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A National Park Traveler Comes Home

Editor’s Note: About a year ago we featured Darius Nabors in our ‘Off the Beaten Path’  series, detailing his cross country quest to visit all 59 U.S. National Park in 59 weeks. Now Darius is nearing the end of his journey, and what an epic journey it has been. Here’s his latest update from the road. 

People said that it was crazy to visit Florida’s National Parks in July. They said that it would be hot and the bugs would be awful. I am here to tell you, definitively, those people are absolutely, unequivocally, categorically, undeniably, and unquestionably…correct.

An Alligator Dines on Fish in the Everglades.

When I pulled into the Flamingo campground in Everglades National Park there was one car, with its lights on. I pulled into a campsite and decided to hop out, use the nearby restroom and scope out the bug situation. On the walk to the restroom a swarm of bloodsuckers descended upon me like kids after a piñata has burst. I was a piñata that fought back. I flailed my arms, ran fifteen yards away from the car and then sprinted back in hopes of losing them.

In the 1.6 seconds that the car door was open, approximately 32 mosquitoes made it into the car. That number is approximate, because I killed 32 individual mosquitoes but am sure there were more present in the car. Their blood filled carcasses were streaked across the windows, ceiling, and my arms.

After the great mosquito massacre I dined on half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some 80-degree water. I laid down in the back of the suburban, in my boxers, and sweat like Danny Devito running a marathon on the 4th of July for the entire night. In one of the dozen times that I woke up from sweating I came to realization that the other car had its lights on, because they were likely getting ready to leave for more amenable accommodations.

When I set out to visit all 59 National Parks in 59 weeks and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service I knew that not everything would be perfect. The reminder of my time in the Everglades was punctuated with viewings of a rare American crocodile, manatees and an alligator that jumped out on the Shark Valley trail and devoured a fish 10 yards away from me as I skipped my bike to a halt.

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A tour group meets outside of Mammoth Cave National Park.

As a native Coloradan, I was sad when I crossed the Rocky Mountains for the last time on this trip. My mood improved a bit when I had an astoundingly good tour of Mammoth Cave from a fifth generation cave tour guide (yes, his grandfathers grandfathers father gave tours of Mammoth Cave). 

It improved again after a tour of Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park, where I learned about the historical importance of a fort that is 70 miles away from Key West. I was on a high again after pulling into Great Smoky Mountains and a trail run out to Charlie’s Bunion. As I drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Cherokee, North Carolina to Charlottesville, Virginia and Shenandoah National Park I felt like I was on a 469-mile homecoming parade through nature.

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Mammoth Cave National Park

My grandfather was born in Luray, Virginia and was five years old and present for the founding of Shenandoah National Park. My dad worked at Laurel Springs, near the Virginia-North Carolina border, just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I lived in Charlottesville for 10 years spending my weekends hiking and trail running in the Blue Ridge. Shenandoah is my second to last park on this 59-park adventure.

While on the road I have not had the life changing epiphanies that we always expect to hear about. The trip has simply reinforced two important things that I already knew. (1) Keep in touch and spend time with your family and friends. (2) Take the time to enjoy the beauty of our natural world. I may only be in Shenandoah for a week, but the time will be spent hiking Humpback Rocks, Old Rag, White Oak Canyon, Hawksbill and some places yet undiscovered, by me. It will also be spent catching up with friends over hikes, coffee, dinner and beer.

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