Opinion | How a road trip became the coolest thing I’ve ever done

Braeden Lueken
Staff Writer

I’m not rugged, nor am I an outdoorsman by any stretch of the imagination.

But over the summer, I took a road trip to Utah’s Zion National Park with my best friends from high school. Not only did the five days in the uncultivated nature allow us to reconnect, but it gave me a chance to disconnect from preconceived notions of myself and allow an opportunity for personal growth.

I’m very inside-the-box, a fan of schedules and never opposed to knowing exactly what’s going to happen ahead of time. When my friends initially brought up the idea of going to Zion, my first inclination was to say that I wouldn’t be able to make it. I was afraid of the unknown and I had no desire to spend money to see something that wasn’t man-made – closed-minded, I know.

As the trip grew nearer, I found myself going back and forth. Should I go? Should I not go? What would I be missing? What if it was an awful experience and I was trapped for a week? These thoughts all crossed my mind, but on the day of reckoning, I took the chance and dove into the unknown.

When my friend Nathan picked me up at 4:30 a.m. on the day of our departure, things were exciting; the experience felt real. I said goodbye to my parents and we went on our way to collect the rest of the travelers one by one. When we finally got on the road, the atmosphere in the car hummed with excitement. Six young men on their own, unfettered by parental rules and masters of their own fate. I was eager to be on the road. We pushed through the 14-hour drive in one day and when we finally arrived in Utah, we were all nearly ready to burst from anticipation. Our first night was spent reveling in our successful drive, as we made plans to arrive at the park early the next day to fully immerse ourselves in what it had to offer.

The following morning, we hiked Angels Landing and that’s when I knew I made the right decision to go on the trip. The view from the peak was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Unobstructed views of untouched nature as far as the eye could see in either direction. Fifteen-hundred feet above the trailhead, I looked out and saw beauty that I could only describe as boundless.

As the week went on, I found myself noticing my friends had no problem going with the flow. As a matter of fact, they seemed to enjoy the spontaneity the trip brought. If they could enjoy it, why couldn’t I do the same? As soon as I made that observation and released my fears of being unhappy, I began to see the real beauty of the trip. It wasn’t just about seeing nature, but exploring a symbol of freedom. A symbol of going against my parents’ best wishes and doing something for myself. I realized that it wasn’t just a trip; it was perhaps the final summer my friends and I would share before real life got in the way. When our week finally came to an end, I felt like a new person. I was on the way to releasing the preconception of who I was and allowing myself to take risks and find enjoyment in places I never thought I would.

Since then, I’ve tried to embody the spirit I developed and I find that I’m no longer afraid of new experiences. Commitments are now opportunities – not obligations. Change takes time, but through that experience I was able to start a new path and I can honestly say that because of that, going to Zion was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.