Most Memorable Moments of 2021 – Top 10

Since beginning our nomadic life, Jennifer and I have started this ritual where each December we look back over the past year and collect all the most memorable moments. I find this exercise cathartic. It makes me slow down and appreciate what we have been blessed to see and do. This year, like 2020, was very challenging for a lot of people. In many ways, it was harder for us than last year. Despite that, we had some amazing adventures over the past year and made some truly indelible memories. After some effort, we whittled down a year full of adventures into these top 10 most memorable moments.

Crew 2 Space X Dragon - most memorable moments
The Crew 2 SpaceX Dragon rocket leaves earth on a journey to the International Space Station. This was easily one of the most memorable moments of 2021.

Most Memorable Moments of 2021 – Top 10

  1. Petting a 116-Year-Old Tortoise
  2. A Night Under the Milkyway
  3. KayakingThrough Whitewater
  4. A Spooky Night at Busch Gardens
  5. Sliding through Lewis & Clark Cavern
  6. Saving a Hooked Pelican
  7. Snow in August
  8. Kayaking to the Lighthouse in Dry Tortugas
  9. Walking Hallowed Ground
  10. Watching Crew 2 Leave Earth

10) Petting a 116-Year-Old Tortoise

Jake and Orvil - most memorable moments
Hanging out with a 116-year-old tortoise named Orvil makes me feel young.

It is not every day that you meet a creature that was born around the same time that man first took flight. In July, we traveled to Mount Rushmore to celebrate our nation’s independence. We had started planning the trip in January when the vaccines were rolling out. We thought Covid would soon be over. Obviously, we were wrong and the fireworks did not burst in the air above the iconic monument. Instead, we decided to watch the fireworks show in Rapid City and had time to visit the Reptile Gardens. It was here that we came across three Aldabra Giant Tortoises. The oldest of them was born in 1905, 22 years before they even began work on Mount Rushmore. It was an unexpected and memorable encounter with an ancient creature.

9) A Night Under the Milkway

Devils Tower Wide Night
The Milkway Galaxy rises over the supernatural-looking monolith known as Devils Tower in Wyoming.

Typically the most memorable moments each year tend to be unexpected. However, this was one that was planned and came to fruition perfectly (also a rare thing). Ever since I watched Close Encounter of the Third Kind as a little kid, I have not only dreamed of seeing Devils Tower firsthand but I wanted to do so under the stars. When we decided to visit Wyoming this summer, I made sure we had a few nights dedicated to Devils Tower. Not only were the nights moonless, they were cloudless as well. The conditions were perfect for seeing the Milky Way rise over the monolith. Jennifer and I had a blast photographing the monument after dark and watching as the tapestry of the stars stretched out overhead. The soft chirps of bat’s hunting were the only sound that broke through the silence making the experience serene and truly memorable.

8) Kayaking Through Whitewater

Kayaking Whirlpool Canyon
Jake takes a Ducky through Whirlpool Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument.

Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly passionate about kayaking. So, when we were given the chance at running a few rapids in an inflatable kayak while rafting through Dinosaur National Monument I leaped at the opportunity. I’ve whitewater rafted a few times in my life and found the experience to be less than thrilling. That, however, was in large rafts. I absolutely loved splashing through the class 3 rapids in both the single and double kayaks known as “duckies.” Being low in the kayak and having the water come in from nearly every direction is an intense and memorable experience. It is the most thrilling way to take on whitewater.

7) A Spooky Night at Busch Gardens

Howl-O-Scream Witch - most memorable moments
Yes! This is Jennifer’s scary face. 🤣

I love amusement parks. It is mostly the rollercoasters and other thrill rides that keep me coming back. I grew up visiting Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia every few years with my grandparents. It is a part of my childhood. However, I had never been able to go to their Halloween-themed Howl-O-Scream until this year. Jennifer and I spent a day exploring all the rides and entertainment and then once dark arrived we attempted to survive the ghouls that haunt the park.

One Large Haunted House

Prior to this year, neither of us would have considered ourselves haunted house type people but we had a blast exploring every inch of the park after dark. While the night produced many screams and laughs, I think the most memorable was had while walking through a pitch-black alley where men emerged from behind unseen doorways with chainsaws and cleavers. The shrieks of terror from the park guests around us—as well as Jennifer—were priceless as the chainsaws roared and the ghastly figures ran by.

6) Sliding through Lewis & Clark Cavern

Cave Floor
Years and years of tourists sliding through Lewis and Clark Cavern in Montana have given certain sections a polished sheen.

I love to explore caves. Jennifer tolerates my passion for caverns. In 2021, we were able to explore four cave systems including Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, and Luray Caverns. Each was amazing but the one that left the most indelible memory was the Lewis & Clark Cavern in Montana. The small cave is beautifully adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and other cave formations. It even has bats that reside near the entrance. However, the most memorable moment came when the tour descended through a section of the cave on a natural slide.

Sliding in the Dark

Through this short section of the cave, the floor has been polished into a smooth slide. The descent is a subtle one that maneuvers between columns and under a low ceiling. It is the most unique passage we have ever explored while on an established cave tour and very memorable. Everyone in our group laughed like a schoolchild when their turn came to take the short plunge through the dark. Jennifer was actually the first person to go and missed the tutorial about their being a small bump. She crashed down the slide laughing the whole way until a loud “owe” rang out as she smacked her butt on the bump. Immediately she began laughing even louder which made the experience even more memorable.

5) Saving a Hooked Pelican – Most Memorable Moments of 2021

Pelican Sunset
The sun sets behind a pelican in desperate need of help. You can see how the wing was bent over and attached to its foot.

One of our favorite things about traveling is the unexpected moments that become indelible memories. That was how it was in late April when we found ourselves staying at the Huguenot Park campground just outside of Jacksonville, Florida. We were watching the waves roll in across the beach at sunset when we noticed a pelican limping awkwardly away from the rolling waves. We cautiously approached the bird who was equally cautious with his approach towards us.

The Hook

Upon inspection, we found that the bird had a fishing lure hooked on one of its wings. To make matters worse for the pore creature the lure was simultaneously hooked to one of his feet. This caused him to walk slowly and with a lot of difficulty. In his condition, swimming and flying were both out of the question. I attempted to approach him but he was overly weary and having none of it. His long beak was still working just fine.


With night encroaching we decided it was best to try and find professional help. We reached out to the Huguenot Park ranger and after a few calls with animal control, we all decided it was best to try and help the pelican out immediately rather than risk losing him while animal control made their way to the park. Jennifer and I helped the rangers locate the bird and a blanket was tossed over the creature. The lure was quickly removed and as soon as the cover was lifted off the bird, he effortlessly took flight. It was an amazing thing and an unforgettable experience to be a part of. I just wish it hadn’t been dark so I could have filmed it for you all.

4) Snow in August

In 2019, our most memorable moment was getting caught in a blizzard—complete with lightningwhile backpacking the Assiniboine Trail in mid-July. In 2020, we were snowed on the last day of August while crossing the Teton Crest Trail. This year we continued our streak of snowy summer backpacking trips. This time it was during an attempt made to summit Utah’s highest peak, Kings Peak. It was mid-August and while the forecast wasn’t great we thought for sure, “we are in Utah in August, how bad could it be?”

Snow on the Pass

Well, after two days of hiking with more than 11-miles and 2,500′ of gain underfoot, we found ourselves staring across the vast mountainous terrain atop Gunsight Pass. Unfortunately, the greatness of the vista was shrouded by dense clouds and the precipitation was shifting from a consistent steady rain into a beautiful but intense snowfall. We stood atop the pass longing to push ahead but knowing it was unsafe. While our hopes of summiting the roof of Utah were dashed, we were simultaneously transfixed by the simple beauty of the moment. Another summer with winter-like conditions. Since we spent the entire winter in Florida under summer conditions this somehow seemed appropriate and right.

Kings Peak Gunsight Pass
Looking towards Gunsight Pass (saddle on the left) as we climbed towards Kings Peak (shrouded by the clouds between the saddle on the right).

Summiting Kings Peak

Kings Peak is a popular summit. On any given summer day several dozen groups might make the attempt. Over the course of our 3-day journey, we asked everyone we passed (several dozen) how far they made it. Only two young men said they made it to the summit. They also said they were sinking into snowdrifts waist deep and one of them was wearing shorts. This should go without saying but that is extremely dangerous and not recommended. We will return one day and reach the top. For now, we have one of the most memorable moments in 2021 to content ourselves with.

3) Kayaking to the Loggerhead Lighthouse in Dry Tortugas

Kayaking Dry Tortugas - most memorable moments
This was our “tough” paddle back from Loggerhead Key. It was an amazing adventure.

Back in 2018, we made our way to Florida with the intent of traveling to Key West and taking the ferry to the Dry Tortugas. Unfortunately, it was too late to make a camping reservation for Garden Key and we decided to postpone the trip in favor of being able to stay on the island.

Planning Ahead

When we decided to return to Florida in 2021, getting a camping reservation for Garden Key was our first priority. It was a full year to the day prior to heading to the island (March of 2020) that I acquired our permits. With Covid-uncertainty lingering for the entire year we fretted over the decision. Then in March of this year, we finally arrived. After three years of anticipation, we were concerned that the adventure wouldn’t live up to the hype. However, not only was the trip one of our favorite in 2021 it provided one of the most memorable moments.

Loggerhead Key

Dry Tortugas Water
The Loggerhead Key Lighthouse as seen from Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas. It’s a very memorable 3-mile journey across the open ocean to reach the remote lighthouse and it is rougher than it looks.

We decided to rent a kayak for our journey to the Dry Tortugas. We wanted to explore the tropical waters and paddle to Loggerhead Key, a journey of 3 miles over the open ocean. The day we choose to paddle across was the calmest we had during our visit. The day prior, a kayak had been swamped by a wave and the rangers were called in to rescue the paddler. With this in mind, we set out.

We made good time on our journey across but the winds and waves were working in our favor. We were not looking forward to paddling against the waves and the wind on the way back. Thankfully, we had a nice family offer to tow us back with their motorized dingy. As we crashed through the rolling waves in tow, we spotted a massive green sea turtle making its way through the chop as well. It was a beautiful and memorable moment as we watched the majestic tortuga in the Dry Tortugas.

2) Walking Hallowed Ground

Gettysburg Soldier
The sun sets on one of the more than 1,300 statues that commemorate those who fought and died at the Civil War battle of Gettysburg.

We can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” These are the words of President Lincoln, which he spoke at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1863.

In October, Jennifer and I toured the Gettysburg battlefield where today 1,328 monuments stand with the stories of those who hallowed this ground. As I watched the sun set over the battlefield I reflected on these words which were spoken in the midst of our nation’s darkest hours. This massive killing field that sprawled before me is still home to our nation’s costliest battle where 51,000 men were wounded, went missing, or died in a 3-day span of battle. The real tragedy of Gettysburg is that it was a battle with ourselves.

“A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand.” – Abraham Lincoln

Today, we are once again a divided nation, and as the dark set in around me on that historic field of battle, I was left wondering what our present division would cost us. It was a surreal and memorable moment that I hope all Americans can contemplate and appreciate.

“That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln

Jennifer and Lincoln - most memorable moments
Jennifer strikes her best presidential pose while hanging out with Lincoln in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

1) Watching Crew 2 Leave Earth

Space X launch
A Space X Falcon rocket launches the NASA Crew 2 mission to the International Space Station in April of 2021.

Since I was a kid I have been a bit of a space nerd. I love to explore the Kennedy Space Center and learn about the relatively short history of humanity’s adventures into space. However, I have longed to witness a rocket launch live for as long as I can remember. We have tried several times but because of government shutdowns, mechanical delays, or covid restrictions we have come up short time and again. Finally, in April of this year, the stars aligned and we got to witness NASA and SpaceX’s Crew 2 Falcon 9 rocket launch into space.


The experience was amazing as we stood on the west bank of the Indian River in the predawn hours. We were staying at the Manatee Hammock Campground so the crowd size was fairly small and felt like a private event. The Space X rocket stood resolute against the dark night sky as the massive lights illuminated the215-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket with the manned Dragon Capsule sitting on top. We watched as the lights went out and the rocket’s 9 Merlin engines roared to life. Immediately the darkness was overwhelmed by the explosive light, smoke filled the air, and the 1.2 million pound rocket lurched into the air.

The Most Memorable Moment of 2021

The sound hit us a few seconds later and the smell of the smoke and jet fuel a few seconds after that. The crowd around us simultaneously roared to life hooting and hollering as the rocket tore through the air. Once the rocket reached the sunrays coming over the horizon the contrail was illuminated against the dark night sky in a magical way and we stood in awe as the second stage of the rocket separated from the first. The first stage set out a pulse of sonic booms as it realigned for its return to earth. The second stage rocketed on into space and over the horizon. The entire experience was overwhelming and easily the most memorable moment of 2021. If you haven’t seen a launch in person I highly recommend making it a priority in 2022.

Most Memorable Moments of 2021 – Top 10

Most Memorable Moments of 2021
Pin this post to your Pinterest board to easily return to it later.

The confusion of mask mandates, social distancing, vaccination statuses, and inflation made 2021 a stressful time to be a full-time traveler. Despite this, Jennifer and I were able to see places and do things in 2021 that we’ve dreamed of for years and even decades. So much so that this year’s initial list had 32 memorable moments. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to make your own list. I love doing this exercise each year and really appreciate having the lists to look back on as the years roll by all too quickly. We hope you enjoyed reading the Top 10 we selected and it inspires you to make the most of 2022. Happy New Year!

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