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An odyssey in an Element

An odyssey in an Element
Eric Larson '96 at Grand Canyon National Park

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average driver puts approximately 15,000 miles on their car each year. Eric Larson nearly topped that figure in under two months.

Larson, a 1996 graduate and resident of East Windsor, New Jersey, logged 14,302 miles last summer while driving across the country and back again, traveling most of the way by himself.

“Strangely enough, I never felt lonely,” he said. “It was an amazing time of self-reflection, and I finally learned how to live ‘in the moment.'”

Larson said he had been planning to make such a trip for years, and “last summer was finally the right moment: I was single, it was the first time I had the entire months of July and August off, [and] gas prices were down.”

Larson’s friend Billy Smith ’94, MAT ’04 joined him for the first few days of the trip, but after that, with the exception of meeting up with some friends out West, Larson was on his own as he crisscrossed the United States. He blogged throughout his journey (click here to read his blog), and said that receiving e-mails from friends and family in response to his posts “made it seem like I wasn’t entirely alone.”

Plus, “The breathtaking beauty this country has to offer made it incredibly easy to focus on the here and now,” Larson added.

His journey took him to 26 states, 19 National Parks, and numerous tourist attractions.

Larson's car doubled as his bedroom many nights.

“Picking my favorite site is almost an impossible task for me,” Larson said. “The beauty of Glacier National Park, the wildlife and geothermal dangers of Yellowstone, the fascinating formations at Arches National Park, the city of San Francisco, and the spectacular coastline of the Pacific Northwest were all unbelievable places! But perhaps tops on my list was Zion National Park, where I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and calmness that I have never experienced before.”

The trip wasn’t all smooth sailing, though.

“About a week before I left on my trip, I told some friends I had a ridiculous fear of being eaten by a grizzly bear, and they promptly replied that I had a greater chance of being struck by lightning,” Larson said.

Flash forward one-and-a-half months—Larson found himself caught in a lightning storm while hiking at Bryce Canyon National Park. He was alone, miles from his car, 9,000 feet up (“certainly not good when lightning is occurring,” he explained), and there was no shelter to be found other than some eroded rock formations. What did Larson do?

“I burst out laughing,” he recalled. “My friends’ comments regarding the likelihood of bear attacks versus lightning strikes immediately crept into my mind. I actually began hoping, if I were to be struck down by lightning, that my friends who gave me those words of wisdom would remember what they said to me so that the incredible irony of my unfortunate death would not go unnoticed.”

Click here to read Larson’s blog and see his photos and videos.

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