“By yourself?” They always ask, as if the thought of camping and exploring by oneself is incomprehensible.
“Yes, by myself,” I reply.
“What about bears?” they ask.
Bears are awesome. Such strength. I respect the bear.
I know that my adventures out in the wild and in the National Parks by myself is not very common, but I have never felt among danger in the parks. To me they are safe places, beautiful sanctuaries, removed from the troubles of human society where the greatest danger to man is the fellow man. Here in the bliss of the wild, wrapped among ponderosa pines, hidden in grand canyons and peaceful deserts, with the company of the rushing river and solace of the moon, gazing at majestic mountains and stretching prairies, here I am at home. Here I find myself closer to the perfection of God. The wilderness has never felt dangerous to me, but to me it is the safest place I can be. It’s a place of healing, where the creator himself locks eyes with his creation and speaks to me.
Alone in the wild has never brought loneliness, because alone in the wild is to truly be in the company of many- the whispering trees, the roaring waters, the howling, the singing, the calling. All together they form an orchestra with one voice pointing me to and drawing me back to the source of all life. Theodore Roosevelt, one of my most admired adventurers said, “The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.” Freedom waits there to be found in the wilderness, and once you find it, you are free, free to run up mountain sides, slide into ravines, stroll through deserts, venture through caves, admire crashing waves, and ponder canyon depths.
So a better question than “by yourself?” would be “free and wild?” and, yes, I would reply, free and wild.
The National Park system consists of 59 official National Parks, but over 400 park units, which means in addition to those parks which bear the simple title of “National Park” there are also National Historic Parks, National Recreation Areas, National Rivers, Seashores, Lakeshores and a simply an extensive gamut of sites managed by the National Park Service. It is my goal to visit the core 59 National Parks and visit as many other sites I can along the way. As of now I have visited 23 National Parks and because my experiences within these parks has been so extensive, I have decided now is the time to share with you all that I have seen and experienced. In these parks not only can I recount for you many intriguing real life adventures, but I can also share with you my musings and moments of inspiration, all the internal things I found in these places. Because just as great is the wilderness around me, so too my mind is a great wilderness. The living landscape and the beauty of the physical wilderness around me illuminates and inspires that which grows wild within me.
She sat next to me on the airplane repeatedly puckering her lips and taking selfies with her phone. She had to be somewhere in her 20s. She took out her make up, then attempted to tweak her image to perfection. “So where are you going?” she asked. I shared with her my plans to visit 13 National Parks this summer.
“By yourself?” she questioned me.
“Yes, by myself.”
“In a tent?” she asked, after I shared my camping plans. “You cannot camp in a tent out West. All the snakes and scorpions will get inside while you are sleeping. You have to sleep in a hammock.” I was unphased by her remarks. I knew better. “I’m not worried. I was out West last summer and only encountered a rattlesnake once on a trail. It was no big deal.”
“I’m not scared of rattlesnakes either. I used to pick them up and play with them back home in Tennessee when I was a kid,” she explained. I did not buy this.
“What are your plans?” I inquired.
“First off I’m going to relax by my friend’s pool in Phoenix.” Those were not her exact words, for her words were much more vulgar. I really don’t know why she felt she needed to make amiable conversation into something so repulsive. She then proceeded to tell me of her plans to backpack with her friends into the Grand Canyon and stay two nights.
“Do you know how much water I should bring?” She inquired, then proceeded with: “…I mean, I have a couple of water bottles.”
I’m thinking to myself, you’re telling me it’s too dangerous to sleep in a tent in the desert, yet you are the one who is entertaining the thought that maybe two water bottles will be enough for a two night backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.
“You’re going to need about a liter or two every hour. You are going to need gallons of water and you should carry a water filter,” I corrected. “You can never have too much water in the desert.”
As she continued to take more pucker faced selfies I thought to myself, this is a prime example of what I hope to get away from on this trip- the vulgar and self absorbed. This girl’s friends are going to have to carry her out of the Grand Canyon, I thought. I sure hope her friends know what they are doing.
I stepped out of Phoenix Sky-Harbor into 106 degrees, which to me felt great. The warmth of the desert in the summertime is such an embracing comforting feel. However, I ran out of space when packing my suitcase, so I was wearing layers and was first burning up before I could enjoyed the dry heat blowing across my skin. My first task was checking out my rental car. I was able to secure a whole month for $600. I chose the Hyundai Accent, because it’s what I drive, and I know it has super great gas milage and is a tough little vehicle. After renting one the previous summer and taking it backcountry on dirt roads in Death Valley, crossing the Mojave Desert, and having it climb up to summits in the Sierra Nevada, I knew it was the vehicle I wanted to partner with for a while. My first stop with my vehicle was at a Chipotle, to load up on some calories for the adventure ahead. Here in the parking lot I was able to finally shed layers and feel a less suffocating Arizona welcome. Next, I went to Wal-Mart to stock up on water, an essential move. Then, finally, with great anticipation I was off to my first truly notable destination- Saguro National Park.
Check out the account of Saguaro National Park: Land of Killer Bees here: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/saguaro-national-park-land-of-killer-bees/