Trail fail adventure: Sesqui State Park

Last weekend, we had a very memorable and quite dangerous adventure with Sabrina, her service dog Indy, and her husband Russ.

We looked up paved wheelchair accessible trails online, and found that at the Sesquicentennial State Park in Columbia, there’s a trail that is a combination of paved and gravel that wheelchairs should be able to use. So we decided to make an afternoon of it!

We drove down there, and when we got to the park entrance, it was SO crowded. There was a 20-minute line just to pay to get in the park! People were driving on the wrong side of the road to try to get around the lines, and the park employees were not happy with the unusual crowd. Once we got in, we had to park illegally (they told us we could do that) so that we had room for the ramp to deploy from our van. But we were very happy to see Sabrina, Indy, and Russ!

Brad got out his new irregular prism to take pictures with, and had a butterfly effect product on his lens to make butterflies in the points on light in the pictures (in the “bokeh”). The bokeh shaper also added a vignette (darkened border) to the edges of many pictures.

We went across the parking lot to the lake area, and there were picnic tables, but no paved paths to the picnic tables. So we off-roaded it over to a picnic table in the shade to eat our picnic. Brad had to use the bathroom, so he rolled over there by himself. Pretty soon he came back, as he needed assistance.

The bathroom was *marked* as an accessible bathroom, and they had one long stall in the bathroom (that you couldn’t have fit a wheelchair in anyway, but at least someone thought it looked accessible I guess). However, in designing the entrance to the bathroom, they totally messed up. When you open the door to the bathroom, there is a privacy wall in front of you. So you have to turn, go a little bit, then turn again the other direction to get around the privacy wall and to the area where the stalls are.

The hallway would have been an OK width… Except some smart person decided to put a sink right where the second turn is so there is no way a wheelchair can fit between the sink and the corner! So Brad had to park his wheelchair outside the bathroom and have Russ watch his wheelchair while Brad hobbled into the bathroom to use it! He got pictures of the risk-making/independence-robbing/accessibility-failing space.

We figured that was just one bad thing, it didn’t need to color our whole trip, so we finished up at the picnic table and went on our walk. Brad and I had left Hestia and Alice at home, so by that time we only had 2 hours left before we needed to leave. The trail was 2.1 miles long, so we figured that was plenty of time to get around the lake on the trail and relax some more before going home.

We started out on the trail and it was wonderful! The surface was a concrete sidewalk, and the lake was beautiful! We did notice, however, that almost no one was using the trail. We noticed that during our lunch, as well, that the trail was pretty much deserted. We thought that was weird, but didn’t realize there might be a reason for that!

Pretty soon, we figured it out. The nice smooth trail turned into a rutted, potholed, tree-root ridden asphalt trail with gravel thrown in here and there for good measure. It was SO bumpy and barely passable in a power wheelchair (a manual chair wouldn’t have made it!). But there wasn’t really room for us to turn around, and also we figured this was probably just a small bad section of the trail—it must get better! The guide that we saw online said it was wheelchair accessible!

We stayed on this part of the trail for 30–45 minutes, bumping along. Along the way, we passed some aggressive German Shepherds that wanted to attack Indy (Brad got a great picture!).

We were just getting to the point when I thought maybe we should turn around, when the trail turned into a beautiful wide, flat, packed earth trail.

We were able to zoom along that trail at a good speed and very comfortably! Felix was doing so well walking with me this whole time. He had been walking next to me the whole time!

We were on the good trail for about 20 minutes, and then the trail turned back into the same rutted, potholey, root-infested trail. Ugh! By this time we figured we were probably about halfway around, so we should just continue on our way. How much worse could it get? Well……

Along the way, the trail was punctuated by beautiful bridges that passed over swampy areas. The bridges were great and very smooth, and passed through some really interesting areas!

But most of it was really slow going. By this time we were about an hour and 45 minutes in, and I was starting to worry about getting back to Hestia and Alice before their bladders burst! Just then we reached a steep downhill section that had huge tree roots sticking out. The tree roots were so big, our chairs couldn’t go over them!

So Brad went first, to show us a way to navigate down. It looked scary, but he did it, so I tried next. The only problem is that my wheelchair has weird wheels. My wheels are wonderful on smooth surfaces, but it is very hard to turn on anything else. So I tried going down the same way Brad did, but my wheels couldn’t make it, so I got stuck.

First I got out of my chair and drive to drive down standing next to my chair, but that didn’t work. So Russ and I had to carry my wheelchair over the worst of the roots!!! Luckily it only weighs 114 pounds, so we were able to get it down with a few short bursts of energy. Of course, not all people who need wheelchairs for long distances are ambulatory—or especially able to do this kind of thing!

Then it was Sabrina’s turn. Her wheelchair wheels are more similar to Brad’s so she is better able to turn, but she’s very new to driving a power wheelchair. We were all nervous, and I took Indy so she could focus on maneuvering her chair. Slowly but surely, and with Russ’s muscle power, she made it! Victory!!!! We were so happy no one was thrown from their chair, because that’s a serious risk.

We continued on the trail, and were going by the lake now, so we knew we were getting close to the end. But it was at the 2 hour mark, and Brad and I had to leave!

Brad remarked to me “at least there aren’t any steps!”… Fateful words! Just then we reached a bridge that had somewhat of a step to get off the bridge! It was only about 1 inch high at one side, but about 4 inches high on the other side. Going down something 2 inches high in a wheelchair can be really jarring, and the chances of getting up this step if we had started off in the other direction would be very bad.

Again Brad went first and demonstrated how to do it. I went second, and over-corrected, ran into the bank next to the bridge, and nearly toppled my chair over! I unintelligently stuck my foot out to catch my chair, which could have caused a very badly injured ankle and a run over foot! But we made it down, and Felix did not fall off my lap (he was on my lap for the last hour of the trip as he got tired).

Then it was Sabrina’s turn, and she did much better than me! She got down no problem.

We continued on the trail and luckily after a little while longer, we found a nice place for some last minute photos near the lake.

Soon, the trail turned back into the smooth sidewalk concrete that it was at the beginning! Yay! We zipped on down the trail a little faster than we should have (Russ was probably running to keep up!), and headed to the bathrooms for a potty break before heading home.

Again we had to one-by-one use the bathrooms with someone watching left-behind chairs, and someone else helping people in the bathrooms. Sheesh!

We drove home, and got there only about 15 minutes later than the 6-hour mark that had been our goal. Luckily the girls had not pottied in their crates, so we were able to let them out and everything was fine!

Boy that was such an adventure! We will be writing in to the site that recommended this trail as wheelchair accessible, and to the state park to tell them that they should put warnings on things that even though the trail is “paved”, it is not wheelchair accessible, and neither are their bathrooms. The bathroom issue actually means the whole park is not accessible! 🙁

Hopefully this post will help fellow wheelchair users who were considering this park. If there’s any update, I’ll post another entry about it.

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