Manchester travel inspires alum Barbknecht


 Manchester travel inspires alum Barbknecht

The best moment wasn’t even in the GPS, he figures. 

Nick Barbknecht ‘13 was seeing the USA on fast forward in July 2015, embarking on a journey conceived by a man named Randal Olson, who, at the behest of Tracy Staedter of Discovery News, had determined the shortest route for a road trip spanning the lower 48 states. By Olson’s calculation, you could hit one iconic spot in each state in nine days.

Barbknecht chose to do it in 30 days. And on this particular day, he was in South Dakota, where the designated iconic spot was, pretty naturally, Mount Rushmore.

That’s not where Barbknecht wound up, however.

He wound up in the Badlands of South Dakota as the sun was going down, and it became one of the highlights of a trip that included a jaunt up Pike’s Peak, and the splendor of Glacier National Park, and another side trip to the new World Trade Center building in New York.
“I was one of the only people at the entrance and it was breathtaking,” Barbknecht, 24, said of that night in South Dakota. “I can’t describe it. It was just beautiful. It was unique, it was unexpected, it wasn’t on my route. It was just something I stumbled across.”

And it was exactly the sort of serendipity for which Barbknecht was looking. He had, he says, been “working my tail off since I was 14,” and he was between jobs, having left as director of governmental affairs at the Indiana Department of Transportation for a position with RQAW Corporation, an engineering and architectural consulting firm. 

“I was curious,” he said of Olson’s proposed journey, which covered some 14,000 miles and included stops at either the highest-rated national park, national landmark or national historical site in each of the lower 48.

And so off he went, going through seven rental cars along the way, occasionally accompanied by friends. There was also an altruistic element; one of the goals of the trip was to raise awareness for Hippo Valley Christian Mission Children’s Home in Zimbabwe. 

It was the kind of adventure perfectly in keeping with the spirit of Manchester University, where Barbknecht earned an accounting degree and absorbed both its striving for broad personal growth and its constant mission of service to both community and worldwide service.

“I like traveling a lot,” Barbknecht says. “Growing up, I didn’t go on a lot of vacations, didn’t see a lot of the country. But in college … I went on a couple different political trips to a couple different states. That just piqued my interest, and I thought this was the best way to see the country.”

By Ben Smith