It all started one fateful spring evening: I was at Charlottesville's Tom Tom Festival and ran into my old friend Darius, a man driven by a passion for wolf shirts, a love of UVA, Settlers of Catan, argyle socks, and ultramarathons. He's the kind of guy that somehow perfectly blends silliness and crazy ideas with a serious determination for intellectual pursuits, physical discipline, and a drive for continuous personal improvement. I knew him through some mutual friends and our past victories as inner tube water polo champions of UVA. Our catch-up conversation went something like this:
Darius: Hey, how've you been?
Me: Oh not bad, still working at UVA, you?
Darius: Same, but I'm about to quit my job and go on a road trip to visit all the National Parks.
Me: What!? That sounds amazing, tell me more...
And so I heard about the plan that Darius had been gestating for months, perhaps years, to visit all the National Parks. 59 Parks in 59 weeks. Importantly, he informed me he was looking for someone to go along. For those who know me well, you would probably guess that I'd be tempted by this idea, no matter how foolish or half-baked it seemed. After all, I have quit a good job before to go explore New Zealand for apparently no reason. What about my current position as a post-doc? What about the costs? What about a "real job"? What about getting eaten by bears in the wilderness?
Despite the nagging and reasonable concerns, I couldn't get the idea of doing this out of my head. For weeks I weighed the pros and cons in my brain, and sometimes on paper. I had occasional meetings with Darius to discuss. "So wait, how is this going to work?" "There's a National Park in American Samoa?" There were more questions than answers. What would my family think? Could I actually pull this off?
I floated the idea with those close to me and reactions ran the gamut: from, "You just got a PhD, get a job!" to, "I don't know about this..." to, "If it's what you really want to do." to, "That sounds awesome, do it!" The decision weighed heavily. I fell back on a strategy I taught myself previously, which was to think about it in the context of regret; which would I regret more: doing it (with the serious possibly failing, in more ways than one), or not doing it and years later wishing I had?
It sounded like the adventure of a lifetime and I've been wanting to do a cross-country road trip for years. Well this was a cross-country road trip on steroids, turned up to 11. In some ways it terrified me -- I'd have to leave everything behind (which I've done before, sort of), I'd miss so much (weddings, babies being born, family reunions, etc.), everything in my life would change, it could put career prospects at risk, and there was a huge amount of uncertainty. Over a period of weeks I whittled away reasons to not do it. Ultimately, the fear, the regret inequality, and the excitement of adventure led me down the path to say, for better or worse, "I'm in. 100%." I informed Darius: "I'm really sorry, but I have to tell you... you have to put up with me for the next 59 weeks."
I feel exhilarated and yet completely unprepared. There's too much to do and not enough time before we leave. Even now I fear we may not reach our goal. But as clichéd as it may sound, I am emboldened by the fact that we have limited time on this Earth and in that frame of reference, this feels like a legitimate use of 59 weeks, or approximately 1.42% of my life expectancy.
Finally, it is work like this video below that gives me inspiration for the trip. We live in a wonderful, magical world, and the 59 National Parks are but one small part of it.