One of the most frustrating things about traveling outside of our home turf is not knowing what kinds of accessibility issues we'll run into when we go places. In your neighborhood you learn where the sidewalk ramps are, you know all the good parks with paved paths, what restaurants have table spacing that allows for wheelchair occupants to not feel like inconvenient roadblocks, and where all the decently clean handicap-accessible public bathrooms are located.
When you venture out, the world is full of unknowns. For some this may be exciting, for others stressful; for us it's a complicated blend. We're proud of ourselves and exhilarated when we conquer a new situation with accessibility challenges, but the constant strain of worrying and planning can really wear on us.
What I hope you'll learn from our experience, though, is that it's worth trying. We saw and did things as a family on this trip that are priceless and irreplaceable. I couldn't always participate as fully as an able-bodied mom would, but I was there, as close as I could be, and the kids got to make wonderful new memories with me and their dad.
We went to the beach even though I had to stay on a paved path at the top of the bluffs. The kids got to feel the power of the waves and run scared and excited back up the sand, then swim and wade in the safer tranquility of the river and play with sand castles.
We saw gorgeous botanical gardens where lengthy trails have been especially designed to be accessible for manual and power wheelchairs, including taking the steepness of grades into consideration. It even had a trail out to the edge of the headlands with gorgeous views of the ocean.
My husband and I walked a whale and seal watching trail that was entirely elevated on a wooden platform so the whole circuit was accessible. We saw seals sunning on the rocks, and sat at lookout points enjoying the wind on the headlands and the salty spray in the air and just being together at the ocean.
We took our kids to Confusion Hill and the Drive-Through Tree, where they played in the Gravity House and took a train ride to learn about California's logging history. I waited at the bottom of the hill for those, with my mom to keep me company, but I could go through the tree no problem.
You might notice in this photo, however, something missing from my power chair: the legs. That's because, one night when we were taking the kids to the carnival that came to town for the Fourth of July, we ran into one of those unexpected accessibility mishaps. We had to park several blocks from the carnival, and it was well after dark. And all of the sudden, the sidewalk ended at a side street with no ramp. I had to backtrack to the nearest driveway we'd crossed, but in the dark I couldn't see that the there was a two inch drop from the driveway to the street, and that the street met the drop at a steep angle. When I drove off the driveway onto the street, the wheelchair legs hit the street and bent under, snapping the metal of one of the leg attachment points right off. If I had been someone who can't quickly pick up their feet, I would have broken my ankle quite badly. We were extremely fortunate that I could jerk my feet up before I was injured, and that it turned out we were able to replace the leg mounting bracket a couple months later for not much more than a hundred bucks.
Maybe not everything went perfectly according to plan, but I think you can see from these few images that we made memories on this trip that we'll treasure for a good long time, and the mistakes and mishaps and worries were absolutely worth it. Go forth! See and do! Because another thing this summer has been teaching me is that the future is promised to no one, and you need to make your moments count while you can.
Next up is Rollercoaster Summer part three: Cancer Sucks.