I love being outdoors and close to nature. However, in the last few years, a spinal cord injury has limited me because there are hardly any wheelchair-accessible trails or locations in India. Going on long drives outside of Bangalore is the closest I have come to satisfy my urge to be out and about amidst lush greenery. Last summer work took me to Seattle, a local quadriplegic friend happened to mention about her nature trails sojourns and voila a plan to visit a nature trail was born. This was my opportunity to experience a wheelchair-accessible trail at the Railroad Bridge Park.
Getting to Railroad Bridge Park
The Railroad Bridge Park is located near the town of Sequim in Washington, USA. Since my cousin Sarvesh was accompanying us we rented a car and drove from Seattle to Sequim. The drive was nothing short of a spectacle. The highway was lined with scenery ranging from the sea to hillocks. On our way back we took a ferry from Bainbridge Island i.e. we parked our car inside the ferry and crossed the sea. My friend Denise Smith-Irwin, on the other hand, use the same ferry to come from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and then took a regular bus to Sequim. What is interesting to know is that both the ferry and the bus were accessible in a wheelchair. Maybe I’ll take this route next time and save on car rental.
I met up with Denise at a café called the Hurricane Coffee Company. The drive from Seattle to here took us almost 3 ½ hours and I wanted to freshen up before taking off on the trail. This café was accessible and I was able to use their washroom in my wheelchair. If someone from the US is reading this blog, don’t be surprised about how many times I express my surprise and excitement for places being accessible. It is a rare situation in India. Denise introduced me to Ian Mackay who lives close by and is a pro at trails. In fact, he frequents many routes and nature trails all by himself in a powered chair. I cannot imagine going out in India without my helper – my wheelchair could get stuck in so many places. I felt nice to meet fellow quadriplegics and know about their lifestyle.
The plan was to go from this café to the trail at Railroad Bridge Park on the wheelchair. My wheelchair battery is just 16Amps and if I am riding continuously it cannot go on beyond 2 to 3 hours. On the other hand, both Denise and Ian have powered wheelchair with batteries over 60Amps that can last the entire day of being outdoors. Ian recommended we use his modified aka accessible car to reach the Railroad Bridge Park from the cafe. <Excitement Alert!> I was surprised to see that his car could accommodate two wheelchairs – and it was not a big van. The seat next to the driver was also removed to accommodate a wheelchair and there were locks to keep the chair in place when the car moves. Denise and I comfortably fit inside the car along with her helper, my mother and Ian’s friend who was driving the car. I didn’t have to get up from my wheelchair and Sarvesh followed us in our rented car. Ian chose to come alone on his wheelchair from the café to the park.
Wheeling on a trail in nature’s lap
The Railroad Bridge Park is a part of the 200 Kms (130-miles) long Olympic Discovery Trail that runs through the Olympic Peninsula i.e. the northwest expanse of land one can explore along the US coast. As you must have guessed, the park gets its name from a historic railroad bridge that crosses the Dungeness River. The park and its facilities are maintained by the Dungeness River Audubon Center.
At the entrance of the trail, there was a board with the map and history of the trail as well as a fact that the park provides habitat for over 125 bird species and four threatened fish species. We entered the accessible trail it was pure joy to wheel through a track surrounded by plants and trees in all possible shades of green. <One More Excitement Alert!> As we moved forward the sound of a river flowing started to play. This was the Dungeness river and a strong bridge made of wood emerged in front of us. The location and the moment of being in the thick of nature were priceless.
The Dungeness railroad bridge was constructed in 1915 and has a very interesting history. The Milwaukee Road company had made this route for trains to carry passengers and cargo such as timber. However, the bridge was abandoned once the company went bankrupt. In 1992 volunteers replaced the planking and started to create a bike trail. Thanks to this vision by biking enthusiasts, this trail is benefiting wheelchair users like me today.
I had the best time wheeling through the ramp at the beginning of the bridge, watching the river flow from the top of the bridge and then take the trail into the wilderness. This is a non-motorable road, you will only find pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users like us on the trail. There was no noise, only the sound of the river and me shouting ‘wow’ in excitement. We spent some time on the bridge chatting, taking pictures and watching passers-by before going further on the trail.
From the entrance till deep inside, wheeling through the Railroad Bridge Park independently on my wheelchair was clearly a feeling of one of my dreams coming true and something that will go in my diary as an experience of a lifetime. I wish to spend more time surrounded by nature every single day of my life. You can CHECK OUT MY VIDEO from the park HERE and I look forward to your comments about travelling with me through this trial.