Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Clam Creek Picnic Area

Jekyll Island, GA
November 2014
We spent an afternoon on the very accessible Jekyll Island, one of Georgia's Golden Isles. The island has many miles of paved trails to explore, but we headed to the Clam Creek Picnic Area on the northern end of the island. We walked the paved trail and explored the fishing pier.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chesser Island Boardwalk

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
November 2014


Only an hour from our home, we visited one of our favorite places, the Chesser Island Boardwalk in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. We saw a few alligators, including a mama gator protecting her young. When Laurel got a little too close, the mama let out a giant warning hiss and I think Laurel jumped back at least five feet.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday, December 1, 2014

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

August 2014

We spent several afternoons at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge while we spent a week in south Florida. It was hot, but we still enjoyed a quick stroll along the nice accessible boardwalk. We saw one alligator and one snake in the wild. Both girls loved the interactive visitor center, especially the animal exhibits, virtual airboat ride and the nighttime sounds in the swamp dark room.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

One of the Days I Almost Died

Somewhere in Georgia
Thanksgiving 2001
My Thanksgiving 2001 story actually starts back in July of that year. We were in Jacksonville for a few days to check out the housing market. We were living in Edgewater, FL and I had a job interview in Jacksonville. We had decided that we needed to live closer to a big city for Kellisa's health care. The night before the interview, I had severe pain and thought I had food poisoning. It got so bad that I drove myself to the emergency room. I spent most of the night at the hospital being diagnosed with an ulcer which made a lot of sense considering all the uncertainty and stress in our lives at the time.   (Read the rest of the story here)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Daggerwing Nature Centure

Palm Beach County, FL
August 2014
The girls enjoyed an afternoon at the Daggerwing Nature Center in Boca Raton, FL learning about the native wildlife. The enjoyed the hands-on exhibits and live animals, including a snake presentation.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cathy Burdett Nature Trail

Daggerwing Nature Center
Palm Beach County, FL
August 2014


We managed to escape the congestion of Palm Beach County for a nice little hike at the Daggerwing Nature Center The Cathy Burdett Nature Trail was fully accessible and a pleasant walk. It was blistering hot with little shade, so we did not linger on the trail.

Monday, November 17, 2014


“Emergency” and “Dad come quick”. In an instant, I went from a deep sleep to running around a dark, unfamiliar hotel room. Usually, when my five-year-old daughter Laurel screams emergency, it means that her 15-year-old sister, Kellisa is having a seizure. However, this emergency was Laurel waking up in the middle of the night with a stomach illness. If the bathroom would have been a few feet closer to her bed it would have been a minor emergency instead of the four alarm kind with considerable cleanup. I desperately wanted more sleep, but I had to shower Laurel and find the laundry room to start a load of wash. I felt bad for Laurel as she struggled to fall back asleep. As I cleaned and washed, I kept telling myself, (Read the entire Introduction to Embrace the Exceptional here).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Embrace the Exceptional

We are excited to announce a companion website dedicated to our book, Embrace the Exceptional. The site is in it's infancy with just a brief summary of the book along with a few pictures. However, we will be adding the Introduction, Chapter Summaries, Short Stories, Pictures and more on a regular basis.
This website (Kellisa's Path) will continue without any changes except for new links to our Embrace the Exceptional website. You can sign up to receive email updates from both websites on the home pages.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Losco Regional Park

Jacksonville, FL
October 2014
Kellisa and I had a rare few hours alone and took the opportunity to hike the new trail system at Losco Regional Park. The park opened in 2004 only 2.5 miles from our previous home. I was anxiously awaiting Phase Two when they added the trails. Unfortunately, they didn't create the trails until we moved 16.5 miles away.
Anyway, we were still excited to try the trails and were greatly rewarded. The trails were mostly root free, wide, flat, and almost sand free. The one small section of sand was easy to navigate. The only real obstacle was a creek crossing between two of the loop trails. Not the easiest to cross (twice), but doable and Kellisa thought it was hilarious. The trails are not at all ADA compliant, but they are completely accessible with the Hippocampe. You won't find peace and quiet since the park is surrounded by expressways on two sides, but we found solitude as we only saw one trail runner during our hour on the trails.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Visited States

Laurel: 26

2014 Additions: Oregon - Arizona - Colorado - Louisiana - Connecticut - Rhode Island

Kellisa: 39

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Muir Woods National Monument

July 2014

Our last hike of the trip was at Muir Woods National Monument. Even though it was well over 100 degrees and early on a Friday afternoon, the road leading to the park had cars parked on both shoulders for miles. I knew I couldn't walk a great distance with both girls on such a narrow road with so many cars coming and going. With doubt that we could visit the park, we pressed on hoping for a disabled spot close to the visitor center. As we approached, I realized that there was an entire parking lot for disabled parking. Of course it was full, but we got lucky, a car was backing out as we arrived. I know all about hidden disabilities, but Kellisa was the only wheelchair we saw. For every one hidden disability, I bet there's 10 people abusing the disabled parking card...if not more.
Anyway, we found the trail to be fully accessible and easy as we hiked through our last redwood forest for the trip. Laurel again insisted on pushing Kellisa for most of the trail. We saw more people on this trail than all of our other hikes on this trip combined. The count wouldn't even be close, but the golden rule of hiking definitely applied to this trail. As soon as we were about a mile from the trailhead, we almost had the trail to ourselves. At 1.5 miles away, we were by ourselves. I dreaded turning back and fighting the crowds. But, an ice cream awaited us at the park café on this hot summer afternoon making the return trek tolerable.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Earthquake Trail

Point Reyes National Seashore
July 2014
We were disappointed to only have a half day at the end of our trip to spend exploring Point Reyes National Seashore. It ended up working out OK because it was blazing hot. Even though we were there in the morning, the temperature reading in our car said it was 105 degrees outside. The kids enjoyed the displays and movie at the visitor center. With limited time and the heat to consider, we hiked the short (.6 mile) fully accessible Earthquake Trail. Nothing too exciting about the required short, paved trail next to the visitor center. We look forward to returning to this oceanside park to spend a couple of days hiking the unpaved trails deep into the wilderness.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Confusion Hill

Leggett, CA
July 2014
We stopped at the roadside attraction, Confusion Hill to ride the mountain train. It was disappointing to learn that the entire attraction was not at all accessible, including the gift store. The girls could hear the train in the distance and were excited to be there. The only way to ride the train was to ascend steep, narrow and twisting steps up a hillside. We were determined to figure out a way to make it work...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rockefeller Loop Trail

Humboldt Redwoods State Park
July 2014
The Rockefeller Loop Trail in Humboldt Redwoods State Park was accessible, short and beautiful beyond words. We had the entire trail to ourselves. Laurel insisted on pushing Kellisa the entire length of the trail which allowed me to play full time photographer while watching my girls enjoy themselves in another magical forest.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Prairie Creek Trail

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
July 2014
Yes, another accessible trail through a redwood forest. This time we found the trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to be a little steep and narrow, leading me to believe we may have made a wrong turn somewhere. It's hard to tell because trails crisscrossed and the trail signs were confusing. None the less, we had a nice hike.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Redwood Access Trail

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
July 2014
Who knew 1981 was the International Year of the Disabled? Not me. The only thing that I'm aware of that came from that year is a .5 mile fully accessible trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This is just a guess, but I would bet this was one of the first accessible trails through a natural area in the United States.
The trail was beautiful and very easy to navigate. I would think most wheelchair users could complete this trail with little or no help. When looking online or on the park map, this trail is usually designated as a nature trail and not by the Redwood Access Trail name.
The trail started next to the visitor center and only had one disabled parking spot. Even on a weekday morning, the entire parking lot was packed and people were finding alternate places to leave their cars. We were fortunate to find a regular spot and made it work, but it would be nice if they would add a few more disabled parking spots.

***Especially considering the amount of "older" people that use disabled spots. ***

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Roosevelt Elk

Northern California Coast
July 2014
In addition to seeing a few Roosevelt Elk on our way to Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, we were fortunate to spot a few herds in Elk Prairie and Elk Meadows. Laurel really enjoyed looking for and spotting the elk. Surprisingly, Kellisa wasn't too excited.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gold Bluffs Beach Campground

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
July 2014
Heaven on Earth!
Our campsite was situated on a small strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and towering bluffs. There was a constant fog and ocean breeze adding to the magic. We were far off the beaten path and would be playing and sleeping in a real tsunami zone. Roosevelt Elk and bears frequent the campground to make it a little more interesting. The temperature never rose above 59F. The three of us fell into a deep sleep snuggled in our sleeping bags listening to the waves and near constant breeze. We will be back!!!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Redwood National Park
July 2014
We found the 1.4 mile Lady Bird Johnson Nature Trail in Redwood National Park very accessible. The trail was wide and free from roots and rocks. There were a few elevation changes adding a little challenge to the hike. Laurel pushed Kellisa for part of the trail. Kellisa also wheeled herself, she really enjoyed controlling her speed on several downhill portions. Losing control as she sped down a few little hills is probably more accurate.
Laurel enjoyed following our path on the trail map and really liked making the decision to go left or right when presented with the option. She put a lot of thought into it. She also used binoculars to look for birds and she was  excited when she spotted a few.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Trees of Mystery

Klamath, CA
July 2014
It's funny how we hiked many trails through the redwoods and most of the time we were the only ones hiking. We found the  trails crowded at the Trees of Mystery, a roadside attraction in Klamath, CA. The main reason for stopping was to ride a gondola through and above soaring redwoods. The gondola started about half way up a mountainside. The park was very accessible, they offered rides in a golf cart type vehicle for the disabled to the start of the gondola. We opted to hike the wide, steep trial to the gondola. The gondola ride was also accessible. Kellisa's Hippocampe barely fit even after I took off the push bar. A regular wheelchair would fit easily. Once on the summit, boardwalks led to some amazing views. Trees of Mystery was a bit crowded, but well worth the stop and highly recommended for anyone who uses a wheelchair.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Oregon Redwoods

Interpretive Trail 1106
July 2014
We crossed into Oregon to hike through one of the northern most strands of redwoods. We had to drive a narrow, winding dirt road deep into the mountains just to find the trailhead. We were the only car in the parking area. We found the trail to be accessible, yet challenging with some hilly sections. The sun barely penetrates to the forest floor, which I found a little eerie. Most of the trail followed a ridge high above the surrounding valleys.

Near the end of the hike, we heard a loud sound that I cannot describe from the valley below. It wasn't human and it didn't sound like a roar or growl. I have no idea what it was, but it was loud and close. Too close. Laurel was very frightened and wanted me to hug her for the remainder of the hike. I have to admit being scared and looking over my shoulder until we were safely in the car driving back down the road.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

Mill Creek Campground
July 2014
All the campsites in the Redwoods State Parks were booked in advance and I thought our only choices would be a hotel or commercial campground. We got very lucky when I checked at the Mill Creek Campground at Del Norte Coast Redwoods for cancelations and they had a disabled site for two nights. We didn't spend much time at the campsite, but Laurel enjoyed exploring the area when we were there. We did attend a ranger program that discussed Bigfoot sightings in the area, including the famous film from the 60's which was shot only a couple of miles from the campground. Laurel now has a huge interest in what she calls, "Bearfoot." We also learned about tsunamis that have hit the area, including major damage after the 2011 earthquake in Japan.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Crescent City Beach

Crescent City, CA
July 2014
We continued north along the Northern California coast with an early morning stop at the Crescent City Beach. This was Laurel's first time trip to the Pacific Ocean and Kellisa's second, she visited Cannon Beach in Oregon back in 2009. I was pleased with how well the Hippocampe rolled through the sand and water.
The water was cold, but Laurel still wanted to swim and was very disappointed that I wouldn't let her because we were warned of deadly rip currents in the area. After leaving the beach, we spent the day hiking. Both girls had such a great time that we stopped back at the beach later that day on our way back to our campsite.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fleishmann Grove Trail

Humboldt Redwoods State Park
July 2014
Our first hike among the giant redwoods was the Fleishmann Grove Trail in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The trail was accessible and it was one of the best trails we've ever hiked. We were all alone in this magical forest. The trail was just challenging enough to be fun. I think a regular wheelchair might struggle a little. Kellisa did tip back at one point and Laurel rushed to her aid. Kellisa was fine and both girls had a good laugh.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Discharge Day

15 years ago, Kellisa was discharged from the NICU after 113 days:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Shrine Auto Park

Avenue of the Giants
July 2014

Along the beautiful Avenue of the Giants, we stopped at the touristy Shrine Auto Park that features a drive thru tree. Instead of driving thru like most, we parked and walked (wheeled) thru the tree. Laurel had a great time exploring the hollowed out trees that resembled caves. The park wasn't the most wheelchair friendly, but Kellisa was still able to enjoy herself. All things considered, I'm not sure how you could make a place like this more accessible without ruining the very features that make it interesting. I think the owners did the best that they could, so I would recommend a stop, but caution that wheelchairs can't do/see everything there is and the wheelchair user will probably require some help, especially for the steep road sections (if you decide to get out and explore like we did).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wheelchairs and Hotels

I'm not crazy, it can happen!
Kellisa stays in hotels at least 20 times a year. I always make reservations for a first floor room. That is by far my most important requirement. Two beds is next on the wish list followed by a disabled room. We only stay at non-smoking hotels, so that's never an issue. I can accept a one bed room and/or a non-disabled room. I will not accept a room on any floor except the first.
It's a safety issue. How do I get Kellisa out in an emergency? Yes, I can carry her down the stairs, but I would have to leave her chair behind. What if I had to carry her for blocks or even miles? Could I carry her down from the 23rd floor? I have no desire to test my superhuman abilities. What if I was injured and couldn't carry her?
We often check in late and several times a year we find the hotel has given our room on the first floor to someone else. I make them find a room in their hotel or in another hotel. I feel that strongly about needing a 1st floor room. I'll raise my voice and argue. The desk clerk never has an answer when I ask, "who will come up and get Kellisa if the elevators aren't working?" Although, last month I had a middle aged woman who was working the front desk offer to run up the stairs and help with Kellisa. I thanked her and asked two very important follow-up questions. I asked, "you can carry 80 pounds down 3 flights of stairs" and "what time do you get off of work and will you stay until we leave in the morning or give me the name of who will rescue Kellisa after you leave?" She just looked at me (like I was crazy), apologized for not having my room available and then she called a neighboring hotel to get us a room.
I just watched a program on TV about 9/11 and the Marriott Hotel (above picture) that was in between the twin towers. The program profiled a mother and her adult disabled daughter who is dependent on a motorized wheelchair. They were stuck on the 5th floor because the elevators stopped working after the first plane crashed. They would have died, but two hotel workers were evacuating and found them alone on the floor. Fortunately, the freight elevator still worked and they were led to that elevator. They were able to get out before the towers collapsed on top of the hotel.
I know 9/11 is an extreme example, but it proves that disasters can happen. It just validates my need to always have a 1st floor room when traveling with Kellisa. I'm also reminded of a time there was a false fire alarm in my hotel when traveling for work. I was on the 3rd floor and the elevators automatically stopped running. Another time in South Carolina, I had just checked in to a hotel with Kellisa when a severe thunderstorm rolled through and knocked out the power to the hotel. Kellisa and I were camping later in the trip, so I had headlamps and we were good in our dark 1st floor room. The following morning at breakfast in the lobby, I heard other  people complaining that the elevators stopped during the power outage. A minor inconvenience to most, but a major safety issue for anyone dependent on a wheelchair.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Avenue of the Giants

Humboldt Redwoods State Park
July 20014

Our first stop on the Northern California Coast was Humboldt Redwoods State Park to drive the 31 mile, world famous Avenue of the Giants. We enjoyed the slow pace of the drive with the windows down. Laurel kept saying, "wow, those are huge trees!" and  asking, "are they real?" Kellisa kept shouting, "Ah" (her way of saying dad) as she pointed out her window to let me know that she was looking at the trees. We were in a special place and both girls knew it.
The entire road has two lanes that weave around the massive trees that cast deep shadows on the pavement.
It was late in the afternoon and we couldn't get a campsite among the redwoods, so we had to camp along the Eel River (below). 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ready, Steady, Wiggle!

Florida Theater
Jacksonville, FL
September 6, 2014
I have a feeling that Kellisa will never out grow The Wiggles and I'm OK with that. Watching her have so much enjoyment brings tears to my eyes every time.
Laurel acted like she was too old for the show and didn't want to be there. But, she quickly changed her attitude once the lights went down.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Eye on the Girls

Redding, CA
July 2014

After a few days in Lassen Volcanic National Park, we headed towards Redwoods National Park. I needed to pick up a prescription for Kellisa at a Walgreens in Redding, CA. There was a delay in getting the prescription, so we spent a day swimming at a hotel and running errands. Laurel wanted to help Kellisa in the pool and they had a great time together.
I needed to get a few items from Walgreens, so we went into the store to pick up the prescription. Laurel wanted to look at some little girl make-up that was on an end cap. I was looking at something with Kellisa just around the corner from Laurel. We were less than five feet away, but Laurel was out of my eyesight.
I heard security paged over the speaker in the store to conduct a sweep of the store. I immediately looked around the corner to check on Laurel and she was standing there looking at the make-up.  I was disturbed to also see a man less than three feet away from Laurel just looking at her. When we made eye contact, he turned to fumble on a shelf like he was looking at something other than Laurel.
Laurel was not happy when I grabbed her without a reason and made her leave the aisle. I don't know what a molester looks like, but if I had to describe would be this guy exactly. I kept both girls close the rest of the time in the store and I noticed this guy always hanging somewhat close to us and it never seemed like he had a purpose. I let Laurel get some lip gloss to make up for me grabbing her and we paid for everything at the pharmacy.
As we were leaving the store, we saw the man in the checkout line and he was only purchasing four of the largest containers of Vaseline. With the disabled card, we were parked right by the door and I quickly loaded the kids and we were off before the man left the Walgreens.
I'll never know if he was up to something or if it was just a series of coincidences. From then on, I made sure to keep both girls in my sights. It wasn't always easy since Kellisa likes to wheel off on her own and Laurel likes to assert more and more independence every day.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kellisa's 1st Day of School

Mandarin Oaks Elementary School
Jacksonville, FL
August 7, 2002

Kellisa was able to start at the elementary school when she was 3 years old. Here's two pictures from her very first day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Junior Rangers

Lassen Volcanic National Park
July 2014
The girls became Junior Rangers at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Laurel worked very hard to complete the 7-9 year old program with minimal help. She also helped Kellisa complete her book.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park

July 2014
We enjoyed two days in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Our days were filled with mountain views, lakeside rambles, gazing into boiling mud pools and even a snowball fight in the middle of July!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Southwest Walk-in

Lassen Volcanic National Park
July 2014
We spent two nights camping at the Southwest Walk-in campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The campground is a short walk from the visitor center parking lot with water and restrooms close by. It's almost backcountry camping and a perfect way for us to camp.

Monday, August 11, 2014

States Visited- Laurel

With Arizona and Oregon added in July 2014, Laurel has now visited 26 United States.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Denver Zoo

Denver, CO
June 2014
We had a couple of hours before our flight home and a quick search revealed that the Denver Zoo had Laurel's favorite animal on exhibit...the polar bear. We only had time to see the polar bears and the snake house (Kellisa's favorite) along with a few animals that were between the exhibits.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Estes Park Aerial Tramway

Estes Park, CO
June 2014
We saw a tram (Estes Park Aerial Tramway). Both girls love tram rides.We rode the tram to the top of a mountain to enjoy the views and a quick snack. It turned cold and rainy. We rode the tram back down. Kind of uneventful by our usual standards.

I would like to add that the tram ride and the mountain top were very accessible. The staff was pleasant and accommodating. However, we found the parking lot to the ticket counter and then back to the parking lot to the disabled entrance to the tram a doable struggle.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lily Lake Trail

Rocky Mountain National Park
June 2012

Our last hike of the trip was the nicely accessible Lily Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. 



Thursday, July 31, 2014

Trail Ridge Road

Rocky Mountain National Park
June 2014
We drove Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center so the girls could turn in their "homework" and become Junior Park Rangers in Rocky Mountain National Park. Laurel worked very hard on doing her work herself. She completed the 7-9 year old program. We also found time to enjoy some snow in June. Unfortunately, Kellisa was very uncomfortable because her glasses broke and she had a hard time seeing without her prescription sunglasses. She even had a hard time opening her eyes in the sunlight.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bear Lake Accessible Trail

Rocky Mountain National Park
June 2014

Trailhead Elevation: 9,475ft.
Distance: .77 mile

Bear Lake Accessible Trail was a nice hike on crushed gravel around a beautiful lake with wonderful views of Longs Peak. The trail had a few elevation changes which provided just a little challenge for pushing a regular wheelchair. The girls enjoyed finding a small snowbank for climbing and snowballs. After our hike, the girls wanted to ride the park's shuttle bus.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Karen Kain

Continuing our expansion of Kellisa's Path, we've conducted our second interview with someone who's shared a similar path. This time, we talked to leading disabled advocate and author of A Unique Life Fully Lived, Karen Kain:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Crater Lake National Park

August 2009

It's been almost 5 years since we visited Crater Lake National Park and it seems like a lifetime ago. Actually, it has been a lifetime, Laurel's lifetime. This trip happened 14 months before Laurel came into our lives.