Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair

2022 Road Trip
From Cape Flattery in WA state to W Quoddy Head in the state of ME, 
then up the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec, following the St Lawrence River
west to the Great Lakes, crossing the border at Sault Ste Marie

This past summer, I took an epic road trip. 6 weeks and 9604 miles. 19 US states and 3 Canadian provinces.  Against the backdrop of the pandemic, we rarely ate inside restaurants, so the final count includes innumerable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, supplemented with many just-add-water meals and not nearly enough French pastries.

From the Pacific Ocean (Seattle, WA)

To the Atlantic Ocean
(Stonington, CT)
in 5 days

What all these states have in common:
Wind turbines in corn fields

The trip was inspired by insanely high plane ticket prices, the death of a much-loved cat, a progressive disease, photos of Quebec's pastry shops, the pandemic, and the inability to decide what else to do.  The six-week trip was goal-posted by medical appointments, and the time frame was held firm by two family gatherings with distinct dates.  Therefore, this was not a leisurely, "explore America" kind of road trip, but rather one in which car travel was a means of reaching the next destination.  

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Maine --
Easternmost point in the contiguous US

Nevertheless, the destinations were spectacular -- family visits in CT and WI, multi-day vacations in Quebec City and Montreal, a respite in an off-the-grid Quebecois cabin, driving the upper Mississippi and the length of the St Lawrence Rivers, and exploring  Yellowstone National Park.  In addition to the multi-day destinations, we designed the trip to meet key geographical markers: the westernmost and easternmost points of the contiguous USA (Cape Flattery, WA and West Quoddy, ME). Even when traveling between destinations, we experienced amazing scenery, visited old friends, and discovered new locations and activities.

The Prius at the eastern-most
point of the trip,
in Quebec
The trip was also a victory for our 2006 Toyota Prius.  Approaching 200,000 miles and questionable operation, the car had already been driven to the Arctic Circle and beyond.  It had also been to the northernmost point of the contiguous USA -- the Northwest Angle of Minnesota.  So, we decided to see if the old car had a little more magic in her.  A mechanic checked her out and added a belt and brakes on Monday; we left on Tuesday.  With the addition of a secondary battery in NH and a new muffler (some dead animal got the old one) in CT, we were able to reach all of goals and complete the trip.

Big smiles at the start
(hopefully at the end, too)
The trip was made possible by a strong and willing husband.  He helped me transfer in/out of the car, put my wheelchair in the car, carry our luggage in/out of the motel rooms, and help me in uncountable ways in motels that were varying degrees of (in)accessible. I realize that not everyone has a "Ted" in her/his life.  For them, I still believe this type of trip is possible; it is simply more challenging and expensive -- requiring an accessible van (or else a light-weight wheelchair that can be lifted into a car) with hand controls, as well as significant and diligent planning to choose a route and lodging that are accessible.  Because of  time and money constraints, we did not have this luxury, and because of Ted we did not need it. Still, I was glad for the independence allowed by my transfer board (actually, I forgot the board, so I stopped along the way and bought an extra-large cutting board, which accomplished the same trick).  I wouldn't mind a portable Hoyer Lift for back-up security (backs do go out!) at some point.

Rain gear on the trail
at Yellowstone

I do not travel light.  Once upon a time, I traveled for a year with a backpack.  That is not now.  We wanted to bring our camping equipment in order to have a cheaper lodging option along the way, but that would have entailed a car top carrier to contain this equipment and countless additional hours of labor to set it up and take it down, so we left it at home.  We tried to take the minimal amount of luggage into the motel each night, but even minimal was a lot, and I was usually just lucky to get inside the room -- leaving one person to do all of the carrying.  Typically, this meant one personal backpack and roller suitcase for each of us, as well as one bag of medical supplies for me.  Unfortunately, because most of the motels we stayed at did not have accessible rooms, we also ended up bringing a lot of equipment to make lodging possible (see next blog). Because of the pandemic, the desire to save money, and the need to save time, we often ate in the motel room, meaning we also needed the cooler and a bag for food, dishes, all of our water bottles.  The rest was left in the car.

I dream of a van rigged out for camping, like the kids have.  Of course, mine would also be accessible, with a ramp. This van would have been ideal for this journey, providing cheap(er) and easier lodging (no search for lodging each night and no carrying luggage back and forth), a means of hauling a wheelchair, and accessible seating. 

Trails on the Gaspe Peninsula
in Quebec

Unfortunately, we still don't have this dream vehicle; but we do have the trusty Prius and a Fold N Go power wheelchair.  This wheelchair is great at handling distances and hills, drives by a joystick, folds up easily, has rugged tires with big casters, and is waterproof; however, it is heavy, doesn't fit me well without an extra seat cushion, and is dangerous when fighting slope and cross-slope simultaneously.  The jury is still out on their -- maybe fantastic, maybe horrible -- customer service.

Here is a list of some of the (accidentally brilliant) items we packed to make the road trip possible (For motel items, see the list in the following blog):

  • Roho MiniMax inflatable seat cushion (to sit on in the car)
  • Pillow and blanket (for the car and for cheap motels)
  • Phone charger for cigarette lighter
  • Folding metal ramp
  • Wooden transfer board 
  • Compression socks
  • Tablet for all e-books
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Therabands and TENS/NMES kit for exercise
  • Cooler
  • Electric kettle to boil water
  • Spoons, forks, and cups
  • Dish soap
  • Wheelchair and cushion repair kit
  • Rain poncho, rain hat, and stadium blanket
  • Pee bottle, for car
  • Phone apps:
    • Gaia (fee)
    • NPS
    • Accessiblego
    • Booking
    • AirBnB
    • Yelp
    • Libby
    • Spotiify (fee)
    • Kindle
The trip gave me fodder for several topics and posts.  The photos gave me all sorts of memories (thanks to Ted for taking most of the photos and for editing all of them)!

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