Outdoor Tracks: Camping in a Wheelchair Adapted RV

OT613tWhen I was a small child, our family used to go camping quite often, and living in the city at the time I remember that I could not wait until Friday evening to get away. My brother and I would have the camper loaded and ready to go by the time my father got home from work. These are some of my fondest memories, something that I really wanted to share with my children. The only difficulty now is that as a quadriplegic I have a few logistical problems to overcome.

After my car accident in 1986, it took a long time until I could even believe that camping was possible once again. One day when my wife and I were looking through an RV lot, we noticed that one of the trailers had a large slide-out.

“Hey, look at that one!” she says, pointing at the super-wide travel-trailer.

“It looks like it would have room inside for a wheelchair!” I say.

Slide-outs that provide a huge increase in the interior size of RVs were a new thing at the time. I had previously thought that all campers were too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair, and that an RV would need to be nearly gutted to be suitable for me. Was I ever surprised to see how much room this trailer had inside.

We soon searched out an appropriate model, made a deal with the dealer that included a widened door, and we were on our way. Luckily, at the time, our van had a large enough engine to accommodate the trailer.

When we first started camping with the new trailer, I was like a kid in a candy store. I just wanted to explore all the campgrounds I could. It didn’t matter how far or how fancy, just the smell of a campfire and to be able to wander around and explore was so much fun. We camped with the holiday trailer for a number of years but always dreamed of a motor-home. Camping with a trailer involves quite a bit of setup time at the campground, including unhooking, setting up jacks, setting up a ramp, and unloading from the van and getting into the trailer. Camping with a motorhome would be so fast and easy, especially in bad weather!

I started doing an eBay search several years ago for motorhomes that were wheelchair accessible. One day a motorhome came up that seemed like it was almost in our price range. I showed it to my wife, she looked at it and immediately replied, “let’s get it!”

Now setting up camp with the motorhome takes just a few minutes, with no heavy lifting. If the weather is bad, there is no need to go outside and get cold or muddy.

It is a fantastic feeling to be in the great outdoors. We meet so many wonderful people. Staying in the adapted motorhome affords us the comfort of bringing our own stuff with us, and quads especially have to bring a pile of stuff.

The motorhome slows to a crawl and swings between the pines into the large pull-through campsite. With a flip of the switch the four jacks extend and make contact with the ground. A wiggle of the joystick and the motor home is level. Next the sides slide out with the press of a switch, increasing the interior space immensely. I back away from the electric tie-down and turn around in my chair. Within a minute I am lowered to the ground by the under-floor wheelchair lift.

The smell of the campfire permeates the air. There are pine trees all around, squirrels chasing each other about, birds singing off in the distance. I look above the trees and am stunned by the mountain view — what a perfect day! I find the paved path that I noticed on the way in and decide to see where it goes. Following it through the pine trees and across small bridges that allow brooks to murmur underneath reveals a multitude of wildlife. A chipmunk chatters as I wheel nearly-silently past. Up above there is a raven sitting on a branch, cocking his head as he watches me glide underneath.

The path winds through the pines for several hundred yards, then switch-backs down a long hill. I zoom down the smooth-paved trail and slow for the corner at the bottom. The trees open up to reveal a clear-blue glacier-fed lake rimmed by snow-capped mountains. Along the shore is a white-tail deer with a small spotted fawn. A loon calls off in the distance. I follow the path out to a point a hundred yards out into the lake, swing my coffee around on its holder, have a sip and take in the view. Wow! Does this beat sitting at home for the weekend!

Mountain Camping 2012 KaryFrequently Asked Questions
Where do you camp?
State parks seem the most reasonably priced, and most have trails, lakes, hook-ups, and some have wheelchair accessible showers. We have been fortunate to experience camping in mountains, near lakes, next to the ocean, and prairies. All camping is fun — the adventure of the unknown is so exciting!

What do you camp in?
We camp in a motorhome equipped with a Braun underfloor lift to get me and my chair easily in. We used to camp in a bumper-pull-type travel trailer. We now find that travelling in a motorhome is much more convenient, and setup and take-down times are much shorter.

Was the motorhome expensive?
We found a used one already fully equipped on eBay and made a deal with the owner. It cost far less than my adapted van! I’ve seen motor-homes sell for $25,000 and up with wheelchair lifts installed.
Can a wheelchair get around the campgrounds?

Yes. I use a power chair and have no problem in most campgrounds. There are special paved sites available to wheelchair users at many campsites, and they are held vacant as long as possible before guests without disabilities are allowed to use them. Many campgrounds have accessible washrooms.

What are some of the things you do while camping?
I like exploring, meeting people, fishing, and just being outside. My wife loves photography. Recently we’ve started geocaching and really love it! [See “Accessible Geocaching” in the March 2013 issue of NEW MOBILITY.]

Is camping expensive?
Campgrounds can cost anywhere from $10/night up to $100 or more in luxury resorts. There are many clubs with memberships where you can economically camp all across the country.

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  1. Bob Madden says:

    Our 1994 38′ Newmar gets around 9 mpg. Which in good for 3 rooms and bath, living, dinning, bedroom, Living & TV room plus outside shower, 22′ awning area patio.

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