The Wandering Scientist

Where do I start? I guess I should start at the beginning.

It all started a few weeks ago. Frustrated with the way job prospects were going and the way our pandemic life was looking, my wife asked me what I would do if I could go do anything. My answer surprised her a bit – I wanted to do a road trip. And not just any road trip – a long, long trip to get out to nature all over the country and in all seasons. But let’s back up a bit so that I can explain.

I’m a PhD geologist in my 30s. I started out my scientific career as a field scientist, but got recognized as being highly skilled at laboratory work, and therefore migrated into the lab. After graduate school, my postdoc moved towards space missions with NASA, where I got even further removed from the field and into a position doing operations work with the Curiosity rover. Don’t get me wrong – I love working for NASA and it’s a real thrill to be involved with driving a rover on Mars – but I do miss having the great outdoors as my laboratory. Also, don’t tell anyone, but I really miss the teaching that used to accompany my research. So, the two of us came up with an ambitious plan.

Our plan is to drive from park to park, camping wherever possible, experiencing as much of the natural beauty of the US as we can. We also want to learn as we go, exploring the local geology, ecology, and whatever else we run into along the way. I’ll document our travels so that you – our reader, viewer, and hopefully follower and supporter – can share our travels.

So, how will this work? Well, we’ve identified a few lists of nature-based national park sites in the US. It turns out that there are 63 named National Parks, all of them focusing on nature (a reasonable number compared with the 423 total park sites in the US system). Our goal is to visit as many of this list of 63 as possible. We’ll go by car, camp wherever we can, and document the trip with maps, blogs, audio recordings, photos, and videos. I’ll try to arrange interviews with local experts to help introduce us to the various parks that we’re going to go see, and drop by local geology departments wherever it makes sense to do so. My goal is to truly become an itinerant scientist, learning and sharing as I wander.

Incidentally, we’re not being exclusive about only visiting National Parks. We’re also going to visit National Forests, National Monuments, and State Parks. So, if you know of a place that’s known for its natural beauty, fascinating ecology, pre-colonial anthropology, or even just cool cultural significance, let us know – we’ll see if we can add it to our list. The National Parks are just our goal – not the full extent of our travels.

Let’s talk about the hurdles that we’ll have to overcome. While we travel, I’ll keep doing my mission support work and related research using a cellular hot-spot. That will give me a part-time income, and access to heath insurance, but not a lot more. So finances will be an issue, but we’ll see what we can do on the cheap.

Our first major hurdle is one that brings me a great deal of joy, but one that will make this much more complicated – I have an infant daughter. I love her to pieces, and I’m thrilled that she’s come to join my tiny little family, but camping with a child under six months is hard. My wife and I are also kind of eco-nuts, so we want to do what we can to reduce our environmental impact on this road trip. That means minimizing our use of disposable diapers and other sources of household waste. So, we’ll document some of the hurdles we overcome as we explore the outdoors with her. If you want even more details on infant camping, road tripping, and general product reviews, you should check out Geo-Wife’s blog – Little Miss on the Move.

Our second major issue is our car. The car we own is a Honda Civic Coupe from 2006. That’s a small, two-door car that’s half way through it’s second decade of service. It may be low mileage (we’ll talk odometers as the trip rolls along), but that’s a cramped vehicle to travel long distances in, particularly between needing to fit camping gear, clothes, infant supplies, food, and a field kitchen. Oh, and a car seat. Yeah – so that’s going to need some work.

Our third major issue is gear. My wife and I have some field gear from a background of loving the outdoors and my history of geology field work, but we don’t have a lot of what we’ll need to support Geo-Kid, our field kitchen isn’t ready for feeding two adults full time, and a lot of our own gear needs updating. We’re also trying to do this in all seasons, which we haven’t done before, and in the midst of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to want to end. I’ll talk through these issues as we go and try to keep up a running list of product reviews as we shop for stuff we’ll need and try it out in the field. Geo-Wife has also promised to talk recipes and kitchen equipment as we travel. We’re also likely to talk about unique restaurants and coffee shops that we visit as we wander.

Anyway, that’s where we’re starting. We have a vision of what we want to do, and a list of technical hurdles to overcome before we can start out. Keep checking back with us as we get this all started and then let the rubber hit the road!

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