Cancer is a hideous disease, striking young and old of all ethnicities, social strata, and gender. To overcome cancer is truly something special, a successful battle that can be cherished not only by the individual who goes to war against the disease, but by everyone in his or her circle.
Gabrielle Sedor is one of the lucky ones who conquered the disease. In her case, childhood was overshadowed by Hodgkins Disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. In 2004, to celebrate 16 years of being in remission, Gabrielle and her husband, Michael, embarked on a journey to visit all of the nearly 400 units of the national park system.
So far, they've been to more than 358....and the journey is continuing.
From their home-base in Pennsylvania, Gab and Michael have logged more than 75,000 miles in their trusty Nissan Altima, crashing with friends and relatives along the way when not pitching their tent in a park campground. The trip, Gab tells me, not only taught the two much about the national park system, but also about themselves and their friends.
"We got to know the family and friends we stayed with better than we ever had," she says. "We hadn't realized how diverse and unique the people in our own circles had been. Spending time with people on their terms, in their homes, in their neighborhoods, really gave us a better idea of who they are.
"That was probably the best part of the trip -- seeing the United States not only from the framework of the park sites but also through the eyes of all of these fabulous and totally different individuals."
To plan this trip, which the couple hopes will show others who have battled childhood cancers that they can lead "a full and adventurous life," the two turned to Triple A, the NPS web site, and Fodor's Guide to the National Parks.
"We also tried to plan seasonally, sticking to the northern states in summer and southern states in the winter," says Gab. "We also knew that there would be limited access to some park roads in the Pacific Northwest so we tried to time that accordingly. We totally botched the seasonal thing when we failed to realize that several NPS sites in New England are only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day."
Which national park unit is the couple's favorite seems to change almost on a daily basis.
"Today, I am going to say Isle Royale. This was the first backpacking excursion of the trip. It was the longest we had been in the backcountry," says Gab. "It was just an incredible, wild place. There were very few hikers on the island when we were there; one day we saw more moose than people. Being at Isle Royale made the trip seem real and convinced me that we actually could do it."
As the miles ticked away during the couple's odyssey, they kept pretty good notes on the national park units they visited. In fact, if you visit their web site you'll find a site-by-site review that Gab admits is not scientific at all and in fact is "completely biased."
"But I think the magnificence of the parks, the importance of the National Park Service, and the need to preserve the lands under their jurisdiction comes through on just about every page," she told me.
Gab and Michael's journey I think is commendable, as well as highly enviable. Check out their site. Try to understand the human toll of battling cancer. And learn about celebrating life to its fullest.