Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hoh Rain Forest

Olympic National Park

August 2017

The drive was long, very long from Bremerton, Washington to the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park, but it was a beautiful drive.

After checking out the visitor center, we didn't let a "No Wheeled Devices" sign stop us from enjoying a short trail through the forest with several bridges over amazingly clear water with baby salmon swimming.

On our return drive, we made a side trip up Hurricane Ridge. It was a little too late for a hike and the visitor center was closed, but we did have a perfect viewing spot as the moon rose for the evening.

Olympic was Laurel's 23rd and Kellisa's 29th national park visited.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ride Rainier 2017

July 2017

Mount Rainier National Park

Kellisa loves being outside and on a trail, but she is always the only one on wheels. We've been known to fly and/or drive crazy distances for the right trail. Therefore, it was a no brainer to drive up to Mount Rainier National Park for a hike with other wheelchair users once we found out about the Ride Rainier 2017 event from a FB friend. 

Kellisa always lights up when we are getting ready to start a hike. It usually takes some time at the trailhead to get everything just right and Kellisa sits there with a huge smile and will let out an occasional giggle as she waits to start a new adventure. Her pre-hike excitement lit her up several notches that I didn't even know she had once she saw many other hikers at our trailhead who were also in wheelchairs. She was with her "peeps" and she knew it. Besides the extra excitement, I could see Kellisa also felt a sense of belonging as she was clearly more confident, verbal, and out going during the entire hike.

We are so thankful for the opportunity to share this experience with others on wheels (and their friends and family too) and hope to join our new friends on future hikes!

And for those keeping track, Mount Rainier National Park was Laurel's 22nd and Kellisa's 28th national park visited.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Crater Lake National Park

July 2017

We spent an afternoon exploring Crater Lake National Park. It was Laurel's first and Kellisa's second visit to this beautiful national park. We spent a week at Crater Lake back in 2009. With this visit, Laurel has now visited 21 national parks and Kellisa's total remains at 27. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Kellisa Reaches 18

Lisa Marie Kain
May 23, 2017 - Kellisa's 18th birthday! A huge accomplishment and cause for us to be proud as we celebrate her life to this point. I've been agonizing about my post for this day since I was at a loss for a narrative. Lisa came to the rescue and for the first time in this blog's history, Lisa has written a post about this day and our gift of flights to Kellisa for her birthday.

Lisa's words:

On May 16th, we spent an entire day flying around the country to celebrate Kellisa's 18th birthday. 

By now, you may realize that Chris is a bit extreme when it comes to travel. Several months ago, he started talking with Southwest Airlines (his carrier of choice) about the potential to fly as many commercial flights as possible in one day. At that point, he had been working on the plan for a while but realized he needed their help to perfect the route. They were very supportive. A route was selected, and tickets were purchased. I was informed of this plan after the arrangements had been firmed up with Southwest. Chris knows I do not like to travel and gave me limited information about what the day would entail. When I decided to participate, I told him I did not want to know the specifics because I could not handle the truth. If I had any idea, I never would have gone on this trip, but I am so glad I did.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Colusa County Hike

Wetlands Discovery Trail
Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

May 2017

Even though it was a little hot out, we drove south for another hike after visiting Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Our second hike of the day was a short trail in Colusa National Wildlife Refuge which happens to be in Colusa County. 

Before hiking, we drove the auto tour to observe just a few birds (disappointing) and a couple of glimpses of Sutter Buttes, the smallest mountain range in the world.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Glenn County Hike

Wetlands Walk Trail
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

May 2017

CA Counties Hiked in 2017: 4/58

Lisa was in Chicago for a long weekend visiting family, so we decided to drive north a little ways to look for wildlife and hike a few trails. Our first stop was the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. After driving the auto tour to observe many birds, we hiked part of the Wetlands Walk Trail. It was very hot for a May afternoon and the views played tricks on our minds as we could see snow capped mountains not that far off to the north and west. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hiking California Counties- May Update

O'Neill Regional Park- Orange County
May 2017 was all about Kellisa's 18th birthday, from her cross country "day of flight"  to posts summarizing her first 18 years. It's also a chaotic time of the year as school for the girls winds down with talent shows, dances, and other end of year festivities. In the middle of all that, Lisa flew back to Chicago to spend a couple of days with family. 

While Lisa was away, we managed to hike in two new Sacramento Valley counties in Northern California bringing our total to 5 counties hiked in 2017. We ended May with a Memorial Day weekend trip to Southern California to visit family. I was hoping to hike in at least 2, if not 3 counties on the trip, but Laurel wasn't feeling well when we attempted to hike a trail in Orange County and waited in the car with Lisa. We did not attempt any other county hikes and Laurel has been a little down on the idea of hiking lately. Not sure what that means, but it may add a challenge, if not a change to our 2017 goals. Full posts with pictures from the Sacramento Valley coming soon.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Yesterday and Today

Below are some pictures taken in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of RUSH Hospital in Chicago shortly after Kellisa was born on May 23, 1999. We recreated the pictures to have some fun while celebrating her 18th birthday on May 23, 2017. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Promise Fulfilled (2016)

Our family would relocate from Jacksonville, FL to Sacramento, CA in 2016 for my job. Our plan to move at the end of the kid's school year was changed when Lisa accepted a position that started in mid-January. 

After spending many New Year's Days exploring the Okefenokee Swamp, we spent the first day of 2016 at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.

We were driving Lisa's van to California over the long holiday weekend and chose a route that went through Oklahoma so Laurel could claim a new state visited and knock off another state that both girls hiked together.

As a micro-preemie, I promised Kellisa that we would visit all 50 states by her 18th birthday. Later, I would expand the original promise with the addition of both girls hiking at least one trail in each state. In fact, with Kellisa's 18th birthday less than 18 months away, 2016 was mostly filled with our move, getting settled, and hiking in the remaining states. 

After Oklahoma, the girls had 11 states remaining to hike together and by Thanksgiving, after visiting Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa, Illinois, Hawaii, and Alaska, that number would be zero!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sweet 16 (2015)

The little girl who wasn't suppose to survive more than a few hours at most turned 16-years-old in May 2015. Kellisa endured 22 surgeries, countless seizures, and too many medical appointments and tests to count or even make an educated guess before arriving at her milestone birthday. 

Kellisa's first wilderness experience happened on January 1, 2000 with a walk attached to mom's stomach at Blue Springs State Park, FL. 15 years later, to the day, we returned to the park for our first outdoor excursion of the year. We stopped at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge the following day on our drive back home.

Left & Middle- Blue Springs State Park   Right- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Forever Sisters (2014)

Lisa was in the final stretch of completing her master’s degree and needed as much peace and quiet in the house as possible. I knew it would be easier to travel with both girls than to try and keep them quiet in the house. 

Laurel not only wanted to join her sister on her adventures, but it had become clear that Laurel also shared the same passion for travel, hiking, camping, and wildlife observations.

As the year started, I was entertaining the idea of hiking a trail in all 50 states with both girls during the 2014 calendar year. 

I was in the early planning stages when we went on our semi-traditional hike in the Okefenokee Swamp on New Years Day. It's interesting how the girls can fight in the backseat as we're driving down the road, but as soon as we hit the trail, they are best friends and love each other. Laurel loves to help Kellisa by pushing her and she even has a great ability to get Kellisa more verbal than usual and has a knack for teaching her new words. Kellisa really responds to Laurel in the wilderness and enjoys it when Laurel pushes her. She really cracks up when they hit a rock or root, I think she thinks it's Laurel doing it on purpose and she's probably right, at least some of the time.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Sometimes My Dad Forgets Me" (2013)

After Kellisa's cancer scare at the end of 2012, I wanted 2013 to be a big year for Kellisa. I had the idea of hiking a trail in all 50 states in one year and decided to make an attempt at that goal. 

We started with a 25K race across the desert in Big Bend National Park in January. Kellisa was the first wheelchair finisher in the history of the race. 

Laurel joined us on several hikes, including across an ice road in Voyageurs National Park and a 4.2 mile race across frozen Lake Superior to an island and back in Wisconsin. 

I also took Laurel on a few trips without Kellisa to attempt to keep things fair.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Kellisa's 18th Birthday Tour on Southwest Airlines

I'm sure most people don't travel from Tampa to Sacramento by commercial airlines and purposely schedule 8 stops along the way, but Kellisa is not most people. Kellisa loves to travel by any and all means as often as possible, but flying is probably her favorite. We were in the middle of our cross country move last year when Kellisa turned 17 and didn't really do anything special. Kellisa did have a huge Sweet 16 Adventure  and I wanted to top that weekend for her. Kellisa loves severe turbulence, but I couldn't guarantee a flight or flights with enough turbulence to make her happy, so I thought about how much she loves takeoffs and landings...especially if they're rough. Next thing I knew, I was researching on to see how many segments we could schedule for one day with as few change of planes and tight connections as possible since it's very difficult to transfer and run through airports with Kellisa. I reached out to Southwest for help on routing after spending many hours online and after a few weeks of back and forth emails, I selected the above itinerary because it allowed us to stay on the same plane the entire day. Southwest really came through for us.

Kellisa's stat line for the day: 

Naps- 0   Seizures- 3   Flight Segments- 8   Hours on Plane- 20 1/2   Total Awake Hours- Exactly 24

Much, Much more will be released about this day in the coming days and weeks!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

5 Years? (2012)

After three surgeries in 2011, Kellisa was able to go another year without a surgery. 

We started the year off on the 1st of January with a day trip to the Okefenokee Swamp followed by a
few local hikes, and Kellisa's first driving lesson in a golf cart.

Top Left- Chasing Laurel (Okefenokee Swamp)   Top Right- Julington-Durbin, Jacksonville, FL   Bottom- Golf cart driving lessons, Peace River, FL

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Where Can I Find A Hammer?" (Autumn 2010)

Lisa received an unexpected phone call in October. “We know you’re only interested in school age children, but would you be interested in a 16-month-old girl?” 

They needed an answer immediately. I was out of town on business when Lisa called. Without hesitation or much discussion, we agreed that we were interested. I was still out of town the next night when Lisa called and asked where she could find a hammer. Lisa needed the hammer to build our crib, just in case were we chosen as the family for this little girl. Instead of saying, “You don’t need a hammer to build the crib,” I told Lisa where to find a hammer. I also figured we had zero chance of getting the girl.
The next evening, less than 48 hours since we received the first phone call and more than two years since we started the process, we had a beautiful little girl in our home. I advised Lisa not to get attached because a finalized adoption was not guaranteed. I listened to my own advice for maybe 20 seconds. My heart immediately melted as soon as I looked into Laurel’s eyes. She was my daughter! 

After being an only child for more than 11 years, I'm not sure how much Kellisa understood and she definitely had no idea how much her life was going to change. Kellisa wanted a sibling. In fact, when we were at wishing wells, Lisa would give Kellisa a coin and she would throw it in the water while shouting, "Baby". She wasn't good at keeping her secret wish contained, but sure came true!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Evanescent (Spring/Summer 2010)

We continued submitting on children into the new year without and success. We were lucky if we received an email with the subject, "Your Submittal Has Been Received". 

Our first trip of the year was during Kellisa's spring break a week after I completed my 2nd Bataan Memorial Death March. The first weekend was also Easter, so we spent a few days in Texas visiting family before Lisa went home and Kellisa and  headed for a week in the Southwest. While in Texas, we went for a nice hike at Brazos Bend State Park where we enjoyed its abundant birds and alligators.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thriving Spirit (2009)

The Okefenokee Swamp, the Land of Trembling Earth.

One of our all time favorite places to explore and we tried to start each year off with a visit. January 1, 2009 was no different and it would set the pace for what would become Kellisa's most adventurous year by far. 

Kellisa had out grown even the largest baby jog strollers and we broke two frames on a jog stroller made for special needs children. We needed a new solution and after many hours of research, we purchased a WIKE. The chair looks awesome and offers a ton of weather protection, however, it is not built for rugged trails. We still have it and it has its uses, it's just not an all around mobility device for our needs.

We had to go to southern Florida for a funeral in the middle of January which allowed us the opportunity to visit the Everglades over a beautiful weekend when the mosquitoes were mostly under control. Kellisa loves observing many alligators and enjoyed the many miles of trail we explored. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pushing Higher (2008)

Kellisa went another calendar year without a surgery. 

Hannah Montana came to Jacksonville in January. The concert sold out in minutes before we were able to buy tickets. We even tried to buy accessible tickets without success. I couldn’t pull the trigger to buy three tickets together that were selling for thousands online. It was breaking my heart that I didn’t have tickets for Kellisa. Two nights before the concert, I bought three single seats spread throughout the arena for face value on eBay. I didn’t know what we would do once inside, but Kellisa was going to see Hannah and that’s all that mattered. We stopped at the information booth and found a helpful lady who escorted us to the accessible seating areas. We did not see a single disabled child or adult among the dozens of families in the reserved areas. Two families in one of the disabled areas offered to move closer together to allow us a space for Kellisa. The moms would go on to tell us that they bought the disabled seats instead of fighting for regular seats. They were bragging to us and acted like it wasn’t a big deal that they found a loophole in purchasing the hottest tickets of 2008 even though no one in their parties was disabled.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Year Without A Surgery (2007)


2007 was the first calendar year that passed without Kellisa having to endure a surgery.

Kellisa really started to thrive with her new found medical stability. She started taking dance lessons and it was obvious from the start that Kellisa has the heart of a dancer. Kellisa danced in her first recital and she garnered the loudest cheers from the audience during the encore.

We expanded our outdoor adventures beyond trails as Kellisa started kayaking. Her favorite part was helping to paddle and splashing her hands in the water.

Our big summer trip for the year was to the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. We hiked to the rim of Bandera Volcano, deep inside an Ice Cave, the Four Corners Marker, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Monument Valley, and Canyon de Chelly. This was the first trip where we really started pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with a new jog stroller manufactured for larger disabled kids.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Finding Adventure (2006)

2006 started with Kellisa’s 4th surgery in four months. Both hips were dislocated again, requiring another surgery of cutting bones, inserting screws, and hardware. It was followed with the same six brutal weeks of recovery.

After 18 months without a trip or trail, I was eager to get Kellisa back outside. I wanted to push our limits and see what we could do on trails. I even bought the largest baby jog stroller I could find so we wouldn’t have to use her wheelchair anymore. 

We took a family vacation to Arizona for spring break. Our itinerary included the red rocks of Sedona, a few national monuments, and the Grand Canyon. We completed several scenic trails in and around Sedona. The landscape was breathtaking and the rocky ground provided a nice surface for pushing Kellisa. The trails were far from ADA approved, but also far from challenging. Kellisa enjoyed being pushed up and over the rocks on the path.

We gained valuable experience as we hiked one trail in Montezuma Castle, Sunset Crater Volcano, and Wupatki National Monuments.  Each trail had it's own challenges, from rocks, to snow, to elevation changes. I was hooked and I could tell Kellisa was as well from her frequent requests for "more".

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Lost Year (2005)

After a couple real hikes in 2004, I thought 2005 would be our year to get out and explore new adventures. I was wrong, very wrong!

The year started out with a surgery to remove the hardware from Kellisa hips. The six week recovery period was as brutal as the original surgery. Thankfully, The Wiggles were there to help Kellisa through another difficult six weeks.

We attended a Wiggles concert when they played a show in Jacksonville. Kellisa had the time of her life. During the encore, I carried Kellisa towards the stage where she caught the eye of her favorite Wiggle, Murray. She blew him a kiss and he returned the kiss. 

Our entire summer was spent in doctor's offices, emergency rooms, and hospital rooms as Kellisa spent months fighting high fevers again. Just like 2003, the doctors couldn’t find a cause and every scan came back with a good looking shunt. Kellisa’s new Jacksonville neurosurgeon even tapped the shunt early in the process and ruled out any possibility of a shunt infection. The doctors tested for everything, including HIV/AIDS. After several months, the fevers went away as suddenly as they appeared without explanation.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

We Are Hikers! (2004)

I was traveling a lot for work and when I had to spend the week before Memorial Day weekend in Atlanta, I invited Lisa and Kellisa to join me. It was a mini vacation. I could join them for lunch and evening swims after dinner. I started researching hikes with wheelchairs. I found a short accessible trail leading to a viewpoint of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi only an hour from Atlanta. Finished with work, we drove to the trail on Saturday morning.  I was bursting with excitement. I found a hike I could do with Kellisa. It was a beautiful trail and I easily pushed Kellisa to the viewpoint. The waterfall was breathtaking. The endless mountain views were awe inspiring. Kellisa was having fun. This was Kellisa’s first wheeled hike on an accessible trail. I was disappointed beyond belief.

The trail was short and easy. I should have been happy, on top of the world ecstatic, but all I could see were the other trails in the park. The real trails. The trails not meant for wheelchairs. 

We drove to another trail that led to a different viewpoint of the same waterfalls. This trail was the exact opposite of accessible, it was steep, muddy, and full of rocks and tree roots. I became determined or possessed. I pushed Kellisa in her wheelchair up this crowded trail full of weekend hikers gawking at us. A few hikers offered to help, but I needed to get Kellisa to the viewpoint without help. I needed to test our capabilities. Kellisa’s endless giggles provided additional motivation as I struggled, but we made it to the viewpoint. Kellisa was probably the first (and still only) person in a wheelchair to see the waterfalls from this platform.

I declared us hikers!

End of the Roads (Summer/Autumn 2003)

Kellisa wasn’t drinking and her only fluid intake was through the limited food she was eating. There was only so much pudding we could force into her mouth. She wasn’t thriving and required surgery to place a G-tube in the summer. With a G-tube, we would be able to give Kellisa the fluid she needed and prescription formula would guarantee she would receive all the nutrition required to start growing. Of course, Kellisa suffered from complications that required a second surgery to remove the original G-tube and replace it with another. The doctor had been placing G-tubes for 26 years and Kellisa was the first patient to ever require a second surgery. Kellisa was an expert at confusing doctors.

Both of Kellisa’s hips had become dislocated. Her hip bones needed to be cut and put back in place with screws and plates. Even with pain medications, Kellisa was in almost constant pain as she spent most of the six week recovery period lying on a mattress in the middle of our living room watching The Wiggles while moaning in pain and discomfort. There was little we could do for her, except be there to hold her hand, stroke her head, and change The Wiggles videos every 45 minutes.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mom and The Wiggles Save Kellisa (Spring 2003)

Kellisa doing her best to smile for her
school picture while suffering through
 her undiagnosed shunt infection.
Kellisa was slowly dying before our eyes and no one in the medical community was able to figure out what was wrong. 

Kellisa's smile and love of life were gone. She was battling high fevers for weeks. Nothing was bringing her temperature down to normal. She was seeing a doctor every few days and was in and out of the ER and hospitals without any relief. Once again, Kellisa was baffling the doctors. 

From early on, Lisa was convinced it was the shunt. After a CT Scan and MRI, we were assured that the shunt was fine. Kellisa's shunt had been in place for a long enough time that a shunt infection was very unlikely. The neurosurgeon didn’t want to tap the shunt to check the cerebral fluid for an infection because if it wasn’t infected, the procedure itself carried a 2% risk of infecting the shunt. 

One afternoon while Kellisa lay lifeless in a hospital bed, Lisa was changing the channels on the TV and stopped at The Wiggles. Kellisa immediately perked up and started to watch the four colorful singing and dancing grown men for the first time. This was her first sign of life in days. Once The Wiggles were over, Kellisa drifted back to a deep sleep. This pattern continued for days. Kellisa would use her minimal daily energy to watch The Wiggles.

Frustrated and desperate, Lisa demanded that the shunt be tapped. The neurosurgeon eventually agreed and I'm sure he just wanted Lisa to stop asking about the shunt. He stuck a needle into Kellisa’s head and pulled out some fluid. We could immediately tell by the look on the doctor’s face that it didn’t look good. His eyes literally jumped out of their sockets as he watched the cerebral fluid in the tube. Testing wasn’t necessary; he could tell the shunt was significantly infected by the amount of debris in the fluid. The neurosurgeon started preparing for emergency brain surgery.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Bloody Tears (2002)

Kellisa finally went a year without a brain surgery. However, her seizures took a turn for the worse. Kellisa spent five days in the hospital paralyzed after one seizure. The neurologist had no choice but to max out Kellisa’s medications to get the seizures under control. She continued to have seizures, just less frequent and severe with paralysis usually lasting less than an hour.

Kellisa’s eyes were crossed. With everything else, we never really worried about her eyes until her ophthalmologist told us that Kellisa needed eye muscle surgery or she would go blind.  Even with the surgery, we were warned that she could still go blind. We had no choice, we sent our little girl off for another surgery. After the surgery, we were able to see Kellisa in the recovery area. She was so little sleeping in a full size bed. We sat there anxiously waiting for her to wake up and she didn't even cry as she came around. However, she did have a few tears of blood rolling down her face that we weren't prepared to witness. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

84 Cents (2000 & 2001)

Kellisa was up at midnight so she could welcome the new year, 2000 into her life since it was a major accomplishment and reason to celebrate.

Later in the day, we went to Blue Springs State Park about an hour from our home. We saw a sign that swimming was allowed in the spring, but there was also a warning about the possibility of alligators in the water. Florida was still very new to us and the idea to take a plunge on New Year's Day into 72 degree water was appealing to me. 

I handed Kellisa (in a chest baby carrier) and her oxygen cylinder to Lisa who followed along on a trail as I swam parallel to them in the spring run. The water felt amazing on a day with temperatures in the 80s. This was Kellisa's first official hike. Unfortunately, I don't think we took any pictures of this historic day.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kellisa's Path- The First 18 Years

As we approach Kellisa's 18th birthday, we will be sharing many posts to document Kellisa's life from 25 week micro-preemie to 18-year-old. Kellisa's perfect birthday would be an experience instead of gifts and we have quite the experience planned. Although, Kellisa will get a few little gifts to have some things to open. 

Some, but not all, of the stories and pictures we will share in the coming weeks have been included in previous posts, but we have never provided a chronological history of Kellisa's entire life before. It's been a wild ride of extreme valleys and mountaintops and everything in between. Hang on!

We appreciate every second of Kellisa's life and want to share it. Our hope in sharing is that it might provide a little light representing future possibilities to families coming up behind us in the disabled world when the future might appear black. When we were surrounded by fear and uncertainty, the Internet was in it's early years and there wasn't a lot of information for families like ours. We hope to be a resource and maybe even an inspiration. But, if nothing else, we simply hope you enjoy the story. I can say it's been a long and hard path, but it's also been filled with a lot of love, laughs, and adventure!

1999- Kellisa's first year has been written about in three chapters posted previously on this website. You can click here to start our story at the very beginning. Starting tomorrow, we have shorter summaries with pictures scheduled to post every morning covering Kellisa's first 17 years, starting with the years 2000 and 2001.  

Thank you!

Anything is Possible!

May 2017 is a VERY BIG DEAL!!!

Kellisa will turn 18-years-old in May 2017.

Kellisa was born on May 23, 1999 and wasn't expected to survive more than a few hours. And that was based on a full term pregnancy. Lisa and I needed her to survive. I doubt Lisa and I would be alive today if Kellisa didn't survive. Despite being born 15 weeks premature, Kellisa was born a warrior!

In Kellisa's early days when she already lived long past her life expectancy, I often dreamed about Kellisa turning 18 years old. I'm sure I picked that age because it's when your children officially become adults. Like most parents, I had ideas of Kellisa graduating from high school, going off to college, dating, getting a job, and all the other "normal" things kids do on and around their 18th birthdays. Of course, none of those milestones will be hit by Kellisa this month or any other month. I've come to accept those facts over the years even though I'm sure the thought of missing those things will depress me more than once this month and beyond.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mendocino County Hike

No Trail
Smithe Redwoods State Reserve ? 

April 15, 2017

California Counties Hiked in 2017: 3/58

We wanted to hike one last county during our spring break week in the coastal redwoods of northern California, and Mendocino County made the most sense. Looking at the map, it appeared that we would drive right by Smithe Redwoods State Reserve on our way back to Roseville. After looking online, the park seemed like a perfect place for one last hike through a redwood grove.

Not trusting the map alone, I decided to use GPS to guide us to the park. When we arrived according to my GPS, an unsigned side road led into the redwoods. However, it was completely blocked by a temporary orange fence. The road didn't have any signs and the traditional sign announcing the State Reserve was also missing. 

There was a small unmarked parking area not far from what would appear to be the entrance to the Smithe Redwoods and we pulled over to consider our options. Both the map and GPS said we were at the right spot, but the reserve's website didn't say anything about the park being closed for any reason. It was too late to research another plan (Lisa was waiting at home with everything needed to color our Easter Eggs), so we decided to go off trail and hike through the redwood forest in front of us that was calling our names. 

It was the right decision since we didn't see any "No Trespassing" signs because we had the grove all to ourselves. I've written before that hiking through redwoods is one of the best places to push Kellisa because of the total lack of roots, rocks, and undergrowth. It's a pushiking dream! In fact, Laurel pushed Kellisa from start to finish on our hike. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Del Norte County Hike

River Trail
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

April 14, 2017

CA Counties Hiked in 2017: 2/58

Del Norte is a small county in the far NW of California along the Pacific Ocean, a place where giant redwood trees thrive below 2,000ft. due to the heavy winter rains and mild summers. When we first visited the area, we didn't hike in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Instead, we decided to hike through one of the farthest north groves of redwoods in southern Oregon because at that point in the summer of 2014, Laurel had never visited Oregon and the girls needed to hike in the "Beaver State" as part of our Hike in all 50 States Project

The rain fell at a constant rate as we drove along the rugged northern California coast. The road varied from sky scrapping redwood groves to cliffs dropping away to the rocky Pacific far below. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Humboldt County Hike

Owen R. Cheatham Grove
Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park 

April 12, 2017

CA Counties hiked in 2017: 1/58

We knew we wanted to start hiking in all 58 counties in California, but we had no idea where to start as the girls started their Spring Break. It was already getting hot in the southern California Desert Counties, plus those are the farthest and we had a late start to the week off due to Laurel's participation in the 2017 Sacramento Doggy Dash. Most of the central valley counties were flooded from the unusually high amount of rain that has fallen in the last few months and most recreation areas are closed. The Sierra Nevada counties are still covered in snow measured by the feet and rain was forecast for much of the rest of the state during our week off in April. 

We turned our attention to the far northwest of California which is known for it's Redwood Forests. Yes, rain was predicted for every single day, but the temperatures would be reasonable and we knew that we would not have to deal with snow or a long drive. The girls are desperate to go camping since it's been well over a year since we've gone, but with all the rain in the forecast, I decided to get us a hotel in Eureka for the week to use as our dry base camp. 

We had no idea when we picked this trail, but some of you (Star Wars enthusiasts) may recognize the picture above or some of the pictures below as the redwood forest where the famous Speeder Bike Scene in Return of the Jedi was filmed. Laurel was anxious to share this fact with the "boys" at school who love the Star Wars movies. For those interested, we've posted the chase scene below.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Everything but Alligators and Polar Bears

Since we finished hiking in all 50 United States back in November 2016, we've been asked, "What's next?" 

After spending many years on the Hike all 50 States Project, I didn't have a "Next". I was relieved, but also very worn out. Even though I wasn't ready, the girls are always ready for our next adventure.

A lot of people think visiting countries is the natural progression. There are many countries I'd love to visit, but the idea of traveling around the world isn't very appealing to me at this time. When I'd allow myself to think about what's next, I often turned to our neighbors to the north. Canada is beautiful, vast, and remote with tons of wildlife. Everything we love. 

I would need a specific goal and hiking in all of Canada's provinces and territories seems like a great plan and they only have 13 total. Should be easier than visiting 50 states, right? However, when you look at a map of Canada, one thing becomes very obvious, it's a huge country. In fact, Canada is the world's second largest country and you can't even drive to one of the territories. This project seems a little overwhelming...for now.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Avenue of the Giants

Humboldt Redwoods State Park, CA
April 14, 2017

We know from a past trip (July 2014) that photos don't really capture the abundance or great size of the redwoods along one of the most beautiful drives (Avenue of the Giants) that we've ever experienced, so we decided to make an amateur attempt to capture a brief portion of the drive on video:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Roosevelt Elk

Elk Herds
Northern California Coast

April 14, 2017

Both girls love observing wildlife and elk are near the top of their favorites list. For Kellisa, I think she enjoys them because they approach the car without fear and their large size makes them easy to see. I think all the same reasons apply to Laurel as well, plus her initials are E.L.K. which elevates the animals in her mind. 

The elk we saw on this day were part of the Roosevelt Elk that call the area in and around Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park home. We were fortunate to observe the same elk when we visited the area in the summer of 2014. 

We were disappointed to only see a few in the distance in the elk viewing prairie and decided to drive the road to Gold Bluff Beach where we saw a few more close up as they crossed the road in front of us. When we returned to the prairie an hour or so later, it was full of elk and both girls enjoyed an hour of observing in the evening's fading light.

A Surprise in the Road

April 14, 2017 - Fun on the road to Gold Bluffs Beach:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sequoia Park Zoo

Eureka, CA
April 13, 2107

The forecast was bleak, calling for heavy rain in our area for most of the day. There would be a small window of a couple of hours in the early afternoon where mostly cloudy skies with only a 20% chance of rain was predicted. 

We were hesitant to head out on a trail with such a tight window, so we decided to stay close to the hotel and visit the Sequoia Park Zoo. The zoo is small, but its setting among a small stand of redwoods made for an incredible afternoon. 

Judging from the school directly across the street, the local district was not on spring break this week and we literally had the zoo to ourselves. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Because I Still Can

In the last 12 years, I've stayed 947 paid nights at Marriott properties. Most of those nights have been business travel. In addition, I'm sure we've stayed another 100+ nights on points. In all those stays, I've never been disappointed. 

When we travel for fun, I always seek out Marriott locations and will even drive an hour out of our way for the consistency. However, there is a serious lack of Marriott hotels along the coast in the far north of California. For some reason, Marriott doesn't have a single hotel in the entire region.

I was forced to book our stay at another hotel and my requirements were simple, first floor room, non-smoking, and a pool that we could use in 50 degree weather. I'm almost always disappointed when I book other chains (not counting Hilton properties where I stay probably 25% of the time, but Hilton hotels are also missing in the area), but I booked a five night stay at a national chain in Eureka, CA for our 2017 Spring Break trip. We drove for over 5 hours to reach the hotel and the idea of swimming as soon as we dropped our stuff in the room and change into our swimsuits is what got Laurel through the last 100 or so miles. After we checked in, we were told that the pool was down for a week due to a broken pipe. Laurel took it in stride and I would later learn that she was worried that we would go back home if we didn't stay at this hotel. I appreciate her flexibility and honesty.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spring Break 2010

Muley Point, Utah
Utah - Arizona - New Mexico 

We decided to travel a little further in the American Southwest for our 2010 Spring Break trip after spending Spring Break 2008 in Texas and Oklahoma, and our 2009 Spring Break in New Mexico and Texas.

Kellisa and I flew direct to Las Vegas and left the city for Zion National Park as fast as we could. We spent the night in St. George, UT before spending a day hiking around Zion. We hiked the paved trail to the start of The Narrows. This lit a bulb inside my head and we returned to The Narrows a few years later.

Zion National Park is one of the most visited parks in the USA, so they limit passenger cars in the canyon. The National Park Service provides free bus service with many stops. This is great, unless you are there visiting with someone trapped in a wheelchair. We waited like everyone else to board the bus leaving the visitor center. The driver had to rearrange a few people so he could lift a row of seats to have a spot for a wheelchair. He then had to tie the chair down. I didn't hear any direct comments, but I could sense more than a few people were irritated to have to wait a few extra minutes after already waiting a long time to board.

However, things we far worse when we tried to catch a return bus back to the visitor center. Every bus was completely full with people standing in the aisle. In other words, there was no room for us and a chair. After missing a half dozen buses, I ended up pushing Kellisa for 8 miles all the way back to the visitor center. We enjoyed the walk and besides the occasional bus, we had the road to ourselves. This was addressed by the Chief Ranger when we returned by giving us a special permit to drive our rental car along the closed road. Thank you Chief Ranger Cindy!

Spring Break 2009

Chihuahuan Desert
New Mexico - Texas

After finishing my first Bataan Memorial Death March, we spent a day as tourists in Las Cruces, NM. Unfortunately, Lisa had to return home for work. Kellisa and I stayed in the Chihuahuan Desert for the rest of the week and we were able to visit three national parks and one state park.

After we dropped Lisa off at the El Paso airport, we headed straight east towards Guadalupe Mountains National Park where we were greeted by hurricane force winds. The weather limited us to a few short trails. 

We continued on to our second national park, Carlsbad Caverns. Kellisa enjoyed the accessible tour and earned a Junior Ranger Badge. She also played her first round of miniature golf just outside the park. 

After our day in Carlsbad Caverns, we made the long drive south to Big Bend National Park. We found the western Texas landscape to be vast and beautifully empty. Big Bend has rugged mountains, open desert, and the Rio Grande River. From a high vantage point, we watched people crossing the river from Mexico and disappearing into the brush. Signs told the story of 100+ people crossing illegally into the park every day and warning visitors not to help. 

On our way back to El Paso, we stopped for a hike at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens. Our last adventures were in the Davis Mountains where we didn't have much time, but hope to return someday. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sacramento Doggy Dash 2017

Bailey was excited to see Laurel again.
William Land Park
Sacramento, CA

April 8, 2017

We do not own a dog (yet) and this posed a serious problem when Laurel heard a radio commercial many times for the upcoming Doggy Dash. She was very serious in pleading her case that she would be responsible for a dog. Laurel had a lot of confidence in her tone. She even started training for the event weeks in advance. 

Lisa verified that you needed a dog to participate in the event. We are not quite ready to rush into acquiring a dog, so Lisa started to call around to see if we could "borrow" a dog for a day. Laurel was getting a little desperate, she started to ask any stranger she saw walking a dog if she could borrow the dog(s) for the Doggy Dash. As the event approached, Lisa asked around at work and fortunately for us, a wonderful co-worker (HUGE thanks to S and J) agreed to let us borrow her dog, Bailey for the day.

We met them at a park a couple of weeks before the dash so Laurel and Bailey could get to know each other. It went well and Laurel did a great job of working with Bailey.

We were reunited with Bailey an hour before the Doggy Dash. Laurel took her responsibility extremely seriously as she held the lease, gave commands, and rewarded with treats. I think the only thing Laurel was really worried about was having to use a plastic bag.

It started to rain minutes before the Doggy Dash started, but this did not damper Laurel's enthusiasm. She led Bailey around the 2K Course like a seasoned dog owner and as we crossed the finish line, she said holding the plastic bag, "I'm glad I didn't need this".

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Miss Highpointer - February 2013

Back in 2012, the Highpointers Club put out a call for picture submissions for their 2013 Highpointers calendar. They mentioned the several states that up until that point were never featured in a calendar. Among the list was Delaware. The highpoint is at a busy intersection in a suburban residential area without any noticeable elevation changes. The only views are the same as just about anywhere else in suburban America. In other words, it's not the most scenic or photogenic. I immediately looked through our pictures from our 2009 visit and found a nice picture of Kellisa smiling in her travel wheelchair. I hoped Kellisa at the top of Delaware would be chosen for the upcoming calendar and we were all very excited to learn our picture was selected. 

Blizzard of December 2009

On top of Delaware
Kellisa had the week before Christmas off from school and I had a few vacation days left. Our plan was to fly to Philadelphia before visiting the highpoints of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. If we had time, we would also visit the highpoint of Washington DC and I was secretly hoping that we could also drive through Shenandoah National Park. What we didn't know was a major blizzard was going to hit shortly after we touched down in Philadelphia. We had to be flexible since we would only accomplish about half of our goals, but we still had an amazing trip!

Our first stop was Ebright Azimuth, the highest point in Delaware. Reaching 448 feet above sea level, this is the second lowest (behind Florida) of the 50 state highpoints. It was cold, but we completed our assault on the summit before the snow started to fall.

A few statistics from the record setting blizzard of December 2009:

1. The most snow (2 feet) in any 24 hour period in Washington DC.

2. In Philadelphia, the most snow (23.2 inches) from a single storm in December.

3. The storm was 500 miles wide and hit 14 states.

Counting what was already on the ground, drifts, and higher elevations, we were surrounded by 2-3 feet of snow in every direction for hundreds of miles.