Living on the ledge: Why MS can’t kill my travel bug

I’m about a half-mile down the wooded Lost Lake Trail when I start to question what I’m doing here at Ledges State Park.

Prudence, my shiny purple walker, rumbles over the gravel and through the woods on this accessible trail while my tired 8-year-old whines for a snack, our fishing pole flops in my walker basket, and my rambunctious black Lab tugs on her leash. Remind me again why I thought this was a good idea?

Because it’s Saturday. It’s not deathly hot or raining (yet). And life is about more than spend-ing weekends volleying from one big box store to the next—or about resting from the fatigue that causes. So I cheerfully talked Colin and Daisy into the car and trekked the 50 minutes north to the Ledges, as people here in Des Moines, Iowa, call them, because I hadn’t been there before. To me, that qualifies as travel. And I have what you might call a travel addic-tion.

When the Mayo Clinic announced “primary progressive multiple sclerosis” earlier this year, my disease was in a free fall, and my job as the senior travel editor at Midwest Living maga-zine ended. I was quickly losing my ability to walk, losing my handwriting and watching my memory turn to mush. But I couldn’t push aside the feeling that travel still had to be a big part of my life, even if I have to do it differently.


So that’s how I end up at the Ledges, where the soaring sandstone bluffs stand in stark com-parison to Iowa’s rolling hills of corn. Able-bodied visitors can climb wooden steps to look-out points and wade in shallow streams that snake through the park. For those of us who need four wheels it’s a little trickier. The accessible trail winds through pretty woodlands—but leads to a lake surrounded by tall reeds and no beach. A letdown, when you think of the physical energy spent to get there.

Surely there’s a better way to enjoy this park. I guide the car down the road that leads through the canyon. The speedometer reads about 20 mph as I gaze up at the cliffs and glance at the streams that run across the road after a good rain. A handful of kids lines the pavement, hoping cars will speed up and splash them. I oblige and wave as a sheet of water souses them, then pull my car over and get out. Families wade through the streams, stopping to pick up rocks, or look at frogs, or watch schools of minnows swirl through the water in perfect unison. Without my husband’s steady hand, I don’t attempt wading far down the stream. But Colin takes Daisy, both of them happy to get wet and muddy while I watch and snap pictures.

And that was it, really. A few hours. A few photos. A few memories. It cost me nothing but gas and Colin and I got to see Someplace New. Breathe in the fresh air. Feel the cool water on our feet. Connect with kids who otherwise would be home begging to play video games. Let go of the week’s stressors and recenter our minds. Travel does all of that, and more, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive trip or an itinerary that would make the D-Day invasion look slapdash. It happens every time you leave your home and go Someplace New.

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Kendra L.

Kendra L. Williams

Kendra L. Williams is a longtime writer and editor and the founder of, a blog about the ups and downs of handicapped accessible travel. She lives in West Des Moines, Iowa.