Celebrating My 30th Birthday at all 400+ U.S. National Parks.
"I'm insane." "I will get eaten by a bear." "I really am insane." Thoughts I've had almost daily over the past two years (especially after watching Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear in The Revenant). And yet, thoughts that are always overcome by a much stronger emotion.
One that asks if perhaps it's all right to be a little crazy. You see, two years ago today I turned 28 and felt what every 28-year-old feels. "Oh God! Next year is 29. Which is basically 30. THIRTY? I'm supposed to have my life figured out by 30. I'm supposed to be a real adult." But 30 for me held an even more pressing deadline. Not one put on by society, or Dr. Phil, or guilt trips from family. 30 was the deadline of a promise I made to myself.
A promise to make life out of death. Nine years before that 28th year, I was a 19-year-old Nebraska boy with an itch to see the world. An itch I needed to start scratching. So I planned my first independent road trip to launch days after my freshman year of college. It was a perfect inaugural trip. 4 states. 5 cities. And my childhood best friend riding shotgun. The only problem came two weeks before we left... Unexpected, and yet altogether anticipated, my dad lost his years-long battle with cancer. My dad, the man who had given me permission months earlier to use his beloved Hyundai Elantra for this first road trip. Who had MacGyver'd to life every car I'd ever driven. And who had not only taught me to check my tire pressure before any long trip, but also taught me to love the road.
Whether it was driving with him to Florida in a beat up old van, windows down, talk radio blasting and cool mountain air crossing our words. Or even sitting in silent prayer, teeth grimaced to the max, as we made it through one of the Midwest's many storms and left dark clouds in the rear view mirror: silence speaking for us in ways words couldn't, vistas talking in shades of blue, red, orange and purple, and road lines passing one by one as the memories behind us gave way to journeys ahead.
But there would be no more journeys. None with him at least. My road trips of future were now with me in the driver's seat. I was the commander. I had to be the confident one. I had to know where I was going. So there I was at 28--after nine annual road trips to honor that inaugural trek--wondering where I was going with 30 looming so ominously ahead and remembering the way each of those trips gave me life. How it was on those road trips I'd felt most pure. The most raw and united to everything around me. The most connected, to myself, my father, and my purpose.
Indeed it was at age 26 and on an annual road trip I'd turned into my longest yet--260 days--that I felt the most blissful. That joy made me challenge myself to do something crazy.
Something I now tell myself on a daily basis is insane. I vowed to make every fifth year of my road trips something "epic." Not just a week or two, but something like the extended 260-day "Dream Road Trip" I was wrapping up and feeling most fed from. "At 30, 35, 40...every five years," I thought. "I'll do something you'd save for retirement. For the retirement my dad never got. For the retirement I may never get."
(Mikah's 2011-2012 "Dream Road Trip" - 260 days, 16,400 miles)
"But what do I want to do?" As my 28-year-old self pondered the dreams of 65-year-old Mikah, I found one goal inspired by my road trips of past. Whether it was Yellowstone, Arches, or The Statue of Liberty, I wanted to see all the U.S. national parks. Not just spend every year till 65 saying I wanted to do it then see them all in a Hoveround, but experience them for my next "epic" trip. When I turned 30. At an age that would just happen to make me the youngest person to ever visit all 400+ units of the National Park System.
So today I say Happy 30th Birthday to myself. 45 days from April 29, the 11th anniversary of my dad's passing and the launch of a 1,116-day road trip to all the national parks. In 2016, the year of the National Park Service's 100th anniversary. The year the National Park Service, National Park Foundation and National Parks Conservation Association especially invite young and diverse people to get out and "Find Your Park" or "Find Your Voice" at one of their 400+ units. The year my dad would have turned 70 and been five years into the road trips he planned but were lost to the "somedays" that never came.
"I am insane," I say to myself even as I type this. "I really am crazy." And yet, extreme fear of bears or not, I can't help but feel that's all right.
Maybe this is 30. Maybe this is what 30 is supposed to be for this once anxious Nebraska boy. Maybe, in the words of Seal, "We're never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy."
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Click here to read about each of the 400+ national parks.