I realized I never shared the Introduction of my book, The Adventures of a Day Hiker: An Exploration of America’s National Parks. So, here it is. Check it out. I’ll put a link to my book at the end as well.
He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Coming home to a place he’d never been before.
John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
I was 23 years old when I made my first trip to the mountains. So I guess you could say I beat John Denver by four years. The opening to Rocky Mountain High really strikes a chord with me, because my first trip to the American west was a turning point, or rebirth, in my life. It was then that I first became enamored with America’s National Parks. My fascination quickly blossomed into an obsession. The fateful trip that changed my life and shaped me into the person I am today took place in the summer of 2004.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of my favorite college professors helped turn me into the passionate National Park junkie I am today. I was taking Professor Nezhukumatathil’s Environmental Literature class my senior year at Fredonia State College in Western New York. One of the pieces she had us read was Death of an Innocent by Jon Krakauer. It was an article from Outside Magazine, which would eventually grow into the book Into the Wild (also by Krakauer), and finally a major motion picture with the same title.
Death of an Innocent followed the life of a young man, named Christopher McCandless, who gave away all his money and abandoned his possessions. McCandless then created an alter ego for himself as he set out across the country to experience a newfound freedom. He spent two years traveling out west mostly by hitchhiking; before making his way north to Alaska, his ultimate goal. He walked into the wilderness there, intent on surviving off the land for a few months. He eventually died in the Alaska bush under mysterious circumstances. People continue to debate how he died and whether or not his trip into the Alaska wilds was essentially a death wish, because he had little experience. Some people admire his sense of adventure and desire to challenge himself, while others condemn his ill-advised choices and foolhardy nature.
Krakauer’s article about McCandless captivated me. It wasn’t the question of whether McCandless had taken on more than he should have or how he met his untimely demise. What intrigued me was the way in which he lived, not how he died. I couldn’t imagine giving away all of my possessions, leaving my family, and starting over on my own. He explored and lived in some very remote lands in desert and canyon country, kayaked to Mexico, held jobs in small towns, and met plenty of interesting people before heading off to Alaska. I could never do what he did, nor did I want to, but I did envy his drive for adventure.
I wanted to learn more, so I went out and bought Into the Wild. The more I read, the more interested I became. I began to wonder what I was capable of. I was not about to go on a solo road trip to Alaska, but the idea of driving across the country appealed to me. I had always been interested in the outdoors, but had little experience besides for short hikes close to home.
I decided to go on a road trip to the American west. I wasn’t going to get rid of all my money and possessions before leaving like Christopher McCandless did, but I was going to embark on a solo adventure. I gave myself a few months to plan and prepare for a great trip.
After a lot of internet research, browsing through hundreds of scenic photos, and paging through several travel books I decided on my destination. My trip would focus on Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming. In addition to visiting the nation’s first National Park I would stay in neighboring Grand Teton National Park and stop in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
As my departure grew closer I became more and more prepared. I did a lot of research on the internet and was nose-deep in guide books. I knew there were geysers, waterfalls, and large wildlife in Yellowstone, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. I had no idea what I was in for.
As I previously mentioned, I had little outdoors experience before my first trip out west. I had only camped out once before, and that was in a friend’s tent after a concert. So, I got a tent for my birthday, two months before I was set to leave. I bought a new backpack, a travel grill, and some other supplies. The fact that I was going into my solo adventure with so little experience was both nerve-racking and exhilarating.
The final week before I left was full of last-minute packing and excitement. I was anxious to get on the road to the mountainous west. While I didn’t know what the trip would bring I knew it would be more than a vacation for me, it would be an adventure.
That first trip out west was a memorable one. I was gone for eleven days, and spent about half of my days in National Parks. I camped four nights in my new tent and hiked about thirty miles altogether. Being out there on my own was exciting and proved to be a tremendous learning experience.
In my short time out west I fell in love with the mountainous landscapes of the National Parks. The wildlife, geysers, canyon, and waterfalls in Yellowstone blew my mind. And I was in awe of the snowcapped Rocky Mountains and the amazing jagged peaks in the Teton Range. Once back from my trip I couldn’t stop gushing about how incredible my experience was. I showed off pictures to my friends and family and told them tales of my adventure out west.
I convinced my friend Joe to join me on my next excursion. We took a long weekend in October and made the nine-hour trek south to Shenandoah National park. We camped in the park for four nights and hiked up a few small mountains. I told Joe that as impressive as Shenandoah was, it couldn’t compare to the parks out west where everything was so much greater and grander. That was enough to get Joe on board for an extended trip out west the following May.
We went on an 18-day road trip eight months later. We camped two nights each in Zion, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. The parks were all fantastic in their own ways. Zion boasted huge rock monoliths and steep canyon walls; the Grand Canyon was mesmerizing and never-ending, while Yosemite had stunning waterfalls and enormous sequoia trees. We started to take on longer, more difficult hikes on that trip. And before we even started our long drive home we began planning our next National Park adventure.
My second western road trip with Joe would be the grandest of them all. A lot of planning went in to the trip, my third western sojourn in as many years. The following summer we made our triumphant return to the west. We drove 10,000 miles in 37 days. Our trip encompassed eight National Parks. We camped out in six of them for a total of 22 nights. Joe’s girlfriend joined us for five days in Yosemite and we stayed with friends in Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco along the way. Our epic adventure spanned 18 states. We considered the trip a sort of “last hurrah,” figuring it would be the last time we would be able to go on a trip of such magnitude. We even quit our jobs to go away for so long.
By the time we got home we had become seasoned hikers. We never tried backpacking, but we had completed a couple of day hikes over fifteen miles long and hiked well over 100 miles on the trip. We had also become very comfortable camping after spending so many nights in a tent. We assembled our tent in less than five minutes, built huge roaring fires, and grilled delicious meals for dinner. Instead of getting homesick I dreaded returning to “real life” after such a long time on the road.
After the trip was over I got a new job and could no longer travel for weeks at a time. It crushed me, because so many National Parks had already cast their hypnotic spell on me. All I could do was daydream about trips I could hopefully make in the future and reminisce about the amazing places I had been.
And that’s all I did as far as travelling went for the next two years. Then I got a new job with some good benefits. After a year at the new job I hit the road once more. I went on a 19-day solo trip to the southwest. The following summer I returned to the mountains on a 20-day excursion focusing on Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks. A year after that, my girlfriend accompanied me on a 13-day expedition to Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies. She proved to be a great travel companion, so I proposed to her a month later.
After three straight years of National Park adventures I took the year off that we got married. But the next year brought one last excursion (for now). I flew to Las Vegas with my wife and in-laws and then we drove to three National Parks in the southwest.
As you can see, I became a little obsessed with the National Parks of the American west. I tried to spend a couple of weeks exploring the parks each year and spent a few more weeks thoroughly planning my upcoming trips. Whether I was travelling alone or with a friend I cherished my time in the National Parks. I loved hiking to gorgeous waterfalls, up mountains, and down into canyons. I enjoyed grilling my meals, relaxing beside campfires, and sleeping under the stars. I have had the privilege of viewing and walking beside magnificent wildlife. And I have taken thousands upon thousands of scenic photos within the parks.
I have amassed a lot of stories from my National Park travels over the years. And those are what fill this book. When I first began writing this, it was simply to put some of my memories from the parks on paper. I figured that even the best memories would eventually fade away, but if I could successfully write them down they could live on forever.
I decided not to write about all of the National Parks I have visited. My time in several of them consisted of little more than drive-thru visits, where I simply spent a couple hours there before moving on. However, there are ten National Parks spread across the American West where I have camped at least one night. So I decided those parks would be the focus of my book.
Each chapter begins with an introduction to a park. I provide some facts and statistics, mention some hikes and highlights, and offer a broad description of the park. I also give a little background on my time there. Following each introduction I dive right into the stories of my experiences there. You may notice I have included very little dialogue, which is simply because aside from some journaling most of this was written long after it occurred.
In writing this book, I have tried to vividly describe the scenic landscapes that I have witnessed. In addition, I have done my best to share the feelings that I had while admiring those amazing sights and hiking so many incredible trails out west. I hope that when you read the following pages you feel like you were right there with me; seeing what I saw and feeling what I felt. Who knows, maybe I can actually inspire you to visit a National Park and hike a trail that I hiked or admire a scenic vista that I described. Readers responding by following in my footsteps would be the greatest compliment I could receive. So ultimately I suppose the purpose of this book is to share my stories in hopes of getting more people to visit the National Parks.
I am confident that anyone who ventures out to a National Park will go home a changed person. Not just different, but improved. While I’m sure everyone can have their own remarkable experiences, I want to share what America’s National Parks have to offer and show just how easy it was for me to see and do some of my favorite things within the National Park system. That’s not to say everything was effortless, because some of the trails I have hiked were absolutely grueling. But I feel that if I can complete them so can anyone else in halfway decent shape. I was merely a novice hiker and camper when I arrived at my first National Park. Over the course of several years I would like to think that I have developed into a fairly knowledgeable outdoorsman. Now it’s your turn. I hope you enjoy my tales and create some National Park memories of your own.
Here’s the link to my book, if you’re interested in buying a copy.