At eighteen, after a long courtship, Lillian and I got married and started our journey together. Having just completed U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training, we moved from the suburbs of Southern California to Northeast Arkansas, the heart of rural America. Separated from family and childhood friends, we routinely made pilgrimages back along Route 66 the “Mother Road.” From these trips grew a quest to venture forth and experience new places. Beginning in 2000 and for ten years, our sailboat, the sailing vessel (s/v) Toucan provided the adventures and memories that changed our lives. Sailing formed a chapter of our lives that helped us transition from raising children to empty nesters and from the world of work to retirement. Sailing was new, a little overwhelming and a real change. In 2003, my mother and Lillian’s Aunt Jeannea journaled our first trip down the Intercoastal Waterway, from the Chesapeake Bay to Charleston South Carolina. Before that, except for a few scattered photographs, our first forty years of traveling seems to fade a little more each year. Our first set of journals covered our 2008 sailing adventure to the Bahamas. Sadly, we sold Toucan in 2010 and remained rudderless until 2013, when we resumed our adventures by land.
“Bound for Glory” is our continued adventures, this time not in a sailboat but in a small camper van. These are the journals we created as we traveled to see our Nation’s best idea, the National Parks. This time we didn’t have a single destination we had forty-seven of them, to see all the National Parks in the contiguous United States. I call this a quest because it took us a little less than four years as we covered over eighty-five thousand miles. All told, we made nine separate trips across the country. There are sixty-one National Parks in the United States, of which forty-seven are in the contiguous United States. When we started in 2013, there were only forty-six. Pinnacles National Park in California was added shortly after we began.
National Parks are administered by the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service. There are over four hundred units under their care. National Monuments, Historic Parks, Battlefields, Seashore, Lakeshores are all commonly referred to as “parks.” But only sixty-one of them are designated National Parks. These sixty-one are the best of the best places in America. While a President can designate a National Monument under the Antiquities Act, only Congress can Designate a new National Park. To be designated as a national park the area must represent a unique natural, cultural, or recreational resource. It must be in need of protection, and no organization other than the National Park Service could provide for its protection. Each National Park is unique and worth preserving and protecting. For always, for everyone, for you and me.
Life happens. During the four years and, eighty-five thousand miles we drove our Airstream van, we had more than our share of significant emotional events. Two hip replacements for Lillian’s ninety-year-old Mother, now she’s the most requested dancer at family weddings. The birth of two magnificent grandsons who are growing faster than summer sweet corn and giving their Mom and Dad a run for their money. Our son found love, making his mother, grandmother, and sister very happy. A house destroyed and rebuilt for my parents, who said tragedy doesn’t pay off.
These Journals were written as updates to family and friends as we traveled. They were never meant to be stitched together into a story. Years later, Putting them together, allowed us to share the ride, relive our journeys and preserve our memories. You will notice either a (G) or (L) at the beginning of some paragraphs. Lillian (L) tends to understate her impressions and focus on facts. Gary (G), not so much. Our friends and family know the difference and can recognize it.
Our quest to see all forty-seven National Parks in the “lower forty-eight” United States was truly a quest to find our glory.
(G) I’ve always loved car rides, why is lost in my hazy memories. As a kid, my mother and father would pack me and my brothers and sisters into the station wagon or the “camper” and take us from California to Minnesota. My Dad was a fanatic about driving. He could go non-stop into the short hours of the morning, then wake at 10 am and start all over again. One lucky child got to sit up front and talk about who knows what to keep him awake. One year, my brother and I pressed hard to put a surfboard on the roof. We were newly minted California teenagers and thought the girls of Minnesota would be impressed. They weren’t.
Lillian and my first car trip, our honeymoon trip, was to our first duty station in Blytheville Arkansas. Moving to the rural south from big city Los Angeles was like moving to Mars. Lillian’s 1973 Chevy Vega was packed with all our worldly possessions – hence all wedding gifts were presented in cash. So, with her Vega weighted down till the springs bottomed out, we took off. The string of twenty-dollar bills tied to the tailpipe lasted until we hit the Grand Canyon. We blew it all on a helicopter ride. Wow. Spectacular! “As I went walking, I saw a sign there. And on the sign, it said, “No Trespassing.” But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing, that side was made for you and me.” – Woodie Guthrie
There is something about a road trip that makes the world around you seem more real. Leaving the confined space of your home, familiar surroundings, friends, and relatives, resets your clock. The land and time between present new experiences. The quest of a destination provides your heart and mind with a new focus. However, not everything is roses and filet mignon. Over the years, we’ve broken down in Tucumcari, Salt Lake City and Fort Smith Arkansas. We got speeding tickets in Gallup, Yuma, and most of the other states – usually when Lillian was driving. In the dead of an Iowa winter, we slept in the bed of our Nissan pickup, wore every stitch of clothing we had and were still freezing under two down comforters. Turning the radio on we heard the DJ announce, “nope folks it’s not a record – only 16 degrees below zero!” The brakes froze up, and it took about five miles to get all the wheels spinning at the same speed. The water in the gas was like jelly, and the truck would die about every fifty miles or so.
In the early 80’s, we bought a VW microbus campervan. We camped every other weekend. The off weekends were for repairs. Over the two years we had the van I think we replaced everything at least twice. Camping with two small children allowed us to experience the world with fresh eyes. The “girls” slept on the top in the pop-up tent and the “boys” slept on the bottom. “Don’t bother us” was shouted till everyone fell asleep. “Engine it goes boom, boom; Front seat, backseat, boys and girls, take you riding in my car.” – Woodie Guthrie
Driving to our National Parks took us north to Maine, south to Florida, and long drives to the west. Sometimes we skirted the Canadian border as we traveled through Michigan, Minnesota and on to North Dakota. Other times we rode along the Rio Grande and dipped our toes in Mexico. We traveled along the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. We followed the Pony Express route from St Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California. America is big, diverse and beautiful. The people you meet know how special our land is and how lucky they are to enjoy it. The people you meet fill you with a sense of place and pride. Traveling among them fills you with a sense of wonder and gratitude. “This train is bound for glory nobody rides it but the righteous and holy, this train is bound for glory, this train” – Author unknown
Soon after we saw our final National Park, Congress moved the goal post and created a new one, number forty-eight. Gateway Arch in St. Louis Missouri was designated by Act of Congress in 2018. Oh well, on the road again. “Goin’ places that I’ve never been. Seein’ things
We hope these journals bring you fond memories and safe travels. Be well and good luck finding your glory.
Gary and Lillain Zelinski