24,901 Miles – The distance around the earth
20,000 Miles – The distance I traveled in my van around the United States in 2015
In March of 2015 I bought an old Volkswagen van and named it Tantor. Nine months later, Tantor and I had visited 26 states, 3 countries, broken down numerous times, and put 20,000 miles under the tires. That was one epic road trip.
Many people have asked me what the best part of my circumnavigation of the United States was, and before I answer, it is probably best to address a more obvious question…
Why quit another job with promising career opportunities, leave the town I’ve called home for 9 years, and ditch the majority of my physical possessions to live nomadicly with no real plans?
In reality, I was comfortable…and comfort scares the crap out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate a comfy bed or a cozy sleeping bag, but when I think about comfort in the context of a lifestyle, I immediately start to panic. I associate comfort with being idle, stagnant, or lazy. I worry that if I get comfortable, I’ll no longer test myself, grow as a person, try new things, meet new people, gain new skills, live, explore, and thrive. If I choose to live comfortably, I’m concerned that I’ll look back in 20 years and wonder where my life went, why I didn’t try something new, or go somewhere different. I’d rather look back on my life and regret the things that I did do than the things that I wish I’d done.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
– Mark Twain
In early 2015 I realized that I was content with living in a van, working in a cubical for a regular paycheck, showering at the gym, and living in Southern California. There was no challenge…I was comfortable…and I hated it.
I decided that I needed to do the one thing that scared me the most, I needed to quit my job.
I called my past employer and asked for my old job back. Well, I asked for my responsibilities back, and promised to get the work done as a freelance contractor without sitting in a cubical or reporting for a regular schedule. It was one of the scariest calls I’ve ever made, but I was hired.
With the promise of at least a month of freelance work, I quit my full time job, forwarded my mail to Indiana, and gave up my beer mug membership at Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. In June of 2015 I packed everything I owned into my van, said goodbye to the friends I’d made over the past 9 years, and hit the road in search of the unknown.
The first few weeks were difficult, and by that I mean I had a hard time staying focused on work. I had complete freedom. No one told me what to do or when to do it. Everything was up to me. I was finally “FunEmployed”. I tried to achieve a productive “fun / work” balance, but the scales mostly tipped toward fun.
I spent my inital FunEmployement time in Arizona before flying to New England to help Luis Escobar photograph Scott Jurek breaking the speed record on the Appalachian Trail. Next, I drove to Colorado to tackle a few fourteeners, rambled north to camp with friends in Yellowstone, and headed west to see my family in Oregon. I planned to stay in Ashland for 3 days and finally left after 3 weeks of craft beers, mountain races, and hiker trash parties. I was missing the smell of salt water and enjoyed a few days touring the Oregon Coast.
I stayed in Seattle for a week with my cousin, braved grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, almost got stuck in Canada due to an overzealous Border Patrol Agent, and visited family and friends in Montana before returning to Yellowstone for a second visit. I drove the stunning Beartooth Highway and line danced at the Boot Scoot ‘N Boogie in Cody, Wyoming before breaking down and being stranded for 2 days in the Bighorn Mountains. Thanks to the incredible generosity of several strangers, I was back on the road, rambling past the Badlands, en route to drink good beers with great friends in Chicago and Michigan.
I spent a few weeks at home in Indiana, gave the keynote “Live Your Adventure” presentation for the local “Active Aging” week, was interviewed on TV, and hung out with my family and friends. Tantor was packed and ready to go as soon as the first frost hit the Midwest, it was time to find warmer weather. I enjoyed an evening catching up with hiker trash in Knoxville and followed some white blazes in the Great Smokey Mountains. I built up the courage to reach out to a beautiful girl that I’ve had a crush on since college and spent a few days with her in North Carolina before revisiting the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia, ground zero for my minimalistic nomadic lifestyle.
In Florida I drove to Key West and stayed with great friends in Orlando before pointing Tantor toward Arizona. We slowly passed through the Gulf States, seeing more friends and driving down to Big Bend National Park to hang out with my AT hiking buddy Meat. A few short days later I drove over a snowy mountain pass and returned to Northern Arizona, 5 months and 20,000 miles after I left.
It was an epic adventure. I reached all four corners of the Continental United States, visited 11 National Parks, swam in both oceans, drove through 115 degree heat and snow drifts, slept in 126 different places, and ended up with some great photos. But none of that tops the list as the best part of my trip. When I look back on this vagabond adventure, I won’t be able to pick one place, one vista, one trail, or one mountain that was my favorite. Actually, my favorite part of this trip wasn’t even a place.
So, what was the best part of my road trip around the country?
I traveled solo, but I was never alone. It was the people that I was able to share each adventure with that made everything worthwhile. I’m forever thankful to family, friends, and strangers who took time out of their busy lives to visit with me. I reconnected with distant family members, friends from college, AT hiking buddies, and strangers who quickly became friends. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see everyone in person on this journey, but even those who sent me messages along the way made a huge impact on my adventure. Those notes kept me going when I was tired of moving, sick of driving, and stranded in Nowheresville, working long days to fund my life on the road.
When people ask me, “What was the best part of your road trip?”, I automatically reply, “The People”.
Most of all, I’m thankful that I quit my job, stepped out of my comfort zone, and followed my dreams, because had I not ventured out into the unknown, I would not have reconnected with this amazing woman who was willing to take a chance of her own and date a homeless hippie.