I really wanted to publish this post the night before we left St. Louis for our all 59 National Parks tour, but we had a billion other things to finish up and I felt like using my remaining 4 hours to sleep was more important.
Imagine if you will… a young couple traveling for a year to tons of very remote, distant places they’ve never been and aiming for maximum adventure on a minimum budget. What could go wrong?! Well, as we were planning this trip and the departure kept creeping closer and closer, Elizabeth and I couldn’t help imagining the dozens of different “worst case scenarios” we could face. I would never say we had any doubts about going on this adventure, but I would say we had – and still have – plenty of fears.
And just to make sure this post isn’t too much of a downer… I’ve spiced it up with some images you might recognize. Post a comment with what movies you think they’re from and if you get all 8 right you’ll get a chance at a postcard from our next park!
1. Car trouble – On our last road trip our car broke down in Colorado, we were stranded for 5 days and got to only 1 of the 10 things on the itinerary. That same Ford Fiesta broke down 2 other times on the highway afterwards before we dumped it. To say that my confidence in cars was shaken is an understatement. So even though we have now splurged on the side of reliability and traded up to a 2015 Ford Escape, and even though it has 20K miles left on the warranty, I’m what you might call a Nervous Nelly whenever we hit a pothole hard or jolt down a gravel road (it doesn’t help that our first stop in Great Sand Dunes NP takes us by the same highways where we had our disaster vacation).
2. Medical Emergency – No matter how careful or prepared you are, the wilderness has “wild” in the name for a reason. You can never predict what might happen and things can get real dangerous real fast, whether it’s a flash flood in a canyon or a hidden snake on the trail. And we’re not exactly planning to stay within sight of the Visitors Center at these parks – we have stuff like 3-day backpacking trips, kayaking in alligator country, rock climbing on the coast, snorkeling in reefs and maybe even rim to rim to rim on the Grand Canyon all in our itineraries (as I’m writing this we’re camping in a 30 sq mi dune field). And I had some unfortunate firsthand experience with this. I lost my front tooth last year playing ultimate frisbee – collided with a guy’s forehead and it popped clean out. After 2 botched bone grafts they gave up on an implant and gave me a temporary bridge which seems solid for now, but could falter with any wrong bite or knock. So I know firsthand that crazy accidents can cause big medical problems.
3. Sleeping on the ground – I love camping, but I’ve hardly ever slept on the ground for 6 days straight let alone 6 days a week for an entire year. We are spending the vast majority of our nights tent camping (many times in the backcountry) because we feel it gives us the best flavor of the park and fits best into our budget. But that doesn’t mean we have spines made of iron. And if you don’t get a good night’s sleep for 1 day, let alone 6, it’s hard to perform at peak level and harder to enjoy yourself no matter what you’re doing.
4. Freezing weather – For me, this is also related to getting a good night’s sleep. When the temperature drops at night (right now in the dunes it is dropping from over 100 during the day to low 40s at night) and your body is immobile it can make for a miserable night. And during the day, freezing temps can make any activity a chore, especially if combined with precipitation. We did our best to work our route around the weather – going north in summer and south in winter – but it’s impossible to hit every park in the ideal season if you only have 1 year. For example, Voyageurs NP in northernmost Minnesota during mid-October and North Cascades in glacier-ridden northern Washington in late April are good candidates to have us shivering in our boots.
5. Blog commitments become a chore – Elizabeth and I really want to share our National Parks adventures on our blog and social media for whoever will listen because we really believe the NPS sites are America’s greatest treasures and we hope to inspire and excite people to visit and love them. But keeping up this blog consistently to the level we aspire to takes a lot of time and effort. So far it has been very fun to do and I hope fun to read. I just hope several months in we don’t find ourselves resenting what seems like never-ending work. A commitment is a commitment. But I really don’t worry about this too much because our subject matter is so cool and different from park to park.
6. Miss a Flight – All flights for this trip make me pretty anxious. We are flying to U.S. Virgin Islands (on Spirit Airlines), Hawaii (on United Airlines), to 2 other islands in Hawaii and American Samoa (on Hawaiian Airlines). The flight to American Samoa from Hawaii is definitely what worries me most. There are only 2 flights a week on that route and the tickets are $900 RT. So any mistake or delay, whether it’s our fault our not, could cost is time and money that we do not have.
7. Alaska – This land is vaster, wilder and more remote than anything we will come across in the lower 48. In Alaska fears 1, 2 and 4 are heightened. Plus, out of the 8 parks in Alaska 5 do not have road access and 2 or 3 do not have any park facilities. The roads they do have are very likely endless miles rough gravel with very few services. So that presents a unique problem of just getting to the parks. There are multiple tour companies that offer bush plane flights into the parks, but those flights can cost like $600 an hour. Kobuk Valley NP in northwest Alaska isn’t even within several hundred miles of a city we could drive to that has bush flights. Beyond anything else I’m fearful that Alaska could become a money pit where we are required to spend thousands of dollars just to get to a few parks. We will need to be creative to avoid busting our budget. Fortunately the Alaska leg isn’t scheduled until last in July and August of next year, so we will be much more experienced and aware of how much budget we have left. I have no doubt Alaska will be the figurative summit of our 59 park tour.
8. Bears – Elizabeth here to chime in for the last fear on our list. Cole asked me to make sure everyone knew it was me typing so that no one would think he’s also afraid of bears. But MAN I am jumpy in the woods. Yesterday I screamed when a hiker’s dog ran toward me (and I hadn’t seen the hikers yet). It’s not logical and I know that bees kill people more often or whatever, but still. Bears are terrifying. Mostly because I don’t know how I would react in a situation where I’d have to outsmart or fight a bear. I think I’d be useless. The good thing is that Cole will always be with me and he’s clearly not afraid. As he made sure to let all you know.
As prepared (and armed with bear spray) as we are, we aren’t stupid. There are big things about our trip that scare us every day. But there were big things back in our KC lives that scared us too.
While they hang out in the back of our minds, we’re not letting our fears deter us from taking on the challenge and having the adventure of a lifetime.