Why You Need to Get in Your Car and Just Drive

Man Plans, God Laughs

I had the road trip of a lifetime all planned out!

➡️ Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Park

➡️ Glacier National Park

➡️ Mt Rainier/Mt Olympus

➡️ Mt Hood/Crater Lake

➡️ Redwoods National Park

➡️ San Francisco

➡️ Yosemite National Park

➡️ Death Valley National Park

I knew nothing about national parks, just that my screen savers were full of pictures from majestical looking places.

As a kid, you couldn't keep me inside whether I was in the creek hiking through the woods or playing any sport known to man. I was always outside.

The next thing I knew I was a part of this adulting group that I didn't even ask to join. My number one goal in life was to never grow up but somewhere along the line, I took a different path. I hadn't been on vacation in over two years and any "vacation" in the last five years was to an out-of-town wedding, which were not quite the adventures of my childhood dreams.

But, finally, this was a trip I could look forward to (not that I don't enjoy a good reading from the First Corinthians, of course)! I was counting the days until it was time to hit the road and the boy scout in me had everything for the road trip planned perfectly.

That's probably about the time God started laughing...

After catching up with family and college buddies in Denver, I was ready to continue on my dream road trip!

I woke up the next morning to a major winter storm developing by Yellowstone, my next planned stop. Full of hope and caffeine, I crossed my fingers and headed north anyway and after battling snow for 10+ hours, I finally made it to Salt Lake City.

The next morning, while grabbing breakfast with a friend, I monitored the storm, which was continuing to get worse. I decided to try and wait out the storm, so I spent the next day snowshoeing in the morning and then exploring the Bonneville Salt Flats in the afternoon.


Another day later, when the break in weather didn't come, I decided to go for it. How bad could it be, anyway?

About an hour north of Salt Lake City, I see a "Chains Required" sign but shrugged it off. 

I think I could actually hear God laughing at this point...

Not too much further I saw multiple trucks had slid off the road on what appeared to no longer be asphalt but a pure sheet of ice. My stubbornness to stick to my plan finally seemed to break when I began to fishtail and I immediately took the next exit.  Apparently, I was not the only one who had that idea, anyone who had any common sense was either chaining up or turning around. Yellowstone would have to wait, time to reverse the "plan" and head to Death Valley.

I arrived in Death Valley just in time for a beautiful sunset and found out I was actually at the iconic sunrise spot, Zabriskie Point



I spent the next few days exploring the incredibly diverse and extreme landscape and couldn't imagine trying to navigate any part of this terrain without modern gear!  From 190 feet below sea level to 11,000+ feet at the tallest point, craters from volcano eruptions, salt flats, sand dunes, colorful hills and insane temperatures, it's not hard to see how Death Valley got its name.



Another storm, supposedly the worst in over a decade, pushed me further south to Joshua Tree. I tried to wait it out, but Joshua Tree was short-lived. 

There was a small window of good weather in Yosemite and I couldn't miss it, especially since the week before the governor declared a state of emergency and evacuated Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite was in rare form after that storm. Waterfalls were running strong in the middle of winter, areas usually covered by water were frozen over and the sun melting the snow made for a constant steam coming from the entire valley. 

On top of that, I was about to start the most incredible and tiring 48 hours of my life. That's when I met Stan and Jake.


Stan is a professional photographer who offered to show me around Yosemite all weekend if I wanted to tag along. That was not a hard sell, I practically hitched a wagon to their car.

However, they did not disclose that they do not stop. Ever. Food and sleep were not a necessity.

5:30 am wake up calls, photographing sunrises and sunsets rather than eating breakfast or dinner, photographing moonrises rather than sleeping, 2:00 am hikes to photograph stars over waterfalls. I got lost in the majestic world of Yosemite and did my best to keep up.




I couldn't believe running from all the weather for weeks led to this once in a lifetime weekend or how much of the park I saw in just 2.5 days!

After discovering a new level of exhaustion, I asked Siri how to get home and off I went.

Somewhere on this trip, I realized being prepared to be flexible is a very different type of preparation than having every last detail planned. The best thing to do is pick a place you want to go and start driving.

Or you can plan, I'm sure God is up for a good laugh.

Published: February 4, 2017

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

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. Learn More

Ryan Oswald

St Louis

✈️ 🌎 Discovering the great outdoors one road trip adventure at a time with my pup 🐶 as my co-pilot and a Nikon in hand 📷