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Day 2 in Yellowstone was quintessential Yellowstone in virtually every way. Rebeka and I slept in – we’ve just been trying to stay on Pacific time, so after a leisurely morning, we headed out to drive the loop up to Mammoth Hot Springs, around to Tower-Roosevelt, and then complete the loop through Canyon back to our camp at Madison.

Our first stop was to check out Gibson Falls.  Absolutely stunning.

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And, look, someone wasn’t being all cheeseball on me for a photo op. But she had her souvenir baby bison named “Tatanka” who accompanied us on our tour.

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After that we stopped at the Norris Geyser Basin, which was absolutely incredible in a different way than what we saw in the Old Faithful area the day before.  A lot more trees and stark contrasts of the landscapes.

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And, if you heard the story where a person fell into a Yellowstone Hot Spring and his body was dissolved in 24 hours, well, this picture below is the location of that fateful incident, also known as Pork Chop Geyser.

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That, kids, is why you stay on the lovely boardwalks.  And, it helps to take your baby bison piggyback for the walk.

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The Norris Basin was incredibly fascinating in the variations, and overall a lovely, albeit warm, hike that day.

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After our tour of the Norris basin, we hit the road and headed up to Mammoth Hot Springs.  My motivation on taking this loop on this day was concern for my finger.  While I was happy with my wilderness first aid skills, I knew my cut was pretty bad, and there is a Medical Clinic at the Mammoth Hot Springs area.  My plan was to change my dressing, assess the status of my injury, and if needed go to the medical clinic.  But, first, we had to check out the area.

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It was amazing, again, in how different and unique this area was compared to the other hot springs we had previously visited.  And, another no cheese picture.

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After touring all the sites, getting some ice cream, watching Elk in the middle of the activity in the Mammoth Hot Springs visitors center area, I investigated the finger.  I was finally able to get steri-strips on it, and decided that was sufficient instead of stitches (and I felt embarrassed to go into and be, hey, I was a bonehead).  Then we got Rebeka’s Junior Ranger patch, which I failed to get pictures of, and then headed back out on the road.  We took the Blacktail Plateau Drive, which offered stunning views and a magnificent bull elk in the distance.

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And, I am a sucker for pictures of the bison.  I just am so impressed at their mass and the striking contrast of this bull against the green was beautiful to me.

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Of course, the wildflowers were beautiful too.

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After we stopped and saw the petrified tree, which I shared in an earlier post.  Then we headed off back to the campground with grand plans of enjoying another campfire, roasting marshmallows, and relaxing after a fair amount of driving.

Overcast skies quickly turned into a thunderstorm, which Rebeka was enjoying.  As we headed up Dunraven Pass, the intermittent sprinkles turned into heavy rain, and as we were heading down the pass, the rain turned to hail and Rebeka started to panic about sliding off the road.  The poor girl, as much as we  have driven in snow, the heavy rain coupled with hail was something she is not accustomed, an the ruggedness of the pass coupled with the weather was too much for her sensibilities.  However, we both survived, and made it to the Canyon area and were happily on our way back to camp.

Now, take a moment to look at the map below, including the distances between Canyon, Norris and Madison. Remember, our campground was at Madison.

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We approached the intersection at Norris to turn to head out to Madison, and the traffic was backed up a good 1/2 mile.  Okay, it’s the summer peak season, it’s the evening, everyone is heading back to their lodging for the evening, like us.  So, we make it through the intersection, turning toward Madison, get up to the speed limit for about a mile, and then bumper to bumper traffic at a complete stop.

There we sat, not moving forward, and intermittent oncoming traffic.  I contemplated turning around and going around through West Thumb and Old Faithful, the loop we did the day before, but I knew that would take us a couple hours.  So, there we sat, occasionally moving a few hundred yards or so forward.

We continued to sit.  And sit.  And sit.  Finally, an hour or so into our wait (I’m thinking there must have been an accident, so eventually it will clear and traffic will begin moving again), we hear from a passing oncoming vehicle that there were bison in the road causing the traffic delay.  Okay, well, so that’s causing the backup, how bad can it be, right?

Remember, I said to pay attention to the mileage – that is because we got caught in a “Yellowstone Traffic Jam.”  Yes, something similar to this:

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Photo credit http://tvblogs.nationalgeographic.com/2012/05/14/greetings-from-yellowstone/ng_untamed-2661/.

Yes, that is not my picture, because we were HUNDREDS of cars behind the bison traffic, but I envision it looked something like that, as the bison moved between Norris and almost all the way to Madison.  The 14 mile section of road took us – wait for it – 4.5 hours to drive.

At least along the way, I was able to snap some pictures of the sunset.

 

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When we made it back to our campsite, it was late.  It was cold cut sandwiches for dinner and straight to bed.  As I said to Rebeka, we went bison speed that evening.  She didn’t find it funny until the next morning.  But, those Yellowstone traffic jams are no joke.  I heard stories of them before, but I didn’t imagine that we’d get stuck for over 4 hours in one.  Sure did make some pretty awesome memories though.

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A Day of Firsts

So, neither Rebeka nor I have ever visited Yellowstone National Park.  We pushed it to Idaho and about an hour from the West Yellowstone entrance.  We got up bright and early to make the push to Yellowstone.

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We made good time, and seeing the entrance station was exhilarating.  Our first day in the park definitely got off to an amazing start.  We entered around 8:15 a.m., and we were almost immediately greeted with our first wildlife experience.

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Rebeka as beside her self looking at the elk and the babies hunkered down in the shadows of the trees.  You can imagine the squeal of Rebeka saying “BABIES, they are sooooo cute!”

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At this point, it was too early to check into our campground at Madison.  Instead, I decided to head down toward Old Faithful and just see what we got to see during that day.  To say the least, it did not disappoint.  We did the whole loop from Madison, down to West Thumb, back up to Canyon, and back to Madison.  It was a full day, but we squeezed in a lot for our first day in the park (though, of course there are dozens of stops along that loop I still want to go back and do).

However, as we are heading down the road we encounter our first Bison, or the goofy person in me who kept saying “Tatanka.”  As we watched the Bison, I observed this mother down by the river with her calf and she then leaned in and gently began to groom it.

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The mass of these animals is awesome.

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And, Rebeka decided it would be her mission to be silly or goofy in every picture.  But, I nevertheless try.

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Not long after our bison encounter, off in the distance we see our fist real glimpse of the hot springs and geyser features.

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It was incredible as we approached and then joined the giant crowds to go take a walk a about at Upper Geyser basin, which did not disappoint.

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Rebeka was not a fan of the sulfur smell or getting sprayed with geyser water.

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After walking the loop, we headed off down the road.  I was going to stop at Midway Geyser basin, but wholly crowds batman.  So, we kept on our way to Old Faithful and vowed to get back to Midway in the future.  We have to leave things for our next visit, right?

After getting to Old Faithful, we stopped, put some air in the tire (its looking like we have a very slow leak on a tire) lucked out on an amazing parking spot right near the Visitor’s Center, and then made sure to get Rebeka’s Junior Ranger book and started straight away on touring the sites there and working on her Junior Ranger requirements.

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And Rebeka’s mission to be a goofball continued.

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Oh yah, and her stuffed Elephant, Sugar (?) came on the tour with us.

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And probably the oddest moment of the day is we’re walking the path, and I am standing next to a couple older ladies whom I overhear pointing at some stuff on the ground next to a hot spring, and one lady asks “what is that?”  Her companion friend replies “Oh, I think that’s a fungus.”

This was the “stuff”:

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Was it wrong of me to laugh (inside of course), or should I have been a kind person and corrected them and told them, no ladies, that’s POOP!

Besides poop, there were other beautiful features out in the basin loop, like these lovely wildflowers.

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And the hot springs and geysers just continued to be amazing and awesome.

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Then, according to my plan, while we were out it was time for Old Faithful to go.  Much to Rebeka’s surprise, we had a great view, away from the masses of people.

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After enjoying Old Faithful we continued on our way, and past one of my favorite features of this stop:

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After Old Faith and its many friends, we continued on to West Thumb for another tour of hot springs and geysers.  Somebody was rather excited to get out of the car and walk again.

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One of the really interesting features of the West Thumb area is the presence of geysers within Yellowstone lake.

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And, I couldn’t pass by a picture of Emerald Pool.

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After a tour of the West Thumb geyser basin, we headed off on the road again, as it was starting to get late and I knew we had some time and miles to compete the loop and get back to Madison and check into our campground.  But, of course we had to stop and observe another herd of Bison.DSC_0272

I love how their coats shed.

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We finally get back to the campground and start to get settled.  Rebeka wanted desperately to have a fire and roast marshmallows.  Which we accomplished.

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However, not without incident.

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As I was splitting kindling into smaller pieces, I got distracted by a little one, and not looking combined with a very sharp instrument spelled near disaster for me.  I got myself really good.  So good that I contemplated trying to figure out how the heck I was going to get myself to get stitches.  But, I’m stubborn and it really would have been a massive inconvenience to try to get the camper popped down, gear loaded back up, and off to medical help.  My mad backcountry first-aid skills came to hand, and after what felt like forever (because it really was), I got bleeding under control and wrapped the bad boy up and then called it a day.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it’s a doozie, but I was able to get steri-strips onto it the next day, and while it’s going to leave an ugly scar, but, again, made first-aid skills came to my rescue, I don’t think I hit a tendon (which I was initially concerned about but who needs to bend the tip of their finger, right), so onward we go.  And, kids, this is why you always have a good first-aid kit in your gear.

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Tuckered

It has been an amazing couple of days.  We are finally back into cell range, at least for the moment.  It is late, it was a long day driving, and it is softly raining outside.  Honestly, I don’t know if there is a better sound than rain softly tapping on the roof of a camper.

It is midnight and I’m finishing a glass of wine as Rebeka is fast asleep in the bed.  My camera is in the cab of the truck, so the following snippets will have to do until later, when I’m energized and have more time.

Guess where we have been:

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Here:

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And here:

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And here too:

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Drove along witnessing this:

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And managed to get here before dark.

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Stay tuned for a full update in a day or so.

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I’m Back . . .

Kind of.  The past several years have been an interesting ride.  Maintenance was supposed to be some point in life where everything was smooth, you found a groove, and just road out the end of treatment to the end.  Our experience was anything but smooth.  Then, being out of treatment has been its own challenging experience.  Honestly, I don’t know how to describe how f’d up Chet and I have felt the past few years.  In treatment we held it together because we had no choice.  Out of treatment has been a crazy weird, unsettled, dark time.  I have often heard people say that parents of cancer kids suffer their own post-traumatic stress disorder.  I don’t know what PTSD is like, and I don’t know if what Chet and I have felt and battled is that, but I know we have both struggled greatly once Gabe got out of treatment.  It’s been hard.  But, we’re three years out of treatment, Gabe is doing amazing, and I think we are finally, and I mean finally, finding ourselves again.  We are finally getting back into things we used to do and love.  We are figuring out our new normal.

But, here I am again.  Rebeka and I are taking a road trip.  We hit the road today and our first destination is going to be Yellowstone National Park.  We pulled a long haul today.  Traveling across Nevada, I don’t recall in my life seeing the state look as green as it is in mid-June or as much water.  Carson Sink is just full of water, the rivers are flowing well, and there is standing water and just lushness.  It is amazing, and I am so grateful to be doing this trip.

Rebeka and I have made it well into Idaho (and pretty darn close to Jellystone, I mean Yellowstone).

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So, tomorrow we will hit Yellowstone for a spell before heading off for the next adventure.  Stay tuned as we travel around the country, camping and road trip’n again – like we used to, and like we love to do.

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Western States 100 mile endurance race is this weekend and Chet will be running it for the second consecutive year.  It is also the second consecutive year that they have had a snow course (I’m going to save my opinions about the snow course for face to face discussions). But snow courses aside, Chet’s going to run it again.  Honestly, if he hadn’t gotten the Silver State Striders lottery spot and he wasn’t running this year for Gabe, he’s probably not run States this year.  The course changes just don’t suit his personality.

But, he is running and he’s running for Gabriel.  If you’re interested in sponsoring Chet’s run, we have a runner sponsorship program in place.  You can sponsor Chet (or any other runner/cyclist/athlete) that you know for an event.  We’ve set it up as a per/mile sponsorship, for example a friend of ours is being sponsored by his sister-in-law at 50-cents per/mile he runs at events.  If you’d like, you can obtain the form by clicking this link: Sponsorship Form.

Chet’s running three 100-mile races this year: Western States 100 (this weekend), the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (July 16-17) and the Bear 100 (September 22-23).  This year each mile he runs, each step he takes has a different significance than in years past.

Stay tuned!  I’ll post a couple updates from the event this weekend.  Unfortunately, due to the course changes, I won’t be able to meet Chet until Mile 55.  Assuming that all goes as planned, I’ll see Chet at Mile 55, Mile 60, Mile 80 and the finish.  Stay tuned!

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FORE!

As you know, at the beginning of May, we were blessed with a fundraiser put on by some good friends, the Troska’s.  It was a great day, and what was awesome was the fact that Gabriel was able to attend.

Gabriel got to see one of his pre-school friends, Anika, and it was awesome.  He was so thrilled to see her.

It was amazing, so many of you, our friends and family showed up in support of Gabriel.  I can’t express still how grateful Chet and I are are for the support.  Not only was the physical presence of each of you a gift, but the financial support was incredible and exceeded anything we could have imagined.

It was just awesome that Gabriel was able to hang out with his boyscout buddies for a little bit.

Rebeka even had a blast!

Thank you again to everyone who came out for the event.  We cannot express in words how thankful we are to each of you.  And, a tremendous thank you to Eric and Melanie for putting together an amazing event and for giving of themselves.

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Today has been a day of reflection.  The past two weeks have been incredibly difficult emotionally on Chet and I and today we lost a part of our being as Chet’s parents left to go home.  The difficulty with seeing them leave was compounded by the other challenges which we have faced this past week.  Tomorrow Gabriel heads back to the clinic for another intrathecal chemo treatment, a blood transfusion and a checkup.  It is such a blessing that we are here at home for a period of time and not having to make any trips to Oakland for the next couple of months.

Looking back, it’s been a roller coaster of a ride.  I know I couldn’t possibly expect it not to be, yet the whole experience is just overwhelming right now.

The last several days I’ve been thinking about things the plans our family had for ourselves before Gabriel was diagnosed.  Simple things, going with Chet to races, going over the hill to Auburn for training runs.  Me and the kids doing fun things while Chet and his friends ran.  Going to see movies.  Gabriel being a part of his Cub Scout troop.  Me making a beautiful cake for the Blue and Gold Banquet for the Scouts.  A long weekend or even the week camping and hiking for Gabriel’s spring break.

Yet, December 22 brought all those plans to an end.  Looking back, particularly as we come to what would have been spring break, my heart feels sorrow and loss.  Not only for me, but especially for Gabriel.  The fortunate thing is that he doesn’t fully comprehend all that he has lost.  Thank God for that.

Gabriel’s counts have again plummeted as a result of the ARaC chemo.  His hemoglobin has dropped so much that he has really been suffering the side effects.  When his hemoglobin tanks like it has, his mood becomes erratic and he just bounces between energetic and tired.  But, the kid is incredible, despite having extremely low hemoglobin counts, he has been out chopping wood.

It just blows me away how amazing this kid is.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to spend time with him, you understand what I’m saying.  He has so much charisma.  He has taught me so much about being strong.  And, he serves as the most amazing role model to his little sister.

I mean, check her out wielding that ax.  She’s just awesome, like her brother.

One of the many blessings and things that we are thankful for is the fact that at least Gabriel has a sibling.  As lonely as as isolating as this has been, at least he has had someone to play with.  It is just awesome to experience his strength and perseverance.

In the grand scheme of things, I know that this is not permanent.  I know that he won’t have cancer forever.  I know that in just a few more months we’ll be in maintenance and at that point we’ll have a lot more normality to our life.  And, honestly, I am so looking forward to that.

Ohh, and I realized that I have totally forgotten to give an update on the last spinal tap at Oakland Children’s.  If you recall, I shared how we were informed that there was a bit of a concern that there may have been leukemia cells in Gabriel’s spinal fluid.  Well, we got the word at Chet and Gabriel’s last visit that there was absolutely NO SIGN OF CNS (central nervous system) INVOLVEMENT!!!  Yes, that’s three exclamation points! Getting the news that Gabriel was clear of any cancer in his central nervous system was huge.  I cannot express what a huge relief it was to us.

However, despite the highs and lows of the past three months, there has been one thing that has been consistent and comforting to Chet and I, and that has been our faith in God.  As trite as it may sound, we truly believe that there is nothing that has been laid on the path before us that is not without a purpose and that we will not be given the tools to overcome.  Absolutely there are days where I don’t feel as though I have any more emotional or physical capacity to handle one more thing.  There have been many times where both Chet and I have felt that we have been on the verge of being at a breaking point.  Yet, despite having some of the most challenging experiences I think many people will ever experience, we’ve been given able to pull through.

This journey is far from done.  In fact, we’re still more than three years from the conclusion of this adventure.  But, every day affords us the opportunity to grow as a family, learn more about ourselves and others and gain a much greater appreciation for all the blessings that we have been graced with.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Right now I am just looking forward to Gabriel’s counts rebounding in a few weeks so we can take a long weekend and go camping.  Who knows where we’ll end up – it will partly depend on the weather and our whim at that time.   Tomorrow is a new day, and it will be a glorious one (assuming it doesn’t snow here tonight).

 

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