“Wow, a year-long road trip visiting America’s national parks? Sounds awesome! The trip of a lifetime!”
That was the reaction we often got from people before, during and after our project celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. It was the trip of a lifetime, and we certainly had more awesome moments than we could ever have in a normal year.
Of course, those awesome moments were offset with traveling in neither style nor comfort. Dull food, noisy camping neighbors, bad weather, bedbugs and rump-numbing hours behind the wheel were only some of the challenges we faced that would leave saner people heading for home in short order. Life’s most basic worries, like where to sleep and what to eat, sometimes became our biggest concern for the day. And our long wish list and low budget meant that we had to weigh our options carefully.
We’ve been asked why we didn’t do certain things or visit certain places, and it usually came down to a lack of time, money or opportunity. But that’s life in general. Who has the time, money and opportunity to do everything they’d like to do? We thought that spending a year on the road without jobs or obligations would give us an excess of time, but we found the opposite to be true. We always seemed to fill our time no matter how much of it we had.
We had many occasions to repeat Teddy Roosevelt’s quote, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” We had to remind ourselves not to fret about imperfection, things left undone or missed opportunities. Life is full of imperfection, things left undone and missed opportunities. Everyplace we went, there was another trail, another road, another lake, another mountain or another animal we wanted to see but didn’t.
The main lesson we learned from this journey is a good one for life. Although you have to keep moving on to the next destination and welcome what the next day brings, you also have to take joy in what today has brought and be satisfied with the choices you have made given your circumstances.
And when there are two of you in a Prius for a year, that means making choices together that you can both live with. So perhaps the most awesome thing about the trip is what we learned about having a plan but also taking things as they come, appreciating life at its most basic level, and maintaining our resilience and unity. We hope those lessons — even more than the memories of all the fantastic places we experienced — will stay with us for a lifetime.