How Pilot Flying J is Making Sure I Reach All 417 U.S. National Parks
Popping awake from a loud rattle, my eyes adjusted to the dark night and foggy mist in the distance.
With a sudden pounding on the windshield, that misty warning turned into a full-fledged downpour as the wiper blades also woke from their sleep.
I squinted at the dashboard clock and saw 3:03 AM, meaning we were somewhere in the Tennessee mountains--what might as well have been Mount Everest to this Nebraska-bred, 10-year-old. Glancing to the left, I saw my dad lean forward in his driver's seat, slide his glasses up his noise, and turn up the talk radio. I laid back down and fell soundly asleep: everything would be all right.
Dad was at the wheel.
The above scene played out often in my childhood. What with a father who said he would’ve been a trucker had he not become a pastor, and whose goal it was for his family to use their own hands and build a house in Florida: a 28-hour-drive away. And so, from as young as I can remember, my family of six would make this drive from Nebraska to Florida, straight through. Dad in the driver's seat for the non-stop journey, mom in the front seat of the old Dodge van, and four whiney kids in the back, fighting over who was in “each other's space” or lamenting having to use the Port-o-Potty sitting strategically on top of the trunk's Tetris-packed luggage. Always departing Nebraska at the same time so as to avoid traffic in St. Louis and Atlanta, there were a few stops that also became habit: - Lunch somewhere post-Kansas City traffic. - Pre-bedtime bathroom breaks in Paducah, Kentucky. - And mandatory stops at the Flying J's on either end of Georgia's Interstate 75: reliably the cheapest gas on the entire route.
Now that I'm a 30-year-old and on a world record road trip to all 417 U.S. national parks, I yearn for a similar feeling to those teenage road trips.
When my car breaks down, my solar power system melts in the Texas heat, or I’m struggling to make it through a long drive, I wish my dad was still around to give me that same feeling of safety I had in those Tennessee mountains.
My anticipated route to all 417 sites
But it’s not the first time I’ve wished he could be there.
I wished I had him when I took my first independent road trip at age 19, when its months-planned departure date ended up falling ten days after his funeral.
I wished he was there to drive me to/from college and home every break the way he did my three older sisters.
And I wished he was there from age 25 - 26, when I took a 260 day, 16,400 mile road trip: the longest of the annual road trips I've taken since his death to honor the life that cancer cut short.
Every time I start the engine I wish he was around, to know that everything was going to be all right and I didn't have to worry—just like those 3 AM wake ups.
As I pass the one year anniversary of my current trip’s launch, I still lament that loss, but am thankful to now have a small piece of something to connect me with those road trips of past.
In my quest to accomplish this continuous, 3-year road trip, I now have Pilot Flying J providing the gas which will get me to all 417 national parks.
And because road travel has changed since I was 10, I now also have the myPilot mobile app to help me find the nearest station, free Wi-Fi both at the pump and inside the travel center to help me plan my next steps, and the comfort of knowing that with more than 750 locations nationwide, no matter what corner of the U.S. I’m in--whether the broad ways of New York, winding paths of Yellowstone, or mountain roads of Tennessee—when it comes to the gas to reach the parks, everything will be all right.
My completed route through park 141
This post is sponsored by Pilot Flying J, but all opinions are my own.