Thanksgiving break was a whirlwind of activity and adventure with 13 of my family members.
Every other Thanksgiving, my Nana sponsors a family reunion trip with my Mom’s side of the family, which is typically the only time that we are all able to get together. We try to alternate coasts, since my family lives in Georgia, my Nana and aunt live in Florida, and my two uncles and their families live in California.
This year was the fifth trip that we’ve taken together, our first trip was in 2011 to Palm Springs, CA, then to Amelia Island, FL in 2013, the Grand Canyon in 2015, the Smoky Mountains in 2017, and this year we went to DC and New York City.
We kind of recreated a trip that I took with my Nana and aunt the summer of 2017, where we drove to DC, spent a day touring, then took a train to New York and spent two days there.
The trip started the Monday before Thanksgiving as we all flew to DC.
My Nana, my aunt, and I were scheduled to get in around 4 pm, but our flight was delayed due to an issues with the plane, so we didn’t end up leaving Jacksonville until around 7 pm…
It was a very long day, we had to drive two hours to get to the airport and spent about 7 hours there. And the day before I spontaneously drove to Tampa for a concert and didn’t get back to Gainesville until 2 am… maybe not the best decision but it was well worth it : )
We started Tuesday morning with breakfast at a nearby café before walking to the Capital for two tours, first the traditional tour that everyone does, then a special tour of the Senate.
We spent Wednesday going to museums and monuments. We got to go to the top of the Washington Monument, see the White House at sunset, and the Lincoln Memorial at night.
All of the monuments and museums were surprisingly accessible; however, the restaurants were not. At at least one of the restaurants in each city my family had to lift me up to go up a few steps, which was aggravating but I was thankful that there were so many people willing to help.
I was most concerned about the accessibility at the Lincoln Memorial, since I knew there were a lot of stairs to get to the top, but there were small signs that indicated an elevator, which allowed me to see the Lincoln Memorial up close.
On Thursday, Thanksgiving, we traveled to Mount Vernon to tour George Washington’s home and have our Thanksgiving meal. It was very cold and windy, but it was beautiful and a nice change of pace.
It was also surprisingly accessible there, with ramps to get into and between buildings. There wasn’t wheelchair access to tour the second floor of the house, but my brother Weston piggybacked me so that I was able to tour.
After we enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner, we took an Uber back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, then another to Union Station to catch our train to New York.
I had planned to study on the train, since I had finals as soon as I got back to Gainesville, but ended up playing games with my brothers and cousins the majority of the ride, which was so much more fun!
We got into NYC pretty late, so we went straight to our hotel and ordered pizza. We had a little bit of trouble with the accessible room when we first arrived, but Weston took care of it, since he works at a hotel in Atlanta and reserved our rooms in DC and New York.
Weston gets us great discounts at hotels, so we were able to stay at really nice places at a reduced rate. And because there were accessibility issues at both hotels, my group was able to stay in an accessible suite, which was really nice and spacious, and made it so that the whole family was able to hang out together.
We kicked off Friday with a walk through Central Park to Fifth Avenue to see all the Christmas displays.
I wasn’t able to take the subway to Central Park with the majority of my family because most subway entrances are not accessible. This wasn’t an issue on a short trip, but I think it would be hard to get around without use of the subway if you lived there.
Walking/rolling down the streets of New York was also really difficult. It was so crowded, even more crowded than usual because it was Black Friday, and people were not watching where they were going. My brothers and uncles formed a barrier around me to keep people out of my way and from running into me.
I was also having a hard time getting around because I was super sore, making it difficult to push myself around. I used my Smart Drive, the motor that goes on the back of my chair that helps power me, the majority of the trip, but there were also lots of places I couldn’t use it and had to push.
After our treacherous walk down Fifth Avenue, we went to the top of Rockefeller Center to see the city from above.
After that, we split up. One group went back to Fifth Avenue to shop at the high-end stores, and my group went to the New York City Library and Bryant Park.
We didn’t spend a ton of time shopping around at the market at Bryant Park because we were all so worn out, but we got to enjoy a nice warm meal nearby, complete with a fireplace.
Saturday was our last day in the city, and we started it out by all going to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. My family’s flight to Atlanta left first, so they had to leave right after we toured the museum.
The rest of us went to see the Wall Street Bull and the Statue of Liberty, before spending our last meal together. Everyone from California left after we had lunch, and since we had the latest flight, we got to spend an hour or so relaxing in the hotel before our journey home.
We primarily traveled by foot or Uber while in the city, but we had seen so many accessible taxis driving around that we decided to give it a try for our ride to the airport.
I was surprised and encouraged to see more accessible taxis than regular ones; however, when we tried it out, the driver was having trouble setting it up and was taking a long time, so I just ended up transferring into a seat like I usually do. The taxi was a van that had a ramp to get into the trunk, and then the driver installs ties that would clamp the wheelchair down; it’s a great concept, if the driver knows how to use it properly…
Thankfully our plane left on time, but by the time we got to Jacksonville, around 10 pm, I was exhausted, and we still had a two hour drive to Gainesville. But we made it, despite Game Day traffic, and as soon as they dropped me off, I fell right asleep and was able to sleep in the next morning.
It was a great trip, and so great to see all of my family. I love being able to spend time with them, and rarely get to, so it’s so special that we get to do these trips.
But despite how fun and special the trip was, it was hard.
It was hard for me to keep up, and really took a toll on my body, but I did it regardless. Nonstop, hardcore activities like this pretty much always result in pain and exhaustion, but if I’m able to be there in the moment and suffer the consequences later, I’ll deal with it.
I go into ventures like this knowing I’m going to suffer for a few days or weeks afterwards, but it’s never so much that I can’t handle it, and never so much that it’s not worth it.
It was also really hard not to feel like a burden, which is something that I struggle with every day. I hate that things have to be different because of me, that we can’t do certain activities or that things have to be harder or not as enjoyable because of me.
But I was really thankful that my family was willing to be flexible, deal with the changes and hardships, and help me get around when necessary. It meant a lot that they were willing to include me in everything regardless of how it may look.
All in all, it was an amazing trip spent adventuring and hanging out with family. Yes, it was hard for me, and I paid for it when I got home, but it was worth it. I'm so thankful that I can still go on adventures like this one and thankful for time with family.