[Today’s blog entry is by guest writer Nick Girka. Nick is a serious student of the gun, and a dear friend of Fortress. – Frank]

Like millions of American families we loaded up the family truckster for spring break and headed down the highways of America – destination: Virginia.  I have been combing the roadways of American since I got my license over 25 years ago, having driven 49 states with only Alaska left to visit.  I consider myself a pretty astute highway driver since most of my miles have been logged by myself, as my wife would fly to the grocery store if she could book it! To say the least, she is not a fan of the open road.

This trip I was traveling with our 5 and 2 year-old for the first time, so a whole new list of priorities needed to be taken into consideration.

I am a lawfully armed citizen and do so wherever legally possible.  Wanting to be a diligent CCW holder, I scoured the internet investigating the carry laws of each state we would be driving through.  Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia were very straight forward.  Ohio requires that if stopped, you have to inform an officer that you are armed (something I would do out of respect, anyway.) We considered altering our return route, which would have required us to pass through Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania is a “shall issue” state, but does not recognize either Illinois or Utah non-resident licenses. PA requires that my firearms be unloaded, cased, locked, encased in concrete, blah, blah, blah… So, Pennsylvania got eliminated from our travel plans and our vacation dollars weren’t spent there.  Protecting my family trumps their non-recognition of the Second Amendment!

When traveling I have a hard and fast rule about stopping for gas, food, or the bathroom: “if you can’t see it from the highway, don’t stop”.  Too many times I have pulled off and driven miles to find what I thought was right there.  I violated this rule three times during this road trip twice to appease the natives in the car, and once more to be shared later.

Driving with the family creates whole new levels of security concerns. My wife is not yet comfortable being armed with a firearm in public, but she has acquired the mindset of not being a victim, and we work well as a security team. We are both constantly scanning and verbalize any concerns we may have, living by the rule that either of us can say “we need to leave now”, no questions asked.

My wife and five year-old moved as one team, going directly to the bathroom and immediately return to the vehicle when done. Once back in the vehicle, we would park, lock the doors, and then I would proceed in to use the washroom and purchase any goodies we might need. Part of our travel preparation was to stock coolers with all of our favorite food and drinks. It not only saves a lot of money on the road, but we tend to eat and drink healthier, as well as reduce time spent at rest stops. Let’s face the facts, truck stops and gas stations are filled with all sorts of characters, and minimizing interaction with strange unknowns is a good policy.

West Virginia is probably one of the most beautiful (and poverty stricken) states I’ve ever driven through. It’s also where I made a security mistake. I failed to fill up before leaving Virginia and was forced to stop in West Virginia. I violated my number one rule and had to drive far off the interstate for fuel. We rolled into a busy gas station, mainly frequented by locals – we stuck out like a sore thumb! I literally thought we had driven into some alternate universe. A domestic dispute was taking place between a young couple on the other side of the gas station, and numerous zombie-like people were roaming about. Not a good situation and my Spidey Senses were firing off the chart. I put my family in unnecessary danger for not stopping three exits earlier. Lesson learned: top off fuel and supplies in relatively safe settings rather than being forced into potentially unsafe scenarios.


Overall we had a wonderful trip. We visited Colonial Williamsburg (which should be mandatory for all Americans, especially students!), and  reflecting back on that stop it struck me that the entire experience lacked any sort of visual police presence like most public venues these days.  Crowds were well behaved and people respectful. It was refreshing; it was American.  It drove home for me like never before what our founders accomplished, and the adversities they overcame to create our country and form the government we take for granted.

Standing in places where George Washington and Thomas Jefferson frequented summoned pride and inspiration, giving me a real sense of what a privilege it is to call myself an American. The stories of the  reenactment actors painted a picture of how colonists depended on one another, respected one another, and took pride in what each provided. It provoked me to consider the code of honor required to conduct my life living up to those ideals on a daily basis. So many before us took immense risks, and many still do, to ensure that each of us are afforded opportunities to prosper if we only show up ready to work. I not only owe a debt of gratitude, but am compelled to live up to those ideals. They created the ideals of an equal playing field for all people. The respect of personal property rights are the cornerstone of our Republic. Self-determination allows for the greatest personal achievement and with that comes the highest level of contribution to the common welfare.  What an amazing opportunity this country provides for anyone willing to try. My optics to observe more clearly have been transformed from this experience.

Leaving that place of reverence I was snapped back into the reality of much of our society’s daily grind. We are a horribly obese nation. There are a lot of lazy, self-absorbed, and completely unaware people. Walking zombies is an accurate description; asleep at the wheel. People have no situational awareness.  Numerous times people walked directly into me, bounced off, not even bothering to lift their heads to see what they ran into. Watching withdrawn, depressed, obese people stuffing their, and their out-of-control children’s, faces full of toxic food made me sad for them as humans, but more sad for our nation.

I saw militant, angry, apathetic, young people clearly having no connection with the ideal of self-determination.  So much depression and sadness in kids just didn’t seem appropriate for their respected age groups. I also saw a lot of kids who gave me great hope about our future.

This trip taught me a lot. It forced me to take in a bigger picture of America. It taught me each and every day I am responsible for my well-being and that of my children. We need to raise our children to be strong, moral, ethical, and unyielding in their defense of liberty. Each day we are all faced with a multitude of choices, and no matter how mundane each one may be, they affect our personal walk towards or away from liberty.

Our future is being enslaved to a social media complex that exists to discourage and rob us of our birth rights. Choose each and every minute of every day to exercise your right to being a self-determined individual. We owe it to our ancestors and our future generations.

Sometimes leaving the highway can teach us a lot about our strengths and weaknesses. The willingness and ability to learn from those experiences are waiting to be discovered, but to do so requires work.

Put in the work.


I think that nothing is so important for freedom as recognizing in the law each individual’s natural right to property, and giving individuals a sense that they own something that they’re responsible for, that they have control over, and that they can dispose of.”  – Milton Friedman