I have always loved long road trips and the tingle of excitement at the thought of the open road. When my husband and I graduated from UCSB, we threw all our belongings into his Datsun pickup and drove from Santa Barbara to Chicago to begin our stints as VISTA volunteers. I remember the exhilaration and freedom we felt as we left college life to embark on a new adventure.
Last week, we packed up our Honda CRV and drove from Los Angeles to Santa Fe. This road trip was different from the ones in the past. I had not taken a long road trip with just me and my husband since his brain injury. There was always one or both of the boys to help with driving and caregiving. But the prospect of the open road, coupled with my new freedom in retirement, was too much to resist. I packed the walker and wheelchair and shower bench and a cooler of ice water and fruit. It took us two days to get to Santa Fe and I felt the same sense of exhilaration and freedom as we drove through the Mojave desert and past the Providence Mountains. We sang along to the Weavers and blasted David Bowie. We listened to podcast after podcast and admired the puffy white clouds against the clear blue sky.
At the six hour mark, fatigue set in. We passed massive RV’s towing smaller cars and I peered at the drivers as we passed. They were always middle-aged males, and I wondered, did they get fatigued? How did they stay awake? I imagined a pliant wife or partner next to them, feeding them snacks or chattering. Next to me, my silent husband smiled whenever I glanced his way but he wasn’t engaging in chatter to keep me awake. I sipped ice water, ate sunflower seeds, and slapped my cheeks and drove on.
In Santa Fe, Paul met us for the weekend and we went to the International Folk Art festival and wandered the historic plaza, ducking in and out of museums. We ate one delicious meal after another, lathered in thick red chile, as complex and spicy as the mole in Oaxaca. And then it was time for the long drive home.
We meandered off the interstate and bought pottery at the Acoma Pueblo. I had visions of extending our trip for another day, exploring northern Arizona to see Lake Powell or the Vermillion Cliffs, but after five days on the road, I was tired. Traveling with disability was a demanding experience. Each task required more brain power – how far is the hotel room from the car? Do I need to use the wheelchair or walker or can he manage the walk while I carry our luggage? Where is the smoothest curb cut to cross the road for the wheelchair? Where is a family or unisex restroom that we can use on the road? (For the record, California has the best rest stops for disability.)
In spite of the challenges, it was well worth the effort. Our routine was different from the past but we were able to make accommodations. I still felt that tingle of excitement as we drove through the red rocks in Arizona and the mesas in New Mexico.
I’m ready for the next one.