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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. 

Everglades National Park:
Kellisa added "bike rider" to her list of hobbies when she received this trike as a gift from a generous retired couple:

It had been a dream for several years to attempt the 26.2 mile Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range just outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico. I finally got enough nerve and registered for the 2009 event. The march was the first Sunday of Kellisa's spring break week, so we decided to make it a family trip. We spent a day sightseeing in El Paso before the march. Lisa and Kellisa were awesome supporters during and after my completion of my first Bataan Memorial Death March. Lisa had to return to work the day after the march. Kellisa and I stayed the rest of the week to explore three national parks- Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, and Big Bend. 

El Paso:

Bataan Memorial Death March:

Guadalupe Mountains National Park:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park:

Mini-Golf (Whites City, NM):

Big Bend National Park:

Davis Mountains:

Kellisa started playing baseball in The Jacksonville Miracle League:

Kellisa went bowling with her friends several times:

Kellisa danced in another recital:

We started the summer with a long weekend trip to New England with the goal of reaching four state highpoints. Kellisa and I flew to Manchester and a few hours later we were at the base of Mount Washington, a mountain known for it's fierce weather. You can hike, drive, or take a cog railroad to the top. Since Kellisa loves trains, the cog railroad was the obvious choice. All the routes to the summit stop just short of a rocky scramble to the actual highpoint. I wheeled Kellisa as close as possible and carried her the rest of the way.

After reaching the top of Mount Washington, we drove to the base of Mount Mansfield, the highpoint of Vermont. The summit is not accessible, but I was hopeful that I would be able to push Kellisa to the top anyway. We found a narrow wooden platform running through dense brush at the start of the summit trail. Unfortunately, it was too narrow for Kellisa's chair and we had to abandon our summit hopes. All was not lost in Vermont, we drove to one of the few accessible portions of the Appalachian Trail and hiked to a nice waterfall viewpoint. 

Lisa and I had completed the process to be approved as foster parents with the intention to adopt. We were spending most evenings searching the many galleries of foster children waiting to find their "Forever Family". Even though we were fairly specific in the type of child we were looking for, we were still submitting on multiple children most weeks without any success. It was hard not to feel attached after looking at a child's picture and reading their profile and feeling like you'd be a perfect match. 

After months of submitting on dozens of children, we got our first response. We submitted on a boy from Oregon and our family was chosen along with another family for consideration. I had to pull off to the side of the road for three hours after our Appalachian Trail hike in Vermont to participate in a conference call with Lisa (back in Jacksonville) and the social worker assigned to our family in Oregon. We had to confirm we were still interested and provide additional information before the worker explained the next steps. We couldn't help but get excited at the idea of having a little brother for Kellisa. 

If selected, we would have to drop everything and fly to Oregon for a week to start the process of adding this boy to our family. We were advised that it would probably be easier if Kellisa wasn't there in the beginning. Since Kellisa is not a normal child, it wasn't easy coming up with a plan, but we did. (Thanks Aunt Jo!)

Mount Greylock, the highpoint of Massachusetts was next on our itinerary. We had to pull over for a couple of hours so I could have a conference call with Lisa and our representative in Oregon.

Next was a drive to Jerimoth Hill, the top of Rhode Island. We arrived in a light rain and it was getting dark. A little wet, we were excited to reach our 2nd  summit of the day.

Because we didn't spend an afternoon hiking to the top of Vermont, we had a few free hours at the end of our trip. A brochure at our hotel pointed us towards Block Island. We went mainly for the high speed ferry to/from the island, but we were surprised to find hills, cliffs, and wildlife as we walked around the island. It turned out to be a true highlight of the trip.

A date was set for a week later for the three person panel to choose the forever family for the Oregon boy. We did not have to be present for the meeting and our social worker represented us and called as soon as a family was chosen. The worker didn't hesitate in breaking the news, we were the "back-up" family. The decision was made by a three person panel. Each family received one vote for selection and the third was on the fence. Both families were strong possibilities in his mind. However, the other family had two teenage sons and the deciding voter thought they could be more of an influence on the boy than Kellisa. We were devastated. Our agent tried to offer a glimmer of home by explaining that we would automatically be chosen if for some reason the first placement didn't work. That bit of information didn't lessen the devastation.

We spent the 4th of July weekend deep in the Okefenokee Swamp:

By coincidence, we had planned our summer vacation for August in Oregon. We had a cabin booked in Crater Lake National Park for months. We were going to spend a week in the Portland area before driving to Crater Lake. Two months had passed between losing our little Oregon boy and our vacation. I had given up hope for adopting a child. Lisa still had hope.

We had an amazing 10 days in the beautiful state of Oregon:

The Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only legal access to the shores of Crater Lake. I knew if we were traveling across the country that we would want to hike down to the lake, enjoy the boat tour, and take a swim in the blue waters. I called ahead to talk to a ranger about the trail conditions because the website states something about wheeled devices not being allowed on the trail. The ranger told me that strollers and wheelchairs are not allowed on the trail. I tried explaining our experience and that I needed help in planning our hike. I was advised that we could be arrested if we attempted the trail. We not only attempted the trail, but we completed the hike to the bottom and back up to the rim without incident or any arrests.

By 2016, the park advises that the Cleetwood Cove Trail is not recommended for wheelchairs. In our minds, that's a long way from not allowed with a threat of being arrested. One huge victory and I'd like to think we played a role.

The 1.1 mile (one-way) Cleetwood Cove Trail with an 11% grade as it drops 656 feet to the shores of Crater Lake.

Kellisa had a few days left to her summer vacation. We were on a pretty good highpointing roll, so we decided to knock-off a couple of the remaining highpoints in the Southeast. We flew to Nashville before driving to the highpoint of Mississippi. After reaching the top of the "Magnolia State", we drove to Cheaha State Park, home to the highest point in Alabama before flying home from Birmingham.

Left- Woodall Mountain, MS (807ft. Right- Mount Cheaha, AL (2,413ft.)
Kellisa played her second season with The Jacksonville Miracle League in the fall:

Kellisa as a skeleton for Halloween:

I turned on my computer one day to see on my home page that Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) was going out on tour. At this point, Miley was still appropriate for Kellisa's age group. I did a quick search and was disappointed that she wasn't playing Jacksonville on this tour. Her Chicago date jumped out at me because I knew we had a long weekend scheduled for Chicago and her concert was two days after we were scheduled to leave. I realized that the tickets were going on sale in only 8 minutes and I knew all her shows would be sold out in a few minutes. I didn't have time to check with Lisa or see what our flight options would be before I tried getting   tickets.   I   knew  from  past experience that it would be nearly impossible to get tickets anyway. My very first click at exactly 10am went through and in a matter of a few more seconds, we were the happy owners of three seats on an aisle in the 8th row. 

We spent Thanksgiving on Paynes Prairie, FL:

Enjoying a Jaguars game in December:

Our Christmas Card Photo for 2009:

Kellisa was on her Christmas break from school and I had a couple of vacation days to use or I would lose them. We had a good year highpointing and we decided to keep up with that theme. We flew to Philadelphia and I was concerned at what we saw as soon as we wheeled off the plane. The airport was in full panic mode. I didn't check the weather before we left, but quickly learned that a historic blizzard was about to hit the Mid-Atlantic.

As soon as we got in our rental SUV, we headed to Ebright Azimuth, the summit of Delaware which some consider one of the most dangerous highpoints to reach because you have to cross a very busy intersection to reach the geological marker. Besides cars, we were now dodging the impending snow storm. 

After our successful ascent of Delaware, we drove towards the highpoint of New Jersey, very simply named, "High Point". The first wave of snow was falling and the temperature was dropping swiftly as we reached the top of the Garden State the following morning. 

We left New Jersey and drove towards Mount Davis in Pennsylvania as the blizzard started to really intensify. As we drove near the Flight 93 Memorial, there was a small break in the snow, but not the plunging temperatures. Kellisa wheeled through deep snow using brute force to position herself in front of an American flag and placed her hand over her hard. My tears of pride froze to my cheek. 

The record snowfall for the region ended overnight and we were still holding out hope to reach the top of Mount Davis and maybe even Backbone Mountain in Maryland too. We drove as close to the highpoint of Pennsylvania as possible and were turned away by country roads with huge snow drifts not yet plowed. 

So, we did the next best thing. We stopped at an old time ma and pop hardware store because we saw plastic sleds through the window. Kellisa picked an orange snow sled and she absolutely loved her first time sledding in a hotel parking lot in Pennsylvania followed a second day on the snow in West Virginia.

With thousands of flights canceled, I was worried we wouldn't make it home on our flight. This was significant since we were scheduled to arrive home late on December 23rd. This meant any cancellation would make us late for Christmas Eve and possibly Christmas day. I knew and holiday tradition missed would significantly erode Lisa's overwhelming support for our adventures. We only had one option. We pointed the rental SUV towards home and started driving. 

We made it home for Christmas:

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