Looking back on 2020, it’s easy to see a year consumed by a devastating pandemic and political strife. But looking ahead, something new is taking root: Hope. From coast to coast, Americans are proving we are strong, resilient, and refuse to let the deep challenges of the past year break our spirit. Approaching a New Year’s Eve like no other, the nation is ready for a new beginning.
To showcase that spirit, National Geographic photographer Kris Graves and his colleagues set out on a remarkable cross-country road trip with Kia to capture personal stories of hope and inspiration. How are Americans looking forward to making a fresh start and living their best lives as we enter 2021? Photographers Julian Calero in Los Angeles, Marshall Scheuttle in Las Vegas, and Isaac Diggs in Miami collaborated with Kris in New York to share the breadth of our nation’s landscapes, people, and experiences at this pivotal moment.
While their images and storytelling reflect rich diversity, a unifying thread can be felt. Americans are ending 2020 the way they want to start 2021, with amazing, uplifting stories.
Los Angeles, California
Partners Alex and Clint live near Downtown Los Angeles and cherish this rare chance to enjoy the beach, watch the sun set over the Pacific, and reflect on the past year. "We can't wait to meet and hug our friends again, hopefully in a big group. We’re also excited to get back to participating in art and book fairs across the world. We yearn to catch up with distant friends and meet new people.”
On the other side of town, Sarah and her son Sol take a morning walk in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. After relocating from the East Coast, Sarah finds solace, unique views, and quality family time in her new city’s landscape. "I’m looking forward to traveling and seeing the world through my son's eyes with a true sense of wonder. We also hope to visit our out-of-state family soon."
Las Vegas, Nevada
Asia heads south of Las Vegas to escape the busy city and catch mountain views from a dry lake bed. "I’m looking forward to getting back on the road and exploring in 2021. Traveling has been a big part of my life up until last year, so I can’t wait to take in the energy of new surroundings again.”
East of the city, Tami enjoys sunset from a western viewpoint above the Colorado River. "In 2021 I hope to be more myself than ever before. I’m excited for new adventures in amazing places. Most of all, I want to share memories and hold the people I care about closer than ever."
Eddie makes his home in Las Vegas but loves exploring the red rocks and landscapes outside the city. “2020 has been quite the year and taught me a lot about myself. What I’m looking forward to most in 2021 is seeing my family in person. Growing with my art practice, attending exhibitions, and seeing live music are all high on my list too.”
Hugo, a long-time Miami resident and artist, sits along South Pointe Beach near the southern tip of Miami Beach. Unlike states in the northeast, Miami is closer to the equator and soaks up an extra hour of light before the sun sets. "I'm looking forward to traveling and reconnecting with loved ones I couldn't spend time with this past year. I also want to build on the skills I’ve picked up during the shutdown in hopes that 2021 will be a better year."
Artist and businessman Adam rides his bike in front of his artwork and studio space in Miami's Wynwood Arts District. The neighborhood acts as an outdoor exhibition space, highlighted by buildings covered in paintings by local and international artists. "Heading into next year, I look forward to celebrating my 40th birthday in a place like Maui, Hawaii. Hopefully our lives can get back to a new normal with all those around me staying healthy, happy, and prosperous.”
New York City, New York
Friends Dipayan and Erik stroll through Fort Tryon Park, drawn in by the view of the New Jersey Palisades cliffs and Hudson River. Dipayan reflects, "I'm looking forward to celebrating all the birthdays, anniversaries, and achievements that were deferred in 2020; being able to share those important moments in person, with my important people."
Jen meets up with her college friend Greg to explore a new park in Long Island City, Queens. Jen shares, "I look forward to enjoying New York City again. As a fashion and lifestyle blogger I love the restaurant scene, pop-up installations, new events, and all the amazing experiences I’ve missed. I’m also more than ready to reunite with family and friends, and safely travel the world."
Across all 5,500 miles of this epic journey, Kia’s newest SUV, the Sorento, led the way, towing and delivering the iconic 2021 numerals that will light up New York’s Times Square Plaza on New Year’s Eve. The Sorento, trailer, and seven-foot high numbers total 40 feet in length and weigh 6,400 pounds—a powerful reminder that we’re all pulling together toward the opportunities, energy, and hope of a new year.
As 2021 rolls into your home, you can hear more about Kia’s journey and the personal stories Kris and his team captured by tuning in to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest live from Times Square, December 31st on ABC.