By: Jeanine Schmitz
Jenny lives in Seattle because of its unique offering of mountains, water, culture, and cool weather. She spends as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors. Her passion is travel, which has become a multi-adventure experience since her MS required a transition into a wheelchair.
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.
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.
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.