Nathan Kolk’s epic US road trip was a 13,000-mile adventure that included a stolen vehicle, friendly strangers, and a new perspective on life and travel.
Note from Howard: In the spring of 2016, I interviewed Nathan Kolk, a young man who was about to embark on A 10,000 Mile Road Trip Around the USA.
In this follow-up article, Nathan reflects on his epic US road trip.
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Reflections on an Epic US Road Trip
Guest Post by Nathan Kolk
Last summer I had the opportunity of a lifetime as I traveled what was a well-planned 10,000-mile road trip and ended up being a 13,000-mile dramatic life experience. I started planning this trip over two years before I was able to actually hit the road. I was bored one day at my job as a bank teller, and I began to dream about the road trip of a lifetime. The more I thought about it, the more I believed in the idea of making it happen. I started making real plans and taking steps toward making this adventure a reality.
There were a few spots I knew I wanted to hit including many of the National Parks, especially Yosemite, Glacier, the Tetons, Yellowstone, and many of the major cities throughout the country. It was easy deciding the places I wanted to visit; what was difficult was eliminating locations I couldn’t visit because I did not have the time or money to make them happen. For the next two years I planned and saved money while balancing my work, education, and social life.
To keep myself motivated, I bought a large National Geographic map of the United States and some yarn to map out my itinerary. This map would become a physical reminder of my goal.
Originally, the route I planned was about 10,000 miles, and I could not have been more excited. I knew that it would be an incredible adventure. What I did not know was that I would end up traveling 13,000 miles, my car would be stolen, I would get it back, I would cross paths with a great friend in the middle of nowhere, and I would accumulate more stories and photos than I could ever have dreamed.
The additional 3,000 miles mostly came from unexpected detours, spontaneous mini-trips, and driving around the locations I was visiting. From the beginning, my goal was to plan an incredible adventure, but I also wanted to do some soul-searching, learn more about myself, and discover the world around me. I knew this would be an incredible opportunity and did not know when I may be able to do something like this again, so I wanted to capitalize on every opportunity possible, both physical and spiritual.
I started in my hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, and headed to Charleston for a night with a friend, then woke up early the next morning for a long trek down to New Orleans where I stayed for a few days at a hostel, made some great friends, and ate some great food.
From there I headed for Austin, Texas, and planned to be there for three or four days. I ended up being stuck there for two weeks.
The night before I was set to to leave for Albuquerque I was awakened around 1:30 am to the sounds of voices and a car pulling away outside my hotel room. I just assumed it was some people having a late night. I could not fall back asleep, so an hour later I got out of bed and discovered that my car was gone. Freaking out, I ran around the hotel parking lot searching for it to make sure I didn’t park it somewhere else. Then I called the cops who showed up about ten minutes later and filed a report. Without much else to do at that point, I made an attempt to go back to sleep.
For the next week I did as much as I could to ensure I had my ducks in a row by calling insurance, following up with the police, and researching what the possible outcomes could be. Beyond that, all I could do was wait for the police to find my car. Insurance would not call it a total loss until it had been missing for 30 days.
Six days later, I was driving around with a friend I had made on the trip and saw in the mirror’s reflection what appeared to be my car. I asked her to pull over to see if I would recognize it when it passed. It was, in fact, my car!
My heart just about jumped out of my chest, and my adrenaline immediately starting pumping like I had never felt it before. I got my friend to switch seats with me so I could drive, chase down my car and see what I could do about getting it back. Coming up behind it at the stoplight, I did something that I probably should not have done, a reflex that could have gotten me killed. I hopped out, ran up to my car, banged on the window, and demanded that the driver either get out or pull over. Surprisingly, he complied. He said he would pull over at the gas station just ahead. As soon as he parked the car, he fled because he knew he would be in serious trouble if he waited for the cops to arrive. In the end, I got my car back with absolutely nothing in it, over $5,000 of belongings stolen. Thankfully, insurance covered just about all that I lost, and I was able to continue my trip as planned.
You can read more of the story on my website Me, You & Subaru.
My Favorite Location
Of all the destinations on my extensive itinerary, I really had a special affection for the Grand Tetons. I scored big with my aunt who happened to have a beautiful home inside the park. So for my first four days there I stayed in a comfortable home which was a nice change of pace from sleeping outside in the elements. The same week I was there, my cousin’s family happened to be there as well, so I had some company that was more familiar with the lay of the land than I was.
On my drive to Jackson, Wyoming, I remembered that my good friend Lucas had worked there a few summers before, so I contacted him to find his favorite spots. It just so happened that as he was cycling across the country last summer, not only did our paths cross in Jackson, but they crossed on his birthday. That was a great surprise. This was the icing on the cake of the absolutely beautiful landscapes, glacier lakes, and other strangers I met while I was there.
What I Learned
Through this epic US road trip I learned more than I could have anticipated and strengthened my faith in my God infinitely. I also learned that not only are travelers the nicest people, but that people treat travelers nicer than the average person. People are so fascinated with travel and adventure, and I think it is because the desire for it lies deep within every individual.
Throughout the trip I made friends with countless other travelers, and I learned more about the community of adventurers and how anyone can live an adventure travel lifestyle if they want. While it takes sacrifice and being extremely uncomfortable at times, anyone who keeps their priorities straight can make it happen.
How it Changed Me
The way this trip changed me is without question the word . . . PERSPECTIVE.
I knew that seeing the physical landscape of the country like never before would give me a greater perspective of the Earth and the beautiful creation it is. What I did not know was how meeting so many people from all kinds of backgrounds, and forcing myself to go to bars and restaurants by myself and starting conversations with strangers would change my perspective of people.
It is a hundred times easier to start a conversation on a trail than it is in a city. For example, I went on five-day hikes in Yosemite, none of which were by myself. But the experience of having to create conversation in a bar by myself without being awkward was a great experience and changed how I interact with strangers. I am confident that everyone wants to talk, and if you ask the right questions, you can find something interesting in everyone.
Take It From Me
If someone told me they were considering doing an epic US road trip like I did, I would say, “DO IT!” And do not let anyone convince you that you shouldn’t. There is a way to make anything happen if you are driven and willing to work hard enough. I worked and saved for two years to make this happen.
Another bit of advice I would give would be to not stress too much about planning every detail, and if you make a schedule, don’t be bound by it. While I found it important to make a general plan for my trip, I quickly found that I could by no means take into consideration everything that would happen.
Networking is another huge money-saver. In just about every major city I visited, I found a free place to stay because I made connections with people from all walks of life who were willing to open their homes to me.
Read the Original Pre-Trip Interview!
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