“So did you, you know, find yourself?” That seemed to be the burning question from my closest friends after I completed a three-week, 5,000-mile motorcycle trip through nine states by myself. I generally said that wasn’t the goal, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t hoped to finally have that “aha!” moment where everything in life suddenly made sense. Spoiler: It didn’t. But my trip was far from a failure. I had my breath taken away more times than I can count, and I was changed by what I experienced.
If there’s ever just one goal you should have when you travel, especially when you travel somewhere you’ve never been, it’s that it should change you. If you experience something entirely new and return as the same person, you missed something.
I had three weeks of available time between two important events about a thousand miles apart: a friend’s wedding in Colorado and a family vacation in California. I had just quit my job and moved out of my apartment in Hawaii, so with little in the way of responsibilities, I figured I’d set out to see as many new places as possible with just a motorcycle, hammock, few plans and an open heart.
Hopping off a one-way flight to Denver, I purchased my travel companion, a 2007 Honda CB900F. I’ve had a few different motorcycles in my short life; this one blows them all away. A week later, one of my best friends married the woman of his dreams in the beautiful town of Greeley, and the following day, I set out on the road.
I headed into the Rockies and south to Durango, where I spent a day enjoying Mesa Verde National Park, learning a lot about the early Puebloan people and their amazing culture. Growing up, we learn a lot about European history, but we owe it to ourselves to learn more about the accomplishments and lifestyles of the Native Americans. The Puebloan people used intricate tools, farmed hundreds of acres and built amazing pueblos into the sides of cliffs. At one point, Mesa Verde housed 8,000 people! Imagine the mecca it must have felt like 1,200 years ago. Visiting gave me an appreciation of the culture and accomplishments of the early native people.
From there, it was a beautiful day of riding through southern Utah, making my way to Capitol Reef National Park.
At the time, it was the best ride of my life. The diversity of southern Colorado and Utah is astounding. I rode in 100-degree heat through the Glen Canyon Recreational Area just a few hundred miles after pushing through pouring rain and howling winds in 35 degrees in the Rockies. This takes you through rolling green hills, rocky mountains, red deserts, green forests and everything in between. It’s truly some of the most beautiful landscape.
I pressed on to Hatch, Utah, which served as my landing point as I explored Bryce Canyon, Zion and Cedar Breaks national parks. The sites and hikes in these parks make them well worth the drive. Bryce Canyon is home to countless hoodoos, mind-bending pillars of rock that look like thousands of chess pieces standing up to 150 feet tall. An entire day would be well worth it to hike around the hoodoos and the surrounding forest. Zion is famous for its Angels Landing hike, touted as one of the most dangerous in America. It’s not, but it sure is amazing! There’s also a small split that takes you to West Ridge Spring. (I recommend this hike if you are able. It adds an additional 3-4 hours, but will get you away from the hundreds of visitors onto a gorgeous trail that provides much more peace and solitude.) It was on this leg of the trip that I met up with my parents before heading to northern Utah and Idaho. Then I headed east for Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. These were a few very lonely days, with a lot of time spent with no cell service, magnifying feelings of isolation.
Taking a trip alone can give a person a new appreciation for a couple of things: social interaction, and times of silence and solitude. I’ve always been an outgoing person, but when multiple days are spent having only the occasional gas station attendant to talk to, you begin to value every small connection with another person. I’ve held close to this principle since my trip has ended, valuing even the smallest interactions with people, such as the privilege of being able to hold a door open for someone. Often when we spend time outside of cell service, we come back with a new appreciation for disconnecting for a time. Living in a hyper-connected world, we need to remember to take time to unplug completely, to spend time truly connected to the people physically with you, as well as take time to be truly alone. “Hang up and hang out,” my friends and I call it. You’ll likely put more emotional effort into your interactions and appreciate someone else’s presence.
In Grand Teton, I set out to do a hike not advertised in any pamphlets, one no park ranger will tell you about. The most breathtaking landscape I’ve experienced took place on this unmapped excursion.
I saw a dozen muskrats climbing in and out of the boulders I hopped across after the trail ended. I’ve never seen an animal so uninterested and unbothered by a human before. I walked right by one before I realized I was two feet from him, making me jump out of my shoes. He just looked at me, shrugged (I swear) and crawled into a little hole at a leisurely pace. I passed by elk grazing in the middle of the trails and even saw a pair of moose cross a river just a stone’s throw from me.
Once I reached Delta Lake, I was blessed with an amazing view looking straight up at THE Grand Teton. It’s the biggest and most impressive of the Tetons, and absolutely beautiful. To the back, I looked out over the expansive green plains of the park, staring down on lakes, grazing buffalo and elk, and mountain ranges to the west. Swimming in snow-covered water had always been on my bucket list, and it was here where I felt the deepest moment of true peace and stillness, embracing solitude without discomfort or loneliness.
There’s a connection to creation, and your place in it, that can only be experienced when you allow yourself to feel small and alone. It’s in these moments that we tend to feel one of two feelings: anxiety or liberation. Alone in the wilderness, no one cares about your hairstyle, how much money you make or how nice your house is. You can let all that go and just be. So in that sense, I found some of myself on that mountaintop. I found comfort knowing that even alone I am connected to so many other people; people who hold me in their hearts, people who I hold in mine, and that the love we give is more important than our job title or income.
After Grand Tetons, I made the very short trip into Yellowstone, where the wildlife took my breath away. Bison, elk and bears, oh my! My first day was spent riding the giant loop that covers most of the park.
I got sidetracked, as I tend to do, and wasn’t able to beat the sun back to my campsite. Just before sunset, buffalo, which spend most of the day grazing in small groups or alone, come together into massive herds to move through the more wooded areas. As I rounded a large curve in the road, I saw a couple of bison crossing the road, so I pulled into a turnout to let them pass in peace. That’s when I saw a couple more crossing behind them and then a few more. I ended up sitting at the turnout for more than 30 minutes as more than 100 bison proceeded to walk all around me. I was awestruck and a little bit terrified. Being on a bike, I had no protection, so I sat patiently and hoped all of them were feeling nice. Bison have got to be one of the most impressive animals to see up close, and seeing them would make the trip to Yellowstone worthwhile, as their front-heavy proportions, massive horns and sheer size are a sight to behold. They actually kill many more people than bears do every year, so keep your distance! (A little tip: Travel slowly around the park around sunrise and sunset, as these are the times grazing animals are most active and mobile.) While in Yellowstone, I met truly amazing people. The greatest blessing was the kindness of strangers. My bags had no locks. Most of my belongings were entirely exposed and would have been easy to steal. I never had one person try to take from me. But giving? I experienced a lot of that. For two consecutive nights, I was invited by different groups to enjoy their food and their fire. These people told me about their lives, gave me advice as I spoke of my plans, and showed me love for absolutely no reason other than to love.
Don’t live in fear of people. Most people are just like you: They want to live a good life, they want to be kin, and they want to share themselves with you. Every single day on my trip, someone told me to ride safe. I kept track. It is an incredible feeling to have strangers concerned for your wellbeing. I had to travel thousands of miles to have this driven home to me, but I hope you strive to create true connections with people you may never see again.
After a quick trip to visit family in Idaho, I was on my way through southern Oregon to the national and state redwood parks of Northern California. I’ve been to the giant sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada a few times, but experiencing the immense height of the coastal redwoods is awe-inspiring. The soil is alive with pieces of fern and bark, leaving it with the most amazing smell. I used the last morning of my trip to hike to the tallest tree in the world, Hyperion, measuring 383 feet — another bucket list item checked off before heading down the coast to my final destination, Cayucos, where I’d meet up with my crazy, huge family for a week of relaxation and fun, and, much to my delight, sleeping indoors.
I end with this: Get out, even if it’s only for a couple of days. Life is short and when you look back, you won’t wish that you’d worked that one extra day. So take time off work, take a long weekend and go somewhere you’ve never been. Appreciate every person you meet. Disconnect; be uncomfortable. Search for gratitude in things you’ve taken for granted for so long. Go to the wilderness. Find stillness and silence, open your heart and listen. Do that, and maybe you’ll find yourself. Maybe you won’t, but you’ll come back changed.
I know I did.