I’ve been exploring accessible trails at National Parks and California State Parks consistently for a few months now. I’ve found some highly accessible trails paved and unpaved all over the place but what I’m noticing is these accessible trails are less than a mile in length. This has been unsettling to say the least. I not only want more I crave more.
There is so much evidence proving, spending more time in nature betters your quality of life. Here are a few of my favorite articles proving this point.
I think it’s important to add that people with disabilities need nature more than the average able bodied person. Living with a disability is stressful. From my personal experience of living with a disability, when I want to go on an adventure, I face a lot of roadblocks and I have much more planning than before my spinal cord injury. I have much less to work with, especially since there's much less accessible adventures to take. Don’t get me wrong, I get creative and make the inaccessible, accessible daily but it takes more effort, time and money.
One way I’ve been able to explore nature more is using my adaptive mountain bike but even that can get tricky. Single track trails are not sketchy and the off camber sections are a little too dangerous, even for me.
How can we make changes? Awareness is my first thought and luckily outdoor lifestyle companies are catching on. Have you heard of Merrell? They not only make bad ass outdoor gear they celebrate diversity on the trail. I fell in love with Merrell’s One Day. One World. One trail campaign that features so much diversity including adaptive mountain biking. Thanks for pushing for an inclusive world. I wish more leaders in the outdoor world caught on to what you are doing. This is a call to all you other leaders in the outdoor world. SPONSOR more adaptive athletes! It’s a win win and you know it.
Second, people with disabilities need to join in more. I’ve joined local mountain bike and road bike clubs which has opened so many peoples eyes to accessibility. Having more adaptive athletes pushing boundaries pushes private and public organizations to do more to make the outdoors accessible. You may be scared to join in with the common folk and I get that. They first club I joined wasn’t too keen to having me around but I didn’t let them stop me from doing what I love even if I do it different than them.
Third, contact those National Parks, State Parks, or even regional parks that aren’t giving equal access. Let them know you want more. Don’t be a complainer because that gets you nowhere. Ask how you can help. Let them know you have some skin in the game too. One of my favorite people doing this is Jeremy P. McGhee. The dude loves bikes and nature equally. He’s the creator of The Unpavement Project. He works closely with his local park agencies to widen trails so adaptive mountain bikers can shred just like everyone else. He also maps out and rates trails so that you know what you’re getting into before you put your wheels on the dirt.
There are options for us but like everything in life we have to work for them. If you’re a person of influence help me and my fellow adaptive adventurers. If you work for a government agency look into what you can do to help too. If you work for a private organization, are you doing all you can to be inclusive? And lastly, to all you people with a disability, get out of the house and let the world see you in nature.