Travels Near Sunday River, ME

Winter is coming, oh yes, it is.  I follow the weather blog of a family friend who predicts weather as a hobby, and although Pete says it’s too early to make an educated guess (watch for his predictions around November), the Boston area could have “a very memorable winter” this year.  Coming from a hardened New Englander like Pete, words like these conjure up equate measures of elation (woo hoo! I love snow days!) and despair (but not too many snow days! how many exactly are we anticipating?).

IMG_3140In Bethel, Maine, the leaves are starting to turn, and it’s a beautiful time of year for a road trip to the Sunday River area before the snow hits the ground.  On Columbus Day weekend, the Sunday River Resort hosts its annual fall festival.  You can buy your season pass and check out the pre-season equipment sales, take in some great music and even better – participate in or cheer on the North American Wife Carrying Championship!!  Seriously, this is apparently a very big deal.

IMG_3153Near the ski resort, you can wheel or walk in to the Sunday River Brew Pub, for good burgers, hearty and healthy salads and one of Stoo’s Brews (I heartily endorse the Sunday River Alt).  A little further afield, but definitely worth the 30-minute drive to Rumford, is the Gone Loco No View Farm cafe and bakery.  Annette, the owner, opens for the season in early October, and if the home-made chocolate she so kindly gifted us is any indication of her kitchen prowess, I will return this winter.  The cafe is accessible by outdoor ramp.  About a mile down the road is Mt. Zircon, a satisfying half-day hike or snowshoe destination – although you’d have to bring your own equipment if you needed modifications.  The views from the top of this 5-mile round trip hike and a pit stop at the No View Farm are a rewarding exploration onto a little-traveled road in the Androscoggin River Valley.


Ruby Dog: a fearless hiking, snow-shoeing and couch-surfing companion

When looking ahead to winter fun, consider the programs offered at Maine Adaptive Sports.  Their winter programs run at Sunday River in Maine, beginning in July, and we have had years of truly wonderful experiences with the staff.  Through this link for the town of Bethel, Maine, you can do an easy search for rental properties (sea “handicap accessible” in the search criteria).  Hope to see you there!



Portland, Oregon: Just Visiting

IMG_3043Living all of my life in or near Boston, Massachusetts, I was certain I’d have an instant affinity for Portland, OR.  So much in common: oceans, city life, a liberal bent, a northern mentality…

I was wrong.  Much as I liked Portland, I just don’t fit in.  Seattle or San Francisco might take me in, but I’ll forever be a visitor to Portland.

For one thing, driving in Portland is like entering the Twilight Zone. There are road markings I’ve never seen in my life (the 2-foot wide green strip on the right side of the road couldn’t possibly be the bike lane, right?), bikers zoom at you out of nowhere and the pedestrians look like Zombies on parade, taking a break from their headphones and i-things to menace drivers with a single scowl.  The city has special and strange lines on the street for bus traffic  – I imagine bus travel is the third most-preferred form of travel (after foot and pedal) because it is so green.  The welcome sight of the highway warmed my speedy little Boston heart, and I vowed to return to Portland only on foot or wheel.

Second, true to the stickers you see everywhere – “Be nice- You’re in Oregon!” – the people are by and large very friendly (unless you’re a car driver sharing the road with a biker or pedestrian, maybe).  But the constant admonishment to “Be Nice – You’re in Oregon!” began to raise my ornery, Massachusetts, stand-offish hackles a wee bit.  When you say, “be nice” does that mean I have to talk to you and hear about your day, even though you are a stranger?  What more will you want from me?  Is this a scam or something?!

Last but not least, I have no hipster vibe or clothing.  No piercings or tats.   I do have a travel espresso mug (the coolness of which IS remarked upon by the barista from Oregon that works at my local Peet’s) but that hardly cuts it here.  I just don’t fit in.

But I’ll return, and you might consider a visit, too.  Here are some travel goods:

-We stayed at the Heathman Hotel in downtown Portland, which was a mistake.  It’s expensive, tacky, run down and noisy (both inside and out).  The hotel has made wheelchair modifications, but because it’s an old building, they are jerry-rigged.  There’s a lift but it’s squeezed into a corner, the halls are narrow and the elevators small, and the restaurant (which is only partially accessible) is crowded by tables and chairs. I am told there are rooms that meet ADA specifications.

– This is where I would stay:  the Ace Hotel.  Entrance is through the adjoining Stumptown’s front door – and wow, do they have fantastic coffee….and smiling baristas.  Cool downtown spot, with ample lobby seating and wheeling area in front of big plate glass windows (perfect for your Stumptown espresso and people watching).   Although there is only street parking, there is a garage two blocks down and the sidewalks are easily wheelchair accessible.  There are several wheelchair-accessible rooms (I couldn’t see any of them but I was told the showers are roll in with grab bars and the doorways meet ADA standards). Plus, pets are welcome! Woo hoo.

-Good coffee and breakfast at accessible Caffe Destino in Northeast Portland. Wheelchair accessible, with ADA parking spaces nearby. Walked one block over to Whole Foods  for lunch for our day trip to the Columbia River Gorge area.

-Troutdale (east of Portland on the Columbia River, on I-84) is about 40 minutes from the Whole Foods mentioned above and is and the beginning of Oregon’s scenic Route 30 drive.  Plenty of pull-outs for photos along the way, and a wheelchair-accessible rest stop called the Vista House at Crown Point. The Vista House has ADA parking spaces, is well-ramped, and has a lift from the first floor to the lower floor, where the photo gallery, gift shop and the rest rooms are.

We continued on the curving road through moss-laden Douglas fir trees (also known as Oregon pines) first to Multnomah Falls, part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (  The full loop can take 3-5 hours. Another option to doing the drive out and back along Route 30 is to take Route 35S, after the Hood River Exit 63, drive past Mount Hood, and then return to Portland.

– Another great lodging option outside of Portland proper is McMenamin’s Edgfield.  The McMenamin family has converted about half a dozen abandoned properties in the Portland area, and this one was formerly a Poor Farm, built around 1913. The property is almost completely wheelchair-accessible, including garden paths, a glass-blowing gallery, an outdoor cafe, the pool hall and game room on the basement level, the Black Rabbit restaurant, the gift shop and espresso bar, the first-floor bathroom and accessible hotel rooms. The building is ramped from the outside to the lower level, where a highly-decorated elevator brings you to floors one and two. All this and an outdoor concert space too! Although I didn’t see them, I am assured the accessible rooms have ADA-defined wide doors, roll-in showers and grab bars. There seem to be plenty of ADA parking spaces. There’s a lot to do here, and it’s a great gateway to the above-mentioned scenic drives. We had lunch at the Black Rabbit, and although it was so-so, the wait staff were attentive and the restaurant was easy to maneuver in a chair.

Lucky Staehly, one of the residents of the Poor-Farm-Turned-Nursing-Home, is commemorated in several pieces of artwork on the walls.  Lucky used a wheelchair and was a “pool shark, ladies’ man and wheelchair racer” – love it!

-If you love the outdoors, see the Tryon Creek State Natural Area, which has good ADA parking, an ADA path called the Trillium Trail and an accessible nature center (, about 20 minutes from downtown Portland.


The Mad River Barn Will Make You Happy

“Hotels make you happy” said Marianne, as she settled into her bed last weekend at The Inn at the Mad River Barn in Waitsfield, Vermont.  She might be right – at least, in a hotel like this one!DSC02884

The Mad River Barn is under new ownership, and they’ve lovingly restored this old inn, including accessibility in these areas:  guest room (sleeps three) and bath on the first floor, parking, pathways and front entrance, indoor dining area, outdoor patio and restaurant bathroom.DSC02873

The aesthetic is both modern and re-purposed.  The furniture lines are clean and the inn is uncluttered, and yet there is something interesting at every turn, from the old door shellacked and hung as art, to the wall signs made of brightly painted sprockets and the bathroom fixtures made of reclaimed pipe joints.  The interior designer, Joanne Palmisano, has two books in print, Salvage Secrets: Transforming Reclaimed Materials Into Design Concepts and Salvage Secrets Design and Decor, both of which are on sale at the front desk or might be available from your library (the first is available through my library).

DSC02899The halls, although they meet ADA standards, left only a little wiggle room for Marianne’s big electric chair, and I was nervous about marring the freshly-painted wood.  (We left not a trace, I’m happy to say.)   A smaller electric chair or a manual chair wouldn’t have an issue at all.

Breakfast was included in the very reasonable room rate of $140/per night, and I loved it that efforts were made to provide farm-fresh, healthy meal choices.    The inn offers dinner as well, a nice choice for families who want to minimize the number of times they get in and out of the car!  The dinner menu met a variety of diets, from the meat-eaters to half-size portions, kid menus, or filling salads.   Vermont has several breweries in hot demand right now, and Mad River Barn serves up some of the best.

My only regret is that the upstairs lounge area is not accessible, and it looks like a lot of fun  with oversized, cozy-looking chairs, a fireplace, game tables and big screen TV.   This is definitely a family-friendly inn, and I hear that plans are underway to create a dog-friendly abode on the property as well.DSC02919

The Mad River Valley is a great destination:

–  Waitsfield is a good base from which to access the many programs that Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports has to offer, both summer and winter.

– Fall foliage season is right around the corner and Vermont’s scenic by-ways include lots of leaf-peeping, quaint covered barns, and idyllic-looking sheep and cows grazing serenely.

– Vermont’s Festival of the Arts runs in Mad River Valley from August 1 through Labor Day, and the Valley Arts Foundation took the time to compile a program that clearly delineates which venues are wheelchair friendly (and kid-friendly too!).

– Check out the  Waitsfield Farmer’s Market on the green in Waitsfield on Saturdays, 9 am to 1 pm, mid-May through mid-October.

– We loved the Hen of the Wood restaurant in Waterbury when we dined there a couple of years ago.  The Waterbury restaurant is not accessible but the newly-opened Hen of the Wood in Burlington IS accessible.  The only catch is that the new and accessible restaurant is in Burlington, about an hour away. DSC02926

Anchorage, Alaska Is Surprisingly Accessible

IMG_2887Alaska is the home of the grizzly bear, avid fisher-folk, cruise-ship mavens, hipsters and artists, and the highly-caffeinated. It is not, in general, an easy state for a wheelchair-user to navigate, but Anchorage stands out as an oasis.  (In the summer, that is.)

I prefer big hotel chains for accessibility, because they tend to be more predictable. The downtown Hilton Anchorage was bleh and expensive but accessible. (I do, however, thoroughly applaud the usefulness of their website for wheelchair travelers.  If only all hotel websites were this descriptive!)

I would suggest staying downtown, as the sidewalks are wide, wheelchair-friendly, and there are many well-timed pedestrian walk lights (meaning that you can actually get across the street before a rented Jeep or truck with mounted gun-rack mows you down).

You can easily spend a day or two in Anchorage.  Here’s what I’d suggest:

– drink espresso (Kaladi Brothers is accessible and excellent) but skip Side Street Espresso (terrible latte and so-so egg burritos)
– eat the salted caramel ice cream at Fat Ptarmigan (their pizza establishment next door gets great reviews, and they’ve got locally brewed beer too) IMG_2911
– visit the Anchorage Museum (couldn’t peel my 13-year-old from the interactive science displays, had a fantastic meal at Muse in the museum, appreciated the multi-faceted display on Alaskan culture, was transfixed by the earthquake monitor and tsunami display on the second floor; GREAT exhibit on ocean trash, photo below)IMG_2899
– go on Saturday to the Anchorage Market and Festival (it’s accessible and you can find art, jewelry, crafts, clothing, food and more food).  Loved Octopus Ink‘s clothing and crafts (they have a shop and are represented at the Saturday market too — or you can buy online)
– motor or wheel on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (11 miles of views, although check on the status of the bridge before you go; if it’s still out, your trip on pavement will be considerably shorter)IMG_2916
– indulge your inner outdoor-enthusiast and go shopping at 6th Avenue Outfitters

From Anchorage, drive the Seward Highway for some breath-taking views and wheelchair-friendly pull-outs (some even have ADA port-a-potties).  National Geographic published a piece with suggested places to stop on the highway.

DSC_0088Anchorage and its surrounds provide an adventurous day or two (maybe three) if you’re a slow walker or wheelchair-user. Those long daylight hours of summer give you even more time to get around, and the abundance of espresso shops can only help keep you motoring along.


Is it “Jackson” or “Jackson Hole”? Or: A Wheelchair and A Week in Wyoming

View of the Grand Teton Mountains from Mormon Row

View of the Grand Teton Mountains from Mormon Row

A quick geography primer:  according to Moon Handbooks, Jackson Hole is the name of the valley at the base of the Grand Tetons, a jagged set of mountains named “Teewinot” by the Shoshone Indians.  Jackson was named after a trapper who was based in the town;  the “hole” means a valley ringed by mountains.  Apparently it used to be called “Jackson’s Hole” but the name was eventually changed to “Jackson Hole” to end the sly comments.

Jackson is the town at the southern end of Jackson Hole.

This summer, my family and I stayed in Teton Village, about 12 miles northwest of of Jackson.  My favorite thing about this village is its proximity to the entrance of Grand Teton National Park (   For $25, you can get a seven-day pass for a car for both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.  If you are a US citizen and have a permanent disability, you can get a free pass to all US national parks;  see:

In my experience, there are always facets of the national parks that are accessible to the mobility impaired:  the visitor centers are often educational and accessible; there is usually one trail or more that works for a wheelchair; and most of the parks have a loop for cars with roadside parking for scenic viewpoints (that are often labeled with informative signs).  I have yet to meet a park ranger who was not resourceful and helpful when it came to my questions regarding accessibility.  The website at has detailed information on what is accessible in the park.  I cannot stress enough what a good resource the National Park Service (NPS) website is.

Grand Teton National Park is in the northwest corner of Wyoming (just south of Yellowstone National Park).  A few highlights follow:

  • Marianne at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    Marianne at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    The Craig Thomas  Discovery and Visitor Center (also known as Moose Visitor Center) is 12 miles north of Jackson.  It was renovated in 2007 and is a green and accessible building, with gift store, accessible bathrooms, exhibits and auditorium.  It is fully-staffed with rangers, at least in the summer.


  • The Jenny Lake visitor center is 8 miles north of Moose at Jenny Lake.  This visitor center is much smaller and not truly wheelchair-accessible, although there are accessible trails around the lake.   There is also accessible parking and curb cuts, as well as accessible rest rooms.  The big draw here is Jenny Lake;  you can rent kayaks or take the shuttle over to hike Hidden Falls (not accessible).  There is a scenic boat tour (narrated tour around the lake, about 45 minutes long)  that operates out of Jenny Lake and it is wheelchair-accessible; contact the visitor center there for more details.
  •  Colter Bay Visitor Center is 25 miles north of Moose and adjacent to Jackson Lake.  We didn’t have a chance to explore this area of the park beyond a drive-through.  Jackson Lake is bigger than Jenny Lake, and the Jackson Lake Lodge has a wheelchair-accessible restaurant, which is supposed to have beautiful sunset views over the lake.
  • Mother moose and baby on Moose-Wilson Road, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    Mother moose and baby on Moose-Wilson Road, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    Just driving through the park is a beautiful experience, affording sightings of moose, elk and prong-horned antelope.  My youngest daughter, Delia, and I got up at 5 am several mornings and parked ourselves (in our car) along Moose-Wilson Road hoping to spot a bear, but to no avail.  They are here, as are wolves, eagles and the pica, but we didn’t see them.

My second favorite thing about Teton Village was our hotel, The Hotel Terra.  (See my post review of the hotel.)

Other things to do in the Jackson area if you have mobility challenges:

  • Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding stables,‎
    • IMG_2831Our daughter had a private lesson here, and we would consider coming back just so that she could do a week of camp (really, daily lessons); the staff is supportive and welcoming, and they have a fantastic hoyer lift set-up to help someone with mobility challenges get on a horse
    • Wildlife Art Museum,‎
      • A small museum but interesting rotating exhibits, beautiful lounge room with views over National Elk Refuge, and an accessible pathway for viewing the outdoor sculpture
    • Jackson Hole Whitewater,‎
      • they’ll accommodate you in their rafts with (extra) supportive seating for scenic float trips down the Snake River but you have to transfer into their big blue rafts
    • And there’s always eating:

IMG_2497The biggest downside to the town of Jackson if you use a wheelchair?  A deranged person designed the downtown sidewalk system.    Sidewalks are raised for no apparent reason, with steps spouting from nowhere;  ramps appear and disappear into stairs, and many sidewalks are missing curb cuts.  I guess you could motor down the street in your wheelchair, as we did, but frankly, it seems like you’re increasing your chances that one of the parallel-parked cars will back out over you….