How the West Trip started: Sometimes, you just have to break your chains.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller

I’m not entirely sure what happened. You could argue that this has been coming all along, but I was just too distracted to see it. Those who know me say it came out of the blue. Maybe it was a bit of both? Either way, this is happening. From March 9, 2019 to May 10, 2019, I will be traveling the West, stopping at no less than twenty-seven national parks and monuments before coming home just a mere two days before graduation. Am I crazy?

Yes, but we all knew that.

I’ve always loved traveling. I have been to Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, South Africa, and India. One of my greatest laments about graduate school was how I never had the time to travel anymore. I used to daydream about where I would go once I was finally out: Greenland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada … The list just goes on and on. It was this common interest — among others, of course — that my partner and I bonded over when we first met. I think she is the one who planted this insane idea in my head, but I don’t think she ever expected me to run with it!

The initial conversation was simple enough. It was during a phone call in May 2017 (before we had even met in person) when my partner nonchalantly said, “It’s on my bucket list to travel the United States in a RV one day.”

My response was “Oh, cool! I’d love to do that, too!” I wasn’t even remotely aware what events had been set into motion. I don’t think either of us ever thought we would actually do it.

Flash forward a year and a half later, and I was sitting at our dining room table, having just moved into her apartment. It was October 10, 2018. I barely had a grip on what was left of my sanity while I forced myself to finish my dissertation with what remained of my brain cells. There aren’t enough words to describe how brutal getting my Ph.D. was, so I won’t even try. Just understand that I probably hadn’t seen much of the sun in four years, let alone taken some time off when I checked the news and was greeted with the headline “Baby set to finish road trip to become youngest person to visit all 50 states.” A five-month-old baby named Harper was about to see all fifty states, and I, at twenty-six, had been sacrificing major life events and time with loved ones for essentially my entire life to pursue my education. Missed funerals, birthdays, working during family vacations — Hell, I finished twelve hours of time points just in time to jump in my car and drive to my sister’s wedding with bags under my eyes and the distinct feeling that I might just keel over before I got there.

It was a wake up call. I was a workaholic who had set aside no time to enjoy life. I was burned out and hardly recognized myself anymore, and that abrupt realization was about as sobering as diving into a pool in the dead of winter.

I pointed the news article out to my partner. She was jealous, too, though I don’t think it elicited quite the same existential crisis as it did in me.

“We could do that, too.” I told her.

She just kind of laughed and said, “Sure, in forty years when we’re retired.”

I expected to just brush the thought of traveling off, but I ended up laying in bed all night, and my mind would NOT let it go. I got up the next morning after having gotten almost no sleep thinking about it.

“You know, we really could do that trip right now if we wanted to.” I told my partner.

She actually stopped in her tracks the second time I mentioned it and just stared at me.

“Wait … You’re serious?”

There was this nervous, excited glint in her eyes when she asked. It would actually take two more months of me laying out the logic of doing the trip now before she agreed verbally, but I knew just by the look in her eyes that we were going. It’s the perfect time. I defended my dissertation on October 23, 2018. After that, I was free. My partner graduated with her MPH in August and is currently in the process of making a career change. We both have more than enough in savings to make this happen, and with both of us looking for jobs at the same time, it is a perfectly natural place to take a pause and go travel.

So, for four months, we have planned this trip. It’s had its ups and downs already. We found the perfect RV to rent after days of searching. We have sixty-one days to do this, but because states like Oregon, Washington, and Montana stay cold for so long, we had to cut places like Olympic National Park and Glacier National Park from our trip. We’ve decided we’ll include them in our next adventure. We have mapped our entire route, and we have reservations at every RV park we need. The first government shutdown of 2019 almost turned us gray as we waited to see if there would even be national parks to go to, but the second shutdown did not happen, so the universe seems to have decided that we are meant to go on this trip. All that’s left is to finish packing two months of clothes and food (we’re almost done), and in almost one week, we’ll finally be taking the trip of a lifetime! (Pro tip: If you really want to look like a Doomsday prepper, I dare you to buy fifteen cartons of non-perishable milk at one time.)

We are absolutely beside ourselves with excitement! For those who want to follow our adventures, I will be posting updates on this blog almost daily. Wish us luck! This will be quite the experience!

The complete list of sites were are visiting is below:

Big Bend National Park

White Sands National Monument

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Bisiti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Monument Valley

Arches National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Zion National Park

Horseshoe Bend

Antelope Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park

Sedona

Sequoia National Park

Lake Tahoe

Fly Geyser

Sheshone Falls

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Devil’s Tower National Monument

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Badlands National Park

The Gateway Arch

The Great Smoky Mountains

Published by Alyse N. Steves, Ph.D.

Alyse N. Steves received her Ph.D. in Genetics and Molecular Biology from Emory University. She is also graduate of Kennesaw State University, where she received a B.S. in Biotechnology. Alyse is a published author, with her first book making its debut in August 2016 (https://www.amazon.com/Child-Humanity-Alyse-N-Steves/dp/0997921412/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1550265008&sr=8-1). Outside of science and writing, Alyse is an avid traveler who also enjoys the company of her family, friends, and pets.

One thought on “How the West Trip started: Sometimes, you just have to break your chains.

  1. Looking forward to following your adventure with great anticipation and excitement! Two amazing, brilliant women, one 26 ft. RV and lot’s of non-perishable milk ….perfect!
    Love ya! Mom

    Liked by 1 person

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