If you suddenly found yourself without the use of your legs, would your life stop?
There was a point in my life that I would have said being in a wheelchair in any capacity would have been the end of my life. In fact, when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis almost 20 years ago, and the neurologist pushed a wheelchair across the room saying I should “get used to it”. I truly thought my life was over. At 26 years old, I was so naive.
Fortunately, over the last 20 years my time spent in a wheelchair has been minimal. I haven’t required it’s daily use in years (other than when I was recovering from a surgery)
So what is this mission thing I am talking about?
The mission: Travel from Northern IL to Holland, Michigan and back without the use of my legs.
Why am I doing it?
The reasons I decided to do this are ever evolving or changing. In my post, Where there is a Will there is a Grace, I explained that my daughter’s mother in law wanted to come visit the grandbabies. I didn’t want to drive to Michigan and back to pick her up and drop her off so I suggested that she take the train. Everyone was concerned that the train’s were not wheelchair accessible.
This is where my reasons for doing it began to change. I am no longer doing this to avoid a long drive. Past experience has told me that handicap accessible does not always mean handicap accessible, so I volunteered to “test” the route first. To make it an accurate Test, the circumstances need to be the same. So with the exception of driving myself to the train station, ( I would be willing to pick her up and drop her off) I have made all of my travel plans from what I felt was the perspective of someone who does not have use of their legs.
Once I began making reservations, my reasons for making the trip began to change again. Each roadblock or hurdle that I came across, (I will explain more below) has made me more determined than ever to prove to myself that when or if the day comes that I am in a wheelchair full-time, my life will not be over. I also hope to share what I learn with anyone else that might have the same fears about traveling like this. (yes I have realized there are many things that are making me nervous)
My original plan was to drive to the Metra Station in Harvard, IL. As I mentioned before, getting a ride to and from the train station would not be an issue for T or for me, so I decided to allow myself to drive there and begin the test once I arrived at the train station.) From the Metra station in Harvard, I would take the 2 hour train ride to The Chicago OTC (Ogilvie Transportation Center) where I would need to TRANSFER to Chicago’s Union Station to catch the Amtrak Train leaving for Holland at 6:30 pm arriving at 10:40 pm
What does transfer mean, and how would I be doing it? Google maps says that it’s a short 5 min walk. For who? (Actual distance is .3 miles.) Are my arms strong enough to roll myself that far? Would I be able to navigate through crowds with a wheelchair, or would everyone ignore me as they rushed about their lives? What if it was 100 degrees or raining outside? Still undecided if I had the guts to try this on my own, I found a link to Open Taxi’s which would take me from Chicago’s OTC to Union Station for $7.00 if I needed it.
Assuming I made it Union Station in one piece, I would need to be at the Amtrak station one hour before departure…. Ugh. Since trains only leave Harvard every couple of hours, I would have to be on the train by 1:35 pm to make it to Chicago on time 😦 Maybe I look for a different way into Union Station? It was already going to be a long trip, did I really want to spend more time sitting and waiting?!? I decided not to make a decision about the Metra just yet and went back to exploring the Amtrak portion of the trip.
The Amtrak train would arrive in Holland at 10:40 p.m., but the train from Holland to Chicago did not depart until 6:40 the next morning. That meant getting a hotel for the night. (maybe paying me $200.00 to drive there and back would be cheaper after all?) In effort to keep the costs down, I found a “cheap hotel”, but they didn’t offer shuttle service. How would I get to the hotel in the middle of the night? Was there a different type of taxi for a passenger in a wheelchair? Maybe Lyft?
A quick google search, showed that The Lyft app allows passengers with accessibility needs to enable Access Mode. In certain markets, when Access Mode is enabled, passengers may request a vehicle that is specially outfitted to accommodate wheelchairs. (Not very reassuring) To give them credit though, Lyft’s website does provide step by step instructions complete with pictures explaining how to request wheelchair access.
I called everyone back to discuss the total cost of the trip to make sure they were willing to cover it, and got confirmation to book the hotel and train tickets. I went back to the Amtrak site to book the tickets, but did not see a link to request assistance for traveling in a wheelchair. Fortunately, the site does have a virtual assistant that does make it relatively easy to book online. I chose to call Amtrak instead though, because I had other questions.
- If the train station is unmanned, how will anybody know that I am waiting on the platform, or that I need help?
- Are all of the restrooms also handicap accessible?
Surprisingly, I learned they are not. While the customer service agent assured me there are handicap accessible restrooms on the train, not all are, even though those same cars have wheelchair seating. Interesting? I will have to investigate that further. (It is a 3 hour long ride after all)
I booked our Amtrak tickets, made a hotel reservation, and checked in with a friend whose hubby used to drive for Lyft. All that was left to do was to purchase Metra tickets. I looked into a different Metra station that had trains running into Chicago hourly. Sure I would have to drive further, but again I would be willing to do the same for T, so I consider it “allowed”. After I downloaded the app to be able to purchase tickets, my mind started drifting back to 20 years ago when I took this same train to go to school in Chicago. More questions…..
- Didn’t I always have to climb stairs to board the train?
- Was there a special car for wheelchair seating? How would I identify it?
- How would I pay for parking and how long was that payment good for? (I used to have to rollup dollar bills and shove them in a machine.) Hmmm, maybe there is an app for that too?
My questions made me start to second guess myself. Ut oh, MORE RESEARCH! I went back to Metrarail.com. Again, the link about traveling in a wheelchair is not visible on their homepage, but using their search box and digging a bit produced a 26 page downloadable guide. The guide answered my first two questions, though I have begun to make myself a bit nervous. I’m in it now….
Parking still remained a question though. I finally found an app that you could pay for parking online or from your phone. Unfortunately, that same search informed me that there was no overnight parking at any of the Metra stations in Elgin….. Grrr.
I am very grateful that my parents are as helpful and supportive as are. I am going to park my car at their house overnight, and they will drive me to the station and pick us up the next day. They will also be keeping D.O.G. overnight for me, although I don’t think I remembered to actually ask for that part yet. Doh!
Everything is booked. Adventure awaits!
As I started to think about packing, I realized that the only backpack I own holds the legs to my wheelchair when I am not using them. How do you carry a purse or any kind of luggage if you are using your arms to push yourself in a wheelchair? Do most wheelchairs have legs on them, or are they designed taller so your legs don’t touch the floor? If I allow myself to worry I will never do this, so the new answer is One thing at a time. I am sure I will make a lot of mistakes, but that’s how you learn right?
One last thing I found that I will have to investigate further when I get home, (not enough time now) is that the Regional Transit Authority or RTA provides free one on one ADA training programs for using public transportation.