Wandering as a way of life: Bryson City man takes to the road
Most people have had the inclination at some point in their lives to just pack it up and hit the road without a finite destination in mind — to just feel the wind on their face with nothing but highway ahead.
But how many of them actually follow through?
Dwayne Parton of Bryson City did, and he isn’t looking back. On July 13 — his 31st birthday — he loaded essentials and his 8-year-old black lab Bobby into his truck and took off.
He isn’t on a long vacation and he isn’t permanently relocating somewhere else, either. He’s simply decided that the best of life is found on the move.
“I had to get out of the routine of coming home and watching TV,” he said over the phone from Alaska. “Living a so-called normal life for me is not what I want. There’s something better than just sitting around so much — there’s so much more to see, so much more to do.”
Eleven weeks into his journey, Parton has made his way to the far ends of Alaska and everywhere in between. He and his faithful sidekick Bobby have been sleeping in his truck and finding adventures on the open roads and out hiking in the woods. The trek has taken them out to New Mexico and then up through Colorado, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Wyoming before weaving back and forth through Montana.
Alaska or bust
After driving up through Canada for a few days, Parton made it to Alaska on day 48. He’s been in Alaska for several weeks now, but he admits he’s barely gotten a taste of the huge state. He has seen the Aurora Borealis, the natural phenomenon that creates a vision of dancing colors in the night skies in the northern hemisphere.
“The Northern Lights are spectacular. They are just as impressive as they look in the pictures,” he said. “Completely mind- blowing.”
Parton first started his journey without an itinerary — his only goal was to drive as far north as he could. Prudhoe Bay is located on the most northern tip of Alaska. Its fulltime resident population is only about 25, but Parton said that number increases to several thousand each winter as transient workers move in to work the Prudhoe Bay oil field.
With the summer weather fading quickly in Alaska, Parton and Bobby have decided to stay in Anchorage through the long, cold winter. He has found a heated room to rent for six months since the back of his truck won’t cut it in below freezing temperatures. Parton said the challenge of withstanding a harsh Alaska winter would give him a whole new skillset that would hopefully prepare him for more traveling.
“It will be a harsh winter, but part of my idea when I came up here was to experience a real winter, and this is as real as it gets,” Parton said.
Living for the moment
For Parton, it’s not about the final destination. It’s about how much he can soak up along the way. Every day he sees something new and meets new people that unintentionally enrich his life.
Parton came upon two French hitchhikers outside of Jasper in Alberta, Canada, trying to hitch all the way up to White Horse. Parton didn’t think twice about picking them up and taking them to their destination, and it made the ride much more enjoyable.
“While I was driving through Nebraska I stopped at a coffee shop. I talked to this lady who is one of the coolest people I’ve met. She said I should go to Bozeman (Montana) and stay with her son and a month later I ended up there at her son’s house,” he said. “You never know when that moment will happen that leads to another connection — that’s part of the journey. I wouldn’t say it’s the right way to live your life, but it’s one way and it’s how I feel I should live mine.”
When things thaw out next spring in Alaska, Parton’s short-term goal is to drive as far south as he can, which would land him in Patagonia — a region in the southern tip of South America.
So what do Parton’s family and friends think about his rambling lifestyle decision?
“I’ve worked them into it so they understand, but they still worry about my safety,” he said.
Apparently it is something they have become accustomed to over the last few years. This trip is not his first and it surely won’t be his last. Parton was gone for 97 days in 2014 hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. He finished the 2,000-mile trek on his 30th birthday, but it was just the beginning of something bigger.
“It’s about soul-searching and figuring yourself out — that’s what the A.T. is all about,” he said. “ What keeps you happy? What makes you want to go on and continue that journey?”
Returning to his routine life in Bryson City proved daunting after being on the trail for so long. The experience ignited something inside him — a realization that a person doesn’t have to get bogged down by the day-to-day grind.
Parton is currently working on a memoir of sorts about his adventures on the A.T. He said the “stream of thought” format is an honest account of his journey on the trail and realizations that have led him to his present expedition.
“If you want to have a good story, you have to live it,” he said.
Living the dream?
Parton’s friends and family are able to live vicariously through his Facebook posts and his blog entries on www.dwayneparton.com. He’s a talented photographer and his pictures showing the mesmerizing nature around him could turn someone green with envy.
But Parton says people looking from the outside in may not be seeing the full picture. While being somewhere new every day is exciting and exhilarating, Parton is quick to point out that it isn’t as enchanting as some may think.
“It’s not a luxury trip — it’s a soul- searching trip in ways,” he said. “Some of the other articles written about me make it seem like I’m out here living the dream. I mean, I love what I’m doing, but I’m giving up a whole lot to do it.”
He has given up seeing his friends and family back home as well as a steady paycheck. However, being a web developer has allowed him to work on the road to make the money he needs to keep going. He can stop into any place in the country with wi-fi and build websites and complete other projects.
Sure, there are amazing people along the road, but for 10 hours a day Parton is usually driving with only his dog to keep him company. He isn’t homesick or anything, but he does miss his family and friends and sometimes can’t help but feel a little bit of guilt for not being able to keep up with what’s going on in their daily lives.
So far, Parton’s desire to live in the moment and find out who he truly is — what he truly wants — has outweighed his desire to return home. He loves Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains, but he has no plans of returning or settling down anywhere else.
“You definitely have moments you feel a little bit lost,” Parton said. “But I feel like I’m in the right spot where I’m supposed to be — it’s a nice feeling.”