Our First Accessible Road Trip
Due to the 2020 pandemic, Laura and I hadn’t left our neighborhood in months except for doctor appointments. But then we hatched a plan. We were going to leave the city limits entirely (gulp!) with our brand new portable toilet and our brand new wheelchair-accessible minivan. We were going to boldly drive up into the mountains and have a romantic picnic. Just the two of us. And our untested porta potty and our untested Honda Odyssey minivan. What, oh what, could possibly go wrong on this three-hour tour? Picture Gilligan's Island meets the Griswolds. Oh boy...
6 min read
|Our first road trip in our wheelchair-accessible minivan!|
Traveling during a pandemic
Road trips when you have a disability are complicated. Road trips during a pandemic when you have a disability are far, far, far more complicated. They require strategizing. Specialized gear. And a sense of adventure, one that is clearly distinguishable from sheer terror. In my case, that last one required a bit of work since for months seemingly every Covid-19 story I read mentioned the dangers of public restrooms with talk of aerosolization and plumes. PLUMES!
I was scared. I didn’t want my cause of death to read: “Poor guy with MS inhaled virus from infected poop after unwisely sitting on the pot for 25 minutes trying to pee. And he didn’t even have to go. Sad.” I reasoned that if I had to visit the public facilities I might as well be huffing coronavirus out of a paper bag. What to do?
“Let’s just buy a full-on portable toilet,” Laura suggested, reasoning that this pandemic thing wasn’t going away anytime soon. Friends had recommended the Porta Potti from Thetford so boom, I purchased one. (Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases; these funds help maintain this website.) “And then we’ll need a way to transport it so you can use it in privacy.” No problem. Wait, what?
Prepping our wheelchair-accessible minivan
So that’s sorta how we ended up with a wheelchair-accessible 2020 Honda Odyssey minivan that cost a wee-bit more than the portable toilet. But that’s for another discussion. After all, this story is about a ROAD TRIP! And since I’m involved, cue the theme to National Lampoon's Vacation, only instead of starring Clark Griswold you have Gimpy Dave.
The goal was immensely modest: drive 50 minutes away into the mountains that shadow Albuquerque and have a picnic. Easy peasy. A three-hour tour. (Hum with me, A three hour tour.) Laura dutifully organized everything, packed the food/utensils, and even set up the toilet, complete with filling the water reservoir and prepping the waste tank. We thought about testing it first before we tossed it into the back, but time was a-wasting! Because ROAD TRIP!
I did one final pee at home and then boarded our white whale of a minivan, which Laura had idling outside to cool down. The ramp came out, as designed. The minivan kneeled, as designed. And then with me safely inside, the passenger seat slid back and swiveled, as designed. And then the passenger seat slid back and swiveled, as designed. AND THEN THE PASSENGER SEAT SLID BACK AND SWIVELED, AS DESIGNED.
It must be broken. Our epic road trip had gone all of eight feet. So we put our collective brains together and our automotive repair talents to the test.
“Honey dear, our automotive repair skillset ends right after pumping gas and programming the radio,” said Laura. We were doomed. But wait! I could drive! Let’s just swivel the driver’s seat! But it curiously didn’t work either. Using immense powers of deduction, we concluded that the move-back/swivel feature might get disabled if the car was running. AHA! Now we were off on our ROAD TRIP! I just had to transfer into the passenger seat.
EEEEEEEEEEE!!! A very loud, very annoying alarm was going off from, of all places, the seat. “WHAT THE HECK,” I yelled to Laura. “YOUR BUTT MUST HAVE BROKEN IT,” she retorted over the sound of the alarm. My butt has indeed broken things (RIP that poor toilet seat), but I was being careful. Eventually we tracked down the culprit: a red switch that my wheelchair had accidentally bumped. Its purpose? To this day we have no clue. We switched it off. It was time to go.
“Except now I gotta pee.” I grinned. Funny, Laura was in no mood for my humor. I zipped it.
Hitting the road ... gulp!
Thirty minutes later the excitement was palpable as we drove up the twisty mountain road. We had left city limits for the first time in five months! And then we heard, after one tight corner, a very loud KERTHUNK! Odd. A new car isn’t supposed to make those noises. My wheelchair was strapped in, so it wasn’t the culprit. But what large item in the back could have tipped over? The toilet!
When Laura opened the rear tailgate she was prepared for the worst: an ocean of toilet water that would pour out and stain her shoes blue followed by hours of cleanup. Fortunately, toilets meant for boats and RVs are made to survive tipping. With the toilet now righted and better secured, it was full speed ahead on our ROAD TRIP. Well, maybe not full speed. We didn’t want to press our luck with the potty.
Finally, and with little fanfare, we arrived at our near-empty picnic area. Both of us were giddy and hungry, clearly hungry, as Laura’s tummy was rumbling so loudly it sounded like thunder! “That wasn’t my stomach.” Rain started to patter on the windshield, each drop mocking us, spitting, stopping, and then spitting. Fine. Our picnic would be in our minivan, where we would enjoy the mountain view. And the view of the handicap-accessible bathroom that I was not permitted to use. Thank goodness I didn’t have to pee. Right? UH, RIGHT?!
People kept driving up to our picnic area. Not to picnic—it was raining—but to pee. Combine rain with continuous bathroom runs and your MS brain will finally splinter.
Breaking in the porta potty
|How our new porta potty looks when it's not tipped over.|
“Uh, I think I gotta go.” I gave Laura my best puppy dog eyes. In the time it took Laura to retrieve and then set up our emergency toilet, the urgency was cresting. I had to hustle off the passenger seat! And then EEEEEEEEEE!!! I triggered the seat alarm again. I ignored it and quickly transferred onto my wheelchair. TIME TO GO. But my pants. They were on my body, and they needed to come off! Laura turned off the alarm and helped me remove my drawers.
EEEEEEEEE!!! My foot hit the damn alarm again. No time to think. I had to transfer onto the porta potty. But before I could shuffle over, in the event I went down, I had to put on a gait belt. Now I was naked from the waist down and technically armed with an uncontrollable water cannon that did not shoot water—and I was putting on a belt with an alarm blaring. Then: the heavens parted, it stopped raining, and I found myself safely on the toilet. I did it. I DID IT!
And then a car pulled into the parking lot. Immediately next to our van. And the guy opened his door, swung his legs out, turned directly toward me, and proceeded to play on his phone. Our windows are tinted. He couldn’t see in. But I could see out. And my bladder was having none of it. I deduced he must have been reading Moby Dick on his phone. Fifteen minutes later I gave up. It started raining again. We had finished lunch. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to head home.
A sense of relief washed over me when we pulled into our driveway. The trip ultimately had been a success despite all the excitement. The car worked. The toilet worked. The “picnic” worked. Everything worked. Even my multiple sclerosis mostly behaved. “Now you can finally pee,” Laura mused.“Naw, I don’t hafta.”