At a park a short drive from Mayberry, Stockton and the terriers and I went hiking. In case you’re wondering, yup, visually impaired people do outdoorsy stuff, too. With no fear of wandering off the well-used trails, I even left my cane in the car and wound a dog leash around my wrist. The terrier attached was our calmer pup, Ulysses. He’s choosier in his distractions and more steady on walkies. He’s a long haul trucker compared to the spontaneous attitude and vivacity of our other dog, Matilda who drives her route like she’s piloting a convertible. Heyyy.
We near the edge of the woods where the trail takes off. I smile in excitement. Hiking is not foreign to me. I hiked and ran over plenty of trails as a high school cross county runner, as a camp counselor in college, and as a general nature lover as the years have passed. Instead of fearing what could go wrong, I considered how things would be different now with my level of visual impairment. Will I feel comfortable and enjoy it or will I end up too focused on method? Stockton would be leading the way and calling out major obstructions and low hanging things. My potential joy well outweighed the chances of being stymied on the trek.
Our sneakers meet the dirt trail. Sun peaks through the tree canopy and warms my arms. The hypnotic vibration of insects surrounds us as we make our way into the woods. A steep uphill on the trail catches my breath and I lean into the climb. It features intermittent timber beams and loose rocks. Ulysses, his tail and ears at attention, quickly places his paws in the spaces between roots and pushes himself along, his collar tags jingling. I lift my knees a bit higher than usual and plant my feet with deliberation to avoid trips. A few times my toes catch something, but my balanced posture keeps me upright.
After three-quarters of a mile or so, the dance of light through the leaves aka mostly glare to these eyes when searching for wild growing roots, prompts me to assess the actual risk of low hanging branches poking my sclera. I’ve been putting on and removing the shades constantly since the contrast of light brown roots to beige dirt stands out more to my unshaded eyes. Stockton confirms my memory. These popular trails don’t feature many branch dangers. I slide my shades to my forehead and allow in a semiconscious way my right eye to adjust to the terrain.
I’m using more than my remaining vision on the hike. With plenty of miles under my feet, it feels normal to cross the uneven ground. I’m comfortable cantilevering the legs at my hips, knees, and ankles to accommodate elevation changes, part stepping, part-rolling over larger rocks scattered within the dirt. I’m at ease in a meditation of exercise. My tightly-laced chucks with vulcanized rubber soles grip the roots and stones with full contact like a nerdy school kid grasping a pencil to fill in test bubbles. I’m gonna break the curve.
Birds chirp overhead, sweat drips down my back. Occasionally, other hikers, some with dogs, too, pass us. They all notice our terriers. No white cane to stare at I begin to think, but then again, c’mon, everyone always notices the terriers when we walk in Mayberry. It’s not always about the cane.
Matilda bounds with energy, her strong hindquarters propelling her up and over logs and steep inclines with deft. Ulysses, a bit stockier, employs more caution. It’s amusing to watch him handle obstacles compared to her. She leaps over all things in her path springing like a snapped rubber band; he peers over barriers and rests his paws on logs. a woodland professor considering his options.
We follow a trail that borders a stream. The bubbling water sings a melody in my ears. Eventually, we cross the stream and another one, too. Stockton narrates his well-chosen path through the rocks and liquid. I listen and execute, placing my steps purposefully, more worried about the terriers drinking the water than with me taking a shoe-full of water. Both happen, I grimace, and we carry on. I’m pleased about how confident I continue to feel. Traveling in nature mirrors emotional freedom. Basic instincts steer me in pace and movement. On the trail, I use what vision I still have plus what I’ve learned about mobility.
I stay the in moment to acquire sensory info. The sound of distant picnickers laughing and splashing by the lake carries through the trees and along the rolling hills. The ever-changing texture of the ground–smooth, rocky, bumpy, steep or even–felt through my soles and in the angles of my lower joints sends feeback to my brain. I adjust my style automatically as we emerge into an area occupying a former ski slope. It’s filled with tall grasses and provides a burst of light and breeze, refreshing my skin before the last part of our hike.
Ulysses and I move in tandem, following Stockton who follows Matilda back into the woods. The leaves haven’t quite changed color yet, but I imagine the crunch of fallen ones under my feet anyway as we go. I savor the last half mile of the journey. Any minute now, I will finish the hike, spilling back into the parking lot with a grounded perspective and a sense of accomplishment. Take a hike. It’s worth it.
Do you like to explore nature? Where do you go hiking? How do you like to spend time outside? Tell me about it.