I am the traveler

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Life After Paralysis on July 31, 2018 # Travel, Safety

As I start to peel through a checklist in my mind about all of the challenges, snafus, and adventures of getting out of your home environment to travel the world and experience what is out there, it seems horrifying, scary and daunting. Why the world would someone like myself with unique needs want to put myself in harm's way, making for a trying time of miscommunication and error? The answer is plain and simple, a girl loves a challenge and I am that girl. I am the traveler.

I've capped myself at two months, that is – only staying home two months at a time before I get antsy and have to hit the road again. Denver is great, but meeting random Buddhist monks on the side of the road in Hawaii or diving down 90 feet along the Santa Rosa wall while adaptively scuba diving in Mexico or creating an adaptive yoga retreat space in Costa Rica while collaborating with fellow Yogis is just so much more interesting than staying at home. Furthermore, I find myself daydreaming on how to acquire a new job focused on travel so that I can continue to see the world and better yet get paid for it. Maybe Lonely Planet needs a new writer that blogs about traveling in a power wheelchair as a quad – sigh… A girl can dream.

But what is it that actually excites me about traveling? Is it managing long airport security lines anticipating a frisky fortuitous quad pat down while security looks for pirates booty or maybe an explosive device that might be hiding underneath my right buttock or wheelchair pan? Or is it the treacherous circus of transferring on and off airplanes using a specialized straitjacket–like sling that wraps me up like a burrito or better yet the similarity of a patient from an insane asylum? Either way, it always turns heads and attracts strangers’ glares, providing a glimpse into what it must feel like to be an animal in the zoo being observed by a myriad of curious individuals.

Maybe it is my secret love affair with direction, communication and advocacy while repetitively and clearly speaking with agents at the check-in desk, at the boarding gate and even requesting at the gate for the head crew chief to speak with me directly – stalling his duties on the tarmac – to get the 10 minute EB tutorial on my $50,000 powered wheelchair that, if damaged or destroyed in flight, renders me dead in the water upon arrival. Sometimes I just have to laugh because the people I communicate with don't expect such a strong commanding voice and message to come out of a girl sitting in a wheelchair. It's especially cute when the gate agents or flight attendants decide to avoid my face and speak over me to my traveling caregiver as if I don't exist, or I am cognitively unable to talk. It does not take very long for them to hear my authoritative voice and realize that I am very serious about traveling.

A comment that is frequent in my life is "Wow EB, you do more than I do in a year!" – these are usually comments from my able-bodied friends or family members. More understandingly from my other chair buddies, there is acknowledgment and a nod of approval about how I safely, effectively and consistently put myself out there in the world exploring and showing no fear traveling as a quadriplegic – and still have fun with all of the challenges. They see themselves in those scenarios and don't believe they can do it… But they can! If I can do it, anyone can do it and this is a mantra I live by.

Life is short, there are no second chances and I cannot go back. I can and must go forward and experience life for what it holds in front of me. I am the master of my own universe and destiny; only I can hold the key to happiness, which, in my opinion, is truly expressed with experiencing everything around me especially outside of home base. Meeting new people, showing others "out there" that anything is possible, eating at new restaurants and cafés, trying my hand at new languages, overcoming inaccessibility at hotels and airports and most importantly enjoying those wonderful moments as I watch the sun go down in a foreign land makes me realize that I am grabbing life by the horns. I no longer take things for granted, and as I approach the fourth year anniversary of my injury, more than ever, I know that life is short. I will not be on this journey forever, yet as long as I am in this chair, I will never stop being a traveler.