One of our daughters has, as it is kindly put, limited mobility. She can walk, but not very far without a lot of pain, and always with a cane.
Not long ago, she and I decided it was long past time for her to see some of the countless geologic marvels of the West, beginning with the Grand Canyon. So we signed up for a short bus tour, bought what is called a “transport wheelchair”—smaller wheels than a regular chair—and flew to Phoenix. She and I are going to tell you a little bit about that trip.
First, of course, we had to deal with the airport, with security and especially with getting her chair—which folds up and only weighs 16 pounds—stowed on the plane so we could have quick access to it at the other end. I have read lots of complaints about the TSA folks, but we have none; everyone was courteous and friendly and we got through that very quickly. At the gate, the agent chatted with my daughter and after determining that indeed she could walk onto the plane, took the chair and had it stowed in the locker right above our seats. I couldn’t believe it—I had expected a big hassle and some grimness. Nothing of the sort.
Alyson says: “I worried endlessly before we left about the airport and how it was all going to work! But when we got to security the woman who checked me through was just the sweetest person on earth: ‘Now dear, I’m going to pat you down, I’m going to use the back of my hand to touch you and then I will use a wand, ok sweetie?’ When we got to the gate, the agent talked to me about getting on the plane, and took my chair, and I was surprised when we got on the plane to find my chair was right above our seats. Yay! A good beginning to our trip!”
The Grand Canyon
Before we left I had done a little research on http://www.nps.gov/grca and discovered that the park shuttle buses are wheelchair-accessible, and that much of the Rim Trail is paved and accessible. In 2002 my husband and I had spent a long time at the Canyon and had walked this trail, and I knew it offered many glorious views. [See the Journals section of my website for an account of that trip.] So I planned that Alyson and I would use it together, me pushing her chair (transport chairs are not self-propelled).
Well, it’s true it’s paved, but it also has some up parts—not very up, but when you are pushing a chair with small wheels, and the temperature is around 100℉, there is a lot of effort involved. But by golly, the two of us were determined: I pushed and rested, and pushed and rested, and sometimes Alyson had to get out of the chair and walk a short distance that was too steep for me to handle, and did I mention we rested?
We saw, smelled and heard wonderful things that we don’t think anyone else on our tour experienced. I will let Alyson tell about them.
Alyson: “First of all, the flora was incredible—cactus and twisted cedar especially. But nothing can top the Canyon itself. Seeing the Canyon for the first time in real life was the most amazing thing. You just look out over it and you wonder at how long it took to make it and why it’s there. I could smell the earth and the rocks, I think because the baking heat seemed to open them up somehow.
“We saw red and yellow cactus flowers, but the one I remember the most was a really tall plant with yellow flowers; bees or hornets were feeding on it and it turns out that this plant only blooms every 15 to 25 years, so that was a thrill to see. I heard birds, none of which I knew, and bees and cicadas, and I heard my Mom pushing my chair.
“It was nice that they had benches every once in a while in the shade of small trees, so that we could sit and rest, which was good for both of us. I felt a little guilty about being pushed all this way because I knew it was hard for her but I couldn’t have done it without the chair. The little walking that I did was quite strenuous for me because I don’t normally do that much. But together we finished our mile successfully and we felt enormously proud of ourselves, I would say. It was all just quite magical.”
Zion National Park
Our tour also visited Monument Valley, Lake Powell, and Bryce Canyon. Those places were each surreal in different ways.
But then we came to Zion, about which Alyson says: “It was the polar opposite of the Canyon, because you were looking up instead of down, which was interesting because I spent most of my time looking way up from sitting in the chair.”
Getting around Zion with the chair was somewhat challenging. Trails that were marked Wheelchair Accessible weren’t, at least not for our transport chair, even though they were paved—too much uphill, too many rough places. And I have discovered the small but nagging problem of thresholds that are a little hard to get over.
But here is what Alyson had to say about what the two of us were able to do: “We went on the shuttle bus the whole way around the park, and were able to see some amazing and beautiful, beautiful sights. The bus was very crowded and sometimes we had to look up (again) through the ceiling hatch to see. Everybody on the shuttle bus was very kind about the chair which was folded up in front of our seats, but not too much in the way.”
She goes on to say: “I felt good that my Mom got out and did some of her own exploring. That was nice for me to have her do that.” Yes, I took off late one afternoon on a short 2-mile mild hike (Alyson lent me her sneakers or I never could have done it). I went so slowly and my eyes, ears, and nose, and my mind and heart, were wide open the whole way. It does not really matter that your way may be short, if you make the most of it. If you take the token for the whole.
At the End
At the end of our tour, we talked about how good people had been to us. Alyson remembered the lady from our tour who had offered to push her “in case your Mom wants a rest.” The kindness of strangers in restaurants, restroom lines, yes, even airport bars!
We specially want to commend the driver of our tour bus, John, whose deep courtliness and perfect courtesy and kindness did so much to ease our minds at the start of the trip, and throughout as he patiently unloaded and loaded the chair from the belly of the bus at each stop.
A further note: You would think a person on a cane or in a wheelchair would have little or no contact with wildlife. Not so! Alyson had a close encounter with a fierce mother elk: “A female elk was grazing on the lawn where we were coming out from dinner. I guess we startled her and she reared up on her hind legs, pawed the air with her forelegs and looked sideways wildly at us, the whites of her eyes showing. She was about ten feet from me! We all decided quite quickly to go back inside and we were basically trapped for a while until she moved off. I found I could move faster than I ever thought I could!”
Maybe the elk is on a lawn, or the cactus along a paved path, or the view is through a window, but one may take the token for the whole. If one has been given that gift of imagination. Venture forth. Though mobility may be limited, the world is not, and all have a place in it.
[See the Images section of the website for all the wonderful pictures of our trip.]
Sophie Rapaport 09:08am, 07/02/2013
Thank you Hillary. It was very moving and also gave me some hope that my days of seeing the world with the cane or the walker are maybe not totally over.
Kristen Aldrich 07:16pm, 07/02/2013
I LOVED this blog and the pictures from a wonderful mother daughter trip! It’s so great that you wrote the blog together! Traveling together as mother and daughter brings you closer.I’m so proud of my dear friend, Aly. She is just a love!! I love you both and I am so enjoying this site, Hilary!
Ellen Aldrich 11:51pm, 07/03/2013
Thanks for sharing your adventure. I loved reading it. heartening to know people were kind and helpful along the way. The Grand Canyon is surely amazing. Hope to see Bryce and Zion one day.
Ginger Lang 07:45am, 11/26/2013
Thank you for sharing your lovely journey with Alyson. How nice that she could see those incredible places.