The Long Way West: A Photo Recap from the Road

Eager to set out.
Eager to set out. Christian David Photo
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In the spring of 2016, RootsRated teamed up with adidas Outdoor and College Outside to launch an inaugural "Go Wild for Awhile" University Inspiration Grant. Open only to student applicants, the grant was designed to provide travel cash and gear to send one lucky student on the trip of his or her dreams—without the limitations of their college budget. Below is a collection of photos and thoughts from our first University Grant Winner, Michael Turner, from his time on the road.

Looking back now on the three non-stop weeks we had on the road, it's difficult to sum up just how special this trip was. After all, trying to fit our entire journey into a few photos and words is about as impossible as trying to fit the entire American West into a single road trip. But that won't stop us from trying. Here's a photo recap of our time on the road.

The Long Way West

Thank you, Flagstaff.
Thank you, Flagstaff. Michael Turner

Our trip commenced in the late afternoon on Mother's Day in Rome, Georgia, just 24 hours after three of our group of five had walked across a stage and received our college diplomas. Starting strong, we drove a hefty 26-hours straight across the country until reaching Flagstaff, stopping only to leave our mark at Cadillac Ranch in North Texas.

View of the 18 miles we would hike the next day.
View of the 18 miles we would hike the next day. Michael Turner
Slowly realizing we'd have to make it back up the canyon.
Slowly realizing we'd have to make it back up the canyon. Michael Turner
Working our way up Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon.
Working our way up Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon. Michael Turner

Flagstaff was a short but sweet pit stop before our first round of national parks and big hikes.

First up was the Grand Canyon, which quickly earned its reputation as one of the most visited parks in the country—the South Rim was swarmed with hundreds of visitors, tour buses, and selfie sticks. Once we left the South Rim, the highlights included free camping in the nearby Kaibab National Forest, the best sunset of our lives, and an 18-mile hike down to the canyon floor and back up that whipped us into shape for the rest of the trip. Grand Canyon was an incredible way to start the trip, and Horseshoe Bend, Zion, and Joshua Tree were all quick to follow even before we made it to the West Coast.

Sunset at Lipan Point.
Sunset at Lipan Point. Michael Turner
Easiest detour decision ever at Horseshoe Bend.
Easiest detour decision ever at Horseshoe Bend. Michael Turner
Exploring Hidden Canyon, Zion NP.
Exploring Hidden Canyon, Zion NP. Michael Turner
Solid view of the Angel's Landing ridge.
Solid view of the Angel's Landing ridge. Michael Turner
Early morning in Joshua Tree NP.
Early morning in Joshua Tree NP. Michael Turner
The hikes in Joshua Tree are short, flat, and totally worth it.
The hikes in Joshua Tree are short, flat, and totally worth it. Michael Turner

Halfway There

California as a whole had served as an exciting goal and our mental halfway point. And the Pacific Coast was an especially welcome sight after spending all day on a 103-degree scorcher driving through the Sonoran Desert towards Los Angeles.

Made it to the coast.
Made it to the coast. Michael Turner
Days off spent well in LA.
Days off spent well in LA. Michael Turner
Pit stop at Patagonia HQ.
Pit stop at Patagonia HQ. Michael Turner

We spent a few much-needed rest days in LA, eating fish tacos and making the most of the shower access, but eventually we grew anxious to get back onto the road and into the Sierra Nevadas for the rest of the California leg of our trip. Our time in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park  was far too short, but getting to hug the largest tree in the world  made it memorable nonetheless.

Saving the best for last in California, we made it to Yosemite full of excitement to fit as much of the park as possible into three days.

Feeling small in Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP.
Feeling small in Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP. Michael Turner
Checking out Yosemite Valley.
Checking out Yosemite Valley. Michael Turner
Hiking to Glacier Point is always worth it.
Hiking to Glacier Point is always worth it. Michael Turner

They say nothing good in life comes easy, and so Yosemite had plenty of complications. These included closed roads, full campsites, and an unexpected snow that none of us were prepared for. Nevertheless, our time spent in the Valley was incredibly rewarding, hiking to Glacier Point and witnessing the Valley from the famous vantage of El Cap. And once we left, we wound up adding on a memorable detour to Lake Tahoe, where we spent time on the beach, playing games and admiring the crystal clear waters of the lake.

Beach games at Lake Tahoe.
Beach games at Lake Tahoe. Michael Turner

Homeward Bound

As we left Yosemite, the realization set in that from that point on, all driving would be eastward and back towards our homes, jobs, and everyday lives. Sure, there would be plenty of stops along the way, but with this realization we made it a point to make the most of our time left on the trip.

After Lake Tahoe, we explored Utah's amazingly strange Bonneville Salt Flats and continued onward to Colorado by way of Arches National Park (how can you say no to Moab?).

The otherworldliness of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The otherworldliness of the Bonneville Salt Flats. Michael Turner
Finding gems along Devils Garden.
Finding gems along Devils Garden. Michael Turner

We spent the last days of the trip all over Colorado visiting old friends and diagnosing smoking car engines. The thing that stood out from this section was the amount of guest bedrooms, hot meals, and kind words that were offered to us by friends and family alike. The vast majority of our trip was made possible thanks to other peoples' willingness to help, and this story serves as a testimony to the power of reaching out to others.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Michael Turner

After a few days of bouncing around Colorado, and exactly three weeks after we'd originally departed from Georgia, it was time to head back home. The van would ultimately survive long enough to get us back down South, and morale was still high as we pulled back into Rome, Georgia where our crew finally parted ways.

The RootsRated University Inspiration Grant was the reason we were able to accomplish a trip of this size and scale, and I feel honored to have been its first recipient. The point of this grant is to send students on the adventure of a lifetime without the constraints of a college budget, and in that regard it was a total success. So in conclusion, I'd like to offer a huge thanks to all the family, friends, and companies that allowed us to go on this trip and to "Go Wild for Awhile."

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