One More Mountain: A Month-Long Road Trip Through the American West

by Cole Niles | October 24, 2019

As we scaled the mountain pass, we heard what sounded like an avalanche. The trees were obscuring our view – we couldn’t tell what was ahead of us. “Should we go back?” my girlfriend Andi asked me. I shook my head, and we continued upward. The sounds intensified the higher up we climbed. I could tell Andi was becoming anxious, and I would be lying if I were to claim I wasn’t feeling antsy either. Avalanches happen fast – in a matter of seconds the ground can be buried under a thick blanket of snow. Who’s to say the next loud boom weren’t to be followed by a deluge of ice and snow?

Nevertheless, we hiked onward. After about five more minutes, we approached a clearing that opened up to a stunning vista of the Canadian Rockies. We had reached the top of the mountain. We looked over at the adjacent mountain, where the sound was coming from, and saw that the sound we were afraid of was indeed a small avalanche, but it was happening across the gorge. We sat there for what seemed like forever, at the top of the world, watching the avalanches consume the smaller mountains. It was a highlight on what was one of the best times of my entire life.

This summer, Andi and I were able to go on a month-long road trip across the western part of North America. Starting in Dallas, we meandered our way up through Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, camping the whole way up. Then we crossed the border into Canada and explored Banff before eventually turning westward. We drove the whole of western Canada until finally arriving in Vancouver, our first true city since leaving Denver, CO. We explored the eclectic Canadian city for a few days before going down southward to Seattle. We stayed two nights with some friends in Seattle, then headed south again. My best friend’s parents (one of which is a Baylor Alumnus) welcomed us with open arms into Portland, Oregon for a few days. We continued down the coast until we hit San Francisco. After a day in the golden gate city, we headed back down the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur, finally stopping in San Luis Obispo. We then turned eastward to Las Vegas before eventually powering through the desert back to Dallas.

We ate canned beans on an open fire most meals. We slept on couches and floors when we were lucky, but usually were planted on the icy ground in sub-30-degree weather. Our A/C unit busted in California, so we drove over one thousand five hundred miles sweating through the triple digit heat of desert. We were splitting pennies to make sure we had enough gas money to even get us back home. In all, it was about 5.5 thousand miles of driving.

And it was the best month of my life.

From kayaking in Glacier National Park to exploring the unique Asian food culture of Vancouver, each day felt like a surprise just waiting to unravel itself when we woke up each morning.

It’s funny, really. Whenever I would explain the trip to someone my age, they would usually look surprised and ask me why I wasn’t doing an internship. I would shake my head and say that this felt right. It was the only time in my life that I would be able to do it, a full month camping around North America, I would explain. They usually nodded slowly after that, still so confused to how this could be possible with my graduation just around the corner.

The reaction from people older than me was even more shocking though. I would explain my plan to adults, and on nearly every occasion their eyes lit up like stars. They would begin to smile, and eventually the conversation would veer toward them saying how they wished they had done that when they were my age.

What I realized is this: As the most anxiety-prone generation in the history of the world, we are so worried about our futures that we skip over our present. We want to grow up as fast as possible to feel security. But once that security comes, these opportunities may have already passed us by.

Here is my call to college students: Take the risk, because life is risk. When you play life scared, you limit yourself, so go for it. I would much rather live life dealing with mistakes than regret. Whatever mountain you need to scale, if it’s a study abroad opportunity or a summer road trip, I beckon you forward.

Until we reached the mountaintop, Andi and I had no idea what was awaiting us at the end of that hike. There were valid reasons to play it safe, to turn back. But if we didn’t, we would have witnessed the most beautiful thing we may ever see. We search for these moments our whole lives, so I’m not going to say no to one when the opportunity presents itself, and neither should you. Live life boldly, and you’ll live a life worth living.

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