Well, I did it!! I made it to every national park unit in the entire NPS system. All 419 of them! A dream 4 years in the making. A dream I set for myself during a dark time when I didn’t know what my future held and how long I’d have to enjoy it. And it saved my life.
I’m not just being dramatic. This journey really did save me from … myself. Cancer at 34 years old is a blow to the gut. It knocks the wind out of you and makes you feel like you’re treading water to survive. At first you’re just going through the motions of treatment, learning how to cope with a new normal but feeling empowered by all the love and support. Care packages and encouraging words from friends are a daily thing. I had a few hard times but generally got through chemo and radiation like a rockstar. Everyone called me a “survivor” and when the treatment plan was finished, I was set on my way back to regular life. But as time went on, I started to feel like I was just waiting around to die. That the cancer was not gone and it was just a matter of time. And then it happened. Stage 2 became Stage 4… uncurable.
Now I am a believer. I believe God has a plan and purpose for me and He works ALL things for His glory, even stage 4 cancer. But I am human and I struggle with fear and doubt. I believe God knew I needed this journey and He ignited in me such passion and determination to see this through, that the only way I am standing here today with 419 national park stamps in my book is because God intervened. And what a way to do it! Every day I woke up not thinking about cancer, but of my next national park adventure! What glory would God reveal to me on my next trip? Which American story would change my perspective on life and influence me to press on in hopeful purpose instead of wade in despair.
How curious. Why not just take the cancer away? We’ll never know, but that doesn’t mean God is not still with me. He may not take away my trials but He gets me through them. And this journey helped me take back what cancer was trying to steal from me. The best years of my life. My hope. The ability to look forward to my future. To have excitement and passion for a life filled with new experiences. To have gratitude and moments of wonder. I never feel closer to God than when I am in nature in our national parks. I never feel more overwhelmed with gratitude. And not just nature. The many historical sites and monuments remind me that even in times of sorrow, God’s presence, love, and purpose can be found.
I’ve never felt that more than when I visited the Underground Railroad sites. Harriet Tubman’s courage, tenacity, and faith in very dark times transformed our country’s story. The adversity and hardship she faced did not stop her from changing lives and giving glory to God through it all. We are changed for the better because of people like Harriet Tubman and her journey. The National Park System protects and preserves these moments in history so we can continue to learn and be inspired.
It took me 4 years, 2 months and 26 days to complete this journey. Most people take many years, even a lifetime, to accomplish a goal like this. When I started it, as far as I knew the cancer was gone. Treatment worked and I truly was the “survivor” that got to ring the bell after the final chemo infusion. But inside I had this pressing need to keep this dream moving. To not waste any time. What if I don’t have the time? Is that fear or realism? Surely a bit of both, but fear was such a struggle for me then. And you know what? God did not punish me for it. He helped me anyway. He opened doors, nudged me into specific travel windows and with specific people. He created opportunities for me to work remotely so I could afford to travel and continue on this journey. He plotted my path and kept me one step ahead of all sorts of near-disasters, emergencies, and disappointments. There are many times I’ve looked back and said…wow, I know that was you God!
Now I can’t just talk about travel when I discuss deep life-changing experiences that have brought me through this season of life. Truth is, I have more reasons than my next road trip. For one, my loved ones. The two littlest ones in particular – my niece and nephew, Olivia and Archer. These two crazy kids get me excited to wake up and plan adventures with them! How blessed I am that they joined me for their FIRST national park, and my first park with them.
And for another, I live for God! I live to serve Him and his people. Documenting my travels has been a way for me to share with you the absolutely wondrous place our world is. And it was a way for me to share my faith in God’s promise – that he has my back! God wants to give us the desires of our heart. He has plans to prosper us and not harm us. He wants us to have JOY and ENJOY life. It is a gift. We should not waste it. And we should not hoard it. If you have blessing in your life, share it!
I am looking forward to one of my next adventures – helping kids and families experience the National Parks. The parks have made such an impact on my life. I want others to have the same joy and adventures. I am currently navigating the best way to further this mission. One of the ways is to support The National Park Foundation’s initiative “Open Outdoors for Kids”. Please check out the program here and consider making a donation! Many schools and families are unable to afford family trips, camps, and field trips. Kids needs health, food, and shelter but they also need to be inspired and have joy. Join me in supporting a cause that impacts young lives!
Now that I’m done with this goal, I look back at all that I’ve been through and I don’t feel the same crushing fear and sadness that I had. Instead I feel gratitude. Whatever comes next, and even if fear creeps back in, I can hold onto this epic moment in my life where I LIVED. If you’re reading this and you take away anything from my story, take this – trust God, be grateful, and live life to the fullest. However God inspires you to do so. Don’t waste another minute. The time is now.
– The Time Traveler