My heart ached as Shelly slowly backed up the stairs to the bedroom. Her pain was palpable. A few tears trickled down her cheek. She had just arrived home from her seventh knee surgery. This one was different though. At age forty-six she required a partial knee replacement. Her doctor was reluctant to do it because of her age. She had little choice. When she walked she experienced bone-to-bone pain. After several weeks of recovery and physical therapy she returned to work. We all hoped that the worst of her knee problems were behind her.
Shortly after her surgery, Shelly developed a passion for photography. Whenever she and my sister had a chance, they were out together shooting photos. I noticed that she had an eye for nature. She much preferred photographing the natural world. Flowers and mountains were never late for an appointment she told me. Nature, unlike people, didn’t complain. She longed to do more. Our busy lives made it difficult to get away. We she mentioned her desire to take photos for a living, I scoffed. Impossible I thought.
In February 2013, Shelly and I were working out at a local gym. While Shelly was on the treadmill, she felt a shift and a sharp pain in her knee. We feared the worst. Her doctor told her that the adhesive in her titanium knee had given away. She would require a full knee replacement.
Her recovery went well. She was given the okay to return to work in May. Everyone wondered how long she would be able to handle the physical rigors of nursing with her bionic knee.
She not only handled the pain and frustration, she thrived with her new knee. Slowly she returned to a normal routine. The swelling went down and her pain subsided. She embraced photography and accepted the physical demands that outdoor photography demanded. Everyone that watched her was inspired by her progress.
Still, both Shelly and I had doubts. We wondered how long knee number two would last. Given the possibility of future limits on her movements, Shelly resolved to live the life she wanted to while she still had the opportunity. Our National Park tour was born from this imperative.
While we were touring the National Parks, Shelly lived outside of her comfort zone. It wasn’t just because of her bum knee. She experienced tarantulas in the shower, snakes in the outhouse and bears on the trail. She made hikes in Virginia and Alaska that would have challenged younger experienced hikers. She embraced living without the day-to-day conveniences she was accustomed to having. That she agreed to live in a small camper for a year shocked our sons (me too–her idea). Her passion fueled our 59 National Parks in 59 weeks adventure.
I understand that I was the face of our journey. I don’t deserve that recognition. I got lucky on social media and with a few news outlets. Shelly deserves all of the kudos. She inspired me to carry on when I thought about quitting–both before we started and during our travels. This was her trip. I was only the driver. We hope you enjoy our story.