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.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Pushing Where Wheels Weren't Meant To Go

Colorado - September 2004

While Hurricane Francis was hitting our home in NE Florida (we lost some tree limbs and gutters), we were hiking a rugged trail in the mountains of Colorado. This was Kellisa's second hike on a trail not meant for wheelchairs. The hike was extra special because we were hiking with some of Kellisa's aunts, uncles, and cousins. We gained invaluable experience and confidence on this hike. 

Photo on right by Cindy Bucher

Everglades Winter

We spent a couple of days in January 2009 exploring Everglades National Park

Long Weekend in New England

June 2009

New States for Kellisa:

New Hampshire
Rhode Island


Mount Washington (NH)
Mount Greylock (MA)
Jerimoth Hill (RI)

Our first objective for this trip was the top of Massachusetts. We had two options to reach the summit, an auto road and a cog railroad. Since Kellisa loves trains, the decision was an easy one. Kellisa (Right) wheeling around with Mount Washington in the background as we wait for the cog railroad.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Day in El Paso

El Paso

March 27, 2009

We landed in El Paso around noon after spending an unexpected night in Houston because we missed our connecting flight due to bad weather which caused us to circle above the Bayou City for two hours. After gathering our baggage and selecting the rental car, we found a great Mexican establishment for much needed refueling before an afternoon of fun. 

After lunch, we headed to the Wyler Aerial Tramway in Franklin Mountains State Park. While on vacation in Gatlinburg, TN a couple of years prior, we learned how much Kellisa loves ski lifts and trams. 

Juniper Springs

Juniper Springs Campground
Ocala National Forest, FL

July 2013

Laurel became very interested in tent camping. I had hoped to take the girls to northern New Hampshire for a long weekend of camping in a forest with a high concentration of moose, but that plan didn't work out. I didn't want to disappoint Laurel, so I took her on a 3 day, 2 night father/daughter tent camping trip in Florida, in July. We were extremely fortunate as the temperatures topped out in the low 80's and we didn't have a single drop of rain!

As soon as we picked a campsite, Laurel helped to scout out the best location for the tent. Once she picked a good spot, I let her get the tent out of the car. The stillness of the central Florida jungle ended when I heard Laurel screaming. I looked back to see that she had fallen into the fire pit with her legs in the air and the back of her head against the metal fire ring. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Dark Forest

Sunset - Juniper Prairie
Juniper Prairie Wilderness
Ocala National Forest

January 3, 2006

Two friends, Amber Peck and John Parker from Gainesville, FL leave for a backpacking trip to Hidden Pond in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness in Ocala National Forest.

150 miles away, a 19 year old male wakes up in Largo, FL and decides he wants to know what it's like to kill someone. He boards a Greyhound bus headed to Ocala with a concealed AK-47 in a duffel bag. While in Ocala, he purchases camping gear before taking a taxi to the Juniper Prairie Wilderness.

January 4, 2006

Just outside the Juniper Prairie Wilderness area, the young man from Largo hitches a ride back to Ocala.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Lake Erie Circle Tour

November 7-11, 2008
804 Miles Driven

New York - Ontario - Michigan - Ohio - Pennsylvania - New York

Kellisa had a couple of days off from school and I had a few extra vacation days that were not scheduled. That combination can only mean one thing: time to get out the Rand McNally Road Atlas and plan a trip. Driving around each of the Great Lakes had been on my mind since our July 2008 vacation to Sault Ste. Marie. The greatest "Circle Tour" is around Lake Superior. However, we did not have the time for Lake Superior. We did have time to circle around Lake Erie, the fourth largest of the Great Lakes. Lake Erie also happens to be the 11th largest lake in the world.

It was decided we would fly to Buffalo. I know it was Novemeber, but it was early in the month and I was hoping for some mild weather, you will see from the pictures that the weather was freezing, even by northern standards. It also snowed everyday of the trip, including more than 12 inches one day.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Kellisa's First Kayaking Adventure

Lake Oneida
UNF Campus- Jax, FL

March 2007

Grandma was visiting from Chicago and Lisa wanted to visit the outlet malls in St. Augustine. I asked Kellisa if she wanted to go shopping with mom and grandma or go out and have fun with dad. If she picked shopping, we wouldn't have a blog entry. To this point in time, Lisa did not allow me to take Kellisa kayaking...something to do with the 1,000,000+ alligators that call Florida home. Oh yeah, and they view kids as meals. Lisa asked what I had planned before leaving and I claimed I did not know yet.

As soon as they were out the door and around the corner, I loaded the kayak on the roof and packed the Pilot with all the gear we would need for an afternoon of fun. We had to make a quick stop to buy Kellisa a PFD. I knew I was risking serious trouble, but I had kayaked 32 miles across the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and had several kayak trips to the Everglades on my resume. I was 100% confident in my ability to take Kellisa kayaking and return her home without serious incident.

I selected Lake Oneida on the campus of UNF because I was familiar with the area due to hiking the trails surrounding the lake on several occasions. It was a small lake, so we would always be close to land. Plus, it was a popular campus with students always within shouting distance. The hardest part of the trip was getting a 65# kayak, all the gear, and Kellisa in her travel wheelchair to the edge of the lake to start the adventure. 

Not surprising, Kellisa absolutely loved kayaking!

Monday, April 3, 2017

1996 Chicagoland Flood

An Illinois record was set on July 17 and 18, 1996 for rainfall in a 24 hour period. A total of 16.94 inches fell on the southwestern suburbs of Chicago, including Bolingbrook. About the only time we got lucky with our house in Bolingbrook was during this flood, our lot was actually high and dry. A part of me thinks we might have been better off if the house had flooded.

The entire area around our neighborhood flooded. Only high clearance vehicles had a chance of getting out of the flood zone. Lisa made it to work with our Isuzu Trooper. I stayed home with my Honda Civic and documented some of the flood in the pictures below.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

God's Acre Healing Spring

God's Acre Healing Springs
Blackville, SC
September 30, 2009.

"The water from these artisan wells is said to have mystical healing powers."
By nature, Kellisa has mystical healing powers. You can read more about Kellisa's early days here
If you look at where Kellisa started and how much she has achieved in 10+ years, it's beyond comprehension. I give Kellisa all the credit for her unrelenting determination to fight through the challenges of her life. Kellisa has always had a large circle of doctors, specialists, nurses, therapists, teachers and aides that continue to help her stay healthy (by Kellisa standards) and reach her full potential in life.
Recently, I became interested in alternative methods that might help Kellisa. I really don't know what I'm looking for or hoping to achieve. All I know is when Kellisa does reach her potential, I want to look back without regrets. I want to know we did everything possible to help Kellisa.
While conducting a Google search for these alternative methods, I came across Healing Springs in South Carolina. I read historical accounts as well as more recent reports of the water healing everything from poison ivy to arthritis to cancer. The springs are only four hours from Jacksonville and I decided to make a trip the next time I was working in the area. Within two days of making this decision, a customer that I hadn't had any contact with for over a year called and requested a jobsite inspection in Myrtle Beach, SC. I would be within one hour of the springs...was it meant to be?
Would this water help Kellisa? Myself? I must admit having parents die early scares a person about their own life expectancy. Based on my parents, I would have less than 15 years left to live. I figure I could use all the help I can get. And Lisa? Would this water help heal her nagging ankle and/or chronic back pain from lifting Kellisa? What do we do with this water? Drink it? Wash with it?