Our Alaska trip was a true bucket list vacation in a way we had not envisioned when we made arrangements for it in late 2016.
When we arrived in Fairbanks at 8:30 PM, the afternoon sun was still well above the horizon and the temperature was in the low 80s. These temperatures, combined with exceedingly long hours of sunlight, mean that Alaska is the home of giant vegetables. We saw cabbages the size of basketballs. It wouldn’t surprise me if coleslaw were the state’s official dish.
We were fortunate enough to be among the 30% of visitors who are able to see the great mountain, Denali.
From Denali, we traveled to Talkeetna and onward to Anchorage via private rail observation car. The next stop was Seward, where we joined our cruise ship.
Said ship deposited us in Vancouver one week later.
But this post was not intended to be a travelogue. Yes, we visited many beautiful places. Yes, we saw and experienced things we have never seen before. We saw a glacier calving icebergs. Dee was awakened during our night in Anchorage by an earthquake.
As fascinating as all these sights were, what really mattered on our trip was the care and solicitousness with which we were treated at every step of the way.
Traveling as a disabled person was a new experience for me... and traveling with a disabled person was a new experience for our traveling companions. The three words with which I became intimately familiar were mobility, accessibility, and vulnerability.
Mobility – the ability to travel from place to place - is something most of us take for granted. But under my current circumstances, the walk from curbside to the entrance to the airport was impossible without some kind of assistive device. Fortunately, the airlines are well equipped to handle passengers with limited mobility. I was whisked from airport entrance to gate in a wheelchair – my first such experience.
Accessibility is mobility’s counterpart. A wheelchair cannot help you get into a bathtub or get up a flight of stairs. Without the appropriate infrastructure, all the mobility in the world will not help you go where you need to go. On our trip, accessible facilities were a godsend. The ability to navigate a hotel bedroom and to use the restroom were critical needs, and in almost every case these needs were met.
My biggest new discovery, however, was vulnerability. Needing mechanical devices to move from place to place exposed me to feelings of vulnerability I had never had before. Complicating this was the fact that my own capabilities were declining bit by bit over the course of our trip.
When we began our vacation, I was able to climb up the steep steps into our motorcoach. That ability disappeared after a few days. Almost all of our land tour involve me being pushed around in a wheelchair. Getting on and off our motorcoach and our railroad observation cars was accomplished through the use of a wheelchair elevator. Believe me when I tell you that it is not a comfortable experience to be sitting on a wheelchair on a platform just large enough to hold said wheelchair while you are being hoisted six feet in the air.
I also discovered that, at least in my case, the number one fear of a wheelchair rider is a down staircase. Anytime I was anywhere near a staircase, my sphincters would clench in terror. Uneven surfaces were also not my friends.
The flipside to all of this was the fact that we were traveling with two couples - very dear friends – and were also assisted by a wonderful tour guide and motorcoach driver. Everything that could be done to ensure my comfort and safety was taken care of.
Our vacation was certainly one to remember. We have photographs for documentation, but memories are more than that. What I came away with was far more than the sights we saw or the meals we ate. What I brought home was memories of loving care.