By Vera Zahner

A wedding invitation heralded a milestone event in the lives of our treasured friends in Seattle, Washington; only half a continent away from Wichita, Kansas. How did two adults, one a T-6 paraplegic, accomplish that trip with the least expense and the most fun? Well, like topsy we let the trip grow and unfold along the way.

Flying is faster, but also expensive, aggravating, and if the seating isn’t right physically difficult. Once in Seattle an accessible rental van would provide the most comfort and convenience, however, after searching our magazines, surfing the net and dialing the phone, I found that the nearest rental to Seattle was in Oregon. Although they offered to deliver the van to us at the airport, the cost was enough to make us consider driving ourselves. ROADTRIP!

Our 1994 Ford van is equipped with lift, 6-way seat and hand controls. We had previously built a two-piece platform bed that fits over the van’s bench seat when flattened, to use for camping and travel. This allows Richard needed down time which leaves him more able to share the driving, and to be less fatigued while enjoying sightseeing and activities along the way.

The ten hour drive to Denver, Colorado was rewarded with a cold beer for Richard and a frozen raspberry Margarita for me at a favorite spot for Mexican food called the Blue Bonnet. After a nice meal we moved on to Cheyenne, Wyoming to spend the night. We have had good luck with moderate priced, newer motels in our travels and only had difficulty once on this trip finding accessible lodging. There is nearly always a flaw of some sort to make life interesting, but after all travel is an adventure.

By traveling just before Memorial Day it was easier to get reservations in Yellowstone. We stayed in an accessible room at the Old Faithful Inn. It was churning, twin beds, no phone or television. There were lots of wheelchair accessible boardwalks (built from recycled plastic, the surface was easy to roll on and held up to the harsh weather conditions), buffalo were in abundance, the weather was perfect and not at all crowded before the summer’s peak season. We spent two nights and three days exploring geyser basins and searching for waterfalls and wild life. Richard spotted a pack of wolves stalking a small herd of buffalo with their young.

One could easily spend more time and visit Jackson Hole Wyoming, or West Yellowstone in Montana. The National Parks provide a free Golden Eagle passport for disabled visitors, so we were able to enter and enjoy several parks along our trip. The passport includes everyone in your vehicle, and we always found the facilities adequate and well cared for.

Well, upward and onward, we had to cross Montana to get to Washington and on to Seattle. Plan A was to stop at a bed and breakfast that was advertised in Paraplegia News June 1999: The Roaring Lion Inn at Bitterroot Valley. Alas they were not yet open for business so we checked out the area, found other places to stay and drove on to Seattle.

In Seattle, we stayed at Extended Stay America, with a spacious accessible room, a coffee pot in our room, laundry facilities and vending machines. We enjoyed a trip into the city to Pikes Market, and later a dinner with a view of the Lake. The sunset was incredible.

The day after the wedding we rolled on into Portland, Oregon for lunch. We then trekked briefly into the Redwood forest, as well as locating Medford, Oregon and their beautiful, roaring rapids which we had read about in Paraplegia News, May 1999. As an unexpected treat, we eventually found ourselves at Crater Lake. Still lots of snow, (north exit not yet bulldozed open), and even without reservations we were able to stay at the Lodge there. Cold and crisp, the lake never freezes due to its depth and the effects of the sun. It was absolutely stunning.

Another day, another long drive and we were in the scenic beauty of Utah. Many towns are so small and so old that accessible lodging was not available. In one town we measured the doors and had to have the owner take the bathroom door off the hinges so we could make do. We also learned to seek out public libraries and city halls for bathroom facilities, as these were more likely to be up to code. I thought of stopping at a hospital, but it was a very old one… need I say more? Trust me, it’s a lot funnier a year later than it was at the time we were looking for a place to relieve ourselves. Can we just buy one of those airline aisle chairs to keep in the van for emergencies?

Bryce Canyon, our fourth national park, was awesome to behold. Viewing spots to the canyons were pretty accessible. We met a paraplegic from Norway, who had flown into Las Vegas and rented a camper with a companion. It did not have hand controls, but he said they were having a wonderful trip. Lake Powell and an incredible Dam were our last tourist experiences. The wind was too strong to permit tours of the Dam itself, but the views, the film and rangers presentation were absolutely worth the trip. We again crossed Colorado and Kansas and returned home ready to get back to the structure of daily life.

We had more than a nice vacation. We proved to ourselves that we could take major cross-country trips, face the unexpected challenges that the unknown can offer, and grew more self-confidence in our abilities to adapt to life on the roll.