Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lake Chelan : seated equalization

One of my favorite things about Multiple Sclerosis (MS) conferences is the following scenario: If you happen to be late to a presentation (as I, unfortunately, am wont to do), you enter when the audience is already seated, and it looks to be a group of "typical" able-bodied attendees.  It is only when the presentation ends and everyone arises that you see the majority of them reaching for canes or walkers, transferring to scooters, or even rolling away in wheelchairs.

Seated activities are great for wheelchair-users for at least two reasons.  1. They are something that we CAN do, in a world filled with things that we can NOT,  and 2. They are activities that we can do together with our non-disabled friends and family.  Sometimes you have to try a little harder to create a seated version of an activity, such as wheelchair-hiking, sitting-volleyball, sit-skiing, etc, and sometimes the activity itself is seated for everyone.  For example, I've heard water sports such as kayaking called "the great equalizer" -- allowing people with mobility impairments to compete and play with non-disabled competitors and friends on a level playing field.  Personally, I always look for a way to be in or on the water -- kayaks, boats, swimming, snorkeling, etc.  This summer I was able to combine two modes of seated activities -- boats and wheelchairs -- in an epic adventure. In this way, I could enjoy the things I love, be a part of an adventure that may have otherwise excluded me, see new areas, and spend time with family members I don't often see.

Lake Chelan (from our campground

The epic journey of the summer centered around Lake Chelan in Central Washington.  I’d long wanted to go, but the season was prohibitively short and complicated – the lake water is warm only in summer, but one runs into crowds, heat, and -- as my brother says -- “Lake Chelan is on fire” (there is usually a significant forest fire near the lake at some point in the late summer).  This year, however, the weather, crowds, and logistics cooperated, giving us a trip to remember.

My husband and my brothers with their families traveled to Chelan, the village at the southern end of the lake, where we rented a pontoon boat.  Rather than take the commercially operated "Lady of the Lake" ferry we opted for the independence of our own boat.  The boat was large enough to fit all 8 of us with our camping gear and my wheelchair.  Although some rental companies didn’t allow their boats to be taken across the entire lake, our company did, and so we did.  We boated and swam for several hours down to the northern end of the lake, where there was a dock for a campground near the outpost of Stehekin.

 (Our campground at the end of the lake)

We camped for two nights by the lake, complete with campfire.  As highlighted in a previous blog, we tricked out our site to be accessible.  On the second day, a wind storm kicked up, reaching 60mph on parts of the lake, explaining why most marinas didn’t allow their rental  boats to cross the entire lake. And grounding us for a day.  We tried to take a hike.  But the trail was too narrow and rocky for the wheelchair, so we had to turn around.

On the last day, we boated a little ways to the backcountry village of Stehekin. Although we did not try it this time, I've read that the village includes one wheelchair-accessible cabin.   The more mobile half of our crew took the back-country bus
to the trailhead and a 2-3 day hike which ended at Cascade Pass  on the North Cascade Highway.  The other half of us took that same (wheelchair accessible) bus up to Rainbow Falls, where we did a short (accessible) hike to the falls, and then we walked down the paved road to the Stehekin Bakery for giant cinnamon rolls.  

The cinnamon rolls provided a good balance to reward even the non-hikers in the group, and the trip back was mainly downhill.  We caught the bus at the bakery for the short drive back to Stehekin, where the boat was docked.  We took the boat back across the lake to the town of Chelan and then drove home to Seattle, where I resumed my life as a disabled person in an able-bodied world.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hometown Hill: A Tale of Two Parks

Rainbow Crosswalks at Pike & Broadway
Jimi Hendrix on corner of
Pine & Broadway
I live on Capitol Hill – not the home of the nation’s government, but the densely populated
neighborhood on the Left coast.  This area is a haven for alternative lifestyles, coming together around a statue of Jimi Hendrix, rainbow crosswalks, ever-changing restaurants, craft cocktails, and endless bars. 

One of many uprooted (literally) sidewalks
near my house
Capitol HILL

The neighborhood is home to several urban parks, attractive to wheelchair users as well as to the general public.  Of course, as the neighborhood name warns, there is an extremely steep hill to climb to reach the parks at the top.  It is also a place where the sidewalks are so bad that I sometimes go down the streets, even though the streets are terrible!  

The two main parks are a study in opposites.  Cal Anderson Park, named after Washington state's first openly-gay legislator, is an urban park surrounded by apartment buildings, and inhabited by people seeking a spot of grass in the middle of city,  people playing sports on the playfields, and people with nowhere else to be.  As my husband says, every time we visit this park “I just hope that everyone keeps his pants on.”  There is a hard-packed gravel trail around the perimeter, with branches into the center, allowing access to the park’s grass and amenities. There is always a hubbub and excitement, and it's a great location for people -watching while eating an ice-cream cone from nearby Molly Moon's.

Cal Anderson Park
Cal Anderson Park

Volunteer Park is more sedate.  It is a more traditional park, laced with big trees, home to the Asian Art Museum and Shakespeare in the Park, and surrounded by stately mansions and western views.  As an urban park, it experienced a period of drug deals and other deviant behavior, but it is much more calm and traditional than Cal Anderson Park. There are a few gravel trails winding through the park, allowing up-close encounters with the big trees.  Unfortunately, the terrain is quite hilly and the trails are short, but the big trees and expanses of grass create a tempting escape for an afternoon picnic with a Frisbee or book.

Volunteer Park
While neither park offers a network of trails interesting enough for a dedicated wheelchair hike, both parks offer great picnic and people-watching possibilities accessible to an off-road wheelchair.  Choosing one over the other is simply a matter of your mood at the time.