When my friends talked of their outdoor adventures, I listened with envy. I imagined what it must be like to actually co-exist for a night, or a week, with the diverse creatures throughout nature’s paradise. Viewing beautiful cliff walls while canoeing the St. Croix. Hearing distant wolves sing campers to sleep. Waking to the call of loons. But, I dismissed the idea as too difficult because I rely upon a wheelchair for mobility. However, a local wilderness organization’s activities have proved me wrong.
Wilderness Inquiry (WI), a nonprofit organization founded in 1978, provides opportunities that integrate people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities through outdoor education and experiences. From the beginning, they have designed adventures to inspire personal growth and instill confidence. They have served over 80,000 people of all abilities on trips throughout the Americas, Europe, Australia, and Africa. As part of their cooperative outdoor adventures, participants canoe, sea-kayak, backpack, horsepack and dogsled, often with equipment specially adapted by WI staff.
The organization operates on four fronts. First, they lead participants on integrated outdoor adventures and day events. Next, they offer training for outdoor recreation service providers regarding how to make their programs more accessible. One of their tools is the http://www.accessoutdoors.org website, a clearinghouse for accessible outdoor recreation resources. Third, they coordinate environmental learning experiences. And finally, they survey parks, trails and outdoor park facilities for accessibility features. As a result of their many-pronged approach, WI has become an international leader in the development and implementation of universally-designed outdoor adventure programs.
“WI helped break down my belief that I will be sitting in my chair, watching others do what I no longer can do,” said Nancy, a 50-year-old woman experiencing paraplegia. She continued, “I was afraid before the trip that I was going to be the ‘disabled’ needing lots of help. No one on this trip ever made me feel anything like that.”
WI realizes that “disability” is a very relative term. In fact, thousands of people with a wide variety of challenges have traveled with them. Each individual’s attitude and willingness to get out and explore is what matters most. If a participant has that, WI does whatever it takes to make trips accessible.
The organization provides adapted equipment as needed, including but not limited to canoe and kayak seating, mobility aids, and accessible bathroom facilities. The gear helps people of all abilities participate, but it is not what makes WI so accessible. Rather, the organization’s attitude that everyone is equal, therefore can and should experience adventure, makes the difference. They team with participants to help figure out what needs to be done to maximize full participation in a straightforward, non-condescending manner. Actually, probably the most challenging hurdle for participants is figuring out where to go!
Camp and canoe along the historic St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Or, venture a little further from home to canoe and camp the headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi in Minnesota’s Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s border country in Voyageurs National Park, or Yellowstone National Park. These trips’ 24-foot “Voyageur” canoes offer a unique way for participants to familiarize themselves with canoeing. Each boat carries six to eight people and offers enough stability and space for young children to play in the center!
Perhaps the Boundary Waters? Canoe the area’s pristine lakes and rivers in lightweight Kevlar canoes. What about kayaking the Apostle Islands? Paddle the sea kayakers’ paradise on the south shore of Lake Superior using fast and stable Eddyline sea kayaks. WI offers three or five day trips in this locale to explore wave-sculpted sea caves, sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, and sunken shipwrecks on the world’s largest freshwater lake.
If canoeing and kayaking are not your thing, perhaps explore Mexico’s Copper Canyon wilderness via the world renowned Chihuahua-Pacific Railroad. The area is comprised of a series of six massive canyons four times larger than our own Grand Canyon. Take a series of day hikes and investigate the fascinating culture of the indigenous Raramuri people, and see the effects of missionaries, industrialists, and revolutionaries on the area.
Possibly a safari through East Africa’s Kenya Wilderness or South Africa’s Kruger National Park is more your style. Experience a world others have only seen in pictures: grassy steppes, tall mountains, beautiful people, lions, giraffes, rhinos. At Kruger National Park, the largest wild game park in the world, view animals from foot and four-wheel drive vehicles, watch the sun set over the plains, and camp out under the stars while making friends.
These are only a few opportunities. Wilderness Inquiry operates around the globe year-round, from winter canoeing in the Florida Everglades or lodge-to-lodge dogsled adventures in the Boundary Waters, virtually unlimited canoeing and kayaking throughout the summer, Hawaiian hikes in the spring, and New Zealand in the fall. The variety is mind-blowing!
For more information, check out their web site at www.wildernessinquiry.org. The site lists upcoming trip dates, descriptions, and itineraries. If you’ve got questions about trips –equipment needs, disability issues in the outdoors, the kind of food you’ll be eating, the weather to expect, or the kind of wildlife you’ll see– the site offers a form that can be completed and submitted to “Ask Janet.” Ms. Janet Peterson has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and has been on over 30 trips since 1978, from kayaking in the Apostle Islands to horsepacking in the Colorado Rockies. Or, feel free to give them a call locally at 612-676-940.