AQSC and Wheelchair Travel

River Views™, a River Cruise Blog

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Testimonial and Images courtesy of:
Stan and Barbara Rohrer
San Diego, California

I lost my left leg in 2010 due to an aneurysm in the back of the knee and the right leg in 2014 for the same reason. I was 87 in January 2017, but I still move around fairly well playing wheelchair tennis in San Diego Tuesday evenings and often kayaking in San Diego’s Mission Bay 6-9 miles in one of the four wooden kayaks that I built.

My wife Barbara has often suggested taking a river cruise which I was a little uncomfortable with because of the many unknowns that a double above-the-knee amputee could run into: unfriendly rooms and bathrooms, ramps on and off the ship, ramps on tours - getting in and out of busses, taking side trips, etc.

Barbara has been pushing for some sort of trip and researched various river cruises finally settling on the American Empress Columbia/Snake River Cruise, since she knew that before my amputations I had always wanted to kayak up the Columbia River. I was reluctant to consent to the cruise until Barbara discovered that on one of the stops I would be able to kayak one morning on the Columbia River. Besides kayaking, there were quite a few overnight stops on the Columbia where we could take the standard bus tours at no charge or we could pay for extended tours.

I was afraid of the bus tours because of having to use my wheelchair, but was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the busses had wheelchair lifts in the back section of the bus with excellent assistance by all of the bus drivers, which really worked out great for me. Everyone bent over backwards to see that everything went smoothly on all bus rides. My wheelchair was anchored to the floor with easily removed straps so I was able to ride safely and securely at all times.

Our room was a larger handicapped room. I was able to move around in my wheel chair easily to the bed, TV, bathroom, and outside private deck for viewing as we progressed up the river. I was especially pleased with convenient access in moving from the wheelchair to the commode and the ease in transferring over to the bench for my daily showers. The shower heads were especially neat and controllable allowing me to soap up and then rinse with very little effort.

Meal times were great for social interactions with other passengers and we discovered several passengers that were from the San Diego area. Usually the stewards removed one chair allowing me to sit in my chair right up to the table for easy eating and socializing.

On the fifth day we were informed that we would be able to kayak the next day on the Columbia River even though it was the end of the season. Before my amputations I had already kayaked/canoed a lot of the Colorado River from Mexico up to Separation point in the Grand Canyon. Our two Columbia River kayak guides met us at 8 a.m. at the dock and were very helpful. They provided me with a 30 pound bag of sand to put in the bottom of the kayak to make up for my missing legs which greatly improved my kayak stability. The weather was great with many of the trees showing their fall colors. We paddled around an island and they let me paddle across the river and back for some extra exercise when I requested it.

We especially enjoyed the Riverlorian, Mr. Cotton, who was an expert on the river history and was able to describe the history of the places we were visiting or passing along the river. I was especially interested in the Indian History of the area since in San Diego County I have 5 Indian sites that I work with in the Anza Borrego Desert. One of the sites has some 35+ Indian pictographs painted by Shamans some 300+ years ago.

On the last day we were able to see actual historic petroglyphs when we took the excursion into Hells Canyon. The jet boat which only needs 10 inches of water even when loaded, moved right up to the shore of the Snake River, scrapped the rocks and lingered so we could actually see the details of the petroglyphs. Besides the big horned sheep and deer, we traversed some very small rapids and spent about four hours on the river. It was lovely and definitely out there, seemingly far away from civilization and river traffic.

We totally enjoyed the trip, the people, the food, the accommodations and experiencing the historic and grand Columbia River. Barbara is already checking out other boat trips!