Growing up doing road trips in the Midwest, Nancy Zyburt realized at an early age that she doesn't have to travel beyond the United States to see “really amazing things”-sparking a big expedition dream that she never thought would become a reality.
But on her 56th birthday last year, Zyburt finally packed her bags and embarked on a 56-week journey to all 56 states and territories, spending one week in each place where she would donate $56 to a worthy cause every day.
Now on week 22 of her voyage, Zyburt is experiencing and loving the Northern Mariana Islands-the fourth among the Pacific states and territories included in her so-called “Expedition 56: A 'Give Back to America' Journey.”
“It's going so fast,” said the Michigan native, who arrived on Saipan late Monday night. “I'm surprised it's going so fast and I'm loving every moment so I wish time would slow down.
Zyburt said her most favorite part of the island is the pathway along Beach Road, which she passes through when she walks eight miles a day or 56 miles throughout her weeklong stay in every state and territory.
“I would walk there every day if I lived here. I think it's one of the prettiest walks that I've taken in these island territories. It's just so beautiful, sitting there and looking at the ocean when I stop and take a rest,” said Zyburt, adding that she also enjoys the fresh produce at the farmer's market.
The traveling charity donor has already made at least two nonprofit organizations in the CNMI happy, presenting last Thursday a $56 donation each to Karidat Social Services and the Guma Esperanza shelter.
Since majority of her donations go to food pantries and soup kitchens, Zyburt plans to include on her list of beneficiaries the CNMI Salvation Army and the American Red Cross NMI Chapter.
Zyburt also went on a day trip to Tinian last Friday. She regrets having to miss Rota, which she heard is “pretty.”
“I want to see it all and we can't always do that but I'm just thrilled to be able to see at least more than Saipan, to just have the opportunity to see one of the others at least,” she said.
How it all started
Planning for the entire journey was not a breeze, though, Zyburt said. With three daughters and a business to take care of, she didn't think her original dream to visit the entire 50 states would pan out.
But an auspicious quarter from a vending machine in the classical ballet studio that she owns right outside Ann Arbor galvanized Zyburt into action. She knew about the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam-but not the CNMI or American Samoa, which made her “very intrigued.”
Realizing that U.S. states and territories now make 56 and that she'll be 56 by the time her youngest of three daughters will be done with college, Zyburt thought she may be able to make her dream come true.
After a couple of years of planning, Zyburt finally set the dream in motion in 2012 when her daughter graduated in April. She sold her business in May and hit the road on her 56th birthday on Aug. 31.
“It all came together and to me, it was like it was meant to be,” she told Saipan Tribune.
Zyburt started out her trip visiting the New England states along the East Coast, camping out when she can. With a big journey ahead of her, she expected hurdles along the way, beginning with Hurricane Sandy during which she was in Rhode Island. Her family advised her to get out of the way.
“I've been blown off course a little bit but that's all right. I have flexibility and the only dates that were cast in stone were the territories because I had flight reservations,” she said.
Zyburt encountered another setback in Guam where her purse containing cash and credit cards, cell phone, driver's license, and passport got stolen when thieves smashed the windows of her rental car.
“When something bad like that happens, it brings out a lot of good in people,” said Zyburt, still unfazed even though she lost not just valuables but also precious hours that she could've spent on her journey.
She spent extra time calling card companies and proving her identity to the Transportation Security Administration for them to allow her to travel to Saipan. “It was awkward but it was doable,” she added.
Zyburt also gave credit to her neighbors looking after everything back home. “I have amazing neighbors. We're good friends and they support what I'm doing, too.”
Despite traveling by herself, Zyburt doesn't feel alone as she has seen her daughters and many of her family members throughout her journey. She also allots two-day family breaks for special occasions such as Christmas, weddings, and graduations.
What's next after Expedition 56
Zyburt expects to conclude Expedition 56 by October and go back home to Michigan where she will be reunited with her walking buddy Tula, a chocolate lab being cared for by her daughter at the moment.
“I won't have any money but I will be the richest person on the planet with all the memories and the people I have met. I have these experiences,” said Zyburt, who would be 57 by then.
Once she returns, Zyburt plans to get a job, not own another business.
“I'm pretty detailed and organized. I'm more of a number person, not a creative person,” she said.
Her advice to other aspiring wanderers? Flexibility, for one. “If you leave on a big, long, huge adventure, you need some flexibility. Things are not always going to go well.”
But the most important thing, Zyburt noted, is patience.
“If you have a big dream, don't give up on it. It might not happen for a few years and that's when you have to be patient. Sometimes, that dream even gets better. If someone has a dream that kind of seems impossible, don't give up on it.”