Where to Start?
Follow Me on Facebook
Follow Me On Youtube
The Man ...
Movie lover. Growing Capoeirista. Space enthusiast. Dedicated craftsman. And best of all, homegrown Los Angeles native. Wait, how in the hell did I end up in China!?
Send me Feedback
You can now USE ANY ARTICLE on Don's ESL Adventure for your own blog, website, or magazine! Check out the new page on the menu.
A New Post Has Just Been Added!
I had read a book awhile back about a successful founder and CEO. In it, he recalled once escaping to his parents’ cabin near the sea, all by himself, to relax, reflect, and plan a painted picture of the future he wanted.
Additionally, some years later and deep into running his business, he hired a key executive that too would escape the madness by retreating in his own unique way. Before starting a new chapter in his life—like taking on a pivotal position at a new company—he’d hop in his car and set off on a cross-country trip across America.
Both situations called for a sort of, spiritual refreshment—a shaking off of the past and a shift of focus towards the ambitious road ahead.
“Interesting,” I thought. I’d executed an idea like this a few years ago when I lived and worked in China as an English teacher. I had saved enough money, finished a soul-crushing teaching job contract, and took 3 months off from everything to travel the world. Anything I wanted to do; anywhere I wanted to go, I went. I visited Hong Kong, Dubai, Australia, and even caught my first space rocket launch overseas.
It was my own version of the great escape: Taking a break, fleeing the humdrum 9 to 5, going on adventures, racking up a bunch of memorable experiences, and leaving no regrets before I’d eventually settle down, have kids, and find myself neck-deep in some monotonous career. I was young, free, uncommitted, unrestricted by money, and living my best life.
But like I said, that was years ago, and in this day and age, at 34, now a father, living in Kansas, working as a general laborer, missing family and friends—my home is in Los Angeles—and trying to retain some kind of sanity during a seemingly never ending COVID-19 pandemic, let’s just say that the CEO’s story struck a chord in me more than ever.
It told me—the universe told me, that it was time for another bold escape. That I needed to let go of the noise and find space to relax, reflect, and center in on my own painted picture of the future I wanted—pursuing my passions, entrepreneurship, good health, networking, and building generational wealth—and how I’d get there. That I needed to revisit that awe-inspiring feeling of traveling the world unhinged, and like the key executive the CEO hired, a solo cross-country road trip across America, from Kansas to Los Angeles, would be the way I’d get it done.
In the Beginning …
Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California—those were the states I’d pass through on my journey west. Exciting, isn’t it? I’d stop and explore something cool in each state too, and whenever I felt tired, I’d just crash at a motel closest to the attraction I was heading towards. No pre-bookings, no idea of where I’d sleep—just go. I told you, completely unhinged.
Kansas was the starting point. Overland Park being home of the past 2.5 years—I left China in April 2019 after 7.5 years and moved to Kansas—I’d already explored dozens of popular and off-beaten local attractions far and near, from Deanna Rose Farmstead to the haunted houses of Atchinson, Strataca Underground Salt Museum to Four State Lookout in White Cloud, Keeper of the Plains in Wichita to the Flint Hills of Manhattan.
More than anything, with this trip I was eager to head west across Kansas and experience its open roads, which offer some of the most picturesque views of farmland, cattle ranches, lakes, and untouched fields stretching as far as your eyes can see. Plus, it’d be the perfect setting to kick off my grand ‘rest and recuperation’ tour.
The first stops in Kansas were two destinations I’ve always wanted to visit since moving to the Sunflower State: The Geographic Center of the USA, located in Lebanon, and the Monument Rocks of Gove County.
With that, I grabbed the rental, packed my bags, loaded up on water and snacks, and set off on my Great American Adventure early Sunday morning. Los Angeles, here I come!
The Geographic Center of the USA – Lebanon, KS
I know. I get it. Not exactly the most exhilarating attraction for some, but for me, I find quirky, off-beaten, no-ones-ever-heard-of destinations like the Kansas’ Geographic Center of the USA way more exciting to explore than your typical top 10 list of places to visit trending on Instagram or Pinterest.
So, welcome to the Geographic Center of the USA, well at least, of the 48 contiguous United States. It’s coordinates? 39°50′N 98°35′W. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t know how to find that on a map either.
Located at the historical marker—a modest small patch of land on the countryside—were a couple of signs, monuments, and a chapel. Nothing fancy, but just significant enough to appear in a Kansas-themed Super Bowl LV ad for Jeep starring Bruce Springsteen. Remember that one?
Standing in the center of the USA made me consider what other notable markers and feats belong to Kansas. Did you know that Dodge City, not Chicago, is recognized as America’s windiest city? Or how about that Kansas gave birth to many internationally popular brands like Pizza Hut, AMC, and Hallmark. *Mind blown*
It’s these kinds of off-beaten attractions that pave the way for interesting experiences and give spark to even more creative ideas for future escapades. What a fantastic 1st stop on my Great American Adventure!
The Open Road – Kansas
It took another 3-hours to reach Monuments Rocks, and it was during that drive that I formally met the true open road, i.e. welcome to middle of nowhere, USA (P.S. I’d vote for that official name change).
It’s a humbling experience. Nothing was around—no fast food, billboards, motels, restaurants, or gas stations for miles on miles in any direction. Just a remarkably flat, incredibly scenic stretch of weeds, pavement, an occasional car or two, and clusters of windmills basking underneath a vast blue sky.
These were the extraordinary open roads of Kansas I couldn’t wait to see. Throw in some chill music—try Coffee House on Sirius XM, Channel 6—and I had the perfect ingredients to match the theme of my cross-country trip: Relaxation, reflection, sightseeing, and greater insight. What a great ensemble!
Monument Rocks – Gove County, KS
There she is: Kansas’ Monument Rocks. Finally. It’s funny; I had spoken to plenty of native Kansans and Missourians before and they hadn’t even heard of it.
Considered one of the 8 wonders of Kansas by Kansas Sampler Foundation, Monument Rocks are a collection of natural sedimentary rock formations—some over 50ft. tall—that once sat along the sea bed of the Western Interior Seaway some 80 million years ago. Today, it’s a prominent landmark of Kansas that’s visited by plenty of tourists each year.
The rocks were just as astonishing as I had seen and read about, too. They towered in height, gleamed of a brilliant mix of powdery chalk and sand, and every inch of the geological wonders echoed a rich and fascinating snapshot of Mother Nature’s millions-of-years-long history.
What’s more, I arrived 45-minutes before sunset, and between the rocks and picturesque fields sprawling in every direction, I’d say that catching the sun fall over Monuments Rocks was easily the most tranquil experience I’ve had in Kansas thus far.
Peace, humility, and amazing adventures on the open road. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish out Day 1 of my Great American Adventure.
Great Sand Dunes National Park – Mosca, Colorado
“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Welcome to Colorado!
Kansas is extremely flat, so you can imagine how good it felt driving through Colorado and seeing mountains again. Actually, two and a half years in Kansas was enough to believe I was seeing them for the first time!
Great Sand Dunes National Park was the next stop on my travel bucket list. Picture a colossal mountain of sand—the tallest in North America at over 700 feet—surrounded by lush forestry, alpine lakes, and soaring mountain peaks.
The pictures I’d seen online were one thing, but in person, the dunes were larger than life. Some tourists were bold enough to hike all the way to the top. Others went half way and used sleds to race down. Now that looked fun. Me? I could only reach the base; after all, with all the cross-country driving I had to do, I couldn't risk getting too tired and sore!
Nevertheless, I left the Great Sand Dunes in high spirits; after all, being surrounded by nature will do that to you. And unbeknownst to me, that was just the start of an insanely revitalizing journey across Colorado’s mountains.
Forest Drive – Colorado
This was my first time in Colorado. Most people I knew in Kansas that had visited Colorado typically raved about hitting the slopes, partying at music festivals, and lodging in their parent’s cabins on random weekends—all of which I hope to experience someday too—but I’d say a simple task like driving up, down, through, and around Colorado’s mountains was more than enough to grasp what all the hype was about.
Imagine, miles above sea level lies a picture-perfect snapshot of a stress-free life out of the city. Surrounding you? An endless gathering of thick, plush, pine scented forestry. A rich wilderness is cultivated by creeks, ponds, and an abundance of fresh water at every turn. There’s zero pollution, too—just the freshest air and the bluest sky, which means everything’s in HD.
Gigantic lodges and cabins look like sets plucked straight out of a Disney theme park.
And everyone, from drivers on the road to campers settled in with their families, look as if they haven’t got a care in the world.
Now stop imagining; this place was real.
They say just 15-minutes in the forest can help promote an overall sense of well-being, mindfulness, and optimism. That you can feel replenished, rejuvenated, and … alive.
Less than 15-hours into my Great American Adventure and I’d already experienced the most soul-soothing drive I ever had in my 34 years on this planet. Believe me, this trip would only get better.
Four Corners Monument – Colorado/Utah/Arizona/New Mexico
By mid-day I landed at Four Corners Monument Navajo Tribal Park. If you don't know, Four Corners Monument is a landmark dedicated to the intersection of where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet, meaning you can hop in and out of the 4 states in any second!
For such a simple attraction, you wouldn’t believe the amount of people there and waiting to take some kind of silly picture with the monument.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “How do you find out about this stuff?” “Where do you discover these off-beaten attractions?” “Why even visit them?” Truth be told, I learned about Four Corners Monument watching an episode of The Simpsons—parodied as “Five Corners”—when I was just a kid, and visiting it has stuck with me ever since. Crazy what inspires you to get out and travel, right?
Plus, by this point the landscape had changed drastically. Those towering, lush green mountains had disappeared and made way for long stretches of arid, rocky and rugged desert terrain.
And that’s when it hit me—that insight, or, an epiphany, if you will: Traveling the US was something I needed to do more. Being out of the city, on the open road, and seeing America’s changing landscape was a wakeup call to plan and execute even more exciting adventures across the States.
From the islands of Hawaii to the concrete jungle of New York, the Great Mall of America to Kennedy Space Center, Philly cheese steaks to the king crab of Alaska—I want to see and experience it all!
Monument Valley – Utah
Day 3. I woke up to the most spectacular sunrise from my $150-night stay at Goulding’s Lodge in Monument Valley. Also a tribal park belonging to Navajo Nation, Monument Valley’s landscape was teeming with mesas, towering sandstone formations (buttes), deep canyons, and what seemed like millions of shrubs spread over a striking red sand desert floor.
This was the place I wanted to visit most on my Great American Adventure. “Why”, you ask? Like Four Corners Monument, I discovered Monument Valley after watching a classic scene in Forest Gump, which I’m guessing you’ve seen too. Remember when Forest ran across America for 3 years, 14 days, and 16 hours, and finally decided to turn around and head home? That was Monument Valley!
And so the day began with a guided group tour—operated by a local Navajo—through Monument Valley’s 17-mile loop. It was everything I wanted. We learned of the local Navajo culture and traditions. We explored valleys, canyons, and peculiar sandstone monoliths such as the two iconic Mittens, up-close. We saw famous filming locations used by John Wayne and rock formations that’ve become popular landmarks like Totem Pole and Elephant Butte. Ask me and I’ll tell you that group tours are the best way to explore the area.
Later, I’d head down US Route 63 and … look, there it is, the iconic Forest Gump spot! I couldn’t tell you how many people got out of their cars to take a picture, including me.
Visiting Monument Valley was the travel-highlight of my cross-country trip. It’s the place I’ve wanted to explore since I was a kid. Its landscape was something fresh—like nothing I’d ever seen before. I also learned about its rich history and the unique culture governing its sacred land.
This is the essence of travel; the blueprint for a fun, memorable, and gratifying experience. What a terrific chapter in the book of my Great American Adventure.
Grand Canyon – Arizona
If you’ve ever seen The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey, you’d know there’s a scene where Marlon, Truman’s friend, looks up at the sunset and says to Truman, “That's the big guy. Quite a paintbrush he's got.”
That’s the Grand Canyon in a nutshell, and it’s exactly what I think every time I see it. I’d always been drawn to massive, highly intricate, jaw-dropping, can’t-believe-this-is-real geological creations throughout nature, from your typical volcanoes and cloud formations to grand spectacles like the Northern Lights of Alaska and ‘Avatar’ Mountains of China.
Just being in their presence can evoke a great sense of peace, humility, hope, joy, inspiration, and enlightenment. They can spark a growing curiosity, a want for adventure, a quest to gather more knowledge. Wait a sec, that’s my Great American Adventure in a nutshell!
As the sun set over the canyon, I took time to reflect and appreciate the journey of life—a sort of, stop and smell the roses kind of deal. That having been raised in a single parent household with 4 siblings in Los Angeles, I’ve become an HBCU college graduate, lived in Korea and China, traveled the world, am a great dad, have got good health, and am financially stable, amongst other notable attributes. I thought about where I’ve been, where I am, and how blessed I must be to live another day.
I thought optimistically about the future too, not just for me, but also for my family and close friends. I delved into specific areas like career, wealth, health, safety, happiness, love, morality, and spirituality. I made a solid list of short and long-term goals, and broke each down as to how I’d achieve my painted picture. By the time the sun set my phone was flooded with the valuable notes.
Remember: Relaxation, reflection, sightseeing, and greater insight. If ever you’d want or need to getaway and explore someplace that can help with those themes, Arizona’s Grand Canyon is definitely the place to visit.
By the way, a tourist at the canyon asked, “If there was anyone you could have here with you right now, who would it be?” I said my daughter. Hi Nyla!
Hoover Dam - Nevada
Wednesday! My 4th day on the road and the last leg of my cross-country trip before I’d reach Los Angeles. The last stop? Here’s a hint: It’s 726 ft. tall and generates enough power to serve millions of people on the west coast. Welcome to Hoover Dam!
First things first: If you’re afraid of heights, this definitely isn’t some place you’d want to visit. Nah-uh. Peering down at Hoover Dam from above—at the highest, 890 ft. standing on Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge—is probably one of the most hair-raising experiences you’ll ever have. Stay far far away.
Otherwise, anytime you go on an epic adventure it’s just as important to explore places that present some cultural, historical, artistic, or scientific context of the region, as it is to sightsee. Think … museums, landmarks, monuments, stage plays, or engineering achievements.
Hoover Dam was all that rolled into one. A concrete arch-gravity dam tucked inside a beautiful canyon in Nevada, it wasn’t hard to see why it’s one of the most extraordinary engineering feats since the dawn of man, and it was even better finding out why.
A quick visit to its museum and vwa-lah—I learned why it was created, how it was built, what makes it work, and how it serves its purpose, amongst other mind-blowing facts.
Afterwards I’d spend another 2-hours doing the simple thing: Catching up on some R & R and enjoying the remarkable view of the Dam built inside Nevada’s breathtaking mountainous scenery.
Next stop, California!
Home Sweet Home - Los Angeles
Ah, home sweet home. Palm trees, Venice Beach, tacos, Crenshaw Boulevard, Hollywood, the Lakers, Pink’s Hotdogs, In & Out, Baldwin Hills, Runyon Canyon, whale watching, Universal Studios—after 4 days on the road I finally made it. Welcome to Los Angeles, California!
Los Angeles is such a vibrant place. It’s a gigantic melting pot of cultures. It’s got great weather, good food, and a surplus of entertainment, nightlife, and attractions. It’s home to artists, entertainers, sports fans, influencers, designers, and critical thinkers. You can go from surfing to hiking, a movie premiere to a taping of a network television show, an NFL game to a theme park, and that’s all possible in just one day. I may be strongly bias, but LA is unquestionably one of the best cities on Earth.
Apart from that, LA is, more importantly, “where the heart is”, and being home meant I had the chance to spend quality time with family and friends. Having directly settled into Kansas after years in China, I’d seen them few too many times in the last decade, so each visit offered the indispensable boost I needed to thrive in whatever part of the world I’m in.
We got to eat together, laugh together. We shared funny stories and exciting news. I met new additions to the family and hung out with friends I hadn’t seen in years. The energy, their familiar energy, was really great to be around.
Out of everything on my Great American Adventure—the tranquil open road, the incredible sights, the insatiable feeling of traveling unhinged--that’s what truly mattered. Thanks LA!
A Success Story
Looking back, it’s crazy—my journey of a lifetime began with a just few sentences off the pages of a book.
That successful CEO’s need to retreat and plan his painted picture inspired me to organize my own great escape where I could relax, reflect, and dial in on the future I wanted.
His executive’s methodology of letting go and celebrating a major life change by going on a cross-country trip only encouraged me execute my own epic quest westward along America’s open roads.
And thus, my Great American Adventure was everything I wanted and needed. I took that break from the monotonous 9 to 5 and felt absolutely guilt-free about doing it.
I witnessed the most remarkable sunsets and drove up and down the most soul-soothing roads imaginable.
I explored numerous attractions across 5 states and racked up a bunch of memorable experiences that will stick with me the rest of my life.
I met with family and friends over fun-filled gatherings of food, drinks, and plenty of laughter. Having lived and traveled around the world over the past few years, there’s no better feeling than knowing you can always go home and feel welcomed.
At 34, now a father, living in Kansas, ‘adulting’, and trying to retain some kind of sanity during a seemingly never ending COVID-19 pandemic, my Great American Adventure was the reinvigorating escape I needed to feel appreciative, spiritually refreshed, and shift focus towards the ambitious road ahead. I came, I saw, I conquered, and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Today, people around the world are suffering. The Coronavirus has claimed millions of lives. Travel to and from certain regions of the world has been restricted. Many haven’t been able to see their family or friends for years at a time. Depression is on the rise, and taking good care of your mental health seems more important than ever. Whatever you’ve heard, whatever you’ve seen others experience, and whatever you may be dealing with in your personal life, here’s a reminder: Step back, take a break, breathe, and retreat.
Focus on you. Find that perfect place, setting, or exciting adventure where you’ll find space to relax, reflect, sightsee, and gain greater insight. Anything you want to do; anywhere you want to go, just go. I’m telling you—the universe is telling you, that it’s time for your own bold escape.
So, go near and far. Travel solo or with company. Visit that exciting destination you’ve had on your bucket list since you were a kid. Celebrate a graduation with a trip to Hawaii. Ponder a major life-changing decision around California’s Sequoia trees. Take that stroll down New York’s Time Square with your partner that you’ve always wanted to make. Find inner-peace gazing up at the Milky Way on a summer’s night in Arizona.
Or, just let go of everything, pack your bags, rent a car, download a note-taking app, and let Kansas be a starting point for your very own Great American Adventure. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Safe and happy travels!
Watch a Video of My Exciting Cross-Country Trip Down Below!
Travel Blogger. ESL Teacher. Optimistic Millennial Adventurer! -->