Like the majority of the working world, I found myself getting tired of my daily routine and was looking to reset my battery. I knew I wanted to do something different, but I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for.
Growing up in the Midwest, “vacation” in my family meant lying in the sun on a patch of sand all day.
Then, while mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, I stumbled upon a gorgeous picture of the Zion National Park. I tracked down the IG handle and looked them up online; Have Fun Do Good, ‘adventure through the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell. Payment plans recently added.’ And that was it; I’d never thought about anything less. I made my first payment and booked my flight within 15 minutes of finding HFDG. It felt so good to be spontaneous and unsure of what possibilities that August volunteer travel trip could bring.
Then, the second-guessing set in….
The thought of a hiking-heavy vacation worried me a bit. I mean, I’m good for about 20 minutes on the Stairmaster, but unstable rocks?! Dry heat?! Critters?! Throw in a bunch of random strangers judging every panting breath was enough to keep me anxious for a while.
But, the photos on the HFDG site made me eager to explore these new places, and ultimately, I (obviously) over-estimated the Bear Grylls-style hiking we would be doing. In truth, all my concerns were immediately put to rest when I was greeted with a hug the moment I met the HFDG team. So, I hopped in the van (with 10 strangers and one friend from Chicago) and we set out on our first leg of travel.
While we drove across the desert and got to know one-another, the crew explained what we’d be in for the next few days. Despite being a self-proclaimed “go with the flow”-er, I figured having a rough itinerary created for me would likely be the best use of my time, especially considering I had never been to this part of the country before. This was why HFDG ended up being such a great fit for me; we had a loose plan regarding what activities we’d partake in, but the team was incredibly open to suggestions and flexible based on the interests and energy level of the group. What was to follow would not only “reset my battery,” but also leave me with much more to be thankful for in my nostalgic, “sad-it’s-over” post-trip state.
From Thursday to Sunday, we volunteered at a Flagstaff food kitchen, caught the sunset at Mather Point in the Grand Canyon, pulled Russian Thistle out of Zion, trekked through the Northgate Peaks/Wildcat Canyon Trail, cooled off in a lesser-known ZNP swimming hole, toured Antelope Canyon and sunbathed on the slabs of rock at Lake Powell. I wish I could describe in words how stunning, awe-inspiring and humbling it was, but even photos can’t compete with the colors, textures and true scale of these natural “wonders.”
These visits — in conjunction with our volunteer work at Zion — taught me a great deal about preservation and I came to appreciate our National Park Service more than I thought possible. For instance, I learned there are entire teams in the NPS dedicated to studying, tracking and removing exotic plants. In Zion alone there are over 220 square miles to cover and dozens of species Dave (our Vegetation Management guide for the day) and his crew aim to control. Not only that, but they all know it is impossible to fully eradicate most of these invasive plants from the park. Why do they do it, then? So that others can enjoy the National Parks for years to come. And while it may not seem like we made a huge dent on our small strip of land de-weeding, Dave thanked us for saving them a significant chunk of time– time his team could now use to focus on the “re-vegging” component of their duties. There is no “instant gratification” in this line of work; it’s done for the sole fact that it’s necessary in order to maintain Zion’s condition. And I’m extremely grateful there are rangers like Dave who care enough about the future of these parks to keep them in the best possible condition.
While our work at Zion and the Flagstaff Family Food Center was rewarding, the best part of this trip for me was by far the people. Over that long weekend, I received amazing insight into building your own business, racked up a huge list of Netflix suggestions, heard enough “thistle” puns to last a lifetime and laughed so hard I was rolling on the floor (seriously, I ROFL’ed, you guys). Our chats each night helped instill in me of all of the awesome sights, sounds and feelings I got to experience each day. And while we had all come from such different walks of life, their taste for adventure, open minds, humor and kindness reminded me that meeting new people or “expanding your circle” doesn’t always have to come with a negative connotation.
And there ya have it. What started as a quick excursion to get some fresh air and take some cool pictures transformed into undeniable proof that one person “doing good” can make a huge impact, that sharing experiences with our fellow humans is the zest of life and that practicing gratitude for all of it is key. Thank you, Have Fun Do Good, for letting me come along for the ride. Can’t wait to book the next one.
This post was submitted by Katie McGarrigle, a volunteer traveler on one of our Have Fun Do Good. The original post can be seem here