Grade School Essay (a.k.a. What I Learned on My Summer Vacation)

What I DID on my summer vacation is fairly well documented. Learning is the superior step in the progression. This isn’t meant to teach or moralize necessarily. Some of the things I learned are somewhat important, but others just make me go, “oh.”

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Supai Tunnel, North Kaibab Trail

5421 miles driven.
17 dead armadillos seen on the side of the road.
48 state license plates (New Hampshire, District of Columbia – where are you? Hawaii, you get a pass). 4 Canadian provinces and 2 states in Mexico were seen.
1 toenail lost (my 2nd toe, left. After the North Kaibab Trail).
10 states visited or driven through (Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Kansas).

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The Chief, on the epic drive home.

Miles were hiked and run. Friends were visited. Animals were seen, and campsites were explored. What I DID on my summer vacation is fairly well documented. Learning is the superior step in the progression. This isn’t meant to teach or moralize necessarily. Some of the things I learned are somewhat important, but others just make me go, “oh.”

-If we ever move west (or southwest), I’m buying stock in Chapstick. Between the altitude and lack of humidity, I think all four of us had cracked, bleeding lips for the entire trip. Chapstick makes 60% of their yearly profits between June through August in western states (the other 40% coming from winter in the northeast and Midwest). Disclaimer: profits not confirmed by the makers of Chapstick.

-Prized and valued commodities change. After 5-6 days at campgrounds, I valued a real shower more than I have ever had previously. The solar showers were great, but I honestly won’t take water pressure for granted again. Furthermore, I have a newfound love of ICE. After hiking hot and dusty trails, I’ll never discount the psychological improvement from an ice cold beverage again. It’s not essential for survival, but ICE water sure is wonderful.

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Andrew did his version of the “three kid panorama”

-We just spent the past six months decluttering, but I want to purge even more “stuff.” For damn well near four weeks, we lived out of a car and very small cabins or tents. All I had was my family (or the occasional friend to visit), food, a kind-of-comfortable place to sleep, and clothes/shoes. I’ve never really collected “stuff”, but doing “stuff” is vastly more satisfying. Even with the pictures we took, it doesn’t capture the grandeur of these spaces appropriately. We all need a certain amount of “stuff”, but it’s less than we think (or probably have).

-I’m finally enjoying reading again. It took six months off. I started reading months ago because I was SUPPOSED to. It’s just now enjoyable. My recommendations thus far are The Book of General Ignorance (skip the second book, it’s kind of derivative) and A Short History of Nearly Everything. I like nonfiction, and I’m willing to consider recommendations after I get to In a Sunburned Country.

-I’m the quietest of the four of us on a hike. Which is the opposite of how we function on a day-to-day basis. I’m the stark, raving, bonkers man in the family 95% of the time. But if I had a buck for every time Andrew said “Dad, are you ok? You’re so quiet!”, then the trip would have been paid for in week one. It doesn’t matter if I’m hiking or running, but if I’m on a trail, it’s the one place my brain is consistently calm. It almost doesn’t happen in other settings. EVER.

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Arkansas River, in the heart of Salida, CO.

-Selfishness is rampant across generations, genders, and pigment levels in our dermis. It’s not just millennials, Gen Xers, or Baby Boomers. It’s not men vs. women, nor does it matter if your white, black, or brown. In the last two to three blogs, I documented multiple episodes of selfish, entitled behavior. Those were the tip of the iceberg. Everyone needs to take “Kill Everyone With Kindness 101” as a mandatory class in high school.

-Having said that, there are still tons of generous, compassionate people out there. We bumped in to random, helpful people daily. I’d say we were lucky, but there are still acceptable numbers of kind strangers. Without them, we wouldn’t have found Mt. Taylor, cold drinking water, The Narrows, ranger programs at Bryce, nor would our SUV be fixed. I loved meeting and talking to strangers on the trails. They help the miles roll by.

-Linear progression is not the only way (nor is it always the best) to live life. I should have learned this one multiple times in the last 20 years. Much like the down/rest days on our trip, it’s not always best to March, march, march. Not that linear progress is bad, but there are roses, and they demand to be smelled.

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A blooming Century Plant.

-My family is more adaptable than I thought. It’s the only way to survive on the road. I shouldn’t be surprised after they didn’t tar and feather me for 2011-2016. But we threw out so many Plan As, Bs, and Cs on this trip, it isn’t funny. They a smart and resilient bunch, and I’m grateful.

-Some of the most picturesque land contains some of the most appalling poverty. I’m not sure how to reconcile this one. Rural poverty is similar, but in some ways different, from the urban poverty I’m more familiar with. In some places, I wonder where people get water, and that shouldn’t be the case here. Some people have little hope for the future, but breathtaking views. It’s sad to see, these areas need our help, and I don’t know where to begin.

-Thanks to the nurses (again) bought us that National Parks Pass and the road atlas. Those saved us money, led to remarkable experiences, and saved our asses when we were out of cellphone reception. I can’t say “thank you” enough.

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The Narrows.

-Part of the country I would like to explore more of? It’s a tie between the mountainous parts of New Mexico and Colorado between Grand Junction and Salida.

-Part of the country I don’t need to see for a while? The Mojave Desert. You killed my car. It’s 116F in the morning. We need to take a break from each other.

-Favorite Hike? Bryce Point to Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon. I’d like to visit Bryce in September and spend a week exploring there.

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The crazy switchbacks on the Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon.

-National Park I’ll never get sick of? The Grand Canyon. There are just so many routes to hike. I still haven’t been to the valley floor, and I still would like to hike or run rim-to-rim-(to-rim, Sonia doesn’t know about that second part). The North Kaibab Trail is the toughest trail I’ve had the pleasure to hike. It hurt me this time; I want to hurt it back.

-We would all be well advised to explore more. You don’t have to be rich. There’s more of the U.S. to see; we’ll never get close, even if we do get that fifth wheel (someday). It could be other countries, or it could be the state park two hours from your house. Just GO. It’s good for you. For the record, we are on a fixed budget for my sabbatical. We spent 26 days exploring the American West/Southwest for less than it costs for a family of four to go to Disneyworld for five days. To each their own when it comes to R&R, but think about that point the next time you plan a trip.

Musings about travel are coming to an end. The second half of this year, while still on sabbatical, now shifts in focus a little. I’m working with a career coach next week to start to figure out career/calling #2. We just launched a home business. I have an ultra marathon to train for and kids to prep for soccer season. But we have this experience to draw upon. The future isn’t scary. Uncertain, yes. But not intimidating. I’m as ready as I’m going to be, so there’s no sense in delaying. Time to get restarted.

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Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 40 year old pediatrician on sabbatical, happily married, and a father of two wonderful children. I fell out of the Ugly Tree, and hit every branch on the way down.

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