Roll on Capitol Hill

I wanted to put a quick post together on a special trip I just had the opportunity to take. It was not a long ride, instead a trip to our nation’s capital to advocate for disability rights. I am posting this here because it was my first trip representing Ian’s Ride in an official capacity.

One of my closest friends, Kenny Salvini, went to the Roll on Capitol Hill organized by United Spinal in 2016 and 2017 representing his nonprofit The Here and Now Project, which I’m also on the board of. He told me what an amazing experience it is, and I figured I had to see it firsthand. I was skeptical at first because the two prior times he has gone, his chair did not return in one piece. I had only flown once before, and it was successful. I’m thinking Kenny was hoping we could have similar luck on this trip.

Straitjackets are on!
Flying is much more pleasant with friends..

The flight there went great, it was a very early morning flight and we were both wrapped in something called a comfort carrier that helps the airline staff move us from our chair to the aisle chair and then from the aisle chair to the seat. We both looked a little like Hannibal Lecter, but our bodies and chairs made it to DC unscathed.

After arriving, the heat and humidity quickly reminded me that I was no longer in the PNW. We made our way down to the Metro where we caught our first train heading towards our hotel. We managed to get ourselves lost a few times but eventually found our way. The Metro is quite accessible but also quite time-consuming for a pair of large power wheelchairs to navigate. The main problem is the elevators. You generally take one from the street to the mezzanine and then another from the mezzanine to the train level. These elevators are old, rickety, often smell like urine, and in no way would fit both chairs. So, we would do the elevator dance one at a time. Overall, the Metro was a great way to get around, and if I lived in DC I’m sure I would use it often.

The elevator waiting game.

Day two of the trip involved cramming a lot of knowledge into our heads about policy, interacting with legislators, and scheduling the next day. United Spinal did a fantastic job of organizing the day so that different panels could discuss different policies so that we would be in the know when we spoke to our senators or congressperson. The main topics we discussed were: keeping the ACA intact, opposing limitations on the ADA, and supporting laws that make air travel more accessible. I learned a ton and met some amazing people. Speaking of the people… I met so many wheelchair users with incredible attitudes that are undertaking such cool stuff! Many of them have their own nonprofit, many others are instrumental in causing change in their communities, and all of them held themselves with style and grace. I was honored to be among them. After meeting the good people and learning a ton, my mom and I had a couple hours to see the sights. We saw the White House, the Washington Monument, and tried to get some birding in. The sightseeing was much more successful than the birding. The parks were small, and the most exciting thing we saw was a grackle. I’m determined to see more of the countryside next time I’m out that way. We finished the evening having dinner with a good friend of Kenny’s wife Claire, and I got to sample a couple local beers.

On the third day we rolled on the Capitol. I visited the offices of two different Washington state congressman and spoke with staffers of both Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. I felt they were quite receptive to the message we were delivering, and they encouraged us to continue speaking out if we really wanted change to occur. After the day of advocacy, we had a wonderful reception at the Capitol where I got to meet even more great people in the disabled community. One person of note was a man named Earl Powdrell. We had joked that I was likely to be the most paralyzed person there. I was nowhere close to that. Earl suffered a stroke in the brainstem seven years ago which left him with locked in syndrome. He can only blink his eyes and move his eyebrows slightly. This did not stop him from being an amazing advocate and a huge inspiration to many, including me. He was a rocket scientist who worked for NASA before becoming locked in and he is still just as sharp as a tack. He received an award for his exceptional work in advocacy and delivered a prepared speech in a similar way to what Stephen Hawking would use. It was beautifully written and really pulled at my heartstrings. I was so honored to meet him and see how little physical function is needed to still have a huge impact on the world.

We started off with Denny Heck’s office.
Making our voices heard with Patty Murray’s office.
Derek Kilmer’s staffer was quite receptive.
Speaking with one of Maria Cantwell’s staffers.
The one the only, Earl Powdrell.

Our final day started out with having coffee with Patty Murray. We were there with a bunch of other Washingtonians and she spoke briefly on some of the important issues in the Senate right now. We then went back to the hotel to pack and send our luggage to the airport with Kenny’s all-star caregiver Amanda. After being unburdened by the luggage we went out for a few more hours on one final sightseeing trip. One notable experience was crossing the East Coast Greenway Trail. This is a trail that goes from Florida to Maine. It has been on my radar, and I really hope one day to ride a big portion of it. We then went searching for monuments and memorials. Kenny suggested the FDR Memorial, and it turned out to be a true highlight. As we rolled through the Memorial with quotes engraved on the walls around us, I discovered what a great man FDR was. He overcame so many physical challenges and accomplished so much with his life. Kenny and I had to get a picture of us knee to knee with a statue of him in his chair. I’ll remember that experience for years to come.

Route planning for a future adventure.
Who needs legs!
Knee to knee with two great men.
This man speaks to my heart.

After FDR, we went back to the Metro and made our way to the airport. After a long wait at security we boarded our plane in our straitjacket like slings. The flight went well up until I exited the plane to find my wheelchair had been damaged. The backrest, armrest, and headrest were not as they should have been, and it was clear my chair had been manhandled and put on its side. It was still in good enough shape where I could transfer into it and was able to make it home. Fortunately, this was my backup chair and I had my new one waiting at home. Alaska Airlines was quick to follow-up the with the ball already rolling for the needed repairs. This is crucial, because I will need this backup chair for my big ride in August. Fingers crossed it’s back in working order by then.

To wrap this up, it was an amazing trip with a great bunch of people, and I really feel like we made a difference. I was able to travel with two wonderful friends, Kenny and Claire. It’s fun to travel with someone with similar mobility challenges. We shared many laughs, and I would love to do it again. The real unsung hero was my mom. We both survived on very little sleep, and she had to put up with me day and night. I couldn’t have done this amazing trip without her, and I’m fortunate to have such a strong, enduring mother. We both felt it was an amazing experience and well worth the missed sleep.

Looking good in DC.

Proposed Route

Here is what I have planned. I will head west from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane, then make my way towards the Grand Coulee Dam. I’ll then head north through the Colville Reservation to Okanogan where I can meet up with the 20 and began heading West on this highway. I’ll follow the 20 until Marblemount where I will begin heading southwest towards Edmonds. Here I will catch a ferry to Kingston and be on the Olympic Peninsula which I’m quite familiar with. The last couple days I will head north towards home in Port Angeles.

The colors represent each day of the ride

Why I chose this route

When first planning this ride  we knew we wanted to go across the state from East to West so that we could finish at home. We knew we had to start somewhere in Idaho and I’ve heard such good things about Coeur d’Alene that it was the logical starting spot. Also, there are some good breweries there! The next difficult decision was what pass would be the best for crossing the Cascades in a power wheelchair. Snoqualmie Pass is the lowest elevation, however there is a ton of construction there at the moment and I would be forced on to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. I really considered this for a while, however doing tens of miles on a bumpy, dirt trail sounded miserable. Also, there would’ve been limited access to me for the support vehicle. So I then started looking at Stevens Pass. This seemed like a great route, the second highest elevation pass of my three options and there were plenty of breweries  along the route. However, as I started to investigate more I found that the section of highway between Everett and Stevens Pass is affectionately known as “Highway of Death”. Now I’m not one to be averse to risk, but the ominous name of that section made me start looking for an alternative. I started to really look at SR 20. This was by far the most elevation gain of any route and also probably the most isolated. But it goes through so much beautiful national forest land and is supposed to have spectacular vistas. I’ll have to cross Washington Pass which is 5477 feet and do a total of over 25,000 feet of elevation gain throughout the entire ride. Another big perk of taking the 20 is that it is part of US Bike Route 10. This really aligned with my desire for more connected bike routes throughout our nation and Washington state in particular. This seemed like a great adventure for my power wheelchair.


How you can help

I have never been to Eastern Washington or anywhere along SR 20. I threw this route together with some tips from friends and some bike maps I found online. I’m sure there are sections where there are better alternatives. I divided the route up  into 13 segments and I’m hoping to get some feedback from people who have ridden any section that I’ve listed. I would love suggestions on any portion of the ride, however I would really love input on the best way to get from Getchell to Edmonds. I basically let the map suggest the best way for cyclists to get between those two points. Maybe it’s a good route, but I am betting there’s a better option.

Without further ado: The Route

Overall RouteCoeur d’Alene to Port Angeles

Note: to see the whole route on one map, click the link above, scroll down on the left side of the screen, and click “show all on map”.

Day One, August 12Coeur d’Alene to Spokane

Day Two, August 13: Spokane to Davenport

Day Three, August 14Davenport to Hesseltine

Day Four, August 15Hesseltine to Whitmore Lookout

Day Five, August 16: Whitmore Lookout to Okanogan

Day Six, August 17Okanogan to Winthrop

Note: day six may be overambitious. 40 miles with a 4000 foot climb is really pushing the limits of my chair.  I may try to extend day five a bit to lighten the load for day six.

Day Seven, August 18Winthrop to Bridge Creek

Day Eight, August 19Bridge Creek to Newhalem

Day Nine, August 20: Newhalem to Darrington

Day Ten, August 21: Darrington to Getchell

Day Eleven, August 22: Getchell to Edmonds

Day Twelve, August 23: Edmonds to Discovery Bay

Day Thirteen, August 24: Discovery Bay to Home

Home Sweet Home