Growing up, I tagged along with my grandma on trips. We hiked in the woods of northeastern America, played in the rivers, and caught crawdads in central Ohio. We traveled by train to New York City and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge — deciding what cheap off-broadway show to see that night. My nomadic tendencies exist because of this woman. Without her, I would not have a curious mind and would not be yearning to see what else is out there to explore.
Of course, I took my grandmother for granted. She died my senior year of high school and I lost the guidance of my crystal-loving, essential oil-using, vagabond grandmother. When she died, I wanted to leave and start my journey to college immediately. I wanted to escape into my studies and focus on being as successful as her. I wanted to set myself up so that I could afford to travel and explore as much as she had done in her life. Most importantly, I wanted to leave my hometown. Her death made me realize how ephemeral life is and it scared me into seeing the world even more.
My grandmother gave me the affordance of not being complacent.
When it was time for me to choose a college, I followed the money. I attended an institution that gave me a full-ride scholarship in the most desolate place I could think of, Columbus, Ohio. While I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to not be in debt, I hated living in that city. I wanted a river to swim, fish, or boat in. I wanted trails and waterfalls. I struggled with the feeling of contempt for my decision. I met a lot of cool people and attended THE Ohio State University, but I needed more excitement than the identity of the school.
I joined a mountaineering club during my freshman year of college. I rock-climbed in the Red River Gorge on the weekends, took impromptu trips to the Dolly Sods Wilderness, and endured frozen toes and nearly frostbitten fingertips on Snowshoe Mountain excursions in West Virginia..
During the winter of 2020, my life changed forever. I climbed Mount Washington with ten people I had never met before. Driving to New Hampshire entailed a lot of off-key singing and admiring the snow on the New England mountaintops. The climb involved a lot of whiskey-slappin’ once we summited the mountain and well-deserved street tacos after we returned to base camp. Driving back to Columbus, we listened to Mt. Joy and enjoyed extended car naps. Without this trip, I wouldn’t have had conversations about exploring the Wild West, and I would never have applied to work in Montana during the Summer of 2021- which proved to be one of the most transformational experiences of my life.
Not only did my first time living in Montana grant me experience with the United States Forest Service. It also connected me with a great group of people. My innate purpose to wander around the country showed during that summer. I traveled to Glacier National Park and slept next to a fire with a group of people who lived in their cars and performed in a band called the “Bushwackers.” I explored the wild Yellowstone backcountry with my best friend. I visited my aunt — who I didn’t know existed until I first moved to Montana — on her ranch in Libby, Montana, and helped saddle her eleven horses for a 7-mile trail ride in the Kootenai Forest. I sat up at night and became enchanted by the glimmering stars in northern Montana. I like to say that I have more couches to crash on in the West than I do in Ohio, the state where I spent the majority of my life.
When I left Montana to go back to school, I refused to stop traveling. I visited friends in West Virginia and spent weekends camping in parts of the Appalachian trail using Dorito chips as firestarters, or traveling to northwest Kentucky’s wilderness to explore caves with my little brother — avoiding cave crickets and going “dinosaur hunting” near Mammoth Cave National Park. I even decided to finish my last semester of college online so I could return to Montana.
Seeking new adventures
From what I’ve learned, life is what you make of it. I want my life to be filled with exciting stories. I want to tell people about the crazy treks I’ve done with the people I meet along the way, like hiking with a retired smokejumper who had spent the majority of his life parachuting into wildfires. I want to tell stories about the wildlife I encounter while doing those things, like watching my friend mistake a black bear in Glacier National Park for a cow and walking toward it, then realizing that it was in fact, not a cow. I want to find free campsites to share with other travelers.
So, if you seek adventure, go climb that mountain or jump off that cliff. Quit that corporate job that you dread waking up for every day. Build out your dream van and travel the country or thru-hike the PCT.