A few years ago Bryson City, North Carolina native Dwayne Parton set out to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, a goal which he accomplished on his 30th birthday. The monumental feat was a dream come true, but it left him wanting for more. Soon after returning from his thru-hike, the sedentary nature of a traditional 9-5 lifestyle became too much too bear, and Dwayne set out on a cross country adventure that eventually took him to the northernmost reaches of North America. I recently caught up with Dwayne to find out where he is now, what enabled him to realize the kind of adventure-based lifestyle that most only dream of, and to pick his brain about some of the most uplifting experiences, interesting characters, and thrilling adventures he has experienced along the way.
BRO: What inspired you to leave home and take up a life on the road?
DP: I felt like I was waiting for life to happen. I kept catching myself coming home to a movie or a video game. I had thru hiked the AT in 2014 and was missing trail life. I liked not knowing what was going to happen, or who I was going to encounter. The newness of each day. I didn’t want to fill my time with entertainment anymore. Sure I continued to do things outside but it wasn’t the same. Being a part of Bryson City Outdoors helped, but I grew restless. After going on a cross country road trip with my friend and author Beth Hardin, I was inspired to take to the road. I’m a freelance web developer by trade, so my office is where ever I am.
BRO: What exactly does a freelance web developer do, and what advice would you give to someone who is actively pursuing that career path?
DP: It’s really a broad category. I typically build websites for clients using WordPress or some other content management system. I also manage servers, provide maintenance, remove malicious activity(hacks,malware), and help with social media. I love solving problems and that’s my favorite part of the job. I have been building websites since 2007 and have built up a client base that I feel comfortable traveling with. On the road I’ve picked up a few clients, but it’s really hard to grow when you travel. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can’t take every potential job. It’s hard to say no, but if you get too much work for your lifestyle it’s hard to provide the kind of work your clients deserve. It’s a hard career path to break into at first, but be diligent. Use your personal website as a testing ground. Experiment. If you find something that works well for you then you have something that may work well for a client.
BRO: How do you get around?
DP: I’ve been converting a Chevy Express for the last 3 months. It has been a huge upgrade from the small truck I drove up in.
It’s the difference between a home and a shelter. I use a Goal Zero Yeti 400 for power and have a small office that I work from when I can’t find a coffee shop. Coffee shops are ideal though, it’s a nice break from the silence of traveling alone.
Check out a 360 degree view of Dwayne’s van below.
BRO: Where are you from originally?
DP: I was born and raised in Bryson City, North Carolina.
BRO: Where did your journey begin, and what kinds of places have you discovered along the way?
DP: I started July 2015 from Bryson City bound for Prudehoe Bay, Alaska. I didn’t have any intentions to stay there, it was just as far north as a civilian could drive, so I made that my destination. I took my time getting there staying longer in towns that really captured me. Towns like Leadville, CO and Bozeman, MT. I didn’t plan on staying in Alaska very long and then I hiked up Little O’mally Peak in Anchorage. That did it. I knew I needed to stay.
BRO: Any favorite destinations?
DP: I have so many favorite destinations. Yosemite, the PNW, Bozeman, Jackson Hole, and Leadville to name a few. I love the mountains and being in them. Whether that’s the Smokies or the Chugach. There is something special about them. They make you feel so small. I do love Alaska! It’s more beautiful than pictures can portray, and the Northern Lights will make you feel like a kid again. I stayed there for 7 months and rented a room in Anchorage.
BRO: Tell us about your travel companion.
DP: Bobby is a Pitt/Lab mix. I have had him since he was a puppy, that’s almost 9 years now. He’s quite the dog, and for me he’s perfect. Low maintenance. He’s happy as long as he gets to sleep in the bed and ride in the front seat.
He’s not big on long hikes but loves short ones. We hiked Flattop Mountain in March and glisaded down it. You’ve never seen a dog so happy and fearless. Chasing his human down a steep snowy mountain.
That caught me by surprise because he’s a big sissy most of the time. He loves car rides, which is good because we do that most of the time now. We have quite the relationship and lots of conversations. The conversations are one sided, but he tries to listen, cocking his head from one side to the other. This is usually due to words that rhyme with “hike,” “ride”, or “treat.”
BRO: What sort of outdoor activities have you partaken in while out on the road?
DP: Hiking has been what I do most. But I’ve learned some knew skills since I started. Fly fishing has been such a joy. I don’t know why I didn’t do it before. There is great fly fishing in Bryson City. This winter I switched from snowboarding to skiing. There was quite a learning curve because for whatever reason I decided I’d start with telemark.
That made for lots of “fun” frustrating experiences. I thought many times, “Why did I leave my board at home?”, but by the end of the season I was doing pretty well at the ski resort. The backcountry, however, was a very different story. My lines looked a lot like exclamation points and I spent more time trying to get out of the powder than skiing down it.
On an better note, I picked up rock climbing. What a great sport! The Alaska Rock Gym became my second home, and I met so many awesome people there. Climbing is one of my main draws to the road now. There are some many more places to go and see now.
BRO: Can you tell us about some of the most interesting characters you’ve me while out on the road?
DP: I’ve met so many. It’s hard to pick just a few. Some are interesting because of their quirks, and others because they are truly adventurers. One man I met has spent over 5 years of his life on Denali.
Even though he’s a guide it’s hard to fathom spending that much of your life there. I also picked up 2 French hitchhikers on my way up to Alaska. They road with me for over 1,000 miles, language barrier included. I introduced them to American essentials like SPAM and 7-Eleven Slurpees.
They made sure I didn’t miss some important stops on the Alaskan Highway like Liard Hot Springs or the Sign Post Forest. A brief stop at the Bean Broker in Chadron, NE turned into a 3 day stay where the owner, Andie, convinced me to go visit her son and friends in Bozeman. It was so cool. The Bozemanites let me camp in their parking lot while I was there, took me kayaking down the Yellowstone, and even taught me to fly fish.
BRO: What is the most challenging or trying thing that has happened along the way?
DP: I had a crazy experience this winter. The last week in January I went on a short and easy hiking trip with photographer Jackson Ursin to Thunderbird Falls. We were taking photographs of the waterfall when things went really bad. Jackson slipped and fell off a 30+ foot cliff and bounced off the ice right beside me.
It was a surreal moment I could have never expected. It was just us out there and he was broken. It was almost 3 hours before he was rescued and in the hospital. I’ll spare you all the details and let you know that after surgery, 5 weeks in the hospital, and lots of physical therapy, he can now walk. I saw him right before I left, and he ran up to me and gave me a hug. That was a huge deal! The whole incident was a serious wake up call. We weren’t out doing anything crazy and things went terribly wrong. Having a buddy with you could be the difference between life and death.
BRO: Do you have your next destination planned out?
DP: At the moment, I just have an area I want to explore more around Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah. It’s interesting not having a specific destination. It sometimes makes me feel like I don’t have a goal, but I just want to see where the road takes me. You never know who you’ll meet, and I want to be flexible to the possibilities. I’d like to get back up to Alaska, but don’t want to plan that far ahead yet.
BRO: What advice would you give others who want to follow in your footsteps and take up the mobile, travel-based lifestyle?
DP: It’s easy to romanticize the lifestyle. Don’t take your ideals with you but be flexible learning to love the set backs because the road is full of them. Some nights it’s hard to find a place to camp and others just feel lonely. You have to step out of your comfort zone often. Smile and talk to people. Discover rock climbing because (1) rock gyms are a great place to shower, and (2) you’ll meet some incredible people. Everyone’s journey is different and be prepared to learn a lot about yourself. Have fun!