Our Adventure is Over

Timm saying goodbye to the Grand Canyon

We have hiked the final trail in the final park on the final day of our adventure.  We hiked the Grandview Trail deep down into the Grand Canyon and sat just above the Horseshoe Mesa, where we enjoyed our lunch and a spectacular view of the canyon.  We said goodbye to this amazing place and also to our adventure of a lifetime.

Our nation is blessed that our forebears set aside so many natural lands for future generations to enjoy.  And Theresa and I are truly blessed to have visited so many beautiful places over the past year.


Timm, Theresa, Shadow and Darby sitting in front of our original RV at our home in Kentucky

As we were planning our trip, our proposed route seemed daunting.  For a couple who didn’t like road trips, it was ironic that we were embarking on a journey that would require us to drive over 25,000 miles, the equivalent of circling around the entire planet.  It didn’t seem possible that we could actually see 65 parks, and yet we ended up visiting 93 of them.


Theresa and Timm relaxing in the shade in the Wind Caves, at Anza-Borrego State Park, California

January 26, the first day of our adventure, seems like so long ago.  We had the luxury of time—almost an entire year to explore this country at our own pace and direction.  Because the trip was mostly ahead of us, time seemed to pass very slowly.  We woke up each morning without an alarm clock.  We laid in bed, felt the warm sunshine on our faces, and smelled the fresh morning air.  We often waited until that very morning to decide what to do for the day, based on the weather and our mood.  If it was sunny and warm, perhaps we’d stay another day and hike.  If it was rainy or cold, perhaps we’d move on to the next park.


Our generator and the side of our RV destroyed in the crash in Joshua Tree, California

Then just one month later, the crash threatened to end our trip.  Our RV was destroyed, my body was injured, but most severely, our spirit was wounded.  However, with our own determination, plus encouragement from our supportive family and friends, we soldiered on, found a new RV in just 10 days, and hit the road once again with a new attitude and appreciation for our opportunity.


The view of Wapta Falls from our RV, just outside Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, and the silver lining from the crash was our ability to “do over” our trip, this time with a month of road experience under our belt.  We bought a smaller RV that allowed us to dispersed camp in remote locations.  This in turn allowed us to extend our experience by spending mornings, evenings and nights immersed in nature.  If we had been packed like sardines into a busy RV park every night, we would not have heard the long morose howling of a mother wolf, enjoyed the musical serenade of a field full of meadowlarks, watched the Orionids streaking across a jet black sky, fallen asleep to the persistent rush of a massive waterfall, and we certainly would not have awakened to a black bear shaking our RV while chewing on our tow hitch.


Timm and Theresa celebrating our 20th anniversary in Death Valley

This was a good time in life for us to venture on this trip.  Theresa recently graduated with an MBA in Sustainable Business and wanted to start a new career.  Apparently 2012 is the year of the apocalypse, so it was nice to see the world before it ends (just kidding… I hope).  And our 20th anniversary was in March.  We celebrated our special day in Death Valley, and though it’s not the most romantic place, the weather was warm, and the views were sublime.

Death Valley was also an important inflection point on our trip.  Originally we planned to head north in a big clockwise loop from Death Valley to the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and Alaska, then back down through the Canadian Rockies into the Dakotas.  But we noticed the Pacific coast was experiencing a cold and wet spring, while the middle of the country had skipped winter altogether.  So we decided to go counter-clockwise instead.


Lilacs blooming in June in Golden, British Columbia

Given that we spent almost every day in the great outdoors, the weather was a constant factor on our trip.  It affected which hike we would select, what clothes we wore, how many drinks we would bring on our hike, etc.  We knew even before we started that we would not experience a real warm summer like we were used to.  On the other hand, we were spared the triple-digit blistering hot summer our family and friends endured back home in Kentucky.

We also had the pleasure of following the spring up north and the autumn down south.  Our noses inhaled the sweet aroma of lilacs as they bloomed for three straight months from California all the way up into British Columbia.  And our eyes bathed in the bright colors of fall foliage from Washington in September all the way down to Florida in November.


Darby chasing Shadow in the snow around Theresa in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

Given that we spent much of our time in the desert, we were blessed with abundant sunshine on our trip.  We also learned the power the sun held over our moods.  Turns out we were happier when the weather was sunny and cold, versus cloudy and warm.  Of course we were most happy when it was sunny and warm.

As expected, the weather in Canada and Alaska wasn’t the best.  It snowed well into June, and one time it rained for 72 hours straight.  Many of the high trails in the Canadian Rockies were still snow-bound and inaccessible.  One gruff park ranger in Canada told us, “Everything is closed, come back in August.”  However, our dogs really love playing in snow, so our disappointment from snowy trails quickly turned to joy as the dogs began to romp in the fluffy white powder.


Black bear just outside of Yoho National Park, British Columbia

When we crossed the border into Canada, we noticeably settled down and started to relax more.  Phone and Internet access were limited and outrageously expensive, so we disconnected from civilization and plugged even more into nature.  We spotted over two dozen black bears.  The Canadian Rockies were majestic, and the Canadian people were friendly.


Timm retrieved a foul ball at the Midnight Sun Baseball Game in Fairbanks, Alaska

Even the trek into Alaska on the 1,387-mile Alaska Highway was a real adventure.  Spending a summer in Alaska has been on my “bucket list” since I was a teenager.  Much to our delight, the days grew longer, and we attended the Midnight Baseball game on the summer solstice in Fairbanks.  Because it never got dark, we no longer had to rush.  Some nights we didn’t get off the hiking trail until after 10pm.


Alpine Lupine wildflowers in Olympic National Park, Washington

The long length of this trip afforded us the freedom to choose our route, linger at the places we really enjoyed, and slow down to smell the wildflowers.  But as I’ve discussed before, this was an adventure, not a vacation.  We still had to pay bills, file taxes, clean our RV, do laundry, and go shopping for groceries and supplies.  We had to perform many of the same tasks and chores as in our previous life, but instead of working all day at a job, we got to hike the spectacular outdoors.


Theresa and Timm on Hurricane Ridge with the Olympic Mountains in the background, in Olympic National Park, Washington

We also had a house to sell, which was complicated by the poor real estate market, an unqualified failed first buyer, and an incompetent loan officer who put up barrier after barrier to closing the deal.  But when our house finally did sell in August, it was like a big weight had been lifted off our shoulders.  We relaxed even more and spent an entire month on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  This was perhaps our most carefree, enjoyable phase of our trip.


Theresa, Darby and Shadow on Lookout Mountain in front of Mt. Hood, Oregon

Once we entered Oregon, we could literally feel the end of the trip approaching.  Part of this was because we had considered Portland as one of the leading cities to live after our trip was over, so naturally we started talking about what would come next.  It was an unpleasant intrusion of reality in a trip that had been mostly a fantasy come true.  Theresa and I had many serious discussions, made some important decisions, and then decided to table further discussion of the future so we could focus on the here and now and thoroughly enjoy the rest of our trip.  And it turned out that Oregon was even more beautiful than we had anticipated, and we were especially surprised by the massive volcanoes.


Theresa and Timm in front of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California

When we finally visited our old friend Yosemite in California, our adventure seemed almost complete.  Of all the parks we have visited—on this trip and before—Yosemite is our favorite.  We spent five wonderful days in Yosemite and enjoyed terrific weather, sunny and 70s every day.  But what we didn’t do was say goodbye.  So we weren’t quite ready yet to head straight home.  When eating a delicious dessert or yummy snack, we want to know when it’s our last bite so we can really savor it.  And we hadn’t done that in Yosemite.


Timm is happy after flying over the Grand Canyon on his birthday

Thus we pondered a few options on how to properly end our trip, and ultimately we decided to visit three more of our all-time favorite parks nearby, ending with a grand finale in the Grand Canyon on my birthday.

Now we are in Florida to visit my family and sell our RV.  We drove straight through and didn’t stop at any parks along the way.  It was a tough challenge because we passed at least a half dozen parks that were close enough for us to see canyons that beckoned us.  We could’ve easily spent another month or two dilly-dallying at interesting parks and monuments along the way, but we wanted to end the trip on a big bang (the Grand Canyon).  In addition, we realized we needed to get back to reality and start looking for employment and a place to live, and both of us have a parent who is quite ill that we wanted to visit soon.

Our first day on the road heading home, we were both sad and depressed.  Of course it’s ridiculous to feel sorry for us, as we just had the most awesome year on adventure.  But you may relate, as it’s that same feeling you’ve likely had when returning to work after a fantastic vacation.  You wish it could last forever but know that it cannot.


Our last campfire at our last dispersed campsite, in Apalachicola National Forest, Florida

Transitioning back to the real world will be a slow, challenging process.  We still have to sell our RV, visit both our families, find new jobs, find a new place to live, and move all our stuff there.  Even on a quick pace, we’ll be lucky to complete all of these tasks by the end of the year.

Much of our challenge will be psychological.  After a year like 2012, life may seem all downhill from here.  But perhaps after a while Theresa and I can retire and once again explore the world.  We’ve already decided that we want to return to the Canadian Rockies some summer so we can hike the high mountain trails.  And we’d like to expand our exploration overseas, perhaps to New Zealand, the Swiss Alps, and South America.


Theresa and Timm on the edge of a 1500-foot cliff on Angel's Landing in Zion National Park, Utah

The one thing we said to ourselves over and over—besides how lucky we are to have done this trip—is that we are so glad we’re doing this now while we are both young and healthy enough to really explore the parks.  We hiked a total of 835 miles this year and climbed nearly 26 miles in elevation, the equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest a dozen times.

No matter what happens later in life, no matter what inevitable tragedies befall us, we’ll always have 2012, and nobody or nothing can take that away from us.  Well, except for Alzheimer’s or dementia, but that’s why we have these blogs, to remind us of the details of our adventure.


Our wonderful family and friends threw us a going away party

We’d like to thank our wonderful family and friends who have encouraged and supported us along the way.  And thanks to you for reading our blogs and sharing your thoughts.  Please keep reading, because we still have to publish photos from our final dozen parks and will continue writing about our trip and our transition back to the real world.


Theresa and Timm in front of a smoky Grand Canyon, Arizona

Our adventure may be over, but our experience will live on forever in our minds and in our hearts, until the day our hearts stop beating.  We will always have 2012.

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