Update 18: June 15, 2007

Scorecard: 420 days; 36,359 miles (Car: 16,485, RV: 19,874); 39 states; 45 National Parks; 17,906 photos.
Forty-five down... One to go

Vacillation. There can be no better word in the English language to describe the Hatfields of late. The first half of the trip was well-thought out, generally on schedule, and almost always to plan. The second half of the trip has been anything but. Of course, things changed for the second half of the trip: We’ve had the small issue of an additional and unplanned participant in our journey; one who has required more care (at the cost of much less sleep) than anything we could have envisioned when we were planning the trip. And there has been the emotional roller-coaster that we’ve been on for the past six months, never knowing if a bad day for Zane meant the beginning of the end. Lately, things have been a jumble of changing itineraries, evolving priorities, and seemingly constant indecision.

The end of the trip has always been an unknown issue for us. During the beginning of the trip, it was easy to ignore the fact that we didn’t have a plan for where to live, what kind of jobs we could get, or how much money we’d have left in the bank. As we’ve gotten closer and closer to the end of the trip, the question of what we’re going to do has become increasingly important, and has added unwelcome stress. It’s like a skydiver whose parachute hasn’t properly deployed. The closer he gets to the ground, the faster he goes. The faster he goes, the more desperate he becomes for some opportunity, some miracle, to present itself and save him before it’s too late. All the while, he’s wondering to himself if maybe he never should have embarked on such a ridiculous endeavor as skydiving. What would have been wrong with just taking up fishing instead? Fortunately, most of the time things work out just fine for the skydiver.

We had always planned to end our trip in Colorado. After visiting Durango for years-- first with friends, and later with Susan-- I knew this is where I wanted to live. Susan agreed. We liked the mountain location, the small-town feel, and the close proximity to skiing, climbing, hiking, and many other outdoor pursuits. So we left Phoenix all those months ago with the vague notion that Durango would be the place we’d settle down. After learning of Zane’s diagnosis in December, however, and finding out how challenging it can be to care for a child with Trisomy 18, we decided we would need to be close to family members instead. Family, after all, provides a great support network and a steady supply of babysitters. So we planned to move to John Day, Oregon, where my parents and my brother live. With a population of less than 3000, John Day boasts a single traffic light, regular skeet shooting competitions at the fairgrounds, and not a whole lot of what we were looking for. But, my family is there, and we decided that we would make sacrifices for the benefit of little Zane. To that end, I decided to join my dad’s woodworking business, and we even started the process of looking for commercial space to start a storefront. We had seemingly settled the issue of what we would be doing after the trip.

But as we traveled with Zane, and as we thought about our new lives in Oregon, we came to realize some things. First, we found that Zane really wasn’t as much work as we thought he’d be. Sure, his feedings every three hours were becoming a grind, but we knew that after the trip he would be getting a g-tube that would allow us to use a pump to feed him through the night. He wasn’t developing at the pace of a healthy baby, but he was still hitting milestones and outliving the terrible T18 statistics. We knew that things like climbing and skiing would be difficult to do with Zane along, but since we’d adapted to traveling and hiking with him, we felt like we could adapt our other outdoor activities to work around him, if not include him to some degree. We also came to the realization that John Day wasn’t really where we wanted to live. So we modified our plan, and decided that we’d move to Oregon for a year to be close to family and help with my dad’s business. After that, we could move to Durango and get on with our lives.

So it was that we arrived in Durango over three weeks ago, passing through from Mesa Verde National Park, on our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park. We thought that while we were in town, we should at least look for some property to buy, in order to have a place to come back to next year and build a house. A place with ten acres might be nice, or at least five. But property had become expensive, so we looked at smaller parcels in the one-to-three-acre range. And then we started hearing horror stories about exorbitant building costs, and things like having to blast to be able to get in driveways and septic systems. So our plans changed again.

As our short stopover in Durango lengthened into its second week, we revisited our latest plan, the one that had us living for a year in Oregon before moving to Durango. The biggest advantage to going to Oregon was that I’d have instant employment working with my dad. But since we’d decided that we didn’t need to have family around for Zane, employment was the only reason to move there. Skeet-shooting notwithstanding, having a job wasn’t enough to excite us to move to John Day. Durango was where we really wanted to be; why not just move to Durango at the end of the trip and be done with it? Our plans changed again to accommodate our new direction.

We spent the rest of our three-week stay in Durango looking for existing homes, putting in an offer, backing out of the offer because of issues with the septic system, looking for more homes, and finally putting another offer on a house. As of this update, we have a contract on a house, the bank is working on our loan (no jobs and a year gap in employment have not dissuaded them from financing us), and we just had a favorable home inspection. Our latest plan, the one we now support enthusiastically, has us moving into our new home in mid-July. Our days of vacillating are over.

For now.

We have one more national park to visit before we can officially end the trip. The next couple of weeks have us selling the RV, visiting my family in Oregon, closing on the house, and moving all of our things to Durango. We plan to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the next couple of weeks, or if that proves to be too much driving in conjunction with our Oregon visit, we’ll do it immediately after we close on the house. At that time, our long, fantastic journey will finally be over.
Great Basin National Park: May 17-20, 2007 (Location 83 on the Map)

Covering almost all of Nevada, half of Utah, and parts of California, Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming, the Great Basin is what the name implies: a huge area that drains internally, trapping all water that enters as rain or melt water. Great Basin National Park preserves part of that area, plus 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, the Lehman Caves, and the many 5000-year-old Bristlecone Pines that inhabit the higher elevations.

Susan and I each visited Lehman Caves, albeit in separate shifts so someone could watch the boys. Highly decorated with an impressive variety of stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstone, popcorn, and shield formations, I found this to be my favorite cave of those we visited on the trip. Susan, however, wasn't as impressed. It's funny that we can see the same thing and have such different opinions. In part, it might have been that we didn't get to visit it together, and we think that the uninspiring guide Susan had may have helped form her opinion.

We attempted a day hike to the Bristlecone Pine forest. With Susan carrying Zane, and with Justin on my back, we spent most of our time post-holing in knee-deep snow and fighting not to topple over with our charges. We finally got smart, headed back for a clearing in the snow, then I hiked unencumbered on my own to the end of the trail to get some pictures.

It was a great visit to an impressive, if somewhat unknown, national park.

For photos from Great Basin National Park, Click Here
Mesa Verde National Park: May 21, 200 (Location 84 on the Map)

Having visited Mesa Verde a few times in the past, we made quick work of our visit here this time. Zane helped. On one of the self-guided tours we took, Zane, who had just eaten, threw up all over Susan and the Rebozo. It's another one of those great things about being in public with children; in this case, people milling around, looking at structures from the turn of the first millennium, trying to absorb what it was like to have lived in such a time... while ten feet away a baby wails. Susan made a hasty exit to diffuse the situation, and we spent the rest of the time looking at the cliff dwellings from the drive along the top of the canyon.

For photos from Mesa Verde National Park, Click Here
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP: May 28, 2007 (Location 85 on the Map)

This was the second time Susan and I visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We saw it briefly during our month-long road trip in 2003. At the time, we vowed to return and hike down into the canyon and possibly climb one of the long walls to get back out. Little did we know at the time that our return trip would be with two little ones in tow. At least we have an excuse when people ask us why we didn't go down into the canyon. At 2700-feet deep, it would have been an impossible task to do it with Justin and Zane. Instead, we took the easy way out and just visited the overlooks along the rim.

For photos from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Click Here
Great Sand Dunes National Park: June 3, 2007 (Location 86 on the Map)

Our next-to-last national park coincided with a cold and blustery day. Although the sand dunes are huge, and the park itself has miles of backcountry wilderness to explore, we did what most people do here: drove to the end of the road to explore the dunes with 100 of our closest friends.

To access the dunes, you must first cross Medano Creek, which during our visit wasn't more than ankle deep. We tried out Zane in the Snugli for the first time. Since he still can't hold up his head, I gave him a helping hand. But either the cold, the wind, the upright position, or a combination of the three had him crying in protest, and I had barely started crossing the creek before deciding to turn back and take Zane to the car. Susan and Justin continued across the creek and got to play in the dunes for awhile. Zane and I hung out in the car, where, with an absence of all possible culprits, Zane quieted down and spent his time talking to the sweatshirt he was laying on.

For photos from Great Sand Dunes National Park, Click Here

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