A young woman starts a six-month solo cross-country road trip across America, visiting 30 U.S. National Parks by the time she turns 30.
This story was originally published on jessicamichellecastillo.com on April 21, 2018.
In college, a friend of a friend went on a road trip from Washington, DC to Colorado and he would write and post vlogs and photos about the trip. My friend Megan and I would sit enraptured watching this adventure unfold and we felt like we were on this exciting trip across America with him. I longed for that adventure and sense of pure exploration and freedom to see and do whatever I wanted. Since then, I’ve had this dream to road trip across the United States. The dream gradually grew more profound and defined as I read my now favorite book On the Road by Jack Kerouac, then later Wild by Cheryl Strayed and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, as well as countless blogs and social media posts on travel and adventure.
To celebrate the start of National Parks Week, today I’m leaving Miami and embarking on a solo cross-country road trip visiting 30 National Parks, Forests and Monuments by my 30th birthday in late September. I’m marking my time on this big, tiny, beautiful blue dot and beginning my journey at the start of what is also Earth Day weekend. I’ll be documenting, through writing and photography, my journey of spiritual growth, cleansing and union with nature — letting go of self-limiting beliefs and boundaries real and imagined, and celebrating the diversity of this world’s natural beauty.
I understand the romanticism of this idea to some and the ludicrousness of it to others. I think it’s both, and that’s partly why I’m doing it. But at the end of the day, I’m doing this as a necessity. A dream that needs to be achieved, a goal that yearns so badly to be met that it physically cried out in me. After a couple of anxiety attacks, uncontrollable crying, episodes of deep sadness and a complete sense of being lost, I had the courage to confront myself and listen to my intuition, to recognize my own strength and smarts and to truly know that I am capable of achieving this dream. That I can do whatever I want in this life, and that I should do only that.
A city girl from Miami, I was 18 the first time I went hiking and camping with Outward Bound on a high school trip to Costa Rica. Since that time of breathing the freshest mountain air I had ever breathed, my love for the outdoors, nature and all the world’s wondrous ecosystems has blossomed into a powerful love story.
Over the years, I became magnetized to exploring my own country’s natural beauty and diverse landscapes, many of which are governmentally protected. I’m a huge fan and supporter of the U.S. National Parks. I really believe they are indelible treasures for America and the world. The founding of the National Parks Service in 1917 was a unique and lauded step towards conservation and environmental protection. At the same time, I understand how rapidly these national treasures are changing today with increasing climate change and climate variability. Glacier National Park, for example, has seen a precipitous decline of its namesake glaciers — 150 glaciers when the park was first founded in 1910 down to 26 glaciers in 2015. The parks are different today than they were 30 years ago and they’ll endure even greater change in the next 30 years to come. I’m going before it’s too late and, in sharing the parks’ beauty with others, I can hopefully create awareness and help soften the accuracy of “it’s too late.”
In researching and preparing for this journey, I came across a very little number of women attempting such a feat. Aside from personal growth, soul searching and promoting environmental conservation, I truly hope my experience will inspire others, particularly young girls and women, to connect with nature and their environment, and to dream big. To go out and explore. I’m doing this not only to prove to myself that I can do it, and to let go of societal expectations, but to be even the dimmest beacon for others who may be dreaming of something seemingly impossible, as I had been for years.
Whatever you hope to accomplish, however scary or daunting your dreams may be, I hope you’re inspired to not go gentle into that good night, as Dylan Thomas wrote, and to not let your fear of the unknown or of uncertainty surpass your search for happiness and fulfillment.
You can actually do whatever you want. You can figure out a way to make anything you want happen. We create these illusions of impossibility for ourselves and none of it is real. The rope holding us back is imagined and absolutely does not exist.
I no longer see any point in ever holding back or in not being fully honest and true to myself and to others. Once I accepted this, and allowed myself to want what I want, I no longer felt lost or anxious about my life’s meaning. My fear of uncertainty and the unknown has drastically diminished and I constantly remember and understand that the universe doesn’t work in my time but in its own time. It has led me to this time right now to wake up and finally do what I truly want, just for me. I’m no longer waiting for some magical life to fall into my lap. I’m going for the magic myself and manifesting the life I’ve always wanted but had felt unworthy and ill prepared for.
I just know deep down inside that this is what I’m supposed to do right now. It’s difficult to explain such a strong intuition, but I liken it to when Harry Potter takes the Felix Felicis (liquid luck) potion in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. He, Hermione and Ron sit together and strategize how to approach Professor Slughorn to gain information that will help them defeat Voldemort. When they’re done going over the plan Harry unexpectedly diverts from what they’ve discussed and, rather than going to Professor Slughorn’s office, he instead decides he’d like to go visit Hagrid, who lives on the grounds further afield from the Hogwarts castle, and seemingly further afield from the plan of talking to Slughorn.
Hermione, ever the studious, prepared leader, protests that that’s not part of the plan. Harry retorts, “I’ve got a really good feeling about Hagrid’s. I feel it’s the place to be tonight.” He adds, “Trust me. I know what I’m doing, or, Felix does.” Harry’s divergence, thanks to his liquid luck, does, of course, help him achieve his goal of talking to Slughorn and getting the information he needed, though not in a way he could have anticipated. He just followed his intuition and it led him in the right direction.
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said. The universe is always conspiring to help you, but you must take that first step. I don’t know where I’ll end up but, as my friend Robert recently quoted Jack Kerouac (one of my favorites ❤) to me: “There’s nowhere to go but everywhere so (I’ll) just keep on rolling under the stars.” ◊