The best story from our “Let’s See How Accessible National Parks Are” 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 were on about 20 yards away. This was the trip that was supposed to prove we would be there for each other through the trials and tribulations of life…blah blah blah…in sickness and in health. I took one look at the enormous bison coming at me and snorting and ran into the woods, leaving Geoff in his wheelchair to stare down said bison alone. So much for sticking together. He had his terra trek, which allowed the two of us to hike pretty easily across most terrain using a tether and my super strong arms and legs. But even a terra trek would be no match for the bison, given the warnings we had been reading about them. As luck would have it, he was not interested in my handsome man and continued across the hiking trail giving Geoff a look of boredom and carried on. Once the coast was clear, I came back out of the forest and Geoff admonished me, smiling of course, for abandoning the disabled fiancé. To this day, 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 for each of them…
This summer is our 10 year anniversary–not of being married– that would be nine years ago tomorrow, June 23– but 10 years ago, we took a road trip, after becoming engaged, across the country to make sure we could go the long haul into marriage together. We planned to be gone one month, leaving the day after my brother Greg’s wedding on Martha’s Vineyard, and headed west.
We had heard the tent company Eureka had a great accessible tent design and Geoff called inquiring, telling them he used a wheelchair and that he and his fiancé 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. Free tent: awesome. 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 National Parks like the Grand Canyon and Bryce and Zion and Grand Tetons and Yellowstone with Geoff and not knowing what some of our obstacles might be beyond being stinky together.
We shared the driving and cooking and sometimes we ate in restaurants; one of my favorites being this amazing little place on the outskirts of Detroit, where at 5 AM as the sun was rising, we were able to purchase a fresh loaf of Italian bread, chunk of cheddar cheese, assorted fresh made sushi rolls, and newly picked local strawberries. We saw Niagara Falls, assorted museums in Chicago, and even some Civil War battlefields on our way home; it was in every sense of the word amazing.
In terms of favorite parks, the Badlands in South Dakota, by far one of the coolest mountain formations I’d ever laid eyes on, also had the BEST handicapped accessible campgrounds, bathrooms included. They should win an award, if such a thing exists. I did write a letter following our trip, but really, if you haven’t been to the Badlands of S.D., put “them” on your bucket list. Geoff purchased a real live Stetson at Wall Drug, also in South Dakota, which he treasures to this day. We saw Mt. Rushmore, and pushed ourselves around Crazy Horse, which, incidentally, still is not finished.
We 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; while 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 fire place. 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 when one sleeping like a baby, the other one pretty much lay awake all night.
Zion was cool too, only we got caught up in a massive hail storm which pelted our Honda Element putting a ton of little dents in the metal. But, at least, we were not eaten alive by anything, nor had our belongings stolen. The Grand Canyon was as wide as it was deep, and we could not believe the power carved out by that “little” Colorado River.
There was the good samaritan who told me as I was pumping gas for the 50th time in 25 days (one of my only complaints) that our tires were completely bald and ought to be replaced before we hit Texas. So, we found ourselves one day at a very friendly gas station/ auto mechanic/ gift shop/ grocery store/ ammo-gun-fudge factory, where we replaced our 4 tires and chatted up a wide variety of people, all wondering what a man in a wheelchair and his teacher girlfriend were doing out here on such a hot day.
This is pretty much the point where Geoff describes me as a “horse headed for the barn.” We came, we saw, we traveled, we made memories– but I was ready for the cold rivers and NH mountains and my own bed and not to sleep in a tent again for a long time. We had visited so many good friends along the way, including Geoff’s Uncle Al, a World War II Vet, in Michigan, and cousin Lisa in Cincinnati, and Katie Murphy in Jackson Hole, who toured us across Jenny Lake, a beautiful spot in a truly remarkable place in the world, and topped off the trip in Geoff’s last hometown of Bethel, CT visiting with Jim Cofone, an old friend from high school. We can’t wait to bring our kiddos to all of these extraordinary places. I wonder how large the accessible tents are nowadays.
Geoff’s takeaways were that he was okay with 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 than with unknown people. But now, 10 years later, he claims he really is a people person, and happy at home, but also comfortable traveling the world, dealing with a variety of personalities, accessibility challenges, and, well, being married for nine years to me. LOVE YOU, Babe… 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 filler upper for the rest of our lives…Happy 10th cross country anniversary, a strong recommendation for those thinking about marrying the love of your life…