Getting Outdoors with Adaptive Needs
I grew up hiking through the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smoky Mountain National Park. With each park being free, we could afford to go as often as we wanted. At five years old, I liked to lead the way, and I continued in that vein throughout my childhood. I spent years 5-9 living in a faculty apartment building with woods behind. The woods were my playground, and I spent most of my time in them warm, wet, or snowing. The woods would surround me, and I knew them like the back of my hand. After a day spent playing in snow, my soaked cold feet badly needed warmth. Mom told me to take a warm bath, but as I could not yet even tolerate warm water, I ran cold, until the sensation normalized and I felt cold water as cold, instead of burning hot.
When I reentered the woods this year during the pandemic, having returned to North Carolina, I didn’t know how long I could manage walking around them. It would be different than my energy filled days when I was 8, spending the day traipsing around. Now, often a mile walk can exhaust me to the point where I can’t do anything else for the rest of the day.
However, starting small, I could eventually stretch myself to further than I thought I could possibly go. My parents, my kids, my brother and I got a bit lost in the Graveyard Fields trail system, accidentally taking an old trail so a two mile hike turned into four. This forgotten trail took us to an isolated river beach, with sparkling sand. I dug my feet into the sand, and it was not unlike the therapy of the cold to warm water. I felt the same kind of homeostasis come upon me, My feet, legs, arms, and hands are all partially numb, with a permanent sandy feeling inside. When I plunge them into sand, the sensations inside match the sensory feelings in my feet, and its normal to feel sandy. I relish that feeling of normalcy, and rejoice in the sensory experience that leads me to it. My apple watch said we did four miles that day. Of course I had to rest for three days afterwords, but the sensory experience fueled me, and I built from there.
This brings me to the blessing and therapy of being outside. Not just outside, but in places where I don’t see cars, I don’t see building, just trees, plants, water, sky and birds; and of course some bugs, but that’s the price of admission. Check out this MS Focus article on ecotherapy, with various suggestions on how to adapt the therapy to all abilities.
I’m fortunate to be able to get around with a pair of barefoot shoes, and a cane. (And a little medical cannabis.) After a year of hiking during the pandemic, I actually was able to graduate to a hiking pole. However, there are some real adaptive challenges that get in the way when someone has a need for another kind of walking, or mobility device. When I first came to North Carolina in August, I was lucky that there was a paved walkway across from my parents house, because I required my walker, to be able to carry myself when my feet when more numb and I needed its support.
If you need a walker, or mobility device, such as a walker, scooter or wheelchair, what are your options to get outside? How do you find outdoor therapy? I don’t know if this kind of therapy will work as well for everyone, as it does for me, as we are all different. However, we are also all the same. We are all human and the primal drive towards nature really exists in us all. It’s written in our DNA.
I love following @thechronic_explorer on Instagram and seeing her adventures in her off-roading wheelchair. She includes accessible tips to traveling to beautiful natural locations.
I just had the privilege to visit Yellowstone National Park on the way to Cody, Wyoming; to visit my Aunt on her ranch. Years ago, a fews years after my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a very helpful park attendant informed me that I qualified, for lifetime free admission to the National Parks system, on account of my disability.
You need to provide proof of US citizenship or residency, and some documentation of disability. I believe in my case, I just showed my disabled parking placard, but also a copy of your MRI report, a letter from your neurologist, would suffice. There is more information about what proof of disability is needed at the site.
National Parks have many paved or boardwalk pathways making it possible to explore natural areas and wonders with a rollator, scooter or wheelchair. The pass qualifies you to free admission to over 2,000 National Parks, Forests, Nature Preserves and Recreation Areas.
Not only do you get in free, but so does everyone traveling in your vehicle. So you could plan a trip with a friend, family, and be the star that gets everyone in free!😉
Getting outside is a very effective therapy for me. Sometimes, feeling boundless space around me helps me feel less bounded by the aches, pains, weird feelings, dizziness, and closed space inside my body. It helps me open up. It helps me feel. It distracts me from the many, many symptoms of MS I experience. It helps me to almost escape it. I hope it works in a similar fashion for you. There is a park finder on this website to search for the park nearest you. You can apply for free at a park location that has an office, or visitor center, or you can apply online or by mail for a one time $10 processing fee.
It would simply make my day if you would share some outdoor experiences of your own in the comments section. How does it feel for you to get outdoors?
Hope you all enjoy the rest of your summer. Here’s a link to find out more about National Park Accessibility and the closest park to you.
May God be with you til we meet again…