By Mike Savicki
Sitting in front of the home computer screen, Army veteran Tim Kelly glides through Google Earth image views and bookmarks the National Parks, historical places of interest, landmarks, intersections, and even visible handicap parking spaces which will soon become the interwoven pieces of his next road trip. To date, he has traveled to 47 of the 50 states logging nearly 400,000 miles on his two (so far) NMEDA vehicles and he is just getting started. As Tim sees it, the road means freedom and there is always something new to see, a new place to explore around almost every corner.
Tim is meticulous in his preparation because every detail matters. He knows exactly how far he can travel on a tank of gas in different road and weather conditions. He knows where his next rest or food stop will be. He knows if (and when) he needs to buckle down and put in an 1100 mile day. And he knows when a full day of sightseeing might not involve his vehicle at all. When the vehicle stays parked, he clips to his wheelchair a Firefly power assist device and hits the pavement to roll through a city, visit a museum, or enter a park ranger station to add another stamp to one his overflowing National Park passport books.
What makes all of this even more remarkable is that Tim travels without maps, GPS or any in-vehicle navigation device. When he backs out of his South Hadley, Massachusetts, driveway, the work is already done. He has committed everything to memory. Tim Kelly has traveled from coast to coast and back without ever checking a map or missing a turn.
Tim has always loved driving and travel so getting on the road after his spinal cord injury in August 2001 was never a question. During his five months of rehabilitation at the West Roxbury VAMC, Tim, a C6,7 incomplete quadriplegic, was reintroduced to driving through the VA’s driver rehab program and quickly had the necessary hand control restrictions added to his license. He worked with (what was then) Rideaway to outfit a 2001 Ford E250 full sized van to fit his needs and hit the road. When the vehicle turned 350,000 miles, he connected with Advance Wheels of Technology to modify a 2016 Mercedes Sprinter 2500 complete with a Ricon lift and AbiliTrax flooring, so he can configure the seating and storage within the vehicle to match his itinerary whether he is traveling with his companion, Merri-Anne Shippee, and their gear or picking up friends and relatives who need seating along the way. Tim keeps extra parts like switches, wires, and fuses on board “just in case” and he travels with wiring diagrams and user handbooks onboard to simplify the diagnosis and repair process if the need ever arises.
Tim has a goal of visiting every National Park and, someday soon he hopes, spending a summer driving through Europe. His outlook serves as fuel for exploration.
“My biggest sin is to be bored, I hate it,” Tim shares. “So I try to be as active as I can and when I travel I try to see as much as I can without rushing and missing those hidden gems that are all around us, those unique parts of our nation’s history that so many people just miss.”
His advice for those working to get back on the road?
Tim explains, “Know yourself and what you can and can’t do. Start small and build bigger, short days into longer ones, small trips then bigger trips. Learn where the adaptive dealers are and know you are never far from one. And learn where and how to locate medical centers before the need arises.”
“Most of all,” he finishes, “make the most of your available time, resources, and ability, and enjoy the journey.”
Mike Savicki’s “Mobility My Way” is a quarterly column which appears in NMEDA’s Circuit Breaker magazine.