Our First Real Adventure

I was taught how to read maps as a teenager. Well, I learnt the theory. 😉 I knew churches were represented by black crosses, red triangles were youth hostels, and toilets were politely labelled as PC. I could calculate distance by counting the squares, could work out height gain by the contour lines, and knew the difference between canals and rivers. But, I struggled to put this theory into practice. So I’d plan a hike, by following dotty lines the required distance- without picturing what it would be like to walk. Consequently I’d end up trekking down dangerously steep mountain faces, or through boggy marsh land, or along main roads. And on one memorable occasion, I planned a three day expedition to finish atop the biggest hill around. And miles from our car ride home! 🙂

But then I met Phil. And he loves maps. He has shelves of them, books about them, and even antique framed ones on the wall. And thankfully he’s also a super wizz at reading them! He can follow a trail in the snow and mist and dark. He can navigate in the mountains and the moorlands and the middle of nowhere. And he never gets downhill and uphill confused! 😉 I regularly come into the living room, to find Phil excitedly poring over a map, spotting cool places to explore… whilst the dogs lie all over it! 🙂 For the last nineteen years together, not only has he taught me a thing or two about map reading, and stopped me designing hikes up sheer cliff edges… but since developing Pulmonary Hypertension, his skills and knowledge have allowed me to get out in to the countryside with my scooter.

The countryside isn’t easily accessible for people on wheels. Footpaths are full of natural and man-made obstacles. Abled-body folks can often easily walk around the enormous boulder, or up the stairs on the footbridge. They can squeeze through kissing gates with ease, and clamber over stiles. They can step over stepping stones or walk up steep hillsides. But if I come across any of these on my day out; it usually means I need to turn around. Although we can’t identify all those obstacles on a map, they give us the best chance of finding a route that we’re able to go along. So since becoming ill, I’ve been hugely grateful for Phil’s map reading skills. When I only had my little Luggie scooter, he’d identify quiet country roads with good views and little traffic. But since getting my off-roader, he designs exciting accessible hikes so I can -once again- venture into the back of beyond. He counts the contours to check they’re not too steep, avoids river and stream crossings, and sticks to bridleways, as they’re wider and don’t have kissing gates or stiles. And he often runs them first, to recce them! 😀 Although we’ve been on some fantastic scoots together, we’ve never had a real adventure. A full day walk, in the middle of nowhere, to somewhere new for us both. Exploring it together for the first time! Accessibility and energy coins have always got in the way. But in September, on holiday in the Lake District, we achieved it. I got my longed for adventure. Nine and a half miles of excitement and views and the unknown. It was amazing! 🙂

For the first couple of hours, our route took us from our holiday cottage in Near Sawrey, and up into the Claife Heights above. Steep and bumpy and the most technical path I’ve traversed on my scooter; I felt like Tom Pidcock! 😉 . Tarns and ferns and moorland and misty mountain views. And much to Kepler’s excitement (and frustration- because he wasn’t allowed to play), sheep sheep everywhere. The next section found us criss-crossing through Claife forest- gambling on which paths would be most accessible and have the fewest mountain bikers on! Amazingly we guessed right, and there were no U-turns needed! Four miles in and Kepler was still full of beans and desperate to explore every tiny path, but thirteen year old Lottie was ready for a snooze so jumped aboard with me. We had a quick stop to admire the breath-taking views of the lakeland below, before following a private forestry road downhill, and to the shore of Lake Windermere. Boats and ducks and swans and pebbles. And the perfect spot for a Phil and Kepler wild swim! Thankfully the lakeside path turned out to be accessible the whole way along, so we could reach the viewpoint atop the folly at Ash Landing (yep, I climbed all the steps- wahooo!). The final mile back to our village, was along quiet country lanes. Nine and a half fabulous miles. My longest scoot yet!

Although Phil had designed a route, that we hoped would be accessible for me, we had to be prepared in case we came across an unexpected obstacle. A locked gate, a fallen tree, a muddy bog. Or in case the scooter had a mechanical! Therefore he was always scanning the map for get outs. Alternative routes home, instead of needing to retrace our steps the whole way. Or closest roads, so he could get a car to me. I also packed my scooter charger (we’d have knocked on the nearest door) and a large scooter repair kit- with four spare inner tyres! Plus extra oxygen cylinders and clothes and plenty of food. And Phil was carrying an emergency bivvy bag and stove, incase I became stranded. Luckily, none was needed. 🙂

Later that evening, as we toasted our adventure in the local pub, my heart was full. Pride and satisfaction and happiness. For that one day I’d felt like a hiker again. When we met fellow walkers and bikers, I felt like their equal again. I too was out there in the back of beyond, away from the tourists, admiring the hard-to-reach views. I too was exploring the unknown, following a map, searching for way markers.. For years I’d been reminded of my disability whenever I tried (and failed) to access the countryside. For years, I’d felt like an outsider in my old outdoorsy world. But on that day, because I had an off-roader, because the route was largely accessible, I didn’t feel disabled. I wasn’t forced to think about my illness, I wasn’t constantly reminded that I have wheels instead of feet. My whole focus was on the views and nature and feeling at home in the great outdoors. When we take away the obstacles and inequalities, there is no disabled and abled. We can all achieve.

And the rest of our week in the Lake District was amazing too.:-)


One thought on “Our First Real Adventure

  1. Sarah, once again your blog does not disappoint. I read it through twice before looking at the pics. Phil is amazing, and you sure chose well. Your pups are very lucky to have explorers for parents. I do hope you are able to share your hike path with other scooter-owners who are not blessed with a Phil . As usual, I fully enjoyed seeing your world , and your photos are gorgeous.

    Beth

    Sent from Outlook

    ________________________________

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