This spring I was notified that one of my favorite bands, The Decemberists, would be curating the Travelers’ Rest fest at the Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater in Missoula, Montana. The lineup excited me, so, after a quick Google search to check drive time — only 8.5 hours from Portland, Oregon — and some phone calls to verify accessible and non-inflated rate hotel room availability, I secured the reservations and bought the tickets.
Accessible road trip activated!
Beyond the line-up of some of my favorite bands, I was enthusiastic because road trips are my chosen adventure mode. Post injury, airline travel has proven to be a generally excruciating process focused strictly on getting to my destination and back. In contrast, driving allows for independence and exploration throughout my journeys.
At this point, my list of hard-earned road trip “learning experiences” is far longer than the number of states I’ve visited, but it’s nice to be at a place where hitting the open road doesn’t come with too much anxiety. Since there is little room for error, it took a few years to fully nail the packing process. Still, we forget stuff. I mean, what trip could be complete without a run to a Rite Aid or CVS? Apparently, none of mine. Thanks, road trip flexibility!
Since I travel with a full-size electric lift and shower chair, loading and unloading is a chore. My sidekick and I now have an expert-level Tetris setup that nests the lift and shower chair in a way that allows me to get in and out of the van easily. After making many trips blocked into the passenger seat, the freedom this provides is important. Our August departure greeted us with temperatures over 100 degrees, meaning that staying in the car during stops really wasn’t an option.
Hotel Overbooking is Hard
The drive was beautiful, but the rainbows and evergreens did eventually lead to our share of momentarily infuriating snafus. Most notably, upon arrival, we were informed that online travel sites had overbooked the hotel, and no rooms were available to us. This, of course, was not an option we were willing to accept. We explained very explicitly that we had made our reservations directly through the hotel in order to guarantee that our roll-in shower equipped room would be waiting for us. Given that it was too early for everyone to have possibly checked in for the night, we were not leaving without accommodations.
We spent our first night in a non-ADA single king and inconveniently relocated to the fully equipped room the following morning. We made it work, but it was a pain.
In the end, we were just happy to have beds for the night.
The Festival Grounds were Accessible, Though
The festival lasted two days, and was worth the trip. As always, I contacted the venue beforehand to make sure the space access would be workable, and it was. The majority of the terrain was a lightly sloped and well-maintained field of grass. There was a paved area in front of the stage that, for me, ended up being worth fighting for. It was a mild-mannered enough crowd that had traveled from all over the country. We were squashed in, but I made new friends.
The only real trouble we had navigating the amphitheater was in a small gravel area leaving the food trucks with our lunch balanced on my lap. Luckily, nice people came to our rescue by grabbing the bar behind my front caster and towing me until I could roll out of the hazard.
The festival’s only true faux pas was not supplying enough water refilling stations. It was hot, and the lines were ridiculously long. I was happy that, sealed or not, I always stand my ground with front gate security about bottled water being essential to my medical needs. Hydrated and happy we enjoyed the entertainment immensely.
I will always miss jumping in the car alone, playing music too loud, and going anywhere I wanted. Driving down the open road is one of those preinjury activities that I never want to forget the feeling of.
Nowadays though, I find different silver linings in being the passenger on long drives. Not having to watch the road means plenty of undistracted thinking time. Plus, apparently when needed, I am great at spotting wildlife. Sure, sitting in the car for hours on end can seem daunting but with the right company, snacks, and playlist; I’d go almost anywhere.