Road Tripping with a Wheelchair

The two-lane highway stretches to an infinite distance. It’s just you, the droning road noise and the horizon. It’s a time to think and ask yourself questions you never had the chance to before. Or listen to the album, audiobook, or podcast you never had time for.

That’s the beauty of a road trip, and it’s one that you can experience from the comfort of your own wheelchair. I was able to take a road trip recently and was left with a few tips and suggestions that might help make your road trip dream possible.

I recently made the road trek from California to Minnesota with my dad and dog Patch to visit my grandma at her home at a beautiful lake in the northern woods. Starting in Newport Beach, we wound our way through the coastal range of California, peaks of Utah, and vast plains of Wyoming and South Dakota before arriving in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

A man in a wheelchair enters a car via ramp
Loading up for the third leg of the road trip.

We drove in my Ford Explorer which has been converted by Braun Ability into a wheelchair accessible van. An automatic ramp comes out of the right passenger sliding van. I can drive my Permobil F5 wheelchair into the passenger or driver’s seat and it locks in via a bolt installed in the bottom of my chair. My dad drove the whole time because I recently made the decision to quit driving out of an abundance of caution. My upper body strength has declined slightly.

If you don’t have a wheelchair accessible van, there are rental options available online. You can check out Mobility Works, Braun Ability, or a handful of other companies that specialize in rentals.

Having an accessible van is super helpful. It worked smoothly and I didn’t have to make any transfers on the road. Bathroom stops could be done in the car with a urinal. We stopped twice on the way there in Utah and South Dakota, making sure to book wheelchair-accessible rooms when we could. That made showering and using the toilet a lot easier.

Two men pose for a selfie inside a car. The one on the right gives a thumbs up gesture.
Passing the time on the road.

If you absolutely need a wheelchair accessible room (to at least shower), it’s important to plan ahead and book as early as possible. Because we were in sparsely populated areas, we didn’t have too much of an issue, however, a biker meet-up in Sturgis, South Dakota made availability a bit tighter.

I also recommend finding something engaging to listen to. Nearly 30 hours of drive time can feel like a week if you don’t find the right content. We listened to Stephen King’s latest book, “Fairy Tale,” on the way there. What made that one engaging was the narrator and the versatility of his voice. On the way back, we listened to part of the novel “Shogun,” which charts the integration of an Englishman into feudal Japan.

The beauty of road tripping in a wheelchair is that you can go at your own pace and aren’t beholden to the mishandling of your wheelchair by a baggage handler. Once you arrive at your destination, you can simply drive down the ramp and enjoy the sights right away. It may take longer, but it removes some amount of stress flying with a disability like Duchenne and wondering if your wheelchair will be in working shape when you arrive.

The sun sets behind low hills.
There’s nothing like a sunset on the road.

So as this summer draws to a close, think about a location you’d like to road trip to and go for it. It’s an experience you should have at least once in your life.

I created a 6-minute video that documents the experience. You can watch it here.

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