National Parks, Accessibility, and Marriage by Heather Krill

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on July 13, 2016 # Travel

The best story from our cross country road trip is the one Geoff likes to tell about how I “left him for dead” on a hike in Yellowstone when a bison entered the trail we traveled. This was the trip that was supposed to prove we would be there for each other through the trials and tribulations of life, in sickness and in health, blah, blah, blah. I took one look at the enormous bison snorting and ran into the woods, leaving Geoff in his wheelchair alone. He had his terra trek, which allowed the two of us to hike across most terrain using a tether and hiking harness. But even a terra trek would be no match for the bison, given the warnings we read. As luck would have it, he was not interested in my handsome, funny man and continued across the hiking trail. Once the coast was clear, I came back out of the forest, and Geoff admonished me, smiling of course, for abandoning him. Geoff claims he and that bison had a moment of clarity where they stared into each other’s eyes and decided to both let each other live and move on, a bigger purpose left in the world.

Ten years ago, we took this road trip after becoming engaged, because we were curious about National Park Accessibility. We heard the tent company Eureka had a great accessible tent design so Geoff called telling them he used a wheelchair and that we wanted to tackle as many national parks as we could in a four-week trip. Not only did they send us a tent for free, they told us to take pictures to send to them and to have a great time. Having grown up tenting with my family, I was not new to the concept of tent assembly or “roughing it” or driving long distances. But, I was worried about taking on the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, Bryce and Zion Canyons with Geoff and not knowing what some of our obstacles might be beyond being stinky together.

In terms of favorite parks, the Badlands in South Dakota, by far one of the coolest mountain formations and also had the BEST handicapped accessible campground, bathrooms included. I did write a letter following our trip thanking them, but really, if you haven’t been to the Badlands of S.D., put “them” on your bucket list. We saw Mt. Rushmore, and pushed ourselves around Crazy Horse, which, incidentally, still is not finished. We experienced extraordinary views of our natural world with the help of some fantastic boardwalks and engineering thoughtfulness. Our trip was truly amazing, if not utterly exhausting for both of us, and we learned a few things about accessible travel along the way:

  • Plan ahead. Depending on the level of injury or disability, some aspects may not be as accessible as you would like them to be, so make sure to call your destination for more information
  • Be flexible. We took so much time in the Badlands, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons that we opted to save Yosemite for another trip.
  • Find that balance for you and your partner. After the 5th night of tenting, I needed a hotel room, and Geoff needed to be okay with that.
  • Coordinate visits with friends and family nearby. They are often the secret to the off the road/ off the tourist map spectacular spots, AND you get in a quality, active visit.
  • Keep a road journal. Our trip was ten years ago, and we loved looking back at our journal; it’s been a good resource for other friends who have tackled similar road trips.

We also continued to learn a lot about each other on this trip. For example, Geoff was far more afraid of the people in and around the campground surrounded by barbed wire on the Navajo reservation and Blue Spruce Motel on old Route 66. Meanwhile I was more fearful of grizzly bears eating me alive in our tent at Grand Tetons after I spilled a pot of Ramen noodles near the fireplace. (Needless to say, we were on a tight budget.) I slept with the bayonet in the woods, while Geoff slept with it in the cities. But generally, when one was sleeping like a baby, the other one pretty much lay awake all night.

Geoff’s takeaways were that he would be marrying a woman clearly comfortable in all kinds of urban settings, when he wasn’t; that I clearly trusted all people in the world, when he didn’t. I learned I was marrying more of a Grizzly Adams type, more comfortable with animals and the wilderness than with unknown humans. But now, 10 years later, he claims he really is a people person and happy at home, but also comfortable traveling the world to teach about adaptive sports, dealing with a variety of personalities, accessibility challenges, and, well, being married for nine years to me. At the end of the trip, he learned I would put up with his quest for spontaneity, to change directions in any moment, and found comfort and strength within him– even if I was the primary tent assembler and gas station filler- upper for the rest of our lives.

About Heather:

Heather Ehrman Krill is a high school English teacher who is married to a professional ski instructor living with a spinal cord injury, mom of a kindergartner and first grader, and author of True North, a realistic fiction novel about spinal cord fertility issues and embryo adoption. Her husband, Geoff is on the National PSIA Demonstration team, runs Eastern Adaptive Sports and is a paraplegic who was injured in a snowmobile accident ten years before they met while coaching soccer together in the White Mountains. They live in North Woodstock, NH, and if they aren’t home, they can be found outside somewhere, biking, hiking, skiing, or playing in the rivers, lakes, and streams nearby. Heather’s author page can be found at heatherkrill.com.