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June 27, 2012

Go West Young Man!

travel guides

Eleven months ago I lost my job.  Like many people over the past handful of years I was consolidated.  I saw it happen to many people I know but that day it was my turn.  In that moment I was initially surprised and hurt.  Oh my god!  This is it.  It’s really happening to me.  For a few seconds I was numb while my boss’s words hung there and then sped past me in a blur as I quickly flashed on that journey I had started 16  years earlier and was now coming to an end in less than a minute.  After the initial shock I quickly found myself feeling strangely at ease.  I realized I was no longer responsible for the long list of things I had been working on and it felt as if a huge weight was literally lifted off of my shoulders.  It also started to occur to me that since I was a manager who had been with them for 16 years the HR Director was hopefully going to be giving me details on a nice exit package and that indeed was the case.  I loved my job and didn’t want to leave the company but I was ready to take my career in another direction and now that opportunity was handed to me.  I never want to have that experience again and it stung but I can honestly say they did it as respectfully as possible.  I was allowed to say some goodbyes through the building at my own pace without an escort which meant a lot and they enabled me to take plenty of time to figure out my next move.  So there I was going on 40 and unemployed in a terrible economy without a solid idea of what I was going to do.  I knew that I wanted to take some time to figure out ways to take life after 40, “The Second Half” as I’ve been calling it, in a different direction…with more direction.  Learn new things.  Have more experiences.  Go places I’ve never been.  See what I’ve always wanted to see.  Make more plans.  Take more chances.  Reach for my dreams.  It was time to go west!  

Growing up in St. Louis I was always enchanted by The Gateway Arch as a representation of “The Gateway to the West”  and the city’s connection to Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition.  Now I was ready for my own journey of discovery.  We have always been enchanted about stories of the west but at the time in 1804 not much was known about the area west of the Dakotas to the white man.  After their successful return with plenty of stories of the splendor and abundance of nature the enchantment grew and thousands of settlers over the next decade packed up their lives and headed west.  They went for many reasons families and individuals alike.  A new beginning.  A chance to carve out something of their own.  A chance for adventure or maybe even a chance at fortune.  Whatever their reason I imagine they all had some of that same spirit of discovery that lead Lewis and Clark.  I know that spirit was alive in me as I planned out a three week road trip by myself to go places I’ve always wanted to see.  It would be a chance to relax, hopefully figure out the answers to some questions and in the process discover my own “northwest passage” for the second half.

I can’t remember the last time I was that excited or looked forward to something with so much anticipation. I had a convertible, plenty of time and a list of destinations I wanted to see and nothing holding me back.   I planned on making my way out to the Jackson, Wyoming area starting south through Nebraska and then returning a bit north through South Dakota.  On the list was The Taste of The Tetons / Fall Arts Festival in Jackson, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park and The Neddles Highway, Deadwood, South Dakota, and Badlands National Park.  I saw all of those places and many more along the way.  I ran into black bears while hiking by myself on a trail in Grand Teton National Park and a mother grizzly and two cubs ran through my campsite in Yellowstone and both times I managed to not do all over myself what bears do in the woods.  I even had the chance to stay and work on an organic farm for a few days.  I met a lot of interesting people and made some new friends I’ll be visiting again soon.  It was a trip I had always wanted to do just like I wanted to do it.  There is something so American and nostalgic to me about traveling across the country not to mention in a convertible.

Throughout the trip I couldn’t help but think about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and how much the country has changed in just over the 200 years since their journey.  They needed over 30 men, a very popularized women and child, multiple boats, and hundreds of pounds of supplies to make their journey. They had to search for camps and passages, hunt for food, acquire horses and navigate unfriendly territory.  It took them two and a half years to complete the mission that covered almost 8,000 miles. Even though many thought the group would never return alive they did and only lost one man on the trip, Sergeant Floyd apparently from a ruptured appendix.  It took me three weeks to cover about 4,000 miles by myself in a car equipped with a GPS unit in relative safety.  I wonder what they would think of how easily we travel around the world now?

I took so many photos and almost a year later I am still trying to organize them.  Here are some of my favorites from the road.


Looking at the open road in front of me I feel free!

Amazing views coming and going.

Very cool that wind power is catching on across the country.

Seeing the landscape change as you progress across the country from the plains to the mountains is a great experience.  For the plains being “nothing” it sure is beautiful!

The various grasslands you see are amazing.

The Badlands

Mount Rushmore

Crazy Horse Memorial

Devil’s Tower

 If you are a fan of the HBO show Deadwood or pioneer and Roosevelt history you know who this is.

Beaver Rim and Wind River Range, Wyoming

It’s hard to make good time on the road because you keep passing points of interest like this.

Glad I never quarreled with Chief Washakie.

Beautiful clouds and sunset in Kinnear, Wyoming.

Roadside attractions in Dubios, Wyoming.

I touched it!  It must be real.

My first view of The Grand Tetons.

View of Jackson Lake and The Grand Tetons from Signal Mountain.  I love the Pano App!

These shots are along the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway near Cody, Wyoming.

Enjoying my coffee with the morning sun while camping at Snowdrift Farm in Victor, Idaho.

Sunrise on the farm.  Did you hear the rooster?

This was the final sunset of the trip just outside of Badlands National Park.


I saw and experienced things on the trip that will change my life.  The whole idea of “go west young man” was always in my head. That spirit of adventure, heading into the unknown, trying to carve out something for yourself, make it on your own, all of that was part of why I and so many others headed west.  I just went for it and it was amazing.  I met lots of people on the road.  I met locals and people who were transplants from other parts of the country.  I met folks whose vacation fifteen years ago turned out to be a move.  I met fellow travelers including married couples on extended trips, other recent out of work wanderers and even a couple from France that were taking three years to ride their tandem bicycle around the world.  Just like all those before they each had different reasons but all had some of that spirit and were happy to share their story and encourage others to take the leap.

When I came back I told myself to remember that spirit and that “going west” didn’t have to be literal.  You can “go west” by taking any chance in life and just going for it.  I may go west, I may go east or I may stay here, but whatever I choose I need to always remember to “go west young man” wherever I go in life. It’s funny sometimes how we get to where we are but I finally went west and I’ll keep trying to do the same every day.

Read about my trip to Snowdrift Farm.

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