How to Road Trip While Chronically Ill

I was asked how it is that with all my myriad medical issues that I’m able to venture out into nature solo on a regular basis and indulge in landscape photography. The short answer is planning! A longer, more detailed answer will follow below. But first, a little about my conditions. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, type 3 – a rare, connective tissue disorder – along with secondary Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome – which is a long-winded way of saying that my blood pressure sometimes takes a nose dive, causing heart palpitations, dizziness, etc – and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder commonly found in people with EDS and POTS.
Hopefully these road trips tips will be helpful for those with EDS or other chronic conditions. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, so please use these tips to inspire and help you figure out what might work for you in your particular circumstance.

Before the Trip;

Research – The day before and day of, I check weather forecasts, make sure the trip is even worth my while. Landscape photographers like interesting weather – clouds, the aftermath of storms, etc. I consult sunrise/sunset charts so that I can time my visits to the hour, for the best light and to minimize having to expend precious energy by waiting around. I check and recheck road/traffic conditions, looking for the least stressful route, not necessarily the most direct one. For example, I’d rather go ten miles out of my way if it means not driving through downtown L.A. during rush hour. I familiarize myself with my route and destination if I’m not familiar with it already – I study maps, figure out what kind of conveniences are along the way, pinpoint rest stops and check out where the best views will be.

JT
At Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by Angel La Canfora

Planning – Dealing with crowds or long lines is hard on me so I avoid tourist destinations such as national parks and landmarks on holidays. I prefer to shoot off-season photos anyway as they tend to be more interesting and dramatic. The day before departure, I fill up the gas tank, do laundry, take care of any errands so I don’t have to worry about it the day of the trip and tack on needless activities to my travel time.

Careful Packing – I bring items that will help me get through the day with as minimal pain as possible. Items such as;

  • Salty snacks and gallons of water to keep my blood pressure up.
  • An epi-pen in the event of anaphylactic shock.
  • A pillow for rest breaks.
  • Layers of clothing to accommodate abrupt weather changes.
  • Cash in the event I find myself at a truck stop whose CC reader is on the fritz – happens more often than you’d think!
  • 2 pairs of shoes, one for driving, one for hiking.
  • Common sense stuff everyone should have in their car when they head out into nature like a hat, a 1st aid kit, a flashlight, etc.

Day of Trip;

Pacing – Gently does it. At places like Lake Mead National Recreation Area or Joshua Tree National Park, I go on mini-hikes. I’ll park at a trail head, and walk for about 10-15 minutes round-trip. Back in the car, I take a quick break, then move on to the next trailhead. It may not sound like much but you’d be surprised at how much you can see in these short bursts!

Knowing my Limits – Most of my photo junkets are day trips, sometimes extending to two days but rarely more. Sustained physical activity is my enemy. I give myself plenty of time to reach my destination. If I don’t make it on time, if I get stuck in a traffic jam or experience car trouble or some other unforeseen issue, then que sera sera. I make the best of it and enjoy the journey, look for other stuff to see and do and keep my eyes peeled for photo opportunities.

I’ve been doing things this way now for the last 7 years and my success rate is high. I’ve luckily had very little go wrong over the years. When things have gone pear-shaped, most of the time it’s been due to my own carelessness, such as that time when I brushed up against a cholla cactus plant in Joshua Tree, puncturing my calf muscle in a half dozen places, and had to call it a day. <Shudder>

JTme
Angel La Canfora at Joshua Tree National Park sans puncture wounds.

It all comes down to brains over brawn. Sure, I have chronic pain and an ever-present risk of complications but nature fills my soul, makes my life worth living. It’s worth it to me to put myself in harm’s way to be able see some breathtaking views and shoot photos that may one day wind up on magazine covers like this one in the spring issue of  Inlandia Journal.  Yet other photos may find their way into my Shutterstock portfolio .  I have to spend the following day after a road trip once back at home resting, engaging in as little physical activity as possible. So a one day road trip actually takes up 3 days all total. Which is why I don’t go too often. But once a month or so and I’m a happy gal!

*****************************************************************

And while I have you on the line…

My desert photography and mosaics will be on display all month long in November at the Lost City Museum  in Overton, Nevada, located on the outskirts of Lake Mead. I’m very thrilled and honored to be exhibiting there, as it’s a historic museum in one of my most favorite places, the Mojave desert. Please swing by if you can!

 

To Be Venturesome…

Venturesome. It’s a mouthful and a trait that’s served me well. Today I was remembering how, when I was around 11 years old, one sunny, Saturday afternoon, I called out to my mom in the other room that I was going to go ride my bike to the park. In my hometown of Huntington Beach, California, there is a 343 acre natural oasis called Central Park. Lush with foliage, towering trees, ponds and lakes, it serves to break up the monotony of concrete beige walls that surround tract after tract of suburban housing in the area. Once at the park, I idly cycled down the asphalt path. After a few minutes, I spotted a group of people ranging in age playing volleyball. They appeared settled in for the day, with a full spread on the picnic table and blankets laid out for lolling on. A family outing, presumably. Not knowing any better, I leapt off my bike, dumped it on the grass, ran up to them and said, “can I play?” I was a lanky, agile tomboy at that age and athletic, had won ribbons and trophies in track and field, basketball, softball, etc. Bemused, they shrugged, said, “sure.” My new friends soon realized I was good at volleyball and made me feel welcomed.

Hours passed and I played with vigor, slurping down the soda and chips they offered me, laughing, joking, getting sunburned. When I realized the sun was low in the sky and a chill had crept into the breeze, I told them I’d better get going. We said cheery goodbyes and I biked home. I strolled through the front door to the sight of my waiting parents. “Where have you been all this time?!” my mom cried out. I said that I’d been playing volleyball. “With who?!” they asked. I explained that it was a bunch of random people I didn’t know. They looked aghast but I didn’t see what the fuss was all about. I told them I had a great time and that they gave me snacks. My folks shook their heads and looked at each other. “She’s your kid,” Mom said to Dad. “No, she’s your kid,” Dad deadpanned.

It was this same streak that compelled me to drive up Pacific Coast highway with my then-boyfriend when I was 18, from Huntington Beach all the way to Seattle. To hop a train and travel solo cross country when I was 21; that lead me to relocate to Ireland temporarily when I was 26; that moved me to lease a rustic, hundred-year old cabin at 7000 feet in the San Bernardino mountains and live the life of a mountain woman for a year. It lead me to seek new vistas, to peek behind walls and hills, to drive lonely back roads all around the U.S. It also emboldened me to take dozens and dozens of solo hikes in the Mojave desert during the five years that I lived in Henderson, Nevada.

One day in April earlier this year, I drove deep into the Mojave within the boundaries of Lake Mead Recreation Area, parked my Chevy and made my way up a steep, rubbly path towards a summit that I’d read would provide a beautiful view. As I neared the top, I veered off the trail, curious to see what was over to my left. I gingerly inched along a narrow ledge, my trusty Canon in my left hand and my right hand bracing me against a wall of rock. I paused and looked out over a surreal, awe-inspiring landscape, of Navajo sandstone crevasses, one after another, reaching towards the jagged peaks of the Muddy mountains. I took a picture. I’m honored to say that this photo now graces the cover of the 2017 state of Nevada geology calendar, published by the NV Bureau of Mines and Geology.

calendar