked on the podcast: Serial, listening to season 1 the entire 9 hour drive down from NH, she happened to live not far from Owings Mills, creepy yet fascinating. The map below outlines the rest of my trip:

Seeing good friends and exploring Johnson City TN & Asheville NC, I drove the 1800 miles across TN, OK, TX and into New Mexico. Stopping for short breaks, diners (I am a sucker for diners, breakfast all day!) and the occasional nap (which is hard to do in a car when it’s so warm). Eventually, many podcasts later and a few stops at some National Monuments in New Mexico, (see my list below of recommended listens) I made it to The Grand Canyon around dusk. It felt surreal to see this sight for the first time in person. I also felt a bit demystified, as in I truly could not fathom how large The Grand Canyon was and I clearly had gotten it completely wrong in my head. I spent the evening watching the sun go down and the stars come out.

Grand view at the Grand Canyon

The next morning, I woke early to attempt to catch the sunrise over the canyon. Unfortunately, it was rather hazy and made for rather dull photos. I spent a few more waking hours at the The Grand and then began my trek north to Utah. Arizona is an interesting state. Timezone wise, Arizona does not observe daylight savings time, but the Navajo Nation (within the state) does. Truthfully I gave up looking at the clock until I made it to Utah.

In my book, of all the places I stopped, Utah wins. The diverse landscapes, the people I met, and the climate were completely amazing. I zigzagged across the state stopping at Bryce Canyon, Zion, Dixie National Forest, Arches, and Canyonlands spending about a day at each. Zion National Park was by far my favorite. I spent an hour wandering up The Narrows with a fellow I met from Texas. Dear Utah, I will be back soon!

Traveling the Narrows road

Bryce Canyon Growth

The Great Arch

Following Utah I made my way north to Boise Idaho to spend some time with my brother. The highways towards Boise involve many 80mph zones. Normally this would be great, however when your car decides to lose acceleration power 50 miles away, you anger many on the road, especially when 18 wheelers pass you while you are only able to go 50mph. With a quick emergency heads up call to my brother, my car rolled its way into Boise.

Boise River Playpark

Boise to those who haven’t been, is a great city! There is tons of great outdoor space including a whitewater playpark right in the heart of downtown, great fly fishing, hiking, and plenty of places to hang out on the water. As my car was in the shop I relished in how thankful I was to have a bed/shower to crash in for a while. It also happened to be 4th of July weekend so my brother and I planned a little backpacking trip to Stanley, ID and the Sawtooth Mountain Range (highly recommended!). As someone who tends to live his personal life by the seat of his pants my brother assumed we could merely find a campsite and call it a night as we drove up on a Friday evening around 5pm. By midnight we had driven to every reasonable sight within the area of our hike with no luck, so rightfully or not, we crashed in his car at the trailhead. In the morning we hit the trail for Sawtooth Lake, a beautiful alpine lake. Arriving rather early we hung out for a while, got bored quickly and opted to head back to Stanley and then on to McCall for the 4th of July festivities with my brother’s girlfriend and her family & friends.

The Sawtooth Range

Taking it all in

McCall

After a great weekend in McCall some boating, attempts at wake boarding, and fly fishing, we headed back to Boise and I traveled on to Seattle, WA to see some more friends and watch two of the tie the knot! For not being a city person, it was fun to adventure around in Seattle with Mt. Rainier looming in the distance.  In the process of all this I managed to land a new career in my field of choice, so after a few days in Seattle, some remote work finding a place to live for Rachel and I, I headed back to Boise, ID and then on to Fort Collins, eventually landing in Denver, Colorado.

Future Goals- Mt. Rainier

Lesson's Learned:

1) Make sure your vehicle has a way for your to stretch out/sleep. My backseats fold flat through to the trunk which worked out perfectly.

2) Don’t forget the comfy pillow! No sense making car camping any more uncomfortable than it needs to be, you have room, pack some comforts.

3) Do everyone else a favor and stop for a shower from time to time. This is just plain courtesy, it also helps keep the smell in your car down.

4) If you can, rig a way (Velcro) to put up bug screening on your car windows. This way you can crack them without having noisy neighbors in your ears. This mostly applies to summer time, but in the winter, it will also help vent condensation.

5) Take your time, sit at a coffee shop for a while, buy a coffee if you are using their WiFi, bring a camera and share you adventures.

6) Go for it! If there is a question in your mind about taking a trip like this, do it, I regret none of my decision, even the smaller bank account. If I had one regret it was that I did not take longer and stay in the parks longer, but as a social person, I missed being around people regularly.

7) Reach out. You would be surprised to find how many connections you have across the country that you could leverage to help plan and execute our trips.

PODCASTS Recommended:

1) Serial 2) Lore 3) Invisibilia 4) Planet Money (for personal finances geeks like me)

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.