“The highway is my home
This heart belongs out on the open road.
Don’t matter where we go,
One life to live, we’ve got to take
The chance that we still have to make it…”
National Park Radio, “The Road Ahead”
In my heart, I am a writer. I am the melancholic dreamer that sees a poem in the way a leaf falls. I see a story in the eyes of the stranger I hold the door open for. Every abandoned highway is a song that hasn’t been sang.
If you have made it to this page, where our adventures are still in the process of being recorded, then you are no longer interested in just information. You are here for a story. And friend, I will be thrilled to write you one. Most of our content, for now, is based in the Ozark Mountains, the familiar homeland that we have the ease of exploring in our own time. However, we have big dreams of distant places that lure us beyond our quiet, cozy Ozarks.
That is the story we will tell here.
This adventure blog will cover our out-of-state adventures, which occur about twice a year. With each new road trip, our confidence and experience grows. The next few paragraphs will give you a brief backstory of our lives, so if you want to know David and I even better, read on! I will be going in depth about the ideology of our ideal lifestyle, and will briefly recap our travel history and the experiences that had a part to play in our relationship.
How to Live “One Life”
The lyrics introducing this blog are from one of my favorite songs, from one of our favorite bands, National Park Radio. To our pleasant surprise, we discovered this band came from northern Arkansas, making them fellow Ozarkians. We did not know that before we fell in love with them, but it just made it all the better. Now, when we travel to other states with their hopeful, upbeat tunes flooding from the speakers, it’s like we have a piece of home we can take with us wherever we go.
This song in particular has a powerful impact on me because it highlights an ideology that has always been deeply rooted in my mind, I just didn’t have a name for it. The notion of only having one life to live frightened me for a long time. Growing up, I had this checklist in my mind, the traditional pathway to what was supposedly the perfect life:
Graduate high school. Go to college. Get a high-paying job. Get married. Buy a house. Have kids. Work until you can retire…yeah, you know the one. It’s what we all strive for.
In my head, there was an hourglass counting down the seconds I had to complete this checklist. Every moment that I wasn’t actively building towards my future was wasted time, precious seconds slipping away that I could never get back. It was a continual stress, always weighing me down.
It wasn’t until my college years that I began rethinking what it was that I wanted. I began to realize that my idea of a perfect life didn’t match the traditional one. I didn’t want a big fancy house. I absolutely despised the idea of a 40-hour work week. And, despite family members scoffing and trying to change my mind, I have no desire to be a mother. So…where did that leave me? What did I want to do with my life?
The answer was clear. I had always known it, but had never truly acknowledged it. I wanted to travel the world.
In their song, “The Road Ahead”, NPR really captures the wistful longing for adventure on the road, while still portraying the excitement and anticipation of the unknown. Having one life to live doesn’t mean you have to be on a clock, watching the seconds tick down. It means your life is yours to command and only you can decide how its spent. If you can only do it once, it makes sense to do what makes you happy.
Travel makes me happy. The freedom of the open road, with no expectations. There’s no such thing as a wrong turn. No detours or delays. No way to get lost if there is no set destination. There is only the thrill of exploration and the wonder of what is around the next curve. It is the fulfillment of dormant dreams. It is fear bowing to determination and confidence. It is the knowledge that one day, that road will end, and when it does, you can look back on a life well spent.
Having one life to live does not mean you have to have the checklist done before time runs out. It means that when that last grain of sand falls, every second, no matter how many of them there were, was filled with as much happiness as it could have possibly been.
The Growth of an Idea
So, where did my dreams of travel begin? Honestly, I don’t think there was ever a defining moment. It was something that built slowly, an idea that grew with maturity as I realized how precious our time was. However, even if my concept for travel was not fully developed, my respect for nature has always been present.
Nature has always been my happy place. It was my own personal fantasy world as a child. It was my escape during my depression-riddled teenage years. And now, it is my breath of fresh air when the adult world threatens to suffocate me.
My family hunted and fished, hiked and camped, rode horses and 4-wheelers across every inch of our 200-acre property. I was outside every moment I got and embodied the spirit of the wild Missourian little girl with scuffed knees and a muddy face.
I know that my first vacations were to the Rocky Mountains, as my father was obsessed. He tried to take us every year, but I was so young, all I have are foggy, partial memories of snow-capped mountains and grizzly bears crossing the road, Jacuzzi tubs in red hotel rooms and odd little knickknack shops along the side of the road. Fantastical memories from a storybook.
The first road trip I really remember was when I was about 10. My aunt and uncle took my sister and I on a 2-week excursion through the West. We went through the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, all the way down into Arizona before curving back north through Arkansas. These memories are a bit clearer, the highlights of the things I saw still clinging to my mind and only further spurring me to get out there and see them again, now that I’m old enough to really appreciate what I’m seeing.
A few years later, my family road-tripped to Tucson, Arizona to spend Christmas with my grandparents. We were only there for a weekend, but I do remember trying to squeeze in some tourist attractions while we were there. The memories are even sharper, and I really enjoyed the variety of the experiences I had.
There were some other, small trips scattered throughout my lifetime as well. There was a short trip to Minnesota with my grandparents in there somewhere, but I remember nothing except the Nickelodeon-themed indoor amusement park at the Mall of America. A couple of high school road trips included quick excursions to Indiana, Indianapolis as well as Washington, D.C. for extra-curricular related activities. I have road-tripped with friends for a weekend in Orlando, Florida for Disneyworld and a separate weekend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a Supernatural convention (my favorite TV show).
However, what I remember and what I don’t from these various trips are rather unpredictable. The time spent on the road is mostly a blur that I paid no attention to. The destinations themselves stand out as little postcards in my mind of the places I enjoyed, although the details and feelings associated with these trips are a bit hazy and hard to recall.
I know David has had very similar experiences. He has been to Atlanta, Georgia multiple times to visit family and has flown to Portsmouth, New Hampshire on a family trip. But, like me, we didn’t fully appreciate our journeys quite yet. They were a fun little distraction from the everyday monotony, but that’s all they were at the time…a distraction. A distraction from the checklist we thought we had to get home and attend to.
When I made the move to Branson, Missouri fresh out of college, I think the inner explorer inside of me was finally waking up. I suddenly had an urge to get away from the boring world I had always known and go live somewhere exciting and new. I was beginning to develop a new line of thinking as I searched for the answer to that hole in my chest…that feeling that I was missing something. And as I began to feel overwhelmed by these questions of why I felt so incomplete, I fell back to my old safe place…the outdoors.
I missed nature. I hadn’t really noticed it before, but now a simple hike outside of town brought me a sense of peace and clarity. I had forgotten how that felt.
And so, when I met David, he was the final piece of inspiration that I needed.
The Road So Far
As I’ve mentioned before, David and I met in the early summer of 2019, but it wasn’t until 2020 that we did anything more than hang out at Sonic or the coffee shop. While getting to know each other’s interests, we were excited to learn how much we both enjoyed getting outdoors!
So, a few days into January, we went hiking together for the first time at Lakeside Forest Conservation Area. A little public use area that feels right in the middle of Branson that is way more secluded than it looks. The trails were steeper and slicker than I was expecting, so I was a little nervous. And then, halfway through the trail, David was super excited to show me an outlook he had discovered once before that was off the main trail. And by off the main trail, he meant up.
I am a naturally nervous and rather out of shape woman to begin with, so after some unexpected rock-climbing, I was fairly certain he might literally be the death of me. (But I wasn’t about to back out because he was super cute and I didn’t want to look like a coward!) However, he was right. The view from the top was beautiful!
I think that first hike must have been some sort of test, in which he decided that my sense of adventure matched his own. Now, my sense of curiosity does not always win out over self-preservation (and that is certainly not a bad thing when your boyfriend has an unbridled desire to climb high things!) but I do still know how to be a thrill-seeker (cautiously)!
After that, we would regularly spend our afternoons exploring hiking trails, caverns, and rivers that served as small tourist attractions around town. When businesses started to open up, we would check out some of the new museums, aquariums, or adventure parks that popped up within the city.
Eventually, we started branching out, spending day trips in David’s neck of the woods. We dipped down into Arkansas regularly, exploring the many hidden gems around Jasper, Ponca, and the Ozark National Forest. We found cute little restaurants and enjoyed beautiful, quiet drives along the famous Pig Trail. We got up super early some mornings to go elk spotting. We delved deep into the woods to search for spring-time warblers. We took long drives through the Ozark Mountains, following random billboards, windows down, National Park Radio flooding from the speakers.
Some of my fondest memories of those early days took place on the Lost Valley Trail in Ponca. It was a short but beautiful trail we spent an afternoon exploring. It had been a last-minute stop, trying to find something to do before we went home. We had no idea it would turn out to be one of our favorite places to return to over and over again!
It was an easy trail with beautiful caves and a gorgeous waterfall at the end. It’s a peaceful way to start the morning or a relaxing way to wrap up an afternoon. And on the way out, we always stopped at the general store there and discovered that Cabot Seriously Sharp cheese mixes surprisingly well with Auntie Ann’s graham cracker bunnies. It became our necessary snack every time we visited. It was also here that we discovered water flavoring does NOT mix with sparkling water. It leads to a very hilarious, but messy, end result. It was on that day that I distinctly remember looking at David in the passenger seat, dripping wet with strawberry-flavored carbonated water, both of us laughing until we cried, that I realized how strong my feelings for him really were. And how badly I wanted these moments to last forever.
In short, the warm, happy vibes this trip brought to me, and continues to bring to me, helped kick start my thought process. Was there a way to keep the moments like this alive? A way for every second to be filled with as much happiness as I felt right then?
As summer rolled in, our furlough ended, and we returned to work in June. However, every weekend was still spent on the road, and we slowly went further and further. We started exploring a handful of state parks and wildlife refuges in Missouri. We would take day trips to Eureka Springs, AR to shop and take tours of the little roadside attractions. Every day, I found more places to add to our adventure list to come back and see another day.
In the meantime, we had big plans in the works. We had been talking about planning an out-of-state trip together since the beginning of the year, as young people with wild dreams tend to do. Then, early on, we had a crazy notion to just DO IT and we booked a flight to Colorado, intending to go in April for David’s birthday. Well, when Covid-19 restrictions grounded all air travel, we let those plans fall back into our imaginations, where we figured they would reside forever.
But as our bond grew and our desire for travel refused to be sated, we began talking about them again. Airports were opening back up and the opportunity arose once more. And we took it. We rebooked our flight to Denver for a week in September. Breathless with exhilaration at our daring to actual plan our own trip, we got so exited we decided to do a mini pre-trip when we just happened to have an extended weekend off from work.
So, a couple of weeks before our flight, we spent the weekend at Elephant Rocks State Park. It was our first overnight trip together. Our motel room was adorable and the park itself, which we spent two days exploring, was mind-blowingly awesome! I won’t go into too much detail on it, as it will get its own article on the main page. But suffice it to say, both of us agreed that we had never had a more memorable or enjoyable overnight trip, regardless of past travel companions and destinations. We were made to travel together!
With our confidence and excitement spilling over, we eagerly awaited the day of our flight departure to Colorado and a whole new adventure began…but I won’t spoil that story for you. Read the following article for an in-depth narration of how we spent our week together! Get a glimpse of my first time on a plane, David’s first time seeing mountains, and the first time we had ever gone out of our familiar Ozark region together!
When we came back to Missouri at the end of that week, we were truly different people. We were the most relaxed and happiest versions of ourselves that we had ever been. Finally, everything had fallen into place. That trip had answered all those questions for me about what I really wanted to do with my life. And after years of trying out different personas, David finally had a solid idea of who he wanted to be. Not only did we want to spend our lives traveling, we wanted to do it together!
From the outside, life for us returned to normal. We went back to working 40 hours a week, taking time on the weekends to go explore trails we hadn’t hiked yet or to visit new museums that had just opened. But on the inside, we were building a mental plan for how we were going to change our lives for the better!
By November 2020, we finally reached the inevitable conclusion of our bond…we started dating! (Our love is what they call a “slow burn”.) David asked me out in the cutest way possible: a photo book made up of pictures from our adventures throughout the year, from the first photo we had taken together to the last. We had started this road together, and now we couldn’t imagine traveling it with anyone else.
By the time 2021 rolled around, we already had many more plans in the works. We took a short road trip north to my half of the state and I introduced David to some the hidden little joys northern Missouri has to offer (you can find these listed on our website content!) We also prepped for our biggest extended trip yet…a 2-week road trip to the desert to explore the wonders of New Mexico and Arizona. And most of it was completely unplanned! (You can find that one here in the blog, one article after our Colorado trip. It’s a long one!)
Our goal was, and still is, to turn our lives into the happiest, most adventurous they can be. We are still in the process of building that dream but, as I write this article, we are less than a month away from our next big road trip to Maine! That knowledge inspires me to write down our story and to share it as soon as I can so that those reading this blog, with similar daydreams of grand adventures, can see that it is more possible than you might imagine!
The Growth of a Dream
Once my eyes had finally been opened to the fulfillment of a traveler’s life, I realized…I’ve seen some cool things in my life already! I have seen national parks and monuments that most people only see pictures of. I have seen wildlife up close that others only see in zoos. And I have already experienced the nervous anticipation of waking up in a new state every day. But I took most of that for granted. At the time, I just couldn’t comprehend the true wonder of the life I was living.
So, now that I knew what I was missing and what I could be doing with my life, I had to ask myself how I went about getting there. Obviously, we would need money of some kind. Unless we just wanted to take off with backpacks and camp every night on the side of the road. Although, doesn’t sound like too bad of an experience to try out some time (maybe a few days) it’s not exactly my preferred method.
However, as I have mentioned before, I detest the idea of the 40-hour work week. I spend months of valuable time saving up money just to argue about scheduling conflicts and paid time off before finally enjoying two weeks away…then coming back and doing it all again for another six months. Why should I waste my life making money to see the world, if I will never be granted the time off I need to actually see the world? I don’t want to wait until I’m gray-haired and retired. I want to do it now, while I still have sand left to spend in my hourglass.
That’s when I started exploring my options of ways to make a living on the road. Part of me is still very much devoted to becoming an author and I am still working hard on what I hope to be a big debut book one day. But I also needed a back-up idea. Something fun and creative that’s tied closer to the lifestyle I am wanting to live. That’s when I began to research travel blogging!
I was intrigued by the idea. The more we traveled, the more content we’d have to share with readers. The more people that became invested in our story, the more freedom we had to travel! We didn’t have enough solid information or memorable stories from our childhood vacations to make any useful content, but we do happen to have plenty of experience with our much-beloved tourist region! We had plenty of content to share without even leaving the state! At least to start out with.
And so, here we are, on this article.
If David and I were to turn our life into a book, all the hazy, half-remembered journeys of our past would be nothing more than the prologue. Now, we are sitting at the beginning of Chapter 1 of what will be our ultimate adventure story. We want to explore every corner of the country we can reach! We want to revisit those memories from our past as adults that can fully enjoy the experience! And, eventually, we want to be able to say we have set foot on every continent (and a good number of countries) on this planet!
But, like most beginnings, we have to start small. At this point, Colorado and the Southwest are the only big trips we have taken, and we will recount them for you as a recap of those adventures. In between times, we will continue taking day trips to explore as much of the Ozark Mountain region (and other gems within Missouri and Arkansas) as we can reach and will share our experiences with you.
You’ve seen the prologue. You’ve read the introduction. The setting has been given. Now, it’s time to turn the page and let the story begin.
The Road Ahead
If you are looking for advice from someone wise and knowledgeable about how to live the perfect traveler’s dream, and who can provide you a step-by-step how-to guide to get there…this is NOT the blog for you. Not yet anyway.
The dream life is still distant. We don’t have a cute van set-up or RV life. We don’t even have our own tent. David and I still work full-time jobs. My book is still a half-finished rough draft buried in the depths of my laptop. This magnificent travel blog has 2 articles posted…one of which is our “About Us”…
But I believe in our dream. I believe we are finally on the road to get there, and I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying, “it’s not the destination…it’s the journey.” So, you are welcome to hop in the passenger seat and ride along for as long as you’d like!
Eventually, I’d love to see this site branch out and be a useful guide in all corners of the country, but until then, you can keep up with our out-of-state “information gathering” here, where we will recount our road trips, what activities we did, and what we learned from them.
As for the Ozarks, we have plenty of information to share and we continue to gather more every weekend as we work our way through the checklist of places to explore! You can peruse that information at your own leisure throughout the rest of the website. And, if you’d like to keep up with our lives both at home and on the road, follow our Instagram account (@_flannelwanderer) where we post David’s amazing pictures of the world as we see it!
Catch up on the places we have been and stay tuned for the places we have yet to see! National Park Radio puts it best with the final lines of “The Road Ahead”:
“So pack your bags and don’t look back,
Get ready for the rush.
And say goodbye to our old lives,
Adventure’s calling us.”