Journey of Hope: Day 39

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Miles to Date: 14,516 // States Visited: 47 // Towns of Hope Visited: 19

The day started with a surprise, and ended with “It wasn’t the curves. It was the proximity of the trees”! What an amazing day!

Leaving Barstow, CA, my first scheduled meet-up was about 250 miles away in Paso Robles, CA. Along the way is a National Historic Landmark that happens to be a very cool railroad engineering marvel called the Tehachapi Loop. The loop is in a rather remote area a few miles off the highway, in Keene, CA. When I arrived, there was one car parked on the side of the road, and I noticed its occupant waved to me. I thought it was probably a rail fan that was happy to see someone else visiting the site. When I parked and got out of my car, he did as well and started walking towards me. It was then that I noticed his T-shirt with reference to Bile Duct Cancer, and I realized it was someone that had come to see me on my way through the area. I was blown away! It turned out to be Anthony Leal, whose wife RayeAnne, recently passed away from cholangiocarcinoma after a five-year battle. Anthony said he made the trip from Bakersfield, on behalf of RayeAnne and to support the Journey of Hope. Although an emotional experience for both of us, it was very uplifting to me.

From there, I made my way to Paso Robles and the home of Bekki and Jason Slater. Bekki underwent a live donor transplant last Fall, at the University of Chicago. Bekki had great things to say about her surgical team, led by Dr. John Fung, Joining Dr. Fung were Dr. Baker, Dr. Barth, and a team of other brilliant minds. Bekki’s sister, Kelli Herrera, was her live donor. Kelli donated 70% of her liver to Bekki and moved her whole family to Chicago with Bekki’s family in the midst of Covid-19. On many accounts, this was an inspiring visit. The strength, love, and commitment by an extended family to make that happen is amazing!

After another few hours, I made it to the home of Tom (Warrior) and Roxanne (Caregiver) Leitzke in Santa Cruz. This was my second time along the Pacific Ocean in the last five weeks, and it was beautiful once again. They say Santa Cruz is where surfing came to the U.S. mainland in 1885; by three Hawaiian princes. This is commemorated in an old lighthouse at the Santa Cruz surfing museum. The museum sits on a bluff overlooking a great surfing location known as Steamer Lane. Let’s just say this location is not recommended for beginners!

Tom was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in 2007 and has gone through many challenges in his 14-year battle. Even so, he continues to maintain a positive, thankful outlook on his life and for those who also face the same difficulties. He and Sarah had great respect for each other and the way they approached their personal situations. Tom produced a great graphic work about Sarah and the Journey of Hope, which I am proudly carrying back home with me. Thanks, Tom, for producing this great piece and for the wonderful fruit tart. I’m glad I had more than a sliver!

Tom had warned me in advance about the late Sunday afternoon beach traffic awaiting my departure from Santa Cruz to Cupertino. He wasn’t kidding! There is no easy way out so I reconciled with this and tried to make the best of crawling along on CA 17. I was in for another surprise. After a while, my GPS led me to a back road that took me away from the crawl to the best road I’ve been on the entire journey. At one point I questioned whether I’d had a memory lapse since I didn’t remember any signs indicating I was on a one-lane road. Well, it turns out it wasn’t a one-lane road. It just happened to be the narrowest two-lane road I’ve driven in the U.S. Adding to the excitement were the redwood trees strategically placed at each twisting curve. It was awesome! I haven’t had that much fun on a road since driving in Cornwall, England. The only difference is that in England, the roads are bordered with foliage covering 500-year-old stone walls that are within arm’s length of the car’s mirrors. Love it!

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