We love adventure, my old lady dog and I. This is most likely our last big one. You should see us in the mornings! I’m all sore and stiff with my arthritis and foggy from my fibro. She’s morning-delirious and always nearly-blind and nearly-def. We head outside from the room (a motel-style with an exterior room door is ideal), me holding the door open and nudging her hesitant rear end out, and she pulls me one way while I try to lead her another (where she won’t trip and fall over obstacles she can’t see). Inevitably she may trip or bonk her head on something, even though I try my best. The whole time I’m sore and straining to wrangle the 85-pound animal. It used to be way easier, for both of us.
But it’s still just wonderful, being out here, doing it as best as we can. Amica’s two favorite things, eating and smelling things, have not been hindered by any diminished capacities. As I write this, I’m eating “chile verde Benedict” (there’s green chili sauce and brisket involved!) leftover from breakfast and sharing with her bites of tortilla.
She’s now smelled 25 parks/monuments/lakeshore/whatnots in the National Park system, most recently Petrified Forest National Park, which is very pet friendly, meaning not just more access to smells, but more smells! Amica loved it! We love access!
Being disabled and traveling with a disabled pet is certainly difficult, and I’ve noted on this adventure the ways I make it easier and want to share my tips.
1. Always have food.
I keep my car stocked with easy snacks for both myself and my dog. If we are staying multiple nights in one motel and I have all her things moved in, I make sure I throw a meal for her in a bag to have in the car. On this trip, I’ve been places where all restaurants are closed, have decided to adventure further than initially planned, had significant delays due to traffic accidents, and even got stuck in a few bison traffic jams. Food within reach for me helps prevent dizzy spells, brain fog, and general grumpiness.
2. Have a direction, not a plan.
I like to say I don’t have a plan; I have a direction. This means I have a certain idea of what I’m going to do, so I can be reasonably prepared, but also, I’m not married to a plan. That allows for flexibility and spontaneity and prevents disappointment when things don’t go … as planned.
When I left California this week, I knew I wanted to see a couple more National Parks. I was thinking Joshua Tree to start, and then either Petrified Forest or Guadalupe Mountains. I just knew I needed to get east. So we went to Joshua Tree, crashed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and before falling asleep that night, I decided we were going to Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest!
3. Take breaks. Lots.
“Overdoing it” is such a huge trigger for both me and my dog, so I make sure we have plenty of downtime. As I write this, I’m holed up in a hotel room that’s a mere hour drive from an awesome National Monument that I’ve never seen, and she’s never smelled, but we’re not going. We need a day of no car and no physical exertion. Amica is currently sleeping off that tortilla….
4. Choose your companions well.
Having the wrong companion on a trip can be a real bummer. They may insist on doing things you simply cannot do. They may over-plan and make things a hassle. They could be unwilling to compromise. Or they can just be bummers themselves, like people who complain about everything, or bring along their drama to air out the whole time, or are unkind to you.
While Amica has limitations that I have to work around, and while she doesn’t carry any of her own luggage, ever, she’s a pretty great travel companion. We agree on the music in the car, we like going to a lot of the same places, and if I want to go for a slightly longer walk, she’s totally fine napping in the car until I get back. She’s also friendly to strangers and helps me meet cool people, like this whole crew:
You know that’s my thing: communicate. I communicate with the hotel that I need a first floor room, also that I want one that’s NOT disability accessible, because “I don’t like the tall toilets. My feet don’t touch the floor.” I communicate with friends I’m visiting that Amica will be bumping into their things. I communicate that I do not want to go out to eat because I cannot sit in a chair after driving several hours. I communicate with myself that it’s time for a break. I communicate, communicate, communicate.
6. Own the disability.
It’s tempting to “pass” for an entire trip, to live it to its fullest, but ignoring a disability so often just makes it worse. That’s why Amica and I sleep in a little. That’s why we take lazy days off. Owning the disability also means using available accommodations. I used my disabled parking placard twice on the trip; the first time because it was a much shorter walk to the restroom and I was trying to conserve energy, and the second time because I was having an irritable bowel syndrome emergency that was about to be an actual accident! (I made it.)
Finally, owning the disability means to not feel ashamed of it or guilty for using available services, and with this mindset I finally got my National Parks Access Pass, which is for people with a permanent disability, and it gets me free entrance to all parks for life. Don’t worry; I’ll still support the parks by spending money in the gift shops!
7. Think quality over quantity.
We really want to “do it all” when we’re someplace new, but that’s not always the best experience. In fact, it rarely is. I like to apply my “museum rule,” which is that I choose two or three exhibits I’m very interested in and spend quality time with them, rather than trying to visit the entire museum. I do always leave energy for the gift shop, of course. I applied the museum rule in Grand Teton National Park by seeing only a certain section of it instead of fatiguing myself and my dog by trying to see the whole thing in one day.
8. Bring travel aids.
I always travel with my ibuprofen and my topical pain medication. I have my headphones, which double as earplugs, and I’ve used them this trip when Amica has been noisily restless at night. I forgot my back brace! That would’ve been good the day I hurt myself picking Amica up when she fell on a slippy floor. I have a list template that I got as a gift that I use for packing, but it’s for abled people. I need to create a new one that has all my favorite take-alongs: pain medication, brace, compression gloves, TENS unit….
I did remember to pack everything for Amica: children’s chewable aspirin, her more supportive harness, emergency stash of colitis meds….
9. Use Splat.
In one of version of my Splat maps, I listed days’ activities under the categories of “must,” “should,” and “perhaps.” This can be applied to play as well as work! While I didn’t literally write it down, upon entering Yellowstone National Park, for example, I had in my mind what I “must” see, what I “should” see, and what I’d “perhaps” see. I started with the “musts” and went from there. This kept me from missing favorite places but also kept up good direction for as long as I had energy to keep exploring!
10. Count blessings.
One of the more difficult trips I’ve taken was visiting Singapore. It was my first time to Asia and the jet lag was intense, plus I had some very inconsiderate roommates at the hostel, so I was quite sleep deprived. There are other reasons that trip was far from my favorite. But what I did the first night, and continued to do each night, was write a simple list in my journal of my favorite things from that day. That kept me focused on all the positives and showed me a big picture of joyful adventure.
There have been many challenges this trip, many having to do with my disabilities or Amica’s disabilities, but I’m doing my listing. It doesn’t have to be on paper. I talk to God while I’m driving and thank Him for each beautiful thing that we’ve experienced, and it’s a beautiful big picture.
By the way, Amica has now smelled all 48 contiguous states. Whatever happens next, I am beyond blessed with all the memories.