Thanks so much to Marilyn St. Doré for making the time to help us understand how she and her husband Dave successfully get out on the trail. They take Easy Walks, but often agree to venture on more challenging trails too. After reading this story, you may realize that you too can make a difference in the life of someone you know. Here’s Marilyn and Dave’s story. MTH
We began hiking 2 ½ years ago during the pandemic as a way to stay healthy and not sit in front of the tv now that we were retired. We never dreamt at that time that we’d love hiking so much, so much so, that we try to hike nearly every dry day that we are able all year long. This is no small feat as my husband is visually impaired, legally blind to be more specific. He can barely see beyond his feet and then only shadows and maybe color in his peripheral vision. During this time, he’s come to rely on me to be his guide on hikes. What follows are some of the things I do to help him enjoy his time on the trail as well as keep him as safe as I can.
Old or new places, it’s all good
We have our favorite “go-to” places for hikes when there’s not much time, or rain may start later in the day. Other days we may decide to hike further from home, somewhere we haven’t been before. My husband enjoys these new places. I do a lot of research online before choosing where to hike. Is there adequate parking? How difficult is it? Is there anything interesting to take pictures of? Sometimes I surprise him with a totally new place that has lots of historical significance. He was a history teacher so he loves to visit places with ruins or old buildings – a place he can visualize in his mind while we hike.
My husband carries hiking poles on any rocky trails or more moderately challenging trails. It only takes one small misstep for a fall to happen. For this reason, I also carry a whistle and siren to call for help. GPS – I do rely on the AllTrails app for help in choosing trails and keeping us on the right paths. Without a partner that can see, I am alone trying to guide us through the woods. An extra power pack is also helpful to keep your phone charged should your hike take longer than necessary.
Keeping an eye out for Obstacles
Even walking on an easy trail can be challenging. You never know when there will be an obstacle that a visually impaired person might not see or hear. I keep my eyes open for branches, small rolling rocks, fallen trees, snakes, mud & muck, and my eyes listening for bikers, hikers and joggers, etc. We’ve learned that all I need to say is “biker” or “dog walkers coming” and he knows to move behind me out of the way. If I don’t see something, for example, horse droppings, then as soon as I can, I gently nudge his arm so he knows I’m pushing him to the side of the trail out of the way of what is on the ground — not a hard shove, but a gentle push on his arm telling him to stay on the side until I say otherwise. Often I kick small rocks off the trail that might roll under our feet.
We often choose trails with a combination of easy and more moderately challenging areas. This gives us a chance to catch our breath and enjoy ourselves on the easier sections. Recently we hiked in Blue Hills Reservation, near Boston, known to be moderately to very challenging along the skyline trail. I often stop to ask which way he would like to go to give him more input into how difficult he wants the hike to be. Most of our hike was along a wider forest road trail through the woods, but at one point I stopped at the junction of the skyline trail and asked my husband if he wanted to try to do the rocky skyline trail or continue on the trail we were on. His response was “If you’re with me, we can go on the skyline trail.” This trail is extremely difficult even for someone with good vision, but can be treacherous for someone who is visually impaired.
One step at a time
I usually walk 2-3 steps in front of him and often turn around to see where he’s at and offer suggestions of where to step. (left foot here, right foot here, etc.). Some of the rocks become stairs so he can usually hear me say something like “step, step, big step down). This helps him count the steps as he goes down and he can judge how far it is down to the next step and uses his pole to judge the distance. In areas like these we go much, much slower than normal, often letting people pass by.
For us a hike is more than a walk through the woods. Take time to stop and listen for the birds. Try to figure out what kind they are. Look at the fallen leaves. Can you identify them? Point out interesting mushrooms. Look at the shapes of the trees. It’s amazing what is out there if you just stop and look for a bit. One doesn’t always have to be moving along a trail. Take time to see all the wonder this earth has to offer.
Not everyone with visual impairment is totally blind–take photos and share later
Guiding is the most important part of what I do on the trail, but I also take lots and lots of pictures. Once home I email the pictures to my husband’s computer so that he can view them and relive the hike through my eyes and what I saw. He does carry binoculars, but even they do not give him the clear images of the beauty and majesty all around us – the deer in the field, heron in the water, fall foliage, the snake that I stepped on (!), bridges, waterfalls – anything that I think is noteworthy that he can’t see. It doesn’t matter how silly it might be, I want him to experience the hike and put it into his memory.
Hiking with a visually impaired person can be very challenging depending on where you go. It can also be full of surprise and delight as well as being rewarding. Our goal is to hike as often as we can, to stay as healthy as possible, enjoying every moment we have left on this earth. And if you think hiking might be too difficult because of rocks and roots, try snowshoeing in the winter. Fields and golf courses are wide open spaces where you can have lots of fun without the obstacles!
Marilyn St. Dore
My name is Marilyn Doré. I’m a wife, mother of two, and grandmother of 5. I have been married for nearly 50 years to a wonderful man who is visually impaired. I am more than his wife. I am his helper, guide, reader, friend, driver…the list goes on. I love to travel both here and abroad, especially Turkey and Europe. My passion for many years has been singing, whether as a soloist at church, choir member, worship team member, and now as a member of the Old Stoughton Musical Society (the oldest continuously operating choir in the US.) I retired 3 years ago after working for over 30 years at our church. When the pandemic hit, I found myself looking for new things to do to fill the time. We tried hiking and it became a new part of our lives. When we get up in the morning one of the first questions asked is “where should we go today”. Hiking has definitely made our lives more exciting and if the view or circumstances warrant, I’ve been known to break out in song on occasion!
Thanks for sharing with us, Marilyn and Dave. Happy trails!
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.
5 responses to “Hiking Blind- Enjoying Trails Through Guiding Eyes”
What an inspiring story! Thank you so much for sharing!
I agree–so glad Marilyn and her husband were able to share this with us.
You have a wonderful blog! thanks for letting me know of your work and supporting mine. Sharing to my FB group, Easy Walks, Massachusetts, RI and beyond. Lots here that will be helpful to folks in our group. It is private but all you have to do to join us is to ask.
Thank you so much! It really means a so much, especially since your blog is so well developed and rich, I aspire to get to a fraction of what you’ve accomplished! Request sent to the group, I’m looking forward to enjoying more of your posts. I have a lot of reading to do! 🙂
YOu are all in with our FB group. Looking forward to your participation. Happy trails!