Living on the ledge: Why MS can’t kill my travel bug

I’m about a half-mile down the wooded Lost Lake Trail when I start to question what I’m doing here at Ledges State Park.

Prudence, my shiny purple walker, rumbles over the gravel and through the woods on this accessible trail while my tired 8-year-old whines for a snack, our fishing pole flops in my walker basket, and my rambunctious black Lab tugs on her leash. Remind me again why I thought this was a good idea?

Because it’s Saturday. It’s not deathly hot or raining (yet). And life is about more than spend-ing weekends volleying from one big box store to the next—or about resting from the fatigue that causes. So I cheerfully talked Colin and Daisy into the car and trekked the 50 minutes north to the Ledges, as people here in Des Moines, Iowa, call them, because I hadn’t been there before. To me, that qualifies as travel. And I have what you might call a travel addic-tion.

When the Mayo Clinic announced “primary progressive multiple sclerosis” earlier this year, my disease was in a free fall, and my job as the senior travel editor at Midwest Living maga-zine ended. I was quickly losing my ability to walk, losing my handwriting and watching my memory turn to mush. But I couldn’t push aside the feeling that travel still had to be a big part of my life, even if I have to do it differently.

  

So that’s how I end up at the Ledges, where the soaring sandstone bluffs stand in stark com-parison to Iowa’s rolling hills of corn. Able-bodied visitors can climb wooden steps to look-out points and wade in shallow streams that snake through the park. For those of us who need four wheels it’s a little trickier. The accessible trail winds through pretty woodlands—but leads to a lake surrounded by tall reeds and no beach. A letdown, when you think of the physical energy spent to get there.

Surely there’s a better way to enjoy this park. I guide the car down the road that leads through the canyon. The speedometer reads about 20 mph as I gaze up at the cliffs and glance at the streams that run across the road after a good rain. A handful of kids lines the pavement, hoping cars will speed up and splash them. I oblige and wave as a sheet of water souses them, then pull my car over and get out. Families wade through the streams, stopping to pick up rocks, or look at frogs, or watch schools of minnows swirl through the water in perfect unison. Without my husband’s steady hand, I don’t attempt wading far down the stream. But Colin takes Daisy, both of them happy to get wet and muddy while I watch and snap pictures.

And that was it, really. A few hours. A few photos. A few memories. It cost me nothing but gas and Colin and I got to see Someplace New. Breathe in the fresh air. Feel the cool water on our feet. Connect with kids who otherwise would be home begging to play video games. Let go of the week’s stressors and recenter our minds. Travel does all of that, and more, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive trip or an itinerary that would make the D-Day invasion look slapdash. It happens every time you leave your home and go Someplace New.

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Kendra L.

Kendra L. Williams

Kendra L. Williams is a longtime writer and editor and the founder of MStravels.org, a blog about the ups and downs of handicapped accessible travel. She lives in West Des Moines, Iowa.

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    21 Comments

  • Kate   Sep 29, 2014 2:26 PM
    Good for you! Sounds like a wonderful visit.
  • suzanne   Sep 29, 2014 2:55 PM
    you are an inspiration! Thank you
  • deborah   Sep 29, 2014 2:56 PM
    Awesome outdoor MS day! ☺I applaud you.
  • jeannie   Sep 29, 2014 3:22 PM
    Terrific inspiration I love looking at these stories.
  • Mary Thompson   Sep 29, 2014 3:23 PM
    My husband and I are leaving Sunday for 3 weeks traveling in Germany, Bavaria specifically. This is one of a dozen trips we've taken there since I was diagnosed 22 years ago. If you ever want any suggestions about traveling there, I've got lots of experience I'd be glad to share.

    You might have wondered about my email. It's because we've been in the brewing business for over 30 years. Our reason for travelling to Germany is to visit other breweries. At least that's our excuse and we're sticking to it. I'm very excited to start reading your column. I've been to 80 countries in my life, and if you want any help, I'd be glad to offer it.

    Cheers,
    Mary Thompson
  • Irene Bates   Sep 29, 2014 5:14 PM
    I loved you blog. I have been diagnosed with primary progressive MS for about 3 years now. I feel the left side of my body getting weaker and I have a red rolling walker I use now, the cane is not an option now.

    I am a Travel Counselor that has had the luck to have gone to great places, London, once, Paris, four times, New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti and Fiji.
    I now have to think about traveling, as I have to use common sense. I do not travel with a partner, so I don't want to be a target for anyone, so I think my traveling will have to be in groups, if I want to go far, but traveling locally, I just use my common sense about getting around, and I do ask for help.

    Travel does not end, you just have to think it out.- Don't travel alone, have a back up
  • Chuck King   Sep 29, 2014 5:36 PM
    Kendra, I loved your story. I myself do not have MS, myy wife does. We have not let that stop us from our travels. She has even made it to the Top of Dunns River Falls in Jamaca. We have been to the top of Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska. If she has to rest at times we do. I feel sorry for the ones that decide that their life is over, when they are diagnosed with MS. It just isn't so.
    Eagerly awaiting you next article.
  • Lisa Stark   Sep 29, 2014 6:21 PM
    With wheelchair and baggage packed I left Colorado for Texas last week. I'm having a great time with my family. I am so happy I am not letting bad days or limitations stop me. Keep enjoying life and have fun, be happy and you never have any regrets. That is 1 for us and 0 for MS.
  • dee   Sep 29, 2014 7:56 PM
    What do people do when you fly and your unable to walk to the batabathroom?
  • Bill   Sep 30, 2014 6:22 AM
    Kendra, I have been a fan of your writing for many years and always look forward to the adventures you share with your readers. A positive spirit is all that is needed to begin an adventure. Look forward to your next installment. Be well, Bill
  • Noah   Sep 30, 2014 7:49 AM
    Great read, Kendra!
  • Sharon Ramsey   Sep 30, 2014 8:01 AM
    I have found airlines are terrible in assisting handicapped so we had to stop travelling since I became completely wheelchair bound.
  • Mike O.   Sep 30, 2014 11:08 AM
    And if the weather ever gets bad in Iowa, you can always just stay home and watch "Sound of Music" for the 50th time.
  • Phil from Lancaster, NY   Sep 30, 2014 11:57 AM
    Kendra, as you know, I have been a fan of your writing for a long time. Knowing you, the writings will continue, even if it takes a little longer to get from point A to point B. Please continue to keep up the great work, you are truly inspirational. And please don't forget to get to Buffalo for some of those fantastic Anchor Bar chicken wings. Love you sweetheart! Bosco
  • farmgirl  Sep 30, 2014 11:57 AM
    Kendra, good for you! It was a pleasure to red your blog. I am 76 yrs old, MS for more than 35 years and use crutches, rollator, scooter, husbands arm to get where I want to go. We live in the boonies and raise cattle. The best gift I've ever received was a small ATV that my husband gave me in 2005. I got to parts of our farm that I hadn't seen for years. And it goes across creeks. We went to NZ for 3 months in 1997--bought an Amigo scooter and went trails that not marked handicapped. It is a very friendly country for people who are disabled. Keep on keeping on! Edie
  • northwesternviews  Oct 1, 2014 8:23 AM
    I love when people keep thier passion despite the diagnosis
  • northwesternviews  Oct 1, 2014 8:25 AM
    I love when people keep thier passion despite the diagnosis
  • Nancy O   Oct 1, 2014 9:22 AM
    Kendra
    Love your spirit! Keep on travelin!!
  • Joe   Oct 2, 2014 3:01 AM
    i walk with a bad limp and use a walking stick a lot. An opertunity came along for me to go on a caribou hunt in the arctic at first I turned it down cause I wasn't sure if it was do able. The more I thought about it I decided to go for it. Had a year to get ready. I worked out lost fifty pounds walked every day and pushed my self. I think you have to live no matter your situation. I know I'm luckier than a lot. I'm still able to get around pretty good just slowly. I've done more than a lot of people have. I can say I had a snowball fight with my son at the Alaskan pipeline.
  • Suzanne Ferrara   Oct 10, 2014 6:58 PM
    Kendra Williams is an inspiration to all!
  • Joan Whiteley   Dec 24, 2016 4:37 PM
    I loved the article in the Southwest Airlines magazine. Blessings to you and your family!!! You are a trouper!.1