I went on my first long powerchair trip on Friday night. It was a 5 mile round-trip from Badsey to Evesham and back. On reflection, this was never going to be an easy journey. There are two routes that can be taken on foot. Unfortunately due to roadworks, one of those was not an option and so my wife and I were forced to take the other route, along the main road into town. This involved about a mile along a rural road with a 60mph limit, and hedges on both sides. Before leaving I checked through that stretch of road using Google Streetview to make sure that there was a path all of the way along. All seemed OK, so we set off.
Here are my thoughts on that journey.
- My powerchair goes faster than 4mph. I think it probably manages 8mph. Excellent!
- It doesn’t go as far as it should. The battery light was blinking after about six miles of use, not 24. Maybe a few charge / discharge cycles will fix that.
- Using a powerchair requires planning to make sure that route and transport are accessible.
- According to my wife, I operate a powerchair like I play Mario Kart. I’m choosing to take that as a compliment.
- You can’t operate a powerchair like you play Mario Kart. It likes to stop before making the next move.
And some more problematic thoughts.
- Getting to a junction and finding no dropped kerbs and therefore no way to leave the pavement and cross is frustrating.
- Having to backtrack to the last dropped kerb is also frustrating.
- Having no matching dropped kerb on the other side and having to take the chair along the road is dangerous.
- Curved dropped kerbs that go round the corner are a pain. Wheelchairs are supposed to take the kerb at 90 degrees to avoid toppling. Having to turn 45 degrees to do that is irritating, AND the pavement is at odd angles that push the chair to one side.
- A dropped kerb that crosses the pavement all the way to someone’s driveway makes the chair go down then up again. Having these repeatedly all the way along the street makes the chair go up and down continuously. They can also make the chair swerve into the road unless paying perfect attention and deploying light-speed reflexes.
- A dropped kerb is supposed to be dropped. That means going down to road level. Not two or three inches above it. When a chair goes over that, it lurches wildly back and forth.
- When a too-high kerb is combined with a round-the-corner curved dropped kerb that simultaneously goes up a hill on one road and down a hill on the other road, the combined angles plus speed necessary to climb the kerb mean that the chair will topple.
- Flailing wildly when going over will wrench muscles, twist the back, neck and shoulders, and cause extreme pain and swearing.
- Finding no way to get from pavement to road to pavement so that you can cross is bloody annoying. Did I already do that one? Well I’m doing it again because it’s BLOODY ANNOYING.
- Tree roots growing under the path and tearing it up can lift one side of a chair, causing it to tip disturbingly to one side.
- Cars parked on the pavement deserve to be scratched as I go past.
- Pavements full of pot holes, cracks, patches and worn away surface are not just a minor irritant, they make the journey a hell full of dragging, rattling, lurching, bumping and worse.
- A path is supposed to be wide enough to use. Six inches of goat trail with smashed up tarmac surrounded by tall grass and weeds right at the edges on both sides is not acceptable. Grass to within six inches of the road edge is definitely not acceptable.
- Paths so old that their height varies by several inches NEED FIXING. You can’t leave that.
- I got stuck on patches of broken pavement so bad that one wheel went in a hole. Not once, but twice. I couldn’t avoid the hole because the grass verge had covered the pavement.
- I had to negotiate places where the broken, narrow path went through potholes, gravel and old stones at the edge, merged with driveways, with grass covering it at 45 degree angles. I lurched wildly. I nearly went over. And this happened in at least three places.
I’m going to stop there. There are more things, but I have complained enough for people to get the idea. OK, so most of the time I won’t be trying to travel from my village to the town, but I should be able to. It should not be a challenge, it should be a nice smooth ride along tarmac or paving slabs. Not a wild lurch along broken, grass-covered ancient pathway.
Oh, and I did manage to get to town and back, but not before the shops had closed, rendering my trip to buy cheesecake completely meaningless. I enjoyed a coffee at my sister’s house instead.