I went to a local festival last year and it rained heavily on the day we got there. Grass and rain make mud, the mortal enemy of your average wheelchair. Me and my carer got stuck as soon as we hit the field, and 3-4 people Had to come to help drag me backwards for about ten minutes until we were clear of the slop. This was going to be a nightmare.
Luckily we had my new electric 4×4 wheelchair on backup. Why didn’t I use it to begin with? I think I was doubting my skills as a drink driver.
I’d had the chair for a few months and I knew it could handle hard sand and steep, rocky hills, but this would be its defining test. Would it survive what would become a rain-drenched festival with muddy, slippery fields?
I bought the chair off an independent seller, a man who builds everything himself from scratch. He told me stories of people taking their chairs up mountains but I barely believed him. Then he let me test drive it and the stories suddenly seemed plausible.
The chair has four chunky tires which swivel to lend some flexibility to the steering. It also has suspension and an adjustable seat – if you’re tackling a very steep hill, tilting the seat forward will make the chair feel a lot more stable comfort-wise.
But you should’ve seen the mud at this festival. Two days in it lay in heaps, especially at the entrance/exit of the main field. People who fear flying get nervous because the event is so unnatural: humans aren’t supposed to be in the air! Well every time I drove through that patch of mud, I was thinking “I’m not supposed to be doing this.”
I’d lived 25 years of my life in constant dread of getting stuck in mud and now here I was, tearing through a wreckage. My tires were caked, nay smothered in the remains of the field, and still it drove on. I couldn’t grasp it, it felt so unreal.
On the last night abled partiers were getting their asses handed to them as they fell face-first into what could now be defined as a chunky mass of wet Play-Doh. Not me. People were leaning on my chair for support as I sat and observed the shortcomings of the wellington boot.
I don’t want to become too overconfident with the chair’s abilities. I’ve gotten stuck in it twice: once on a beach where the sand was too soft and again when driving over a bunch of big rocks (but only because a pointy one got stuck beneath the underside of the chair.) There was also a nervy moment partway through the festival where I suddenly realised the battery was extremely low. Fortunately we were at the main stage which was a five minute walk from our caravan, and our caravan was on an accessibility site which – thank your Lord and Saviours – had a wheelchair charging point.
After that weekend the chair had earned the nickname “The Beast”, and what a beautiful beast it is. I don’t think I can adequately describe how amazing it feels to know I survived and kind of dominated an absolute mudbath of a festival. The weather was so intense that late into the final night the nearby river burst its banks.
I feel bad for anyone who dared the weekend with an average manual or electric chair. If I’d just taken my manual it would’ve been a disaster. At best I would’ve stayed by the main stage all day, missing out on all the alternative stuff. This festival has good ratings on Attitude is Everything but I don’t think it coped well with torrential rain. It should be default for festivals to place long wooden boardwalks through their fields. The accessibility site was great though.