Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Going Home – A Disabled Travel Story (part one of two)

English: Moose, Superior National Forest, Minn...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After hours of driving north we were met with a pleasant surprise. The speed limit on Maine’s Interstate 95 beyond Old Town had been raised to 75 mph. This, on a stretch of road where at night the number of moose can surpass the number of vehicles. Despite this change in human behavior, the moose remain as unhurried, immovable, and deadly as ever (yes, I’ve been to the funeral of a moose/car collision victim). But this was the relatively safe middle of the day, so we pushed our minivan to unprecedented speeds.

We hadn’t been back to our hometown of Lincoln since cleaning out my parents’ house after my dad passed away almost two years ago. Our friends Tim and Lynn, who also grew up near Lincoln but now live elsewhere, invited us to spend a couple of nights with them. They were renting a house for a week on a lake in Lincoln known to us as the Little Narrows. Thus ended our self-imposed exile from our hometown.

Many lakes in Maine have local names that differ from their proper ones. The pond we call the Little Narrows is due east from the one we call the Big Narrows. On Google or Yahoo, though, these ponds are simply referred to by the single name “Upper Coldstream Ponds.” That would be like naming your twin sons Darrell.

2013 07 150Kim and I deliberated for weeks before deciding to take the chance on a situation like this one with questionable accessibility. It was a calculated risk.

When we arrived at the lake house the work of getting me and my chairs up into the house began. As I have mentioned in previous trip reports, I like to have two wheelchairs with me, because the iBot battery charging system is a bit clumsy. Kim easily guided me and the iBot up the four or five steps and onto the wraparound deck. Routine stuff.

It was quite a while later before we found some rusty, metal ramps in a shed and decided to bring the Invacare chair into the house. I’m quite knowledgeable about the operation of this wheelchair, and I have managed several, complex, multimillion dollar engineering projects in my career, so naturally I took control of the operation. The key was to have one person manning the joystick, so that we could engage the wheelchair’s motor, and two people pushing on the chair from behind, because the wheels were likely to spin on the steep ramps.

2013 07 160I stood in balance mode at the edge of the stairs, lording over my three subordinates below. I barked out orders, but they were openly defied. Then I made mere suggestions, and these were summarily ignored. Eventually I resorted to pleas, and all I got was heartless ridicule. Naturally, chaos ensued. As the chair made its way up the steps the wheels suddenly got a grip on the ramps and the chair lurched forward and up onto the deck. My iBot wheelchair doesn’t move backwards in balance mode very quickly, but somehow I narrowly averting a head-on collision with the out of control Invacare chair. All of this was soon forgotten, however, and the operation was considered an unmitigated success. Backs were slapped. Hands were shaken. Songs were written.

It was scary watching $22,000 worth of Medicare-supplied equipment being handled so roughly, but I would be lying if I said this was the first time, or that it will be the last.

After we had made the lake house as accessible as we could, it was time to prepare the lobster that Kim and I had brought inland with us from Portland. Clams and mussels were added to the mix. Topping off the menu was a bucket of margaritas. The feast, and the company, was outstanding.

After the meal we sat out on the deck and took in the view of the lake. Soon we were treated to several lightning strikes in the northern sky. For me, there is nothing quite like watching an evening thunderstorm unfold. Living in the city as I now do, even during the most intense storms I am simply not afforded a backdrop large enough and dark enough to take in the awesome beauty of a storm.

2013 07 175As the last vestiges of sunlight withered away, the intensity of the lightning picked up. It was far enough away that we didn’t feel a raindrop and scarcely heard a clap of thunder. Most of it was the type that we call heat lightning, as opposed to chain lightning. Large segments of the sky would be brightly lit every 10 seconds or so, and then later it would happen every few seconds. Eventually we stopped measuring the lightning by how little time passed between strikes, and instead by how many sections of the sky were lit up simultaneously by different strikes. No fireworks grand finale was a match for this show. We sat in awe, knowing that we were experiencing something rare and extraordinary.

Our seats for the show could not have been better. The stage was a serenely calm, dark lake, ringed by a carpet of dense green forests laid over rugged hills. Above the ridgelines, set against the black sky, were just enough puffy clouds to reflect and intensify the lightning flashes, and create eerie, floating silhouettes.

As the storm inched closer to us, a different sort of air displaced the harsh, steamy stuff that had enveloped us all day. You could feel its soothing coolness and taste its electricity. All at once the trees in our immediate vicinity started bending and swaying, presenting the undersides of their leaves in a gesture of submission to the storm. The rain arrived in a roaring sheet, and we rushed into the house satisfied that we had squeezed every ounce out of the experience that we possibly could.

2013 07 180
The accessibility risk we had taken to travel to the lake house was rewarded that night, in spades. But there was more to come on this trip.

To be continued…click here for part two.

Note: The last two photos were taken by Kim during the storm using her iPhone 5. And yes, the last one was taken during the dark of night, mid-lightning strike.

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  1. Oh good, another episode in The Further Adventures of Kim and Mitch!

  2. A joy to read! Sounds like a great time, notwithstanding the harrowing out of control hunk o' metal incident.

  3. Daphne, living vicariously through Kim and I? I'm not sure I would recommend that :-)

    Darren, we did have a great time, but this type of travel sure is a lot of work, mostly for Kim.