Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: St Lawrence River


St Lawrence River


I grew up in the middle of the North American continent; yet one of my most indelible childhood memories is watching the ocean-liners from around the world sail under the St Louis Bridge.  Thanks to the St Lawrence Seaway, Duluth, Minnesota became a sea port, with ocean-going cargo ships from ports as far away as Europe and Asia.  These behemoths could enter the St Lawrence River from the Atlantic Ocean, and then traverse the waterways, canals, and locks of the Great Lakes.   Even though the majority of these ships today seem to be "lakers" that remain on the fresh water of the Great Lakes, there are still some "salties," that sail the length of the St Lawrence and out the gulf to the ocean beyond.  At any rate, after centuries of dreaming about it and decades of building it, the St Lawrence connects the middle of the continent to the rest of the world.  So, it was with both anticipation and nostalgia that one the "points" of the road trip was to follow the St Lawrence River from its mouth, where it mixes with the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of St Lawrence, to its source in Kingston, Ontario, where it flow out of Lake Ontario.




Cap des Rosiers lighthouse
and the mouth of the
St Lawrence River
At the north end of Forillon National Park (https://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/qc/forillon/visit/accessibilite-accessibility), the  wheelchair-accessible trail, Sentier du Banc (https://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/qc/forillon/visit/accessibilite-accessibility/sentier-du-banc), runs 2km along the coast from the visitors center to the Cap des Rosiers lighthouse.  The location of the lighthouse can be considered the mouth of the St Lawrence River.






St Lawrence River,
N Gaspe Peninsula, 
Quebec



This cape, where the river empties out into the Gulf of St Lawrence in the Atlantic Ocean, has been witness to numerous shipwrecks. Widening to 62 miles across near the mouth, we couldn't even see the other side, and this northeast section of the river felt more like an ocean.  


Bike trail along
St Lawrence River
We spent over a day driving west to Quebec City along the north coast of the Gaspe Peninsula, following the St. Lawrence River. The road was accompanied by bicycle paths with frequent municipal rest stops offering views of the water, picnic tables, and access to rocky beaches.  Near the river's mouth, the landscape was similar to that of the Atlantic coast -- starkly beautiful and isolated.  It was a challenge to find an accessible motel, and we ended up staying at our most inaccessible room of the trip (though planning ahead may have allowed us to find one).  As we approached Quebec City, the river narrowed, and the landscape became more urban.




Quebec City and Montreal are indeed part of the St Lawrence River experience, but since there is so much in each, they each get a whole separate blog post.


Ile d'Orleans strawberries
in Quebec City

In the middle of the river, just north of Quebec City, is the Ile d'Orleans (Orleans Island).  I'm sure there are numerous travel guides about the multitude of wonderful destinations on the island; however, I know it for one very important reason: the island is the source of strawberries by the same name, equal in taste to the amazing Hood strawberries of western Oregon, and they were at the height of their season in mid-July 2022, which is when I happened to be in Quebec.  






Boulangerie P√Ętisserie
Le Croquembouche
in Quebec City
We didn’t have time to explore this pastoral island, but we often enjoyed the fruits (literally!) of its harvest.  And we loaded up on Quebec produce before leaving to continue following the St Lawrence River to Montreal: bread, croissants, and coffee at Boulangerie P√Ętisserie Le Croquembouche in St Rochelle, (accessible) and Ile d’Orleans strawberries and tomatoes at Tradition Marche on Rue St Joseph in St Rochelle (also accessible). 





For about 3 hours, we followed the St Lawrence River from Quebec City to Montreal, where the narrower river (still wide, for a river) seemed to be another road for transport.







Portneuf Harbor trail--
(unpaved section)

About 60 km southwest of Quebec City, we stumbled upon the town and harbor of Portneuf, and we got out of the car to try the accessible harbor trail.  The trail, partially paved and partially surfaced with hard-packed stone, loops around the harbor near an accessible restaurant and on the river.  







The Portneuf harbor includes a boat ramp — a great way to wheel down to the river and test the temperature.  










Fromagerie du Grondines


Another serendipitous find was the cheese shop in Grondines. It looked inaccessible, but they invited us to roll up the ramp to the delivery entrance.  We were rewarded with a cabinet full of cheese with flavors I'd never heard of before. Luckily, the guy behind the counter had recommendations, and I will forever dream of the ones I ended up buying and trying,







Ecological Park of
Anse du Port


Before reaching Montreal, we stopped at the Ecological Park of Anse du Port near Nicolet. The highlight of the park is a 3-mile accessible boardwalk loop through woods and over wetlands to a platform overlooking the spot where the River Nicolet flows into Lake St Pierre. There is also an accessible visitors  center with an accessible restroom.



Ecological Park of
Anse du Port






Trail overlook:
Lake St Pierre





After our time on the island of Montreal, we continued southwest up the St Lawrence River.  After about 200 km, we entered the town and harbor of Brockville, ON. On another trip with more time, I would have stopped here, since the town looked historically and architecturally interesting, and the harbor seemed to have an accessible path around it. 




2 of 1000 Islands

From there, one could board boats offering tours of the 1000-Islands region, with its castles and vacation mansions.  I think every rock was counted as an island in order to reach the lofty title of this historic vacation-land.  





Along the way, we passed huge cargo ships headed to the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean, plying their way through the river and locks,  




Lake Ontario -- source of
St Lawrence River


After about 3 hours, we reached Kingston, ON and Lake Ontario — the source of the St Lawrence River.  With our usual Mario Andretti driving to catch the sunset, we were able to use some of the paved trails along the edge of the lake to watch the setting sun.





The trip continues: Northern Ontario by Lake Ontario and Lake Huron









Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: East Coast & Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula








Having already driven the Prius to the northernmost point in the contiguous USA (the Northwest Angle in the chimney of Minnesota), it seemed obvious that this trip should be expanded a little to incorporate two similar destinations: the easternmost and westernmost points of the contiguous USA.  






Atlantic Ocean at
Stonington Point, CT


The beginning of our trip was a mad dash across the country, as we couldn’t leave Washington until the car was serviced, while we needed to be in Connecticut for a reunion a few days later.  With the exception of a few stops, we drove straight through, making it from Seattle, WA to Stonington, CT in less than 5 days.  






West Quoddy Head, ME 
(the easternmost point in the 
contiguous USA)


After the reunion and a brief meeting with more relatives, we headed north and a bit more east to the easternmost point in the contiguous USA –West Quoddy Head, ME.  Racing the sun, we made it in time for sunset and a short amble around the lighthouse before the ranger kicked us out.








New Brunswick
moose warning


In the dark, we continued driving north to the border town of Calais, ME, from which we crossed into Canada the next day, following dirt roads and highways to the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.  







Cabin in the heart of the
Gapse Peninsula



After a few days of respite and laundry at a remote river cabin in the middle of the peninsula, we headed even further east toward the Canadian Atlantic coast on the Gaspe Peninsula.











Perce Rock off of the Gaspe Peninsula





In the summer season, the coast of the Gaspe teems with tourists swarming through cute little tourist town and beaches.  In the winter, I imagine, the Gaspe is more like the forlorn and desolate, backdrop described by Louise Penny and Inspector Gamache.  Luckily, we were there in July!  







Either time, visitors are rewarded with stunning coastal and ocean views, and cyclists (and wheelchair users) can ride on paved bike lanes along and on the side of the highway with regularly spaced rest stops boasting views and picnic tables.   We had a difficult time finding a cheap motel that was at all accessible (maybe a higher price range or more advanced planning would help?).






La Mie Veritable
Boulangerie-Patisserie
in Carleton-sur-Mer

On the way, we passed the small town of Carleton-sur-Mer – a Francophone town with steepled churches, bike paths and bikes.  Most importantly, we visited the first boulangerie-patisserie of the trip -- Boulangerie La Mie Veritable (sadly, up a series of steps, so Ted had to bring me my pastries).  We were in town only a short while, but I left convinced that I wanted to return (in summer months and with an able-bodied person who could climb those patisserie steps!)






Hiking trails at 
Pointe Tracadigash
outside of
Carleton-sur-Mer


A breakwater and a sandy spit out to Pointe Tracadigash leave the mainland next to the town.  Before leaving, we drove out the spit to the point, alongside a paved bike path and beaches and past a campground, with accessible restrooms and a ramped dining cabin.  












Hiking trails at 
Pointe Tracadigash
outside of
Carleton-sur-Mer


We consumed our first Quebecois croissants at the beach, traveling on trails that were very well maintained and accessible in and near the campground to trails that were not so well maintained but still accessible further out and up until the beach. 











Pointe St Pierre
(Easternmost point
of our trip)



We then got back in the car and headed east and then north, reaching the easternmost point of the Gaspe peninsula at Pointe St Pierre: 4444 miles from Seattle.  










Trails at
Pointe St Pierre



To mark this key location -- the easternmost point of our trip -- we got out of the car, and I went a short way on a narrow trail to see the ocean.  I hadn't gotten very far before rain began to fall in earnest, so our hiking was limited, but the trail was too narrow anyway.








Forillon National Park on
Cap du Rosiers


After Pointe St Pierre, we circled clockwise around Gaspe Bay, then drove northeast past Forillon National Park.  If we’d had more time, I would have like to have spent time in this park.  The park has a webpage geared toward accessibility and accessible activities, (https://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/qc/forillon/visit/accessibilite-accessibility), and it has several accessible activities, including hiking trails, different camping options, an accessible beach, indoor centers, and a swimming pool.











Sentier Du Banc at
Forillon National Park
south of Cap du Rosiers
Lighthouse
The only activity we came close to exploring was the Du Banc trail (https://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/qc/forillon/visit/accessibilite-accessibility/sentier-du-banc), which offers sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, Forillon cliffs, and Cap du Rosiers lighthouse.  The hike connects the (accessible) visitors’ center with the parking lot via a mostly-flat, 4 km (round trip) trail on boardwalk and hard-packed stone dust.  At the visitors’ center and along the way you’ll find accessible restrooms and an accessible picnic table.  The park “rents” (for free) a GRIT Freedom Chair – a manual all-terrain wheelchair with levers).









Cap du Rosiers is the point where the Gulf of St Lawrence in the Atlantic Ocean becomes the mouth of the St Lawrence River.  From there onward, the Prius journeyed west.


up next: traveling west from the mouth to the source of the mighty St Lawrence River ...

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Lodging

I was really excited to explore the world of Motel 6 and accessible lodging.  Motel 6 was often the cheapest motel, and yet its status as a national chain assured some sort of standards.  Plus, as a result of a recent ADA settlement with the US Department of Justice, Motel 6 was forced to update its facilities, adding roll-in showers and the promise that if they didn't have an accessible room that slept two people, they would provide a second room free of charge.  Motel 6 seemed a great way to organize our road trip.  That optimism and enthusiasm lasted about 800 miles.  




Motel 6 in Spokane, WA




The first night we stayed at a Motel 6 in Spokane, WA.  It offered cheap, accessible ground-floor lodging in clean environs, with a wheelchair-height queen bed, a roll-under sink, toilet grab bars, and a roll-in shower.  Perfect! 




This lucky streak ended the second night, with the reminder that not all cheap motels are used by travelers.  We no sooner pulled into this urban Motel 6 than we noticed the people and activity in the parking lot, and we were quickly warned by the people leaving that they had observed 2 drug deals in their short time there, while checking out the rooms -- which they claimed had unwashed bedding.  Unfortunately, although there were several cheap motels in that neighborhood, they all seemed to have similar problems.  

Luckily, we were able to find an appropriate, cheap, accessible room in a nearby neighborhood, with the help of the Super 8 reservations agent.  Two lessons learned: 1. Never commit to a cheap motel until seeing it, and 2. Join a group like Wyndham Rewards (even though there were no accessible rooms at the Super 8 that I called, the agent was able to find me one at a nearby Howard Johnson's, because those  hotels are part of the same hotel group).


ADA Bathroom

The folly of my plans became more apparent along the road, as I learned that not all Motel 6's have ADA rooms, and, in fact, most cheap motels do not.  In fact, many cheap motels do not even have elevators, and ground-floor rooms were usually already taken by the time we rolled into town (generally around 9 pm).  




Roll-in Shower


Thus was dictated our usual routine: after dinner, we'd assess how far we thought we'd go that night.  While my husband drove, I poured over Google maps and Booking.com, trying to find cheap and available rooms for the night. Seldom were those rooms officially accessible, so I'd call around, asking for measurements or whether a wheelchair might be able to get into -- and maneuver around inside -- the room.  Of course, I'd have to provide a list of minimum requirements to answer this question, which changed with experience (ground floor, 0-1 steps, wide entrance door, space for the wheelchair beside the bed, and a sink I could access).  Often this would require the person to call me back, as they needed to measure and check.  Sometimes, they reached an incorrect conclusion, or it was simply unclear until we arrived and looked for ourselves.  

 



 

 

Using motel's plywood and
our portable metal ramp
to get inside Masterson's Motel
All of this was predicated on finding the local front desk number (rather than the off-site reservations number), which turned out to be quite difficult.  It also relied on the goodwill of the staff.  As my husband commented, the best people in the world are front desk clerks who like their jobs.  I would especially like to call out Jan at the International Motel in Calais, Maine, the woman at who found plywood for a ramp at Masterson's Motel in Napanee, Ontario, the concerned owners at the Village Inn Motel in Iron Bridge, Ontario, and the woman who pushed all sorts of food on me at the Day's Inn in Worland, WY.  The right person and attitude can sometimes make up for a non-accessible room.



 

 

Fairfield by Marriott has
ADA rooms

In retrospect, if you need a truly accessible room, it is probably worth it to budget for higher-priced cheap motels, such as Holiday Inn Express, Fairfield Suites, etc, where the ADA usually applies to at least one room.  This, of course, entails plotting your trip to ascertain that overnight stays happen where this is possible -- often suburbs or travel centers (truck stops).




Some cheap motels do
not have official accessible
rooms, but are accessible 
with creativity
Many of the places we stopped had no such options available.  However, we made it work, and we got to meet great people and motels that we otherwise would have missed.  Also, even the cheapest motels had microwaves, mini-fridges, coffee, ice, and internet connectivity.  




On the road, we almost always had phone connectivity, which was invaluable.  I can't imagine doing this without smart phones.  After the trip ended, I learned about a website that provides reservations for accessible lodging.  This seemed to me to be unbelievable gold, and I wish that I had known of it before the trip.   For the USA, and site is accessiblego.com, and for Europe, I found disabledaccessibletravel.com.    


Most of the time, we ended up staying in rooms that were barely accessible.  I came to expect to move furniture around.  I also came to expect to remove the bathroom door, since even those wide enough for a wheelchair were often wide enough only without the hinges.  Even so, I had to rely on the commode chair instead of a toilet and to forego showers many nights.


Fortunately, some of the units had sinks outside of the bathroom, so that the sink was accessible, even if the bathroom wasn't.   This was often the design that made an otherwise non-accessible room usable.

Here are some of the (accidentally brilliant) items we packed to make wheelchair life possible, even in non-ADA motels and rooms:
  • Transfer board (a Hoyer Lift would be an energy- and back-saver, but it requires space under the bed)
  • Screwdriver (often the bathroom door was too narrow with hinges on, so we removed door)
  • Short (3') foldable metal ramp (to get over steps
  • Self-propelling shower/commode chair
  • Long shower chair to get over/in tub 
  • Portable under-mattress bed rail
  • Suction cup grab bars (warning -- they don't always stick!)
  • Electric kettle (for instant meals)
  • Dishes and dish soap
  • Towel to put on chair after shower (some motels did't have enough towels for this)
  • Wet wipes
  • Washcloth
  • Hair washing tray
  • Dry shampoo
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Electric foot heater (to plug in while sleeping)
  • Pillow (for car and for some motels)

Portable folding metal
ramp (3' length fits in car
and helps wheelchair
over 1-2 steps)
Self-propelling 
shower-commode
chair
Long sliding tub/shower chair

Under-mattress bed rail






Sometimes we got lucky and stayed in a motel with an ADA room:

Spokane, WA: Motel 6 -- ADA room with a low queen bed and an ADA bathroom with a roll-in shower


Pendleton, OR: Red Lion Inn --ADA room and ADA bathroom with a roll-in shower: it seemed like an older resort, which had passed its prime


Idaho Falls, ID: Fairfield Inn -- ADA room with a king bed and ADA bathroom with a roll-in shower




West Yellowstone, MT: Day's Inn -- Small town full of tourists, motels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Motels were cheaper than those in the park (park lodges were $300+/night), but non-park motels were still pricey ($200+/night, $150+/night if no access to bathroom).  We didn't stay in an ADA room, since it was $100 more than our ground floor double-queen regular room, which worked.  There was a wide entrance door, with a big room and bathroom.  The shower/tub combo had a fixed shower head and no grab bars.  In the large bathroom was a low toilet with no grab bars. There was a large roll-under sink outside of the bathroom. There was an official ADA room, but it was $100 more expensive.


Billings, MT: Howard Johnson's -- ADA room and ADA bathroom with roll-in shower; big, old & moldy


Worland, WY: Day's Inn -- huge double-queen ADA room with 2 high beds. Big ADA bathroom, raised toilet with grab bars behind and on side, and tub with grab bar on side and hand-held removable shower head with long hose. The room had wide doors and a short ramp over the threshold of the outer door. There was a designated disabled parking space and flat curb access on the side opposite room 140. The roll-under sink was outside of the bathroom. There was a ramp to the outside picnic tables and grill, a ramp to the ice machine and to the laundry room, and a ramp to the main office, as well as lots of food and drinks.
Oacoma (Chamberlain ), SD:  Econo Lodge -- ADA room with a king bed and wide doors.  The bathroom was a bit grungy, and the sink was too low to get under, but the tub had horizontal and vertical grab bars, with a hand- held shower that slid down a vertical pole at different levels, and the toilet was high, with grab bars behind and on the side. The owners were very concerned.  Interestingly, the space between the dresser and the foot of the bed was almost too narrow, making it difficult to reach the roomy far side of the bedroom and the bathroom.


LaCrosse, WI: Holiday Inn-- ADA room with a king bed. and ADA bathroom with a big roll-in shower. They offered us a walk-in discount.

Sault Ste, Marie, MI: Hotel Ojibway -- ADA room with a king bed, wide doors, lots of space in the bathroom, tub/shower with grab bars and shower chair, and a roll-under sink.  There is just barely enough space for a  wheelchair next to the bed, and the toilet has no grab bars on the side. The room has slanted alcove ceilings with sky lights, and the hotel is next to the park and locks on the main street.


N Stonington, VT: Hilltop Inn -- ADA room with a king bed.  ADA bathroom with a roll-in shower that has a big threshold and a bench on the opposite end from the controls (even though shower hose reached).
Quebec City, Quebec: Best Western -- Disabled room with two queen beds (plenty of room beside bed). The main door is plenty wide; the door to the bathroom is wide enough, but it involves a tight turn. The shower has a hand-held shower, sliding shower head holder, and grab bars on wall. There are grab bars on the side of the toilet, where the seat is cut out in the front, and there is a roll-under sink.











Montreal, Quebec: We did not stay in a hotel with an accessible room, but I know that Cory Lee (who writes the blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee) has a suggestion on his website for the Hotel de l'ITHQ, which is located in the heart of Montreal.  Also, I saw a Fairfield by Marriott downtown, and I bet that has an accessible room.


Sudbury, Ontario: College Boreal Student Residence -- Two wheelchair-accessible suites, each with 2 accessible bedrooms (each with a twin bed), and with a kitchenette (full fridge, microwave, sink, and table). Each suite had 1 accessible bathroom with a raised toilet with grab bars, a floating sink, a tilted mirror, and a small roll-in shower with a fold-down bench and hand-held shower head.  The suite was cheap and spartan, with no carpet, in the dorm.  There is a whole series of dorms and conference centers offering rooms for summer travelers in Canada. The website is StayRCC.com.


Next week's blog: the trip begins!