When I met Kelly, we immediately hit it off. Yes, we share mobility issues, but our back stories are quite different. Perhaps it’s our shared sense of irreverence. Or determination to get up and do something whenever we can. And so we planned an outdoor hike together. But you see, Kelly uses a walker to provide needed balance and a place to rest when she grows weary. And so we needed to pick some place that did not present unreasonable barriers for her. We headed to the Runnins River/Town Hall trail at the back of Seekonk’s town hall.
And thus began an education on what makes for easy walking when one is using a walker. Kelly quickly pointed out the different size gravel on the stone dust portion of the trail. ‘The fine stone is like sand,” she explained. “That makes it harder for me to push this thing along.”
We soon came to the boardwalk that led out to the Runnins River. As we walked and talked, we learned more about each others’ story. My friend Sue joined us for this outing and the three of us found lots to talk about. And then we came to the end of the boardwalk.
I’d hoped we would be able to reach the trail where there is a bridge over the river. But the boardwalk stopped, and the steps down to the continuing trail had no railing. The rest of the trail was linear boards, three boards across, a real barrier for Kelly, and a challenging barrier for me to navigate with walking sticks. This is not meant as criticism, rather, observation, with an understanding that cost is a huge factor in determining how much ADA trail a group can afford to build. In the past I have traveled on trails of the type we faced at the end of the boardwalk, and can manage with support, but on this outing, the boardwalk was as far as we were going together.
The trail eventually leads over to the nearby Turner Reservoir, so I suggested we head over to the Seekonk side of the Turner Reservoir trail, which has extensive boardwalks over wetlands that reach out to the southern edge of the reservoir.
Once we reached the Turner Reservoir trail, I quickly realized that the boardwalk did not reach all the way to the parking lot. Kelly looked at the hard-packed dirt track and assured us, “I can do this.” And she did.
February is not the most scenic time to visit a trail, but it felt good to get out on an ice-free trail and take in views of the Ten Mile River as it flowed past the dam that created the reservoir. Sue spotted a bird paddling upstream in the river and asked me what it might be. It had been a while since I’d last seen one of these birds, but I finally remembered. “Scaup–greater or lesser, hard to tell since the difference is only an inch or so.” Sue and Kelly laughed. What a sweet time with new friends and old, creating memories as we walked.
The trail out to the edge of the reservoir is all hard-packed dirt or boardwalk. But to see the reservoir we had a grassy slope to climb. Another challenge. Kelly let us know what she needed, and didn’t need, for help, and we worked our way up the slope to take in some water views. We startled some geese, which flew off to a quieter spot.
Heading down the slope was more challenging for Kelly, which mirrors my own experiences–often going down a trail is a lot more challenging, even scarier, than climbing up. The forces of gravity are inclined to hurry us along, and we who have little capacity for hurrying have to work extra hard to keep ourselves upright.
Sue volunteered to be Kelly’s “front guard” and walked a couple steps ahead of her as we navigated the downward slope. Success! No runaway walker, and all of us returned to our cars upright and smiling.
I’m looking forward to finding ways to collaborate with Kelly in the future. What joy to spend time with someone who is able to hear my own experiences, nod, and say with confidence, “I understand how that feels.” The sense that one is not so alone. A very good feeling indeed.
To learn more about the yoga classes and other efforts Kelly is working on for those with mobility issues, go to her website, https://www.bylfitandrec.org/
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.