UVA alums return from national park road trip

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Darius Nabors and Trevor Kemp, two UVA graduates, visited all 59 national parks in 59 weeks. Photo by Trevor Kemp Darius Nabors and Trevor Kemp, two UVA graduates, visited all 59 national parks in 59 weeks. Photo by Trevor Kemp

Two University of Virginia graduates put their young professional lives on hold when they took the chance of a lifetime. With a year’s worth of supplies crammed into a Dodge Ram 2500 truck, they quit their jobs and embarked on a journey to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service—by visiting all 59 national parks in just 59 weeks.

Darius Nabors, who had been visiting national parks with his dad since he was a kid, always dreamed of seeing each one. But as he was about to turn 30, he realized he would be 72 years old by the time he’d seen them all if he continued to visit just one park per year. So he recruited his friend Trevor Kemp, “since they both share a love of the outdoors, drinking beer, good coffee, campfires and jumping in photographs,” as he wrote on the website they created to document the trip.

Nabors, then a fundraiser for UVA, and Kemp, who was working as an engineer, left Charlottesville for Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park in June 2015, and in August 2016, the duo wrapped up their trip in the Shenandoah National Park.

Now a “stay-at-home brother,” as he likes to call himself, or a “manny,” according to his younger brother, Nabors is still unpacking his vehicle at his parents’ home in Missouri, taking care of his siblings, compiling some of the pair’s experiences into a book and flying across the country to speak at elementary, middle and high schools.

While the post-road trip blur of day-to-day life hasn’t felt quite right (Nabors says he’s having a hard time adjusting to the presence of lights at night and has found a hammock to be more comfortable than his bed), he and Kemp share vivid memories of those 15 months on the road.

“The most notable [national park] that I know Trevor and I would agree on is the Grand Canyon because we rafted it,” Nabors says, describing the 19 days in June 2016, in which the UVA alums and some friends they met along the way rafted 225 miles of the Colorado River, through its paradox of smooth seas and 14- to 18-foot waves. At night, they camped along the riverbank, soaking in its sounds while they slumbered.

And while they did a great deal of camping on the trip, another of Nabors’ fondest memories comes from his stay in American Samoa, where no camping is allowed, during which he opted for a homestay with a local family.

He remembers the amusement his host family exhibited on a day when he wore contact lenses instead of eyeglasses—he had to explain the concept of the small, vision-improving disks he had inserted into his eyes. They had never heard of such a thing.

“They were like, ‘The next time you put them in, can you show us?’” he says. And so he did, giving a small child in the host family the opportunity to hold a lens. “And this little 2-year-old kid who was usually a whirlwind, just running around all the time, had the little contact on his finger and was just amazed that it was a thing that worked.”

Looking back, Nabors says he learned what it meant to actually be amazed, or experience something truly awesome.

“Americans always say that everything is awesome,” he says. “Not every park or every experience could I use the word awesome, but there were definitely moments where the thing that I was seeing or experiencing or surrounded by was inspiring awe.”

He describes a moment in Utah when some Charlottesville friends came to visit.

“I have a photo of my friends standing in Arches [National Park] and they’re all just looking up at the surrounding scenery and they’re all just speechless,” he says. “They were just blown away by this.”

And they’re not the only ones.

“One of the cool things that a ranger in Yosemite said,” he adds, “is if you see someone standing in the valley who’s just looking up to the sky and not saying anything, don’t worry. They’re just having a Yosemite moment.”

And it’s one everyone should be able to experience, Nabors says.

“Oftentimes, there’s this concept that you can’t go to nature unless you’re broken or something’s wrong with you,” he says. “That concept is unhealthy. You don’t need to wait until there’s something wrong to go on a hike.”

By the numbers:

59 national parks visited

59 weeks of travel

$25,000 in expenses

735 miles traveled by boat

15,000 miles flown

55,000 miles driven

2,500 miles hiked

50,000-plus photos taken

260 PB&J sandwiches eaten

50 people met along the way

40 times they listened to a
Nickelback CD in Canada

1 time almost hit by a moose

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