Life is always an adventure for Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, but Charlie Kimball took it to the next level after the 2017 season.
Kimball and wife Kathleen realized a dream come true when they embarked on a 25-day trip that saw them visit eight national parks in the western United States. Inspired by the Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip that Kathleen discovered on outdoorproject.com, the Kimballs visited Yosemite, Crater Lake, Olympic, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks for a mixture of hiking, wildlife viewing, relaxation and general amazement at the beauty that the American treasures of nature hold.
“It was such a real vacation,” Charlie said, still smiling as he reflected on the trip. “You can go lie on a beach or go to a resort somewhere – and you need those vacations, too – but this one just felt so real and true.”
Leaving from Sonoma, California, a few days after the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17, the Kimballs packed up dogs Taj (a 13-year-old Husky) and Lilah (a 5-year-old black Lab) and their fifth-wheel camper, heading off on a trek that encompassed seven states before making their way home to Indianapolis.
They chronicled their vacation on their personal social media platforms, using the #KimballsGoKamping hashtag and posting photos (some are shown at the bottom of this story) and videos such as this:
The Kimballs have visited other national parks in the past, but even they weren’t prepared to be as awed as they were on this trip. In addition to the natural wonders that included mountaintops, geysers, hot springs, awe-inspiring canyon overlooks and more, they encountered loads of wildlife. Elk, bighorn sheep, bison, even a rare sighting of a pack of some 20 wolves frolicking in Yellowstone National Park in Montana that captivated the Kimballs for nearly two hours.
“Where can you watch wolves in the wild, in a safe environment like that?” Kathleen asked. “That’s amazing and it’s amazing that this land is saved. There’s nothing to spoil the sanctity of that nature. It’s such a good reminder that it’s their world; they just let us come in and see it.”
Lilah, in training to be Charlie’s diabetic service dog, had her own wildlife encounter as well.
“Lilah made friends with a skunk,” Charlie laughed, “so we had to wash skunk off her in the RV because it was 30 degrees outside.”
Highlights of the vacation for the couple included a 13-mile hike with a 3,000-foot elevation change to start the trip at Yosemite National Park in California. They passed four waterfalls on the excursion and wound up looking down on a rainbow that appeared over one of the waterfalls.
Though aware of the famous geysers at Yellowstone going in, the Kimballs were still awed at their sight.
“I didn’t realize there were so many geothermal features,” Kathleen said. “Each pool was a different color. It was like 40 degrees so the steam from the geothermal features was just (clear and crisp) and the sky was super blue. … It was really cool.”
Also at Yellowstone, they hiked Mt. Washburn. “It was Charlie’s first 10-thousand-foot hike, so he was very happy about that,” Kathleen said.
“Washburn is kind of on the northeast corner of Yellowstone,” Charlie added, “but we could see all the way to Yellowstone Lake, out the bottom of Yellowstone Park to the peak of Grand Teton. It was 200 miles or so.”
It was yet another example of the couple witnessing nature at its finest but still not fully comprehending its reality.
“The amount of times we looked at each other and went, ‘That’s fake, right? That can’t be real. It is too pretty,’” Charlie said. “We joked about starting the hashtag #FakeViews because it was so pretty.”
The trip peaked with the Angel’s Landing hike at Zion National Park in Utah. The hike included a series of “super-steep” switchbacks to reach Scout’s Landing, a steep cliff overlooking a canyon. Admittedly fearful of heights, Charlie made it a point to nervously slither to the cliff’s edge and have his photo taken to prove he was there.
“That was kind of our good, last hurrah adventure,” he said.
Afterward, Charlie purchased a photo of the trail up to Angel’s Landing to hang in his office and “remind me no matter how hard a day I have, I’ve overcome that.”
Kathleen is the more experienced backpacker of the two. Charlie, even as a Type 1 diabetic, said he made no preparations outside the ordinary for the adventure.
“It’s a lot like I prepare for the racetrack,” said Charlie, who just completed his seventh Verizon IndyCar Series season with Chip Ganassi Racing. “Make sure I’ve got the right gear and getting the right food and the right nutrition.
“We went mostly vegetarian and, when we were cooking at home (in the camper), we were plant-based. I thought it was going to be a bigger adjustment and it wasn’t. Just being prepared for it and ready to react and manage it (blood glucose levels) was the biggest thing.”
Charlie is recapping their adventure in a series of blog posts on outdoorproject.com. Read the first installation here.
All photos courtesy of Charlie and Kathleen Kimball