Updated: Jan 12
5 January 2023 - Ukrainian Christmas Eve
As I sit here, a few hours before flying back to Colorado to spend the holiday with my siblings, I'm reflecting on what's past and what is yet to come. For the 2022 half of my parks challenge, I had dreamed about five adventures that truly excited me, that had a 'WOW' factor filling me with anticipation: the Bridge Walk at New River Gorge; hiking to the remote Leconte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains; biking with buffalo in Theodore Roosevelt NP; circumpedalating Crater Lake;
and riding a mule at Grand Canyon's North Rim.
Plotting out 2023, I've identified another five with even larger 'WOW' factors: dogsledding into Denali; staying with a native family in American Samoa; rafting Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands; working side-by-side with a ranger in an Arctic park in Alaska; and kayaking in the wilderness at Lake Clark (AK) and/or Isle Royale (MI).
However, four of those five are at serious risk of not happening as planned. I'm well aware that working with the ranger has never been guaranteed – I must apply to the Voices of the Wilderness program and get chosen (though I have taken steps to increase my chances). The winner will be decided in March, leaving me guessing until then.
I can certainly do the wilderness kayaking – but doing it alone makes me very nervous. Hopefully I will find a friend or relative that will cast their lot with me,
making it an even better adventure.
I talked with one of my Kenai Fjord outfitters in Alaska yesterday,
who couldn't give me any good news. “If you were up here today, your snow-cat tour would be a no-go. We're getting rain right now.” He did say that he expected conditions to improve soon... and Denali is further north (and inland), so I assume dog sledding will still be on.
And then I got news yesterday that took the smile from my face: at this time they have closed down the Homestay program in American Samoa, a casualty of the Covid pandemic. Native families are hestitant to host travelers from afar. I had planned on that trip in February, after seeing the Hawaii parks, but now must consider postponing until this summer. The park ranger said they would like to restart the program, but they have no timetable to do so.
So I continue to plan my trips as best I can. Alaska is scheduled and reserved, and I've begun plotting out Hawaii – I already have plane tickets to Maui in hand. I hope for Florida in March – and assume that Dry Tortugas is open again, since the government closed it temporarily after boatloads of migrants landed there. (Boy, I just can't catch a break!) Then Utah (and Cataract Canyon!) in April...
As I look back on 2022, I can name five adventures that ended up far greater than I had dreamed (only one of which had made the 'WOW' factor list). Getting lost in Congaree with Sandy/Clark in May will always remain at the top of my list of what adventures really are.
The magical day visiting Fundy NP in Canada still brings a smile to my face.
Experiencing Fern Canyon and seeing the Fingers of God in Redwoods NP redeemed the California trip after so many plans had fallen through.
And my timing at Grand Canyon – seeing the spectacular scenery as the clouds pushed througn – exceeded my hopes for that park.
But the adventure that may have topped them all was getting 'adopted' by Effie on the train in Cuyahoga.
Far more people have read that blog post than any other the whole year - nearly 200 views. To celebrate the holiday season, I sent my new 'adoptive mother' Effie a Christmas card to celebrate the season. A few days later, I got a message via the blog site:
Hello Glen, I am Effie Chapman's youngest child. I was on the train the day you guys met along with my 3 siblings. We actually learned that day that Mom had lymphoma. She passed away August 9th. As you know she was 95, she really had a great long life. Thank you for thinking of her this holiday season. Best of luck with all of your adventures!
Rest in peace, Effie. You were a very special woman, and I'm so glad you chose to spend some of your final birthday with me.