Interview: Wheelchair Hiker and the Outdoors

Sever osteoporosis and diabetes over twenty years ago left Bob’s legs too brittle to stand and has been using a wheelchair ever since. He can still feel and control the movement of his legs, which helps with his balance and is why he does not require a foot rest on his wheelchair. Bob’s disability has not curb his thirst to explore the great outdoors as he frequently takes long hikes and even camps out overnight by himself, sometimes for multiple days. One of Bob’s major accomplishments is successfully searching a 14,000ft peak in the Sierra Mountains. I had the pleasure of meeting Bob, aka 4WheelBob, and interviewed him regarding the great outdoors.



Interview with 4WheelBob on the Great Outdoors:
Hiking, Camping and the Importance of Exploring

What do you consider to be a wheelchair accessible park? An accessible park is one that complies with ADA standards in the construction of it’s facilities, from play equipment to trails to restrooms. Some parks that aren’t labeled ADA accessible are also pretty do – able, too. It depends on one’s comfort level.

What is your opinion of the parks system and how trails are rated for ADA access? Park districts are quite conservative in their ratings, I’ve found. Because disabilities are unique to the individual, districts rate trails so their “accessible” label is bestowed on the flattest, easiest, and least physically challenging trails. That’s not a bad thing, but a function of not wanting to err and place anyone in a difficult situation.

Roughly how many hiking trails have you explored? Oh, my – hundreds? Thousands? Every trail I see or read about is an opportunity to try something new. And I find something of value on every trail, no matter how “easy” or how knuckle grinding difficult.

How many miles was the longest trail you explored? About how long did it take you? February, 2011 – I started from my home in Livermore and followed our regional trail system to Concord via the Iron Horse Regional Trail. I started at 5 AM, and finished the round trip at 8 PM – a distance totaling 68 miles in one long day…

Where was the first park you explored that wasn’t ADA accessible but you decided to explore it anyway? Easy – Morgan Territory Regional Preserve north of Livermore. It’s a wide open space, access to which allowed the East Bay Regional Park District to explore gate options that would enable wheelchairs to easily enter the park. The District has worked hard since I came onto the scene to ensure access for chairs and to those with disabilities wasn’t limited to ADA – spec trails.

You go on some gnarly uphill trails that only the strongest and most skilled wheelchair users should try, what are some of your favorite easy trails where almost any wheelchair user can enjoy?  Oh, simple – The Iron Horse Regional Trail section between Sycamore Valley Road in Danville and the City of Walnut Creek. It’s popular, wooded, bird – intensive and easy, by my standards. I also love the section of the Bay Trail between Pt. Isabel Regional Park in Richmond north to Marina Bay, or south to Eastshore State park – either direction has great wildlife viewing of the restored marshland, as well as year – round wildflowers, a bonus of being next to SF Bay.

Do you just explore trails around your hometown? If not, please name some other trails and where they are located. No, I love that we have so many parks in or near my home town of Livermore, but I’ve hiked everywhere – the High Sierra, Point Lobos along the coast, the Atchafalaya Swamp in Louisiana, Rocky Mtn Nat’l Park in Colorado. Death Valley is cool, as is Yosemite, Kings Canyon…is there a bad trail? I keep looking, haven’t found it yet.

Have you ever done mountain climbing? Absolutely. While I am not one who gets rigged up with harness and ropes, I have summitted the high points in the Bay Area as well as several peaks above 10,000 feet – my highest so far is 14,246 ft White Mountain, CA’s 3rd highest. I was the first, and to date the only person in a wheelchair to summit this wonderful mountain.

What do you always bring with your on your hikes? Water. A fairly comprehensive first aid kit. A gallon Ziploc bag of trail mix, or carbohydrate loaded gels (GU, etc.). I make sure that I carry enough emergency gear, even on a day hike, that I can withstand cold, extreme heat, rain or other bad weather should I get stuck somewhere. Being over prepared also lends a comfort level, knowing that all will be OK even if the day goes poorly.

You seem like the type of man that loves to go camping, where are some of your favorite spots? How is the wheelchair access? Locally, I really love Del Valle Regional Park south of Livermore. Animal and bird viewing are first rate, although I like the fall and winter best because there are no crowds. There are fully accessible sites as well as many flat, easy to maneuver – in campsites, depending on ability level. Lassen Volcanic Nat’l Park’s Manzanita Lake Campground is excellent. For wilderness style, but still possible camping, I enjoy the Carrizo Plain National Monument’s Selby Campground, the draw to which is the incredible wildflower display each spring. It’s west of Bakersfield in a barely visited location. Well worth the effort but call first to check conditions. It is coastal but remote, so not advisable for a first trip, especially if solo – cell service is spotty, to my delight.

Explain your relationship with nature. How has it influenced your life? Nature was introduced to me by my parents when I was very young. I was taught to respect every living thing, not to fear or kill what scared me. I rely on Mother Nature to keep me grounded when things aren’t going so well, or to inspire me to dig deeper, go farther and set loftier goals when they are. I can sit for hours and let birds entertain me, and have had pleasant conversations with all kinds of mammals, even skunks and bears.

For all of those wheelchair users who also love nature but are nervous about getting out there and exploring the unknown, can you offer any encouraging words about the importance of testing one’s own physical limits? I heartily believe in nature as a healing, nurturing force. That being said, many have fears about the unknowns, and in nature each day begins with a clean slate. Learn about animals, birds, snakes, spiders – all the usual points of fear. Take an experienced buddy along (Hint – my phone number and e – mail are easily found with a quick web search!), and most of all, start simple and see if a short jaunt out inspires you to do more. I believe it probably will. Physically, I got started because I found that I could go just about anywhere as long as I kept pushing my chair. There were lots of learning experiences along the way, but the value received from getting out and finding that I was capable of so much more than I believed was the greatest lesson.

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