“As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sun-burning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, ‘Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven…’” —Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”
Nick Collins has spent most of his life in a wheelchair. He’d probably tell you that those wheels are all the more reason he needs to answer the call of the road. Earlier this year, thanks to some help from his neighbors and the dedicated staff at St. Paul Health Center in Denver, Collins, 28, was able to answer that call.
“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” he says of his first trip to the Pacific Ocean.

An Early Impulse

Diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Collins has always been a traveling man. As a child, he’d gone to New Mexico once, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation had helped him get to Disney World in Florida. That didn’t squash the travel bug, though; it aggravated it, he tells Provider.

“I had always had the idea that I wanted to go on a road trip and see part of the country and travel and go to see the beach and see things I had never seen before,” he says. “But, really, to be honest, what really inspired it was a movie I had seen called ‘Darius Goes West.’”

In the movie, Darius, a teen with muscular dystrophy, travels from Georgia to California. “And I thought, ‘Well, if it was possible for him, it could be possible for me,’” Collins says. “And, I mean, I didn’t really know if it would ever happen.”

Planning The Trip

In February, Collins went to see St. Paul Activity Coordinator  Adam Fyler.

“And we just started looking at maps,” Fyler says. “We knew the Pacific would be better. And then we started getting ideas about where we would stop along the way.”

Planning was one thing; pulling it off was another. It was apparent, early on, that it would be too expensive to fly to California because of the accommodations for Collins’ chair and the staff that would have to be with him. That meant piling into a van and doing it the old-fashioned way.

“It wasn’t easy to make happen,” St. Paul Administrator Sara Dent says. “We had to talk to attorneys, we
had to budget it. I told the staff that if they could raise half of it, I’d match it.”

Support Pours In

St. Paul staff and families got behind the project in a big way, from a crowdsourced webpage to bake sales. “People were coming out from the neighborhood,” Dent recalls. “People were buying a jar of pickles for $100.”

With the money in hand, Collins, his mom, Fyler, and several caretakers piled into the van to hit the open roads. They ranged the great West, from the Hoover Dam to Vegas to the Grand Canyon. Every stop seemed to have its own adventure, Fyler and Collins say.

The group was just outside of the canyon, when they discovered their campsite couldn’t accommodate Collins’ chair. Desperate, hungry, and “a little emotional” after a 10-hour drive, the team wound up at a hotel in Williams, Ariz., run by the mayor. The mayor ordered his staff to get some wheelchair ramps in place and comp’ed Collins’ entourage for a vast meal.

Finally, though, the team reached Santa Barbara and Nick heard the waves crashing into the beach. “I thought, I must be dreaming or something.”

The dream may not be over: Collins met up with a man in Boulder City, Colo., who was moved enough by Collins’ trip to hand over $400—and to keep in touch with him throughout. It turns out that the Boulder City man has a friend near Phoenix who has one of the world’s largest car collections. (Collins is a gearhead: There are lots of cars he likes, as long as “they go fast.”) The friend has sent a request to St. Paul’s staff, Fyler says: “Get Nick out here. I’ll pay for everything.”