(North Dakota boys doing it Vegas style.)
Traveling in a wheelchair sucks. At least going anywhere over two hours sucks for me. It isn't the traveling, it is all of the planning and encumbrances that goes with it. It would be real nice to be able to just get up and go somewhere without all of the other concerns.
For me to go anywhere is quite the process. The biggest hurdle is that I am not supposed to be in the chair for over six hours a day. That is what I say. The professionals say I should only be in the chair about four hours and then I am supposed to lie down. So when you are traveling anywhere over four hours a day that means I need to schedule the motel. As soon as I get to the motel I have to lie down. So the first day I get anywhere is pretty much shot. My chair does have tilt mode but that does not alleviate all of the pressure.
Another thing about traveling is I get pretty stiff and sore when I cannot move around as much. I try to do some exercises and stretches while riding but you can only do so much.
I am also on a kind of eating schedule. Being on a schedule is also quite the hindrance when traveling.
(A Las Vegas cab ride. We thought we were going to die.)
So when my cousin and friend decided to get married in Las Vegas in November of 2008 I had a decision to make. It didn't take long for me to decide I was going. I would do anything for Stephanie and Jeremy. The next thing I needed to figure out was how I was getting there. The decision was pretty easy, driving was going to be the only way I could get there. It was a good thing I just got the 2008 Chevrolet Uplander a.k.a. The Shaggin Wagon because I would've never went with the van I had before.
The road trip to Vegas was well worth it. But I don't think I could ever do it again. I don't know how I ever did it in the first place. Evidently I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I have some good Vegas stories that are not for public knowledge…
(This is what two days in Vegas looks like.)
Here was the trip schedule to Vegas and back because I can only be in the chair so long a day.
Lucca ND to Spearfish SD = 7 hours
Spearfish SD to Rawlins WY = 5 1/2 hours
Rawlins WY to Fillmore UT = 6 1/2 hours
Fillmore UT to Las Vegas NV = 4 hours
Las Vegas NV to Richfield UT = 4 1/2 hours
Richfield UT to Vail CO = 5 1/2 hours
Vail CO to North Platte NE = 5 1/2 hours
North Platte NE to Lucca ND = 9 1/2 hours
(This is me trying to breathe at the Ghost Rock landmark in Utah along I-70)
Sidebar: I started feeling sick before the trip to Vegas. I got really bad on the way down but didn't tell anyone. Felt like crap most of the time down there but I blamed it on the alcohol so no one would know. When I got back to Enderlin and went to the clinic a couple days later and I told the doctor about what I did. Her words were, "You know they have clinics in Vegas don't you? Dork!" That was my first bout with pneumonia and I was locked in my room with a nebulizer and humidifier for a week. Good times.
(Stopping at the Wheeler Junction exit in Colorado to replenish wiper fluid. Chains were required for commercial vehicles on the interstate. Good times.)
A lot of people asked me why didn't you fly to Las Vegas? Simple answer, because it is almost impossible to travel in a plane with a wheelchair unless you have a private charter. I have heard and read many horror stories of people traveling through the airport system with a wheelchair. Manual and electric.
First of all they will not let a wheelchair on a plane because they do not have spots for them. There is also not enough room down the aisles to maneuver. If you have an electric or manual wheelchair it has to go into storage with the luggage. I have heard of stories that their wheelchair does not make it to the right destination. I have heard of wheelchairs getting damaged in transition. Some airline companies even take the chairs apart because they think the batteries are going to explode. Also, when they put your chair in luggage that means you are going to have to sit in one of their chairs that is not designed for a quad. The flight would be unbearable. So that is why I did not fly to Vegas. The one way, 22 hour, four day, 1500 mile road trip with parents was memorable enough…
About a year ago there was a bill that was trying to go through the legislative system of opening up one spot in each commercial plane for a wheelchair. I imagine it didn't go too far. I never kept up with it but I imagine it was too cost prohibitive for the airline companies. Jack wagons.
Info from Hector International Airport. "If you were to travel on Delta we do have flights that you can travel with your electric wheelchair. It is up to you if you would like to check your wheelchair at the ticket counter or at the gate. If you check it at the ticket counter we would transfer the wheelchair in Minneapolis for you to your next flight and it would meet you at your final destination. If you would like to have it with you in Minneapolis we would have you take the wheelchair with you to the gate and we would then load it in the cargo hold, but we would then give it back to you in Minneapolis."
I have read that Amtrak does a pretty good job accommodating people in wheelchairs. One of these days I will have to try them out. Bucket List Trip: Take Amtrak from Fargo to Seattle, get on a boat or ferry to Southeast Alaska and maybe never come back. Don't worry, I will send postcards…
Another big problem about traveling and getting into other houses is the actual weight of me in the chair. That total weight is 420 pounds. When I get somewhere and there is no ramp, people just assume they will just lift me right in. Not so much. I'm sure it could be done with four strong individuals, one on each corner but there really are no good handholds to lift from on my chair. Because of these things I don't go into many houses for parties. It doesn't bother me at all. I am more of a garage type guy. That is where the guys usually end up anyway.
Restaurants are another obstacle you would never think would be such a big deal. But they can be painful. The biggest thing about restaurants is there is sometimes not enough room to maneuver a wheelchair. For some reason they like to pack people in like sardines. If the tables and chairs are too close together it is pretty much impossible and not worth it in most cases. I know of a lot of restaurants in Fargo I will not even go into because it is impossible to get around.
I have said this before but it is worth saying again. I don't know who came up with the idea that high tables and chairs are a good thing, but that person should be tarred and feathered in a public square mile sitting in a high chair. Some restaurants now only have high tables and chairs. They really suck for someone in a wheelchair. I am not a fan of having my chin on the table. I will not give these businesses my time.
(Click here for my yelp profile.)
I started a profile on yelp about the restaurants in the area and how they are for accessibility. Along with of course how good their food is or if it sucks.
Motel rooms are another bad thing about traveling. They'll say that they have accessible rooms but in reality most of these rooms are normal. Evidently to be considered an accessible room the only things the motels need to do is take out one of the beds and put up a couple handrails in the bathroom. I do have to say motels have gotten a lot better in the last 10 years. A lot of them now even have walk-in showers, which is big.
A lot of businesses say they are accessible but are truly not. Keep your eyes open and you will see what I mean. A lot of front doors now have buttons to open them automatically. But pay attention to where the buttons are. A good deal of the time you will see the buttons behind some type of object or placed in a corner where someone in a wheelchair could not possibly get at them. If there is a ramp into the building, a good percentage of the time there is something placed on the ramp like a garbage can or flowerpot.
I commend them for trying but they should really have someone in the chair try out these buildings, restaurants, businesses and motels before they say they are accessible. Or at least have someone with common sense be there during the designing process.
So the next time you are out and about, pay attention to the surroundings and see if the building and businesses are truly accessible. I bet you will be surprised…
Thanks for reading, Clint