A Year Alone in the Wilderness of the National Parks

...a year long journey through the American landscape of our National Parks. Disengaged from societal pursuits to set out alone and face the uncertainty guaranteed by the Wilderness. To harden both hands and mind and to not be Lost, but rather Found, in nature.

By: Mike Quine

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For most of my life I have so obediently focused on societal pursuits. Ambitious to succeed and to collect as many pieces of paper vindicating such efforts...satisfied that I was checking all the boxes necessary to live a "successful" life. Well over time my mind grew sharper and my physical health was prime; however, my soul was jettisoning towards an irreversible state of decay.

In August of 2012 ano domini, in a last ditch effort to save a failing relationship, I appealed to the waning heart of my then-girlfriend by suggesting we take some time off work to travel, despite being a closeted home-body myself. Any global scale landmark was within consideration. Then later that month, after hearing about my brothers road trip to Utah that year, we considered visiting a couple of the National Parks.

Well to keep a long story short, as travel plans began to formulate, the once and ne'er-again girlfriend unilaterally determined our relationship was forfeit, and with it went all travel plans. 

Flash forward 6 months...it's now early January 2013 and my grandfather, an endless font of inspiration, had just passed away. A man who lived a life of unexpected adventure and glory. By not living idly, he was afforded a rich life where, yes his mind and body were sharp but perhaps most importantly, his soul was invincible. And as if his adventurous spirit gave my own soul a pep-talk, I realized stories of epic adventures were no longer to be only passages I read from books or hear from others but rather tales I write and tell myself.

Wasting no time, I revisited the, once-presumed lost, plans to visit the US National Parks, only this time it would take on an entirely different meaning. My intentions were no longer aimed at making someone else happy, but to improve myself and invigorate my own being. Not wanting just a sightseeing tour of our country, I grew determined to throw myself, stripped of societal comforts, into its beauty AND harshness to see who comes out the other side (if I survived).

So with this new inspiration, I planned, with plenty of room for spontaneity, a year long journey through the American landscape of our National Parks - living in our country's backcountry. Disengaged from societal pursuits to set out alone and face the uncertainty guaranteed by the Wilderness. To harden both hands and mind and to not be Lost, but rather Found, in nature. From henceforth, this personal odyssey would be referred to as The Walkabout. 

Beginning that summer, I departed on what would turn out to be an epic personal journey of on a Homer-ian scale - a journey through every National Park in the Lower 48 States and 3 in Alaska (for a grand total of 50 National Parks). The sojourn afforded me the unique opportunity to challenge myself and experience adventure on a previously unprecedented, and since unmatched, scale. The year was met with countless adventures, to include week long ventures into Olympic National Park and Channel Islands National Park...

...a 100-mile 4-wheel drive trek through Canyonlands National Park... 

...going snowblind halfway through a 80-mile hike across Yosemite National Park's High Sierras, and climbing Acadia National Park's 7 tallest peaks all in one day.

It has been just over two years since my fateful return from this quest and not a single day has passed where I have not dove into memories of the journey. Not a single day goes by where I don't think about Yosemite National Park, and how it took me through a backpackers paradise, hiking from Ansel Adams' coveted Yosemite Valley Floor to the remote and unforgiving terrain of the park's High Sierras that drove John Muir's life-long obsession.

Not a day goes by where I do not marvel at the miracle of survival and how the Everglades National Park called me to unfold my nautical charts, grip a paddle, and launch a canoe out into the gator infested waters on a 100-mile solo trip (P.S. I can't swim) through its Wilderness Waterway, where the only company I kept was a flock of ivory egrets and swarms of mosquitoes.

Not a day goes by where I don't mentally gasp at the memories of the Grand Canyon's vast depths...

...wonder at Denali National Park's mighty and dominating peaks...

...humbly recall Death Valley National Park's inhospitably barren beauty... 

...contemplate the preserved timelessness of Petrified Forest National Park's remains...

...swoon over the emerald-like shorelines of Acadia National Park...

...or inherit the wisdom shared through the historical and rolling mountains of Shenandoah National Park.

There was, nor will ever be any reasonable means to resist the life-altering effects that the red, martian-like terrain of southern Utah's Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, or Canyonlands National Park, or the lush greens of the Pacific Northwest's Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and North Cascades National Park have on the human spirit. And to think these locations are but a fraction of the vast network that is preserved by our National Park Service. (NB: Well done America...good Idea!)

Inciting indomitable vigor, my journey through the national parks has changed my life in a way I never before thought possible and I know I am not alone in experiencing such a transformation. The journey taught me life lessons with an irreversible impact. Initially searching to challenge myself on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level, it became apparent that these goals would be reached almost very soon after beginning the journey. The views, the landscapes, the struggles, the victories, and the would-be strangers all contributed to the reformation of who I would become (but I can't ruin all the surprises in one story). Though the principles and instincts that were unearthed while on this trek may not be universally transferable to "real-life" practices, I discovered that the human spirit, when stripped from societal comforts...will not only survive but it will thrive. 

Check out the rest of the adventure at: The Walkabout

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.