I was so honored to be joined by Karen Harriman and Anna Suter the last night camping. They were with us when Anna finished her mortal life here and they were with me when I finished this campaign. Words fail to express my gratitude to them.
We were also honored to be joined by Todd and Monica Hollar, long time dear friends from Denver. Anna and their kids, Madeline & Ethan, have all grown up, camping and skiing together. They helped me the next day, providing water, love, and support on the big run out of the park. They are incredible friends!
I can't believe this day is here. Today I finish the final National Park. Was it really 268 days ago I started at Mammoth Cave, KY?!? I have so many people to thank for helping me with this journey, but I feel it is important to put that in its own blog entry. So for now, let's get to the beauty and splendor of Rocky Mt. National Park.
RMNP is one of the highest parks in the nation. The lowest point in the park is 7,860 feet. If you are inclined towards altitude sickness, this may not be the park for you, as it goes up to 14,259 feet.
There are 60 gorgeous mountain peaks in this park that are over 12,000 feet tall. Needless to say, it is spectacular and makes you feel like you're on top of the world!
The Continental Divide runs through the park, south to north. We locals divide it into the "west side" and "east side", with Grand Lake being the west side and Estes Park being the east side. I suppose this is because the Trail Ridge Road goes between these two towns and is the main route through the park. The park was mainly formed by glaciers and signs of this construction method are everywhere, if you know what you're looking for.
Let's start the night before on the "west side" of the park where we camped and hiked.
Karen, Anna and I decided to hike in a beautiful meadow that didn't disappoint. This handsome fox was in the parking lot looking under picnic tables for leftovers.
"We interrupt this broadcast for a public service announcement! Please do not feed the wildlife!!! They lose their skills to hunt and in the winter, when the park is devoid of handouts; they inevitably die. That is all; thank you."
It was beautiful hiking through the meadow and trees; very peaceful. We could hear some crashing deeper into the trees and wondered if it were moose or elk, but didn't see anything. It's good to be a little more wary of encounters in the late summer and fall. The bulls are in rut and become extremely testy and will charge if they feel you are intruding into their domain. Trust me you won't stand a chance against an angry moose or elk bull...they are huge!
It was good to catch up with Karen as she had spent most of the summer in New Hampshire. We compared notes of trips to Acadia and the surrounding area and lamented that neither one of us had seen moose. Weren't there supposed to be lots of moose in the northeast? On our way back to Grand Lake to meet Fred, Todd, & Monica for dinner, we saw two moose on the side of the road. We kept a safe distance and got these shots; laughing that we had to come home to see moose instead of Maine and New Hampshire.
We were up early the next morning to start the last day of the campaign. We broke camp, Karen braided my hair, Anna put a zebra bow in the end that she had made for me for the occasion and we were off.
We were only a few miles into the park and spotted this moose with her calf feeding. I'm sorry you can't see the calf, but the only thing meaner than a bull moose in rut is a momma moose protecting her calf...and a momma bear; a momma bear will tear you apart if you get too close.
The higher you go towards Alpine Visitor Center the more spectacular it gets. Leaving tree line there is nothing to impede the fantastic view.
Ta-dah! Top of the world!
It's impossible to see on the photo but in the
green valley part there is a large herd of elk.
Kinda ugly, huh?
We stopped at Alpine Visitor center, which sits on the top of the Continental Divide, to drink in the views, and take care of official business; getting my passport book stamped. The wind and cold are always present here at Alpine Visitor Center! Of course, it is located at almost 12,000 feet. This is officially the alpine tundra ecosystem. It always amazes me that a plant growing at my house (almost 8,000 feet) will be 1 foot tall and the same plant growing on top of the Continental Divide will be only 1 or 2 inches tall. These are harsh conditions for any living thing.
Fred drove me part way down the east side and dropped me off to start the final run. It flattens out here and isn't as hard on your body. My lungs are still fighting infection so it isn't going to be a pretty run, but the scenery sure will be.
About 3 miles from the finish line, Fred pulled me over to replenish my water supplies and check on me. I don't like selfies, but I wanted to get this picture of us together. I couldn't have done this without him staying home and keeping the home fires burning.
At Bighorn Sheep Lakes I was surprised to see a woman cross the road, she hugged me and thanked me for what I was doing. At this point, a ranger comes charging across the road saying I can't be there; it's a non-pedestrian area...cars only. I explained who I was and what I was doing and that his managers had given me permission to go through this area. We discussed the situation a little more and he decided to escort me through the Bighorn Sheep area. As we walked, I got to know him better and discovered he was from Argentina, that his mother died of cancer when he was 16, he went on his own to Israel, and found a family to take him in until he was 18. I was stunned at this young man's story! He had always wanted to be a National Park Ranger in the US. When he turned 18, he made his way to America and became a citizen...and a Park Ranger. I hugged him and told him how proud I was of him and that his momma must be beaming with pride and joy from Heaven at his accomplishments. He hugged me back and said, "My mom would have loved you!" With that, he wished me well, and we went our separate ways.
This was a young ranger just doing his job. There is never any reason to be disrespectful to anyone. If there's an issue, talk about it calmly and more than likely a resolution can be found. You might find you have more in common than you thought and find a new friend.
RMNP is an extremely busy park! Because of that, the park officials had asked me to finish my run just outside the east entrance to the park. I knew there were going to be some close friends and family there, so we arranged a place for everyone to gather. What happened next, bowled me over and took my breath away.
The cars coming into the park were bumper to bumper and barely moving. A young man in a pickup rolled down his window and asked, "Are you Anna?" I was puzzled and said "No, I'm Gil...Anna's mom." He pulls out a poster and hangs it on the side of his truck and starts cheering and honking his horn. Many cars behind him started doing the same thing. The posters said, "You did it, Gil & Anna!"
People in the cars were asking about NET cancer, Anna, and wanting to see Teddy who was in my pack. I thanked them profusely, answered questions, and let people hug Teddy. It seemed like it took forever to get through the last half mile and to the finish...but then it never was about the run.
It was about honoring the wishes and memory of a beautiful, brave warrior named Anna Rose, and 100,000+ NET cancer warriors fighting this battle everyday in a country where hardly anyone has heard of NET cancer. It was about making people aware of an insidious cancer called Neuroendocrine and maybe saving some lives along the way.
The Healing NET Foundation made these posters and Anna Suter, ran up to cars and handed them out so they could cheer me in to the finish.
These are the beautiful souls who came to cheer me into the finish. Awards for coming the furthest, go to Cindy Lovelace, (CEO of The Healing NET Foundation) from Nashville, TN and Ken & Cindy Ertel (leader of the Ohio NET support group) from Akron, OH .
My heart was overflowing with love and gratitude that so many would brave the horrible traffic to cheer me in. There are no words to express what is in my heart other than to say I love you!
"Hope is like air; Love is like water.
Love is all we take with us when we leave this earth,
and it is the most important thing
we leave with those who stay behind.
Shouldn't we be working more on loving people?"
This marks the official end to the National Park Run for Anna Rose and NET cancer awareness. But one never knows where the road of life will take us and so perhaps in the future there will be another campaign or pilgrimage to share with all of you. In the meantime, there will be a Parting Thoughts blog after this one and I will continue blogging about more National Monuments that we visited during Christmas and other things as they arise. Thank you dear readers for coming along on this journey with me. Your interest, love and support have meant the world to me.
With much gratitude, love, and hope,