My scooter, my grandkids, and a cave: What could go wrong?

Navigating Virginia's Luray Caverns with an electric mobility scooter

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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My wife, Laura, thought it would be fun to take our grandkids, ages 7 and 9, to spend a few hours exploring a giant cave. I wasn’t so sure. Ten minutes into the excursion, I was wondering which one of the adults would be hauled out in an ambulance. This was, indeed, an adventure to remember.

Luray Caverns in Virginia bills itself as the largest caverns in the eastern United States. The pictures of stalactites and stalagmites on its website looked amazing, and the trip actually sounded like a fun afternoon, so I agreed to give it a go. Due to my multiple sclerosis (MS), I use a small, lightweight scooter to go most places. Due to painful back problems, Laura uses a walker.

A few days before our trip, I phoned the folks at the caverns to scope things out. I was told that the 1.25-mile path through the caverns is paved and that people in wheelchairs can travel it, but that there are a couple of inclines that can make pushing a wheelchair a little difficult. The FAQs on the attraction’s website actually caution that “Luray Caverns is not listed as handicapped accessible.” When I said I’d be using an electric mobility scooter, the woman I spoke with said I probably wouldn’t have any trouble. OK, then. I guess I’m game.

A shadowy photo shows numerous stalactites and stalagmites inside Luray Caverns. The cave is dark, but the rocks are illuminated by spotlights.

Stalactites and stalagmites inside the caverns. (Photo by Ed Tobias)

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At Luray Caverns

At the caverns, we snagged the accessible parking spot closest to the main entrance. Inside, the ticket-taker asked, “Is your battery fully charged?”

“Sure,” I responded. I’d just topped it off that morning. Besides, it’s a lithium-ion battery that’s good for 10 miles. It runs all day and its voltage meter has never even dipped from green to yellow. This scooter has traveled the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey, and crossed the cobblestones of ancient cities in Crete. A mile and a quarter in a Virginia cave should be a walk (or ride) in the park.

The ticket lady sent me off with a “just be careful about the curve at …” but I didn’t catch the location as I set off with bravado down a wide, long ramp that sloped down to the mouth of the caverns. As I did, I was hit with a troubling thought: What goes down must come up. Once we made it through the caverns, could we make it back up that ramp? (Honestly, I was more worried about Laura than myself.)

In we went

At first, it seemed as if my worries were unnecessary. The path sloped slightly, but I thought, “I can handle this.” Even rounding the first bend, where the path banked about 10 degrees left to right, I just scootered slowly and felt pretty confident that I could handle the rest of the ride.

Laura was doing OK, too. She asked if I was all right, and I was — until my scooter met some water on an upslope. The caverns are very humid, and what was either condensation, water dripping from above, or both was glistening on the ground. It greatly reduced my traction and I had to get a push from my grandkids to make it to the top of the slope.

The author sits on his electric mobility scooter next to his two grandchildren inside Luray Caverns. They're on a flat, paved brick surface, and behind them is a wall of shadowy stalactites and stalagmites.

Ed, scooter, and grandkids at a flat spot with enough space for a photo. (Photo by Laura Tobias)

It was worse later. On a steeper hill, I started spinning my wheel (only one rear wheel is powered on my little scooter) about halfway up. I could go no farther. The hill was too steep for the little ones to help with a push, and Laura had all she could handle with her walker. Visions of broken bones danced in my head.

Laura suggested I get off the scooter and try to walk the remaining 50 feet, but I insisted it’d be more dangerous for me to do that than to stay on and slowly back down — and that’s what I did, down to the landing where I’d started. There, a fellow tourist came to my rescue. Not only did this strong man give me a push up that hill, he stayed behind me for the rest of the route, just in case.

A light at the end of the tunnel

That was a good thing, because my battery meter — the one that had never dipped into the yellow — was now flashing a “your battery is about to die” red. Amazingly, it didn’t. Somehow, we all made it up the entrance hill we had descended about 90 minutes earlier. Laura and I didn’t break any bones, either. I was never more glad to enter the ubiquitous gift shop that sits at the end of this type of tourist attraction. My gift was that this adventure was over.

Have you had an experience like this? Please share in the comments below. You’re also invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

Cynthia McEwan avatar

Cynthia McEwan

I continue to love your posts, which I can relate to. This last adventure left me admiring your courage. All the best!

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Thanks, Cynthia. I'm really glad you like what I write. As for courage, I have to wonder if it was more like stupidity or just bravado. But, I'll keep on scootering on. If nothing else, it gives me stuff to write about.

Ed

Reply
MADELINE l NEWTON avatar

MADELINE l NEWTON

wow what a great site to see with your grandchildren ...sounds like they were a great help also..but so great and wonderful that you had a very nice and concerned person to help you along the visit to make sure you were able to get out ...so wonderful...wow ...just love it when someone comes to a person aid in time of your need especially with the grand kids and your wife...that's what i do love that there are others that have a big heart and want to help ....love is truely alive so glad...

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Madeline,

The trip, with the help of others, was a good one. But it was a close call and my wife and I were exhausted when we got home. BTW, a couple of weeks ago I lost my wallet and a stranger went to great lengths to track me down and return it to me. (I was in Maryland but all of my info has my Florida address on it.) That man had a huge hart and wouldn't accept the reward I offered. There are very good people out there.

Ed

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Mary Dewey avatar

Mary Dewey

You have such a good sense of humor, despite the unexpected challenges that we all face. I truly enjoy reading about your experiences . It makes me realize we are not alone. It also reaffirmed the importance of doing research and checking things out ahead of time. I learned that lesson the hard way .
For my birthday dinner one summer in Kennebunkport, I made a
reservation but neglected to ask about steps. Upon arrival ,there were no less than 25 large steps up to the porch and entrance of this quaint Inn. We drove around to the back, certain that there would be an alternative entrance . Finally, my daughter went inside to speak to the manager who offered a solution. The back kitchen door opened and we all followed him through the hot, steaming kitchen as the aproned cooks looked on and smiled. When we finally got to our table, I thanked him profusely and commented “ I feel like a VIP with such special attention!” He replied that they had one other Special VIP who had to enter that way to go to the private table that they reserve for him. That person was George W. Bush who spent summers in Kennebunkport . Truly a birthday I will not forget!!

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Thanks for sharing all that, Mary. My scooter and I have been through of those "VIP" back doors, and kitchens, over the years.

BTW, during the George H.W. Bush administration I was working for the Associated Press and was fortunate to have spent a bit of time in Kennebunkport. (This was post-DX but before I had any significant mobility problems.) AP, in fact, had rented a house just across the bay from the Bush compound. I love that town and its lobstaahs. I also had the good fortunate to have met both Bush couples and found George H.W. and Barbara to have been two of the classiest and most delightful public people I've ever met.

Regards,

Ed

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Carolyn Walsh, MSN, BSN, RN avatar

Carolyn Walsh, MSN, BSN, RN

I enjoy reading your columns always...but this one especially, since I also have MS, 6 grandchildren, a scooter, (Recently purchased) and I've been through the Luray Caverns as a 12 year old child. (73 now)
It was a charming, funny story about motoring on through the trials of MS, and emerging triumphant on the other side!
Keep writing!
Carolyn

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Carolyn,

Thanks very much for dropping a note. Having grandkids and a scooter, being close to my age and having visited Luray you certainly can appreciate my experience. I'll keep writing if you keep reading.

Ed

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