59 Weeks, 59 National Parks: Alumni Embark on the Trip of a Lifetime

Innumerable books, songs and movies have been made about the desire to escape the drudgery of daily life by quitting one’s job, going on the road and exploring what Mother Nature has to offer. Very rarely do you see someone actually living out the fantasy.

But that’s exactly what Darius Nabors and Trevor Kemp are doing.

On Wednesday, Nabors, a 2007 University of Virginia graduate, and Kemp, who earned an undergraduate degree from U.Va. in 2006 and just finished his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University, packed a car and set out on a planned 59-week tour of the 59 U.S. national parks. By spending a week in each park and using social media to document their progress, the pair hopes to call attention to the centennial of the Aug. 25th, 1916 founding of the U.S. Park Service, which will fall right around the end of their journey.

Nabors has been planning the logistics of this trip for about six years, but the roots of the idea began much earlier. His father, a summer park ranger in Olympic National Park near Port Angeles, Wash., exposed him to the park system early on and instilled in him a desire to explore what the park system had to offer.

“You know when you’re a little kid and you’re like, ‘I’m going to collect every basketball card?,’” Nabors said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to visit every national park.’”

He put his goal on hold throughout college and many of the subsequent years, until he noticed in late 2010 that he hadn’t made any significant recent progress – and saw an opportunity to knock all the parks off his checklist at once.

“I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage,” Nabors said. “This is one of the few times in my life that I’ll be able to do that.”

Nabors originally planned to make the trip alone until he ran into Kemp in April and shared the wild plan with him. Kemp was immediately hooked, and after a period of internal debate, committed to joining the 59-week trip.

“You usually come up with reasons why you can’t [do something],” Kemp said. “I looked at it the other way: Finding the reasons why you can’t do something, and making those vanish.”

Tallying up the cost of 30,000 miles worth of gas, four flights, camping fees and food, the pair estimates that the trip will cost around $32,000. Making the trip feasible – logistically and financially – required an abundance of planning and some perseverance.

Nabors – who has experience fundraising for U.Va.’ School of Nursing – had planned on partially financing the trip through sponsorships, partnerships with companies that agree to fund the trip or provide gear in exchange for Nabors and Kemp using the products or promoting the company. Thus far, the sponsors include Sportody (an online review network for outdoor sports), novelty messaging app YO and clothing company Meridian Line.

Their most unique sponsorship agreement is undoubtedly eyewear company Warby Parker, who agreed to provide Nabors with a monocle so he could pose for pictures in each of the parks as Teddy Roosevelt, along with Kemp as John Muir – commonly viewed as the father of the National Park system.

“John Muir has this huge beard like Trevor does, and Teddy Roosevelt looks nothing like me,” Nabors said. “But I figure if I put a pillow in my shirt, we can take photos that look like the two.”

On top of that, Nabors and Kemp set up a fundraising page on crowdfunding website Rockethub to raise $10,000, a goal which both are relieved to have exceeded by Wednesday’s departure.

“Does it make sense to go into financial ruin over [the trip]? Probably not,” Kemp said. “I’m just lucky the guy who got me to go on this trip does fundraising for a living.”

In addition to promoting their sponsors, Nabors and Kemp plan to promote the national parks on social media, offering their audience a taste of each park that they visit.

“We’ll go to a park, come out of the park, post all our photos, post all our videos,” Nabors said. “So folks will kind of be seeing all our content the week after we’re there.”

But though the duo plans to frequently be plugged in throughout the journey, a huge draw of the trip for Nabors is the opportunity to escape the constant reliance on technology that permeates modern life.

“There are times when you need to check in and be involved with your social network and with your friends and with your family, and there are times when it’s good for you to think about what you want in life,” he said. “We’re going to be without phone service, and so you kind have to be with yourself and your own thoughts.”

Ultimately, Kemp hopes to demonstrate that quitting one’s job and embarking on a trip of this scale is not as impractical or imprudent as it might seem.

“I don’t have any special superpowers or a lot of money,” he said. “It’s just something you have to commit to.”

As for Nabors, he hopes to inspire others to put aside their trepidation and pursue their wild dreams while they are still in a free enough circumstance to do so.

“It’s tricky, because you can get caught up in the job,” he said. “I don’t want to look back and regret not having done this.”

Nabors and Kemp are currently exploring Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, the first of their 59 stops. You can follow the rest of their trip at their website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Media Contact

Dan Heuchert

Assistant Director of University News and Chief Copy Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications