Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

Roxborough Park Hike, October 8, 2008

One footstep at a time I trudge the trail, only my steps are not footsteps but just as frequent decisions about where to place a wheel, at what angle; small changes of direction, planning ahead how best to keep moving, keep from going wrong. I think, Is this how other hikers hike? Maybe not regular walkers; their accustomed movements, one in front of another, come so naturally that they become unconscious. But when they take on tougher trails, trails involving variable terrain, or climbing, or winding, then they have to think about it. They examine the earth in front of them, assess its angles, guess at its texture — solid, ready to take weight, or sandy and prone to give way; slick, or rough enough to welcome foothold.

My own scrutiny of the trail involves different factors. I strategize how I might maximize the power reeling from my rear wheels, while keeping my front wheels from catching a rut or a rock that may jerk me off course. I compare the approaching waves, dips, slopes, and ridges with the shape of my wheelchair, plan how to steer around or over the hazards. My tactical considerations may be different from a nondisabled hiker’s, but I think we are both looking for the same kinds of challenges, the same pleasures.

The pleasures abound. All around me on this land that is part high desert, part lush creekbed, the miracles of autumn blaze like a newly-opened vein of gold. Walls of scrub oak, transitioning from green, through yellow, to brown, border my hike for a while. Then a view suddenly opens: broad weedy meadow, rust-red rock formations jutting skyward in parallel angles. Beyond that, mountains of granite and pine catch the bending sun.

And around one corner, an unexpected treasure: A clump of rabbit brush, heavy with yellow blossoms, each flower hosting butterflies who land, suck, clench and then spread their lovely black and orange wings. At least a dozen butterflies have chosen this bush for their banquet. Bees share the feast, tumbling and climbing over the blooms. It’s like a living, breathing crown of jewels.

I start moving forward again, after stopping to revel for a while in front of that burst of color and movement. I take in all the rich scenery, near and far, from the tiniest purple wildflower to the Rocky Mountain range miles away. The pleasures of this lake are not simply visual, however. I’m enjoying a physical rush which, again, I wonder if able-bodied hikers also experience. On this unpaved, bumpy dirt trail, my wheelchair and my body both navigate and absorb the earth’s curves. Even as I plan the best approach to an upcoming swale, the right speed and angle, when it arrives I must give myself over to it, feel it rise and fall me. Every pebble, every patch of gravel, every ridged and slanting stretch of trail brings its own vibrational tune, and these I take into my body as if learning a sacred song by heart.


  1. Gwen Writer says:

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