“Our Epic Wyble Family Vacation,” as it would come to be called, was sixty days visiting fifteen national parks and two state parks including one in Canada, and driving over 10,000 miles with five people and camping gear.
The summer after I turned fifty, I wanted to take my family on a fabulous vacation visiting as many National Parks as was reasonably possible. We would have a loose schedule, meandering leisurely, camping a day here, three days there.
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We decided to leave early June. A week before we were to depart, I had an idea. We would have a garage sale with the things currently in our storage unit and use the money on our trip. The plan was to empty the storage unit into our garage, price-sticker everything that night, and roll up the garage door early the next morning for a sellout.
Three days before we left we were down to a few pieces of
furniture. I was carrying a chair across the grass and tripped. I heard a
crack, and pain exploded in both of my feet—I had fractured my left
foot in four places and one fracture in my right foot. “No weight on
either foot for eight weeks,” Dr. Rocket advised. He prescribed two boot
casts and a wheelchair.
I could have stayed home. No one would have blamed me, but I had planned and dreamed about this trip for months, imagining all the wonderful memories our family would make. There are a multitude of reasons not to do something, especially if it will be difficult, but the rewards and the feeling of accomplishment are overwhelming and can be life-changing.
The sage advice about taking half the amount of clothes and double the money is well-known for a good reason. Here is the next lesson - Save yourself the headache of carting, packing, and repacking stuff and just pick it up on the road IF you really need it.
Walmart is EVERYWHERE. Anything you need can be found at a large box store on your way.
We planned to head west from Houston to New Mexico, go northwest up through the corner of Utah, make a large loop up to Calgary, Canada, and head home by way of Utah and Colorado.
Near Albuquerque, my oldest son and his friend Kyle said they would like to take a detour and see the Grand Canyon. This had never been a park that I was especially interested in visiting. It was a canyon with views. Big deal. I was wrong.
I felt small and insignificant, gazing out at the sheer vastness and beauty of the canyon from the South Rim.
We were in time to see the sun begin its descent and watch the colors change from vibrant, warm orange and reds, purple and blue to gray.
And the lesson? Do not let your preconceived ideas of a place stop you from actually visiting. It will be different than you imagined – better, or not. Either way you will have a memory or a story to tell.
One night in Yellowstone Canyon Village campground, after we had gone to sleep, several more tent campers set up around us and the entire campground became crowded.
At about 2:30 a.m., I whispered to my husband, “I’m sorry, but I really have to go to the restroom.” He quietly dressed in extra layers of clothing—the temps had dropped into the mid-30’s—unzipped the tent, and he went outside to get the wheelchair ready.
When I was layered up and had my boot casts strapped tightly, he lifted me out of the tent and put me into the wheelchair. Soon I was zinging down the hill. I heard a frantic, whispered, “Alyssa!” He had bent to zip closed the tent, and when he turned back around, I was free-wheeling down the hill.
He had to run to catch me! Here is the lesson: Always set Mom’s brakes, but more than that remember to laugh!
On a trip, especially where there are difficulties to overcome, it is essential just to take things less seriously. We both laughed hard that night, and we have a great story to tell.
“Handicapped Accessible” might mean that you can get into the restroom but will find you cannot squeeze your 32” width wheelchair through a 30” stall door opening. It can also mean you can maneuver past the door opening into the stall, but your knees hit the toilet, and there will be no room to turn around.
Or it might mean you can get into a stall that has a big enough opening and room to wheel around, but there are no grab bars in sight and you end up using the toilet seat to hoist yourself out of the chair.
“Handicapped Access” might mean the bathroom is perfect, with wide doors, roomy stalls, and grab bars, but there is a big step-up into the restroom itself and no ramp in sight.
These things could easily have put a damper on our trip as they were frequent, but we started to look at it as a “what will I find here?” game. We would laugh about the innovative ways things could be “accessible” and developed more empathy for those with more permanent disabilities who have to encounter that life every day.
After numerous park cautions and a multitude of “Warning” signs, I had built up a fear of bears, specifically, if they were near in the trees or behind us on the paths.
In Yosemite one sunny afternoon, near Inspiration Point trailhead, we were on a nicely-paved trail and the distant views were grand. Instead of enjoying them I found myself continually checking for bears in the brush.
Suddenly, ten feet in front of us and eighteen inches off the path at the shadowy base of a tree was a huge rattlesnake. Judging by his well-coiled mass, he was close to five feet long. After leaving a wide buffer and taking photos as we scooted past, my husband put sticks across the path to alert other hikers.
Next lesson: keep watchful for the real nuisances, not imagined ones, and remember to look up often. The views are well worth it.
We took hundreds of photographs on this trip. For years, I had not liked to be photographed, feeling I did not look good enough in them. Over the past few years, though, I have made an effort to be included in the family photos, friend shots, and “guess where we are?” group selfies.
I read somewhere that when someone died, their family, children, and friends would rather have pictures of them as they really were than no pictures at all.
The lesson here is to capture the moments, not just scenery. Put yourself in the family photos so that you can all relive the memories after you return home.
With three teenage boys on the trip, often for hours in a car getting from one destination to another, we had some moments when tempers naturally flared. Proximity for days on end can tend to do that.
We tried to break up the days on the road with short hikes or visits to some quirky roadside attraction. In the end, although my husband and I would have been happy to continue the trip, the boys were missing home and girlfriends and video games.
We headed back a week earlier than planned. Be flexible in your itinerary is a good lesson. It is a vacation, after all. If it stops being enjoyable for some travelers, it might be time to go home.
Many of my friends tell me they couldn’t imagine going on that trip in a wheelchair and tent-camping, but I had the easy job - to navigate and to enjoy the ride.
If you have a dream, do not let others tell you it cannot be done or it is not a good idea. Just do it!
There will be time later just to sit. For now, go and enjoy the peaceful views, gaze at sweeping valleys and far distant waterfalls, be dwarfed by ancient skyscraping trees, experience the balmy sunshine, and the lakeshores heavy with fog.
Were the frustration and pain worth it? Absolutely. Knowing what I know now, would I do it all again?
When do we leave?
--story and photos by Alyssa Wyble
Alyssa Wyble is a freelance writer and traveler. Having lived and studied abroad for almost 22 years, she has traveled to 32 countries and 35 states. She enjoys combining her love of food, family, history, hiking, indigenous cultures, and a considerable dose of humor in her travels.