Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Accessible trails

2017 is a year of notable anniversaries.  50 years of life.  20 years of marriage.  15 years of Seattle. 10 years of using a wheelchair.  1 year of hiking with the Freedom Chair.

Hiking with the Freedom Chair
Looking back on my year of Freedom Chair hiking, I feel like many of my previous posts have something in common: they document adventures along hiking trails I'd hoped to be fitting for wheelchairs ... only to have some obstacle impede my passage to the point of needing serious assistance or even forcing me to turn back.

Too narrow to go further

Too rocky to go further

You get the picture!

My Ideal Wheelchair Trail

Perhaps an ideal wheelchair trail

Really, the main criterion for a wheelchair-accessible trail is one that is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

Secondary criteria include:
  • a fairly flat trail without a lot of ups and downs, or at least limited altitude gain with minimal steepness (difficult to find in a mountainous area!)
  • a trail that is neither too long nor too short (the exact distance depends upon the hiker)
  • a trail surface that falls somewhere between paved (usually boring!) and full of big rocks
      • an even trail that does not slant to the side (On slanting trails, straight forward motion requires one-armed propulsion, which is extremely tiring, and I prefer not to fall off of the trail -- especially because that usually involves a steep hill).

Ideas for Trails
  • Of course, the ideal would be a trail designated as "wheelchair accessible,"  but those are few and far between.  In addition, they are usually short, paved circuits around a nature center or en route from a parking lot to a viewpoint, so their length and variety is limited.  
  • Also rare, but usually in beautiful locations, are boardwalks through forests and/or swamps (and, to a lesser extent, near beaches).
    Asilomar Beach (CA)
  • Roads (paved and unpaved) can be a good option, through the trick is to find one that is not a war zone of potholes and is closed to cars (even one is enough to kill you).  Gated roads, fire roads, and sometimes logging roads will work.  

Hamma Hamma Campground (WA)
  • Another idea is mountain bike trails (although be sure to look for double-track trails for a wider trail).  
  • Many ski hills open their slopes to mountain bikes in the summer months, so the gentler slopes (catwalks) offer good possibilities for wheelchairs (thanks, Nerissa, for this idea).
  • For some reason, wildlife refuges seem to have good terrain for wheelchair  -- boardwalk and/or level trails.
Tualatin Wildlife Refuge (OR)
  • In recent years, many organizations, including Rails-to-Trails, have built multi-use trails, providing good hiking options for walkers, cyclists, families, and wheelchairs.
Othello Tunnels Trail (BC)

Sources of Ideas
  • The best source of ideas is other wheelchair users and their recommendations about where to hike or not to hike.  If I had more energy, I would start a website with a data base where hikers could search for accessible trails.  Instead, I'll offer my meager contribution in the next post, along with a list of accessible trails I received from an Outdoors for All staff member. I hope others will add their ideas somewhere as well.  
  • Luckily, Google exists.  (As always, use caution, since some links are old or inaccurate).
  • Another great idea is Traillink, the web-based database for Rails-to-Trails, where one can search for trails nationwide -- filtering for many conditions, including wheelchair accessibility! 
  • Other trail databases can also be helpful, although they may not include a filter for wheelchair accessibility (I used to search for "kid friendly" trails on Washington Trail Association's "Hike Finder Map," but it turned out that those trails were only friendly to some kick-ass kids, who were far more agile than I was.

Looking toward the future, I am resolved to be smarter about my trail choices -- mostly.  There is still something to be said about choosing back-country trails based on location, even though that invariably leads to frustration, asking for (and accepting) help, and most probably a quick turn-around.  If anybody reads this and has more ideas, please let me know!  As I mentioned, the best ideas come from people's experience and recommendations.  

No comments:

Post a Comment