Day One, Unit One
Units #1 & #2 / 412 - Washington Monument (National Memorial) and Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Wow. Here we go.
Day 1 of 1,116 to visit those 400+ red dots above.
If you count back to June 2014, when I started planning this journey in earnest, that's about 700 days of preparation to see (currently) 411 national parks.
And I intentionally started that journey today, April 29, 2016.
April 29 has meant many different things to me over the years:
1986 - 1989 - What are these "days" you speak of? Where is my juice?
1989 - 2004 - A date that typically meant one month left of school, preparing "May Day" candy baskets to leave on my friends' doorsteps (do people outside the Midwest do this?), and Nebraska weather consistently staying warm (finally).
And then it all changed.
2005 - The day of my Class Piano 2 final at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For my 3 p.m. individual exam I arrived to the practice room around 8 a.m., ready to put in seven hours of playing to make up for the many hours I ignored the entire semester.
After finishing--I got a B+ by the grace of God--I climbed in my 1989 Ford Festiva and drove the 15 minutes home.
Climbing over the hill that provided a glimpse of my house in the distance, I noticed an unfamiliar van out front.
When I snaked around the streets and rounded the corner into my family's driveway, every thought I'd had in the preceding 30 seconds was confirmed.
It was a hospice van, that which surely had only one purpose considering my father had been in hospice care the past few months.
I parked my car and made it to the porch just in time to see the van drive away, with my dad inside it.
2006 - 2011 - Not unlike that April day in 2005, the 29th continued to be a day of final exams, either at my undergraduate transfer institution, the University of Memphis, or at grad school in Montreal. While the day was often eclipsed by fears of final projects or focus on tests, a year never went by without a pang of that day in 2005.
Whether a remembrance text from an old friend or a brooding walk back from school, April 29 always stood as a day that meant death, loss, and confusion.
2012 - Spent driving from a Couchsurfing host in Revelstoke, British Columbia, to Banff National Park in Canada. Though not particularly joyous, this day felt partially appropriate. I was, after all, currently on my 260-day, 16,400 mile "Dream Road Trip" around North America--that which I'd decided to take as a result of the "life is too short" lesson I'd started to learn on April 29, 2005.
2013 - 2015 - After seven years of living in distant cities from any family members, I now found myself in the same town as my oldest sister, Washington D.C., and able to spend the day with her. Usually presided over with the cheapest beer we could find (dad loved cheap beer), my sister and I would toast our father and reminisce about the years past.
How long it'd been. How old he'd be this year. What he'd missed out on.
11 years after that unexpected April 29 in 2005, I picked this day to launch my national parks road trip specifically as a way to repurpose it. To take a day that's always been a source of pain, doubt, and sorrow, and turn it into something triumphant. A day not to mourn the loss of life, but to celebrate still having it. A day of honoring the lessons learned from my father's premature death, and use them to live the life I dream.
A day to make life out of death.
I invite you to join me for this journey. For the 1,116 days to come. For the three April 29ths down the road (literally). For every milepost and milestone.
Below you will find 5 Highlights from today's units. My goal isn't to just make this trip about me, but provide a resource for you through my StoryMap blog. For you to be able to Find Your Park, or do that goal which has been burning inside you for too long.
For you to get out and live you dream...whatever it may be.
However, even with this trip, and every day and blog to come, being meant for you, I ask for one concession.
That this day, April 29, 2016, that this day be for my dad. For the lost retirement, the lost time, and the lost dreams.
So here's to you dad! I'm drinking a cheap beer and looking forward to where this journey takes us.
See you on the road!
5 Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial Highlights (You Can Do)
1. Bask in the Views at the Top of the Monument
The very first unit I visited also overlooks more than 15 national park units visible from its 8 windows. Tickets are FREE and can be obtained the day-of at the Washington Monument Lodge, located along 15th Street. It opens at 8:30 a.m. for distribution of same day, timed tickets on a first-come first-served basis. If you plan ahead (and you'll want to order multiple months in advance to actually get one, especially in spring/summer) you can get a reserved, timed ticket here at Recreation.gov
2. Take Epic Pictures
The Monument is an incredibly iconic point for Washington D.C. and the United States. Views in every direction showcase an insane amount of American history and culture, along with other units and memorials, allowing for epic pictures.
3. Read About the History of our National Park Units
The Washington Monument has been through a lot over the years (including a pause in its construction in the 1800s--where you see the change in stone color in the above photo--and as a staging ground for participants in Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington and "I Have a Dream" speech).
At the top, there are a number of exhibits that discuss this history, and you might even encounter an employee--as I did--maintaining and repairing this unit heavily damaged in Washington D.C.'s 2010 earthquake.
Just don't ask about the history of the elevator... #FundOurParks
4. Get Your Stamp On!
Did you know that each of the national parks has an official stamp to document your visit? The folks at Eastern National were kind enough to send me both a pocket size and Collector's Edition "Passport To Your National Parks" to document my journey.
5. Epic Pictures in Front of (and Behind) the Jefferson Memorial
The facade of this unit is one of my favorite places to get an amazing photo. With a design to resemble the Pantheon in Rome, it's the chance for a Greco-Roman style photo without having to cross the Atlantic.
The back, less crowded side offers the chance to get photos without the swarm of tourists usually covering the front steps.
But the front steps still provide a great view of other monuments...
Want more coverage of the parks? Support this journey here.
Click here to read about each of the other 400+ parks.
10 Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations please! What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)
(Plus a Bonus 7 -- these are the remaining units in DC proper)
-Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site
-Ford's Theatre National Historic Site
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
-Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
-Korean War Veterans Memorial
-Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac
-Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
-Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site
-Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site (JUST NORTH OF MALL)
-Rock Creek Park
-Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial (Closed till late summer 2016)
-Vietnam Veterans Memorial
-White House, The
-(National) World War II Memorial
-National Capital Parks