Sometimes when I'm feel anxious and unbalanced I go to Google Maps and type in "park".
I go to the nearest park and find their swing set.
Sometimes I put in my headphones and listen to calming music, sometimes I just listen to the natural sounds around me.
I've gone in the sunshine, and in the rain, in the morning and at night.
I've walked around, waiting for a small child to give up their swing, and I've been alone in the park.
I've done this since I was a kid, feeling an instant calm and peace wash over me when the wind hits my face and my feet swing through the air.
Today was one of those days.
I took a break from my journey at a friends house in Austin to go to a Travel conference, then after the conference I felt wiped out, dreading getting back on the road, every morning feeling more exhausted than the last until today I finally woke up, ready to go.
As I hit the road, I felt unsteady and unbalanced but the more I drove, the more ready for my next destination I got. Excited to see Big Bend National Park.
I stopped for gas and when I looked over at this swing set, backlit by a stunning sun set, I was drawn to it like moth to a flame.
As I was swinging, my heart filled with peace and comfort. I felt like I belonged.
Is there anything better than this feeling?
What gives you this feeling of peace and belonging?
I catch myself using the word "only" a lot lately... I've only been to 5 countries, I've only been to 19 National Parks, I've only been on the road for almost 3 months.
But it's all relative.
To someone that hadn't been too many countries or National Parks, and has never lived on the road, that is a lot.
Who am I comparing myself to?
When will it be enough for me to feel comfortable dropping the "only"? Have you caught yourself saying "only" with your experiences?
I think I'm going to practice taking this use of "only" out of my vocabulary and -only- compare my future self with my previous self.
How about you?
Also, check out how enthusiastic I am behind the wheel of this fake Australian jeep. 😂
Since Australia is one of the countries I've been to, I even remembered to get in on the correct side of the car!
A lot of people are surprised to find out how little I know about National Parks.
I can't tell you what species are protected where, which states don't have a park or how to get to each one... I couldn't even name them all.
This trip for me is about learning about each park through my own experiences and the stories that people tell me about their experiences.
I don't want to do a bunch of research and know a bunch of facts.
I want to hear stories and tell stories and learn about the parks through personal narratives.
That's what this project is all about for me.
I didn't know that there was a desert in Colorado and that it got so cold at night and the stars lit up the sky so bright it was like sitting in a Walmart parking lot.
I didn't know that until I went.
I didn't know that you could sled down the dunes until someone told me.
I didn't know that the sand could reach 140 degrees until I read a nearby sign.
I don't want to crack open a text book or browse through endless webpages, I want to see it for myself.
I want to ask stranger's questions.
I want to learn by doing and asking and sharing.
These parks are incredible and I can't wait to share them all with you, one by one.
Story by story.
In the last few years, you must have felt the division in our county.
No matter what "side of the aisle" you're on... That's just it. We've chosen "sides" instead of coming together to find solutions.
A few years ago, I had an idea of what I wanted my life after college to look like.
I was dating a good guy, interning for a great job. I was asked to create my own position at a nonprofit.
I was going to graduate Summa Cum Laude with straight A's in a Journalism and Sociology degree.
I was working four jobs, living comfortably.
First, my romanic relationship fell apart and we broke up.
I quit my jobs in preparation for my new full time job.
Then, a new governor got elected and non-profits saw budget cuts that eliminated my position. I didn't get the job.
I didn't resign my apartment lease.
I walked across the stage with 3 credits to go and found myself jobless, homeless, and single with one last student loan.
So I decided it was time for a change of scenery. I packed my Kia Spectra (Mia) and took off for a two month road trip that would change my life.
Exploring 24 National Parks and Forests, I felt completely at peace for the first time in my life.
I connected with strangers like I never had before.
I felt like I was Home.
When I returned, I was jobless, homeless, single, and now completely broke.
I easily felt myself slip into old habits and old stressors.
I became a Store Manager and Marketing Director of a small business, then a year later, become a Marketing Director for an author, then a year after that served as Executive Assistant to CEO and Executive Marketing Support for a multi-million dollar company while also taking clients as a Freelance Marketing Consultant.
I was pushing hard. I was working all the time.
I was constantly anxious and always in a rush, preoccupied by the next thing.
And on top of that, I was falling out of love with my country.
The division could be felt in my immediate family and friends, the people I loved most in the world, and with strangers I'd meet. I felt angry all of the time. Personally offended and separated from half of society.
I got laid off in November 2017 and traveled to Australia because I needed to get away. I got offered a job there, and strongly considered taking it.
But I loved my family and knew it would be a struggle to bring my dog there.
But in order to make peace with staying, I needed to fall back in love with America. And I needed to find peace.
I looked through my past, searching for a time when I felt peace and connection and remembered my road trip in 2015. I remembered the peace I felt in our National Parks. My heart swelled with the idea of going to all of them. Spending time by myself and on the road again.
My heart would race whenever I thought of the idea.
A plan started to formulate.
My biggest worry was keeping it sustainable.
I had to address the loneliness I had felt on the road, I knew that I had ran home after two months because I didn't maintain communication with friends and family. I wanted this to be different. I wanted to share my experiences with others and keep in contact with the new friends I met along the way.
I wanted to utilize my Journalism passion and make a podcast to share my stories and help others fall in love with America and with our parks.
I knew that financially I had to sustain my travels. So I posted on FB asking if anyone was looking for a virtual assistant. I found a couple of clients that I loved. Later, I would launch a Patreon to see if anyone wanted to support me personally.
Lastly, I knew that I had to be comfortable if I wanted to live on the road full time. So I started looking into renovating a van.
I took out a loan for $8,000 and got a 2012 Ford Transit Connect. Friends and family helped me build it out. And YouTube tutorials became my Bible.
In July, ready or not, I set off, chosing to start in Alaska so I could prove to myself and others that I was serious about this in a very big way.
Right now, I still feel overwhelmed. I have dozens of recorded interviews and no experience creating a podcast. It's hard to know where to start and I've put it off for months.
I sometimes get stressed about where to park my home at night and I get exhausted after driving hundreds of miles.
I lost my spare key and so I have to work in a cafe, with my car on and unlocked so Rocky doesn't get too hot or cold.
I deal with migraines and am trying to get health insurance and get medical tests to get them figured out.
I want to make sure I'm giving back as much, if not more, than people are giving me. I can't believe I have 41 people willing to not only give me the time of day, but also reach into their wallets to support me and this journey and the stories I'm going to share.
It brings tears to my eyes. And it is not something I take lightly.
Ultimately, this journey is all about reconnecting with my country's landscapes and people to inspire me and hopefully to inspire you to fall back in love with the people and places of America.
We have a lot more in common than we may realize.
I've yet to meet a single person on the road that I didn't share at least one commonality with.
And one thing that almost every single person can agree with is the beauty and awe of our National Parks.
I know for a fact that my listeners and supporters are so wide and varied, across many spectrums, but we all can agree on our love of National Parks.
Thank you for inspiring me, my friends.
Thank you so much for coming along on this journey.
What are your thoughts?
I'd love to hear from you.
Let's be in this together. ♥️
Earlier this week, we had an unexpected free day so we spent a couple of hours in the Rocky Mountain National Park!
Just a little over three years ago, I was on my way to the Rocky Mountains.
I felt a pang of loneliness after spending a little over week into a two month road trip alone.
I passed a pet store and thought, "It would be nice to have a hamster or Ginny Pig on my trip." Craving another heartbeat in my car, I turned into the pet place.
I didn't expect to find the love of my life when I walked in that store.
I certainly was not looking to get a dog...
The owner was a total jerk and as I was trying to act like he lost my business, he put a puppy in my hands and led me out back.
All of the dogs were 10 week old pure breds, all except the one he brought out.
A 10 month old terrier mix named Monkey Face.
As I looked into her scared and curious eyes, I knew she was mine and I was hers.
"Her name is Rocky", I told the owner.
He scribbled it on the paperwork.
I didn't even fill out my state in fear that he would know I was living on the road.
I paid with my emergency credit card and sat in my front seat, still in shock about what I had done.
"Welcome home, Rocky," I said to the tiny, shivering puppy on my lap.
Three years later, and here we are back in the Rockies, inseparable and ecstatic to be here.
I truly believe that I am the luckiest girl in the world. 🐾
Rocky and I have been on the road for exactly 2 months today.
In that time I have:
•Driven 7,307.4 miles alone
•Gone through 5 US States and 4 Canadian Provinces
•Gone to 3 US National Parks
•Gotten behind schedule almost every day
•Eaten over 150 Meals
•Taken Rocky outside more than 186 times
•Gotten my oil changed 2 times
•Given Rocky 4 bones and dozens of treats
•Brushed my teeth 124 times and Rocky's 62 times
•Drank over 45 cups of coffee
•Used 22 Gb of data on my phone plan
•Eaten at Wendy's over 20 times (+McDonald's, Burger King, A&W, & Pizza Hut 1 time each)
•Eaten about 8 jars of peanut butter
•Met countless strangers and dozens of new friends
•Seen 18 wild bears, more than 55 wild Buffalo, over 20 reindeer, 2 foxes, 4 porkupines, 1 humpback whale, 1 sea otter, goats, sheep, rabbits, squirrels, sea lions, seals, puffins, jellyfish, moose, elk, 3 eagles, and hundreds of ravens
•Listened to 5 audiobooks and over a hundred songs
•Watched 81 episodes of the Office (and finished 0 books, oops)
•Written 128 & 1/4 pages in my journal
•Bought one shirt, one swim suit, 2 jeans, 1 hat for a total of $23
•Taken over 20 showers
•Done more than 20 interviews
•Slept in my bed 62 times
•Stopped for gas 52 times
•Had 6 car mishaps (destroying 2 tires)
•Done my laundry 4 times
•Drank over 25 gallons of water (+ 10 Dr peppers, and 8 red bulls)
•Have written and sent 76 post cards
•Taken thousands of digital pictures (and 6 Polaroids)
•Regretted taking the VanLife Leap 0 times 🚐