When reflecting on 2021, the most obvious thing that stands out to us is how much time we spent traveling. Each month is remembered by where we were going; time was measured by how many hours we spent in the car; it was the year we counted counties and not days. And besides that, it was a year full of experiencing ups and downs and being more present with family, rather than missing them from afar. In so many ways, 2021 was the year we’ve been waiting and working for. We never would’ve guessed when Curtis received orders to Nebraska that it was as if the Navy was handing us a life we’ve dreamed of, and the answer to many prayers we’ve prayed. People still ask us if we miss Hawaii, and we answer “No” faster than the words leave their lips. How could we miss our life on a small, restricted, congested island when our life on the mainland is so full of both driving for hours in any direction, and full of sharing life with people we love?
And while we are so grateful for the life God has given us here, beneath all the exciting things that happened lies heartache from loss. 2021 was the year when I lost my first grandparent, Popa. I was so blessed to have 28 years with him in my life, to learn from his example of serving others and faithfully loving his wife. Losing him so suddenly put things into perspective, reminding me that all we’re doing on this earth is temporary, and makes me long for eternal life with Christ. Because of all this, the year feels bittersweet — while we were able to do so many things we’ve wanted to do for so long, we did so carrying this grief.
In light of that, I would like to focus this post on all the positive things that happened this year, so we can remember the happier moments. Let’s begin!
We kicked off this year at my parent’s house in Iowa, after a fun few weeks of celebrating the holidays with both families, and after so many years of spending Christmas far away. We returned to our home in Nebraska refreshed and ready to start a new year. For the first few months of 2021, Curtis was working from home for the majority of the time, so our days consisted of spending lots of time together, shopping at Aldi and making meals together, and walking around our favorite lakes in the Omaha area. On the weekends, we would drive a little further to go for hikes at state parks in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa. January gave us a balanced mix of snow days and warmer days, and we would end up walking around 25 miles every week.
When February rolled around, the temperature dropped to the single digits and negatives, so we spent a lot more time inside. Curtis’ brother Joel visited us, Curtis had a short work trip, and we made lots of trips to Glenwood, IA where Curtis works in a Makers Space. He built a pair of Adirondack chairs for our balcony, which were completed just in time for warmer weather to arrive.
He was also able to get vaccinated against COVID, and a few months later I got the vaccine as well. We were thankful to feel safer during our travels throughout the year, and be able to visit family with less worry that we were spreading the virus. We are very thankful for good health all year round, that our jobs haven’t been affected by the pandemic, and to have found a friend group who is equally cautious to play games with in a safe way. Once everyone started getting vaccinated, Curtis had to start actually going to work more regularly. But in comparison to the schedule he used to work while with the submarine, it’s really not that bad. Most days he goes in at 7 and is home by the early afternoon.
The beginning of March brought our first 70 degree days of the year, and we celebrated with our first road trip of the year, a camping trip to Kansas at the beginning of the month. Highlights of this trip include seeing the Kansas state capitol building, camping for free at a peaceful lake, hiking in Tallgrass Prairie, and finding our favorite courthouse to date in Cottonwood Falls. Later in the month, we took another weekend trip to central Nebraska to watch the Sandhill Crane migration, one of the “must-do’s” for anyone living in Nebraska. While at home in Omaha, we discovered the Wabash Trace Trail, a 63 mile long bike trail that goes from Council Bluffs to the IA/MO border, and made it a goal to section hike the whole thing.
We started April by visiting my family over Easter weekend, and finally getting to visit with my Nanna and Popa after several months apart. The memories made this weekend are now bittersweet, but we are so thankful we were able to get together. The next few weeks were spent back in Omaha, section hiking the Wabash and hiking in the Loess Hills as Curtis and I prepared for our first ever backpacking trip.
The week that my Popa passed was undoubtedly the worst week of the year, and the weeks following were equally hard, but a bright spot during that time was more time spent with family and supporting each other. I’m also so inspired by how strong and resilient my Nanna has been through this horrible time. She has always been a good example to me of making the most out of life and living each day to the fullest, and she has continued to do so even after the trials given to her this year.
Backpacking the South Dakota Centennial Trail
Following that hard week came a week we had been anticipating for over a year: our first ever through hike and longest backpacking trip we’ve ever taken: the South Dakota Centennial Trail. While completing the trail is a highlight for our year, it’s hard for me to look back on that trip and remember how I was feeling. It was challenging physically, mentally, and emotionally, but it was also in a way exactly what I needed at that time; to be away from the world to process my thoughts. We also learned a lot about long distance backpacking, and hope that we can carry that new knowledge and experience over to future backpacking trips. My favorite memories from that trip are walking through prairie dog cities, watching sunrises and sunsets, walking along blue lakes and summiting peaks, reaching the top of Bear Butte, and eating lots of Culvers after finishing.
Once we were finished with our trip, I spent some more time in Iowa with family while Curtis went on a work trip. We returned to Omaha halfway through May and finally started taking our new kayak out for paddles around our favorite lakes. We’ve been saying we need a kayak for years, and I’m so glad we finally got one! The three of us made so many fun memories on the water this year, in Omaha and on vacations. We took a road trip over Memorial Day weekend to Northwest Nebraska, and enjoyed visiting state parks, camping and hiking in not-so-popular areas, and summiting Panorama Point, the highest point in Nebraska.
Family PNW Trip 2021
June began with us finally getting an annual pass to the Omaha Zoo (the best in the country!) and we’ve enjoyed many visits since then. Halfway through the month, we joined my family on a big road trip to Portland and Tacoma to see siblings, and visited several national parks on the way home. Our favorite parts about this trip were seeing family (of course!), waterfall hikes, experiencing Yellowstone for the first time, and seeing 3 bears (and 4 for me 😉 )
We returned to Omaha in time for 4th of July. It was getting too hot to make Charlotte walk several miles around the lakes, so we took shorter evening walks around our neighborhood and hung out at parks. We hosted Curtis’ parents for a few days, showing them around some of our favorite spots in the greater Omaha area. At the end of the month, Curtis had a work trip, and he managed to get permission to drive so we could turn it into a fun anniversary trip together. This has undoubtedly become the best part about his job — being able to turn these 4 day work trips into 10 day semi-funded vacations! For this first trip, we traveled to Dahlgren, VA, and despite being adamant about not liking the East coast, we managed to have fun and fill this trip with lots of exciting stops. The best parts were summiting 3 state high points (Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), hiking in Shenandoah, and kayaking in New River Gorge.
After arriving in Omaha at the beginning of August, we spent 11 days at home before taking off on another adventure: Hiking, camping, and kayaking in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. Highlights of this trip are hiking to the Lost Twin Lakes, kayaking on Park Reservoir, waterfall hikes, finding possibly the best camping sites of the year, and seeing 4 moose!
We spent a few more weeks in Omaha before hitting the road yet again at the beginning of September, this time with a big goal completion: visiting our last 8 counties in Iowa! We had fun zigzagging around Iowa highways, seeing roadside attractions, and visiting my Grandmother once we had completed our mission. At the end of September, we turned another one of Curtis’ work trips into a fall vacation and drove up to Montana. Our favorite parts of this trip were visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park, walking along the Missouri River in Great Falls, and camping in the mountains.
In October, we took another trip to visit Curtis’ sister’s family in Minnesota, enjoy the fall foliage, and see my family in Iowa. We summited two more high points (Minnesota and Wisconsin), camped and kayaked around remote lakes, and fell in love with the Superior lake shore. After that, we spent just over a month at home for the rest of October and most of November — the longest we’d been home since January-February! Fall in Omaha was later and lasted longer, and we got back into our habits of walking and enjoying the milder weather and fall colors.
We celebrated Thanksgiving with my family, then set off on one last work trip of the year — returning to one of our favorite places, Tucson, AZ! The whole trip from beginning to end was so enjoyable, but a few notable things are finishing visiting every New Mexico county, seeing so many friends in Tucson, and reaching two more high points (Oklahoma and Kansas), bringing us to 8 for the year and 25 total (+DC)! We even camped on our way down and back, and thanks to that we can say we camped every month this year from March to December!
2021 State High Points
Winding down in December, we had just under 2 weeks at home before leaving for the rest of the year to celebrate Christmas with both of our families. After so many years of spending Christmas alone, we were so grateful to get to see almost everyone and for good health during this time.
In between all those trips, Curtis has continued to work on his masters and now has only 4 classes left. He makes frequent trips to the Makers Space in Glenwood where he has been using a CNC router to create a topographic map out of wood of the US — someday he’ll write a post about it, but if you’re interested, you can see his real-time progress on his Instagram account, @squatchis. I have continued to work for NeverThirsty, and am so grateful to have a job that I can take on the road and work around Curtis’ varying schedules. The site sees an incredible amount of traffic and receives many questions every week about the Bible and salvation. Planning and preparing for our road trips and then editing pictures and writing blog posts after has become a job within itself, but I’m looking forward to taking a break from that at the beginning of 2022 and trying to remember what we do when we’re at home for longer than a few weeks at a time. Charlotte continues to be the perfect little adventure dog and brings so much joy to our lives, and is always motivating us to get outside to go for walks.
We still love our apartment, and we aren’t tired of Omaha yet — though I suppose that it helps that we were gone so much this year! We still have a list of museums and other attractions that we haven’t visited yet, a few more counties and courthouses to see, places we want to kayak, and a lot of walking left on the Wabash Trace Trail before we move.
Saved the best for last: Charlotte collage 2021!
Which brings us to 2022: we’re back in a familiar place where we have no idea what we’ll be doing or where we’ll be living a year from now. And while that feeling is exciting, it’s a little different this time because we have to make the decisions rather than the military telling us what to do. We should be getting some answers in early 2022, which isn’t too long to wait, but it means that when our families asked us what we’re doing next year, we didn’t have a definitive answer. And that’s ok — we know that God will open and close doors and will lead us in the path He has chosen for us, just like every other year. He knew we needed this time in Omaha to be close to family, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Happy New Year friends, thank you for reading and supporting us, we hope God blesses you all richly in 2022!
Counties visited in 2021 — Map made on mob-rule.com
Travel stats for 2021:
- Visited 500 counties together (532 for Jess) in 27 states
- Visited 287 new counties (a new record!)
- Saw 187 courthouses
- Spent 121 days traveling
- Camped 44 nights
- Visited 25 National Park administered sites
- Saw 9 state capitol buildings
- Summited 8 state high points (and revisited 1)
- Saw 5 Whispering Giant statues
- Completed visiting counties in 2 states