Sustainability Spotlight: Tanner Kent
Tanner was once an engineer from New Hampshire who decided to make a major lifestyle change. He packed up some basic necessities into his truck and set out on the adventure of a lifetime. In the past four months, Tanner has been to 23 different states and over 13 National/State Parks. This has given him a unique perspective on national parks, minimalism, and traveling off the beaten path.
So I know that you have been traveling across the country, taking in a lot of incredible sights along the way. Where have you been?
So for some background--I’m Tanner, I’m from New Hampshire, and I went to the University of New Hampshire. So that’s where my road trip started. I’ll list out all of the parks that I’ve been to because I'm not much of a city dweller. Shenandoah National Park (Virginia), Blue Ridge Parkway, (not a National Park but equally as epic), Great Smoky Mountains (North Carolina and Tennessee), Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky), Badlands National Park (South Dakota), Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado), Arches National Park (Utah), Canyonlands National Park (Utah), Zion National Park (Utah). Joshua Tree National Park (California), Death Valley National Park (California), Yosemite National Park, Redwood National Park (California), Olympic National Park (Washington) Mt. Hood National Forest (Oregon), and Point Reyes National Seashore (California). Anyways--it’s been a long trip, it was like four months of driving.
Can you tell me more about how you are living? Are you camping?
I converted my truck. I have a 2004 Chevy Silverado, threw a cap on the back, put a platform on for a bed and some storage. I do what is called “boondocking” or “stealth camping”. It’s essentially “urban camping.” If I’m not in a park, which is much easier to stay in for legitimate parking reasons and peace of mind, I park at Walmarts, rest stops, and the occasional gas station (which is usually a little sketchier than the rest.) Occasionally I camp, but mainly it’s car camping.
I guess it is glamping. But glamping makes me think of an RV in the woods, but this is like my truck at Taco Bell.
I assume you can’t fit everything you could want in the truck? What items do you consider essential items when you travel?
So something that was immediately apparent, even while I was packing for the trip is that you accumulate a lot of stuff. When you decide to pack up to move your life from one place to another and into 6-foot by 4-foot bed of the truck, you kinda need to consolidate. I had to figure out what is valuable. I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough stuff. Now, I have realized that I have more than what I need to function on a daily basis. I could comfortably live out of here. It’s been four months--I could do a year plus. I don’t think that there’s a shelf-life on it. I think I have everything I need. One thing you start to notice living in a confined space is the amount of waste that you produce. You become cognizant of your garbage. I am used to reusing traditional single-use products. I think that’s the main thing I have become very aware of is the waste that I produce, and I live every day trying to limit that waste. I don’t have anywhere to put the trash so, it has to go into my “house”, in my “bedroom”, “kitchen”, the “office”, my “mud-room”. You get the point here.
Essential items when you travel, what are they? What made the cut?
I have very limited clothes (much to the dismay of the people that I have visited.) You need to have the hygienic essentials-- toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. I packed three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, three pairs of pants, one nice shirt and one pair of nice pants (in case I landed an interview on some off-chance). [Hey, don’t discredit yourself my friend!] Most of my stuff is hiking gear. That's what took up the bulk of the volume. I have a tent in here, a zero-degree sleeping bag, my poles, my gaiters, a pair of trail-runners, and a pair of Gortex hiking boots. I had to be prepared for winter conditions, as well as desert conditions. I'm trying to think if there was some top-secret travel hack thing that I would bring, but I just don't think there is. I live off of a very simple list of things. Well, I have a fanny pack, (that's it!). I love my fanny pack.
[Are you okay with me literally publishing to our readers that you willingly like to wear a fanny pack?]
Yes, it’s made by a brand called Jaunt. Also, a book is huge-- I spend a lot of time reading, and a journal is a key element too. It's very common for travelers to swap books along the way too so be prepared to share.
Has this trip sparked your interest to get involved with National Parks? Have you seen any specific areas that could use our help?
I’ve always had a really strong interest in the parks. I was lucky enough to grow up visiting each park with my family, that’s where my love for the outdoors was born. But my interests have been intensified over the past few years spending a lot of time hiking with my mom. There are a number of ways you can help: donate to the parks-- even if it’s a fraction of what you might have, it will go a long way. Or you can volunteer at your parks--it could be a state park in your backyard or it could be a big national park. Every summer I volunteer for the Friends of Acadia at Acadia National Park. They give you a dope sticker and a free stay at a campground for a night. So, you get something cool out of it and you feel like a good person.
[What does a day of volunteering look like?]
Maybe it’s trail maintenance, picking up trash off the trails, making sure they are at the proper grade so they don't get washed away by storms. One year, we hacked a new trail. Park associations always appreciate your time. They have no revenue stream right now so they need all of our help desperately. [This is why your vote matters - please vote in the next election!]
Now I want to talk about an issue that I am constantly seeing. I started getting into photography. I want to inspire others to get out there and appreciate nature. I have grown up going to the national parks and now it's my second time around. I am in love with these things. I think that the parks and the wildernesses are America's most valuable resources and it’s baffling to me that people live 3 hours from Yosemite and they have never been. People travel all over the world to see these things. So when you see these places and post on Instagram and geotag these posts, it actually creates a fairly big issue. Because you geotag the post, people can see where it is, drop a pin in their Google Maps, and then they want to go to that one spot. It then gets a negative feedback loop of crowds of people going to the single location that is not necessarily prepared for that volume of people. For example, Horseshoe Bend or Antelope Canyon. So if you follow any of the travel accounts on Instagram, you see these places. Then the businesses come in to supplement the herds of people. It takes away from the overall experience for any individual trying to be present at that location, because there are now swarms of people there. It’s tourist trappy and it’s no longer as beautiful for the reasons that it was before. Then they have to put up railings, then they have to regulate things. I have been a culprit of it myself, people are coming from all over the world. Something to think about is what is the environmental cost of a single flight (or a cross country road trip) for a family to come to this location? Does this have a destructive effect as there is an equally beautiful local place to visit (that may not be the focal point of our camera lens right now)? It’s something someone saw once which got picked up by the right travel page. There are places equally as beautiful and appreciable right down the road and no one knows about them. So it’s valuable and honestly feels cool to wander where there are fewer footsteps. It’s a fresher territory and you can appreciate its genuine wilderness a little bit more.
Has the government shutdown (since December 21st) been impacting any of the parks from what you have seen? (i.e. Garbage piling up, lack of protection from rangers, etc.)?
National parks are a hot topic right now in particular because of the government shut down. I was super fortunate that I had completed my trip. Right when I finished is when the shutdown happened. Right now, the parks are open but there is no admission fee. Now, people who usually don't go may now say “Oh, it's free, I’ll go.” So people don't know about the carry-in-carry-out practices and are not paying 35 dollars to get into the park. This is why it's important to donate even a fraction of the admission fees if you do visit a park right now, they have no revenue streams and I've seen some isolated instances of people really disregarding park values.
[According to The Trust for Public Land, “The government shutdown has created a crisis in our national parks.” National Geographic has noted that there are serious issues from waste management that are putting the wildlife at risk. Overflowing trashcans and toilets of waste are reported from many park locations. Waste removal services are halted which often leads to garbage piling in areas where they typically would not. Leaving trash out in the open can upset the delicate balance that the parks must keep between visitors and the precious wildlife in the area. The Department of the Interior released the following statement regarding entrance fees, “In the coming days the NPS will begin to use these funds to clean up trash that has built up at numerous parks, clean and maintain restrooms, bring additional law enforcement rangers into parks to patrol accessible areas, and to restore accessibility to areas that would typically be accessible this time of year. While the NPS will not be able to fully open parks, and many of the smaller sites around the country will remain closed, utilizing these funds now will allow the American public to safely visit many of our nation’s national parks while providing these iconic treasures the protection they deserve.” It’s dangerous to have the parks opened with such short staffing, for both the wildlife as well as the explorers.]
I see it most impacted at the local state parks, and smaller parks that don’t get as much attention. The services are closed, so all of the bathrooms are locked. If the bathrooms aren’t locked it’s probable they don’t have waste removal services within the park, along with the trash removal services. I know it impacts the smaller parks a lot. During this time of year on an average day in Yosemite they have hundreds of park employees working and now they have only around 40 or 50. So even the big parks are struggling to operate. A guy died and they didn’t find him for a week. Maybe he could have been found sooner if they had active rangers patrolling--he was missing for a week and people didn't know where he had gone. There's a chance that maybe a ranger could have helped in this case. For example, “I see you're hiking without the micro-spikes”, or “This is closed, you shouldn't be here.” It’s just safer with them there. It’s good to have rangers there to keep you in check so you're not extensively dangling yourself over 3,000 foot cliffs.
Casual! How do you think we can have a better impact on the parks that are in our own backyard?
These [State Parks] are the parks that are more impacted by things like a government shutdown. These are the parks that need people advocating for them. These are the ones that could benefit more from your donation on a per-dollar basis. Just because it isn't a national park doesn't mean it doesn’t have a lot to offer. The White Mountains are one of my favorite places on earth, they're not a national park. So are the Adirondack Mountains, which are controlled by the state of New York because that entity is big enough to manage them.
If you want to have an impact--it’s worth considering “Oh, these places are kept more wild, and are just as incredible.” Volunteer there. Donate there. Spend time there. And lastly, elect politicians that advocate for general environmental rights. (Instead of just advocating for a specific park). [Elect a politician that believes in science and climate change and the impacts that that has on local parks and other parks around the globe].
What concerns you about climate change? Have you seen any effects on it when you are in these remote areas of the states?
Something that sticks out from my childhood is a trip to Glacier National Park. I was quite young at the time, around 12 year old, I was a wee lad. I remember the guides saying “This is a map of Glacier Park, here's where there were glaciers 20 years ago, and this is where we predict they will be in 2020.” They were predicting a significant loss of glaciers. I spent 3 weeks in Alaska and you can see where the glaciers are falling into the water. I don't know what rate is natural for them to fall into the water, but it’s emblematic of the effects that humans are having on their surroundings.
Another example was when I went to Jasper National Park (Canada), you can hike on the glacial fields. They tell you, “Hey this is where the glacier used to be, this is how fast it used to recede, and this is how fast it currently does.” It’s been a significant jump, like feet per year. What really concerns me about climate change is second and third generation impacts, not immediate-- but a ripple effect. There is conclusive evidence that areas of severe climate issues are faced with serious problems as a result. It’s when these people can't live the lifestyles that they are used to living, they now have to move, and are forced to become climate refugees. This is happening around the world, which can lead to civil unrest and terrorism. It also leads to new levels of poverty, leading to higher birth rates and less stability in an area. Really serious repercussions. It enables the spread of dangerous diseases, a lack of access to food and water; amplifying world hunger. Water borne diseases are of the most significant threats to human life around the globe. The list goes on and on. The increase of severe weather events are also dangerous. Catastrophic weather events can devastate a region, wiping out food sources and income. This results in increased rates of poverty.
These events are all linked to climate change. This s**t is a direct result of what we are doing, and is amplified by what we are doing. It's not a domestic issue. It’s a global issue.
Overall, Tanner has been truly experiencing all that nature has to offer, and hopes that his photography can inspire others to do the same. Remember, sometimes the best views come from experiences that may seem a bit off the beaten path-- that’s what makes it exciting. If you want to follow more of Tanner’s journeys, and his life out on the west coast, give his Instagram a follow @_tk.pics.