I recently shared an image with the following quote from John Muir, known as the Father of the National Parks.
I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in
I was intrigued by the quote upon initially seeing it, but the truth behind it has continued to reveal itself to me more and more with each day of the trip. I knew I wanted to be with nature as well as find some space and time to think going into this experience, but I still underestimated how well the two of these go hand in hand.
After a great few days in Seattle, I headed East for 5 days of camping en route to the Midwest. Over this stretch, I got to see some of the more isolated but stunning parts of the country. I fortuitously made friends with some key strangers along the way, but for the most part was left to entertain myself. These few days of solitude spent in some of the most spectacular places I’ve ever been allowed for some much needed self reflection. I experienced unparalleled clarity of thought and feel so much more peaceful and at ease sitting here a week later.
While walking through Montana’s majestic Glacier National Park, I felt like I was granted the ability to take a few huge steps back and look at my life from an entirely new perspective. It was as if I had previously been looking at the details of my life under the magnification of a high powered microscope and I was finally able to step away from the lens and see the bigger picture. Rather than examining my life’s events, whether they be glorious triumphs or difficult learning experiences, in isolation, I could perceive how these moments and decisions were all interrelated like never before.
It is so easy to lose perspective, get caught up in the stresses of the daily grind, and become totally overwhelmed with maintaining a life in our fast paced modern society. I’m hardly arguing that being busy is inherently a bad thing. On the contrary, I am forever fascinated by the human brain’s ability to juggle the many skills and thoughts and responsibilities that life today often demands.
However, I can speak from experience and warn against becoming busy for the sake of simply doing many things, or of filling your schedule by default rather than with intention. One of the great challenges in a world where there is access to so much is finding a healthy balance between focusing a lot of energy on a few things and focusing a little energy on many things.
No matter who you are or how much you have accomplished, there will constantly be moments where you need to reevaluate how you are dedicating your time, your most valuable of resources. A 2010 lyric from Kanye West has always spoken to me in recent years when I’ve felt overwhelmed or mentally clouded.
Despite releasing back-to-back-to-back Number 1 albums and singlehandedly changing the face of modern hip hop music, Mr. West had reached a place of stagnancy. Devastated by the loss of his mother and widely ridiculed for his behavior in public, Kanye needed to remove himself from the spotlight and focus on his craft. He had achieved remarkable critical and commercial success early in his career, but was left feeling unhappy and could sense that his true potential remained untapped. Kanye exiled himself to Hawaii with a hand-selected group of close collaborators and began working on his magnum opus. In the fall of 2010, Kanye released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to near universal acclaim, with many calling it his most grandiose and complete project to date. The album dominated many a 2010 best of list, and in 2014 Pitchfork named it the best music album of the decade thus far.
Power is one of the album’s signature songs and features the following line where Kanye addresses his frustrations:
I just needed time alone with my own thoughts
Got treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault My childlike creativity, purity and honesty
Is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catching up with me Taking my inner child, I’m fighting for custody
With these responsibilities that they entrusted me
The first two lines in particular have resonated with me for years and constantly remind me of the importance of a thorough self-examination on a regular basis. From an outsider’s perspective on my life in recent years, by many accounts I had made it. I graduated from the school of my dreams, got a job in the field of my major, and was able to support myself living in The Big City. Despite achieving these milestones, I was left feeling unfulfilled and hungry for more. I knew I needed a serious change of environment and routine in order to get the most out of myself, and hence the idea for this road trip was born.
I haven’t yet written my Dark Fantasy, but I do know I feel more at peace than ever before, and am closer than ever to unlocking these treasures in my mind.
Before I get to the pretty pictures you’re either desperately waiting for or that you have scrolled past the above mountain of text to get to, I’ll leave you with a final encouraging remark. The good news is that you don’t need to head to the studio with Elton John and John Legend or isolate yourself in the woods ala Chris McCandless or Henry David Thoreau to achieve increased levels of mental clarity. Just taking a few minutes a day to minimize stimuli and be with your thoughts can be hugely beneficial. This can be achieved in your room when you wake up in the morning, in your car during a lunch break, on a short walk outdoors, or in a variety of other ways.
The TED Talk below does a fantastic job of examining the benefits of a meditative practice and explaining why it is essential to our well being. If you unconsciously get an oil change after a few months of driving and rest your legs following a grueling workout, why do so many of us neglect to give our brains the rest it so desperately deserves? Rather than waiting for the weekend or the occasional vacation to unwind, you can take control of putting your mind at ease with a few simple behavioral tweaks.
Without further ado, here are some photos from this leg of my trip. After camping for a night in Northern Idaho, I stopped in Hungry Horse, Montana for huckleberry pie and huckleberry ice cream.
I then arrived in Glacier National Park for two nights of camping. This view of Lake McDonald upon entering the park and heading to the campground was remarkable.
The following day I drove along Going-to-the Sun road in the park and went for a woodsy hike in search of the hidden Avalanche Lake.
After a solid 2.5 mile trip, reaching a clearing and discovering this lake surrounded by snowy peaks and colorful rocks was quite a treat.
I then headed up to the small town of Polebridge along the park’s western border where I picked up a huckleberry Bear Claw pastry and some sound advice. I also got a suggestion to check out nearby Bowman Lake, which was totally isolated and featured some more amazing views.
Before entering the park, I was advised by a few strangers to pick up bear mace to take with me on hikes. I fortunately didn’t have any encounters while out on the trails, but I did happen upon this black bear crossing the road.
After Glacier, I had planned to head southeast to check out Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park in South Dakota. There were snowstorms in the area that I didn’t feel like messing with, so I rerouted and headed East for North Dakota. I wasn’t expecting to find much here other than a long drive and a place to sleep, but boy did I underestimate this state. With no idea of its existence, I totally stumbled upon Theodore Roosevelt National Park and knew a stop was necessary.
The park is home to expansive badlands, scenic drives, otherworldly rock formations, and tons of wildlife. A two hour drive into the park brought me some close encounters with bison, wild horses, and prairie dogs. I even made friends with a van full of French Canadien kids who became my camping buddies for the night.
Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back soon with an update on the last leg of the road trip. As for now, I’m gonna go get some fresh air.