Book Review: 22 Accessible Road Trips,
by Candy Harrington
Reviewed by Roxanne Furlong
Nothing says “Americana” like an old-fashioned road trip. You can take a weekend getaway or a leisurely summer vacation, stopping along the way at roadside diners, nostalgic hotels and lodges or quirky attractions you would otherwise miss while sitting in an airplane. Gaining in popularity again, road trips may actually be a more practical alternative for wheelers to travel.
Unless you are a risk-taking adventurer, you’ll need to research trips — more so than if flying in and staying put — to plan the most accessible vacation possible. To get you started, Candy Harrington offers her new book, 22 Accessible Road Trips: Driving Vacations for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. Harrington has been writing about accessible travel for 16 years, beginning as founding editor of Emerging Horizons magazine.
“I didn’t know anything about accessibility when I started,” says the nondisabled California writer. “Now I can look at things from more than just one ‘point of disability,’ so to speak — I can look at it from a quad, or para or a slow walker’s perspective. I can take it all in and report what the access is so people can decide if it is appropriate for them.”
For this book, Harrington and her husband/photographer, Charles, took month-long road trips. They tackled the U.S. in four sections: Pacific states, mountain states, central states and eastern states, breaking these sections into three to eight trips. For each trip, she offers options of flying or driving into or out of a gateway city.
Harrington says neither of them use mobility equipment, and they only took along a couple pieces of luggage plus a cooler to purchase picnic food along the way. They put 80,000 miles on their Monte Carlo exploring the United States.
Harrington suggests several benefits for wheelers when taking road trips. You can:
• Pack all the equipment you need
• Take restroom breaks as needed
• Move at your own pace, altering your itinerary if necessary
• Keep your wheelchair/equipment safe from airline damage
• Save on extra costs if bringing an attendant
Harrington says she spends 300 to 400 hours on pre-trip research. Though she could not give a cost estimate for any of her trips, she does make suggestions for budget-conscious travelers. She also offers information to help make the trip more enjoyable, broken down as such:
• Along the Way — major stops or highlights
• Timing — when to go
• Great Eats — memorable restaurants
• Don’t Miss It — special events, quirky attractions
• Linger on in the Gateway — things to do in the gateway city
• Fly-Drive Options — airport, accessible van rental info
• Alternate Entry Points — starting points along the route
• Vacations on a Theme — ideas to customize a trip
• If You Go — access guides and resources.
There are itineraries for all of the trips Harrington included in each of the four sections. I’ve highlighted some information to illustrate Harrington’s attention to details that make this guide useful when planning your next road trip.
California … Oregon … Washington
In the entry on Oregon’s Breitenbush Hot Springs, you’ll learn about its remote conference center that features two accessible 1930s cabins with a nearby community shower. The showers are roll-in but do not have grab bars or showerheads, items you may not think to ask about or might assume are available if you are told the accessible shower is a roll-in.
While visiting the Multnomah Falls at the Columbia River Gorge, Harrington warns that the signs to the falls direct visitors to a remote parking lot. Instead, she suggests a different parking area for a short walk or roll to a view of the falls, adding that an early morning visit avoids crowds.
Utah … New Mexico … Arizona … Colorado
At Utah’s Zion National Park, we’re warned that personal vehicles are prohibited along canyon roads. But there are free, lift-equipped shuttle buses running every six minutes for 90-minute tours.
At the Grand Canyon, Harrington leads us down to the north rim to enjoy a festive, Western-themed cookout. Here, a lift-equipped tram brings you to and from a lodge that features accessible cabins. She suggests staying a few days for a fun and scenic excursion.
Missouri … Louisiana … Mississippi … Tennessee … Arkansas … Texas … Illinois … Iowa … Oklahoma … Kansas … Kentucky … Indiana
The Creole Nature Trail offers an accessible, up-close view of the bayous and marshlands bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Here, as in other sections of the book, Harrington suggests downloading a free audio tour from the location’s website. You’ll need a Smartphone or a similar device to use these downloads. Otherwise, most locations have audio tours for purchase.
At Henderson, La., Harrington guides us through a rural area to find a hidden gem in McGee’s Landing Bar & Cafe for a Cajun lunch and swamp tour of the Atchafalaya Basin. She warns to rely on your own navigational skills because a GPS will get you lost, and also points out an accessible parking slab near the café entrance.
Music lovers will appreciate the “Rockin’ and Rollin’ Through The Mid-South” section highlighting accessibility options at Elvis’ Graceland and Beale Street, both located in Memphis, Tenn. Or head to Cleveland, Ohio, for a tour of the city’s arts and culture including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
In Wakeman, Ohio, we learn about Peggy Pleban’s Cabin in the Woods. As an ex-Invacare employee who has a friend with a C4 injury, Pleban designed one of the rooms for complete access in honor of her friend, and included accessibility in the layout of the B&B and surrounding area.
Florida … Alabama … Georgia … New England … Appalachia … Boston … Maryland … Pennsylvania
Harrington offers a non-theme park itinerary for Florida — a refreshing break for those not interested in rides and fairy tales. Instead, she suggests visiting Polk County if you are a Frank Lloyd Wright fan or are into genealogy, aviation or gardening. Otherwise, head to Florida’s Space Coast between Titusville and Melbourne to visit Kennedy Space Center among other space-related stops.
If you are not into things that fly or grow, you can take an accessible tour of the Daytona International Speedway at Daytona Beach and mingle with NASCAR fans.
But if a New England trip is in your forecast, you might want to visit Woodstock, Vt. As Harrington describes it: “It’s the quintessential Vermont experience, filled with country lanes, covered bridges, lots of farm land and some great scenery.” She suggests taking the “Springtime in New England” road trip sometime between just before Memorial Day to mid-June to miss driving in snow and before school lets out to avoid the crowds.
Packing It Up
There is a lot of good information in the book, but I would still call ahead and check things out, especially if you have certain bed, shower or toileting needs. Though I realize Harrington made stops off the trail, it would have been helpful if she included general estimates of travel time from one destination to the next, a mileage report and a list of the hotels, resorts and lodges in which she stayed. I also would like to see a more readable map in each section — as it is, it’s hard to see the particular states she is mapping out.
Published by Demos Health, which is well-known for its multiple sclerosis titles, 22 Accessible Road Trips could use a good proofreader to fix typos throughout so the reader can rest assured that all the information is correct.
Other than a handful of retired friends, I don’t know many who can take month-long vacations, certainly nobody I know with disabilities. But the lessons Harrington has learned during her years of travel and a lot of the tips she offers can be boiled down to any weekend, weeklong or two-week excursion to sightsee your way through America.
Harrington’s Quick Tips
• Make hotel reservations in advance
• When you pack, roll up an entire set of clothes for each day. Then simply remove one set at each hotel stop to avoid lugging suitcases. (Author’s note: I pack my pajamas and toiletries in one small bag for easy access.)
• Newer fast food restaurants have accessible bathrooms and are consistent in design
• Pilot-Flying J truck stops offer free use of their accessible bathrooms with roll-in showers and are dotted across the U.S.
• Keep prescriptions inside the car; trunks can overheat
• Purchase emergency road service; carry information for ADA Nationwide Roadside Assistance and your conversion van center
• Take along a Fix-A-Flat tire inflator