There are many things I thought I would always be able to do in life. You could say I took it for granted. Walking along a beach with my family, travel and doing bush walks were just a few.
I looked forward to sharing these activities with any children I had in the future. But life threw us a curve ball and a wheelchair became a necessary part of our family when BJ was born with cerebral palsy.
When BJ was younger a back carrier allowed us to share with him some of our favourite walks in places like the Blue Mountains. It let us tour Kakadu, Uluru and New Zealand. But by the time BJ turned seven years old it was time for us to hang up the backpack. At that time we were simply grateful we had managed to do walks around Mt Cook and Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand and hike to Gumlom Falls in Kakadu. When AJ was born we were sad that she would never experience these things with us as a family.
So you can imagine our absolute delight when we were approached by NSW National Parks and Wildlife to trial a new piece of equipment which would give us access to bush walks again. The TrailRider is an intriguing concept – a piece of equipment which allows a person with mobility restrictions to access tracks that are not wheelchair accessible, including tracks with stairs (with assistance from guides). A seat with a high back, foot and arm rests allowed BJ to sit comfortably. Handles at the front and back allow two, three or four people to guide the rider up and down a range of tracks. In our case Hubby was the guide at the back and either AJ or myself were at the front as the guide. A single wheel under the seat means that lifting of the chair is only needed for stairs but even in this case the wheel eases the chair through the process.
We were unsure how BJ would like the TrailRider because he is naturally cautious when he is not control, particularly when he isn’t in the comfort of his wheelchair.
He was definitely unsure and nervous when he first sat on the TrailRider but it didn’t take long before he had a big smile on his face and we were off exploring several of Sydney’s National Parks. We chose an easy walk while we settled into using it and started by exploring Lane Cove National Park.
We were surprised at how easy the TrailRider was to push. It only has the one wheel but on the level walks Hubby was quite happy pushing it by himself. We found one adult and AJ could manage it on level walks.
Stairs were definitely the biggest challenge for us. We could manage getting the TrailRider up stairs with two adults guiding it but it is definitely more of a work out. As parents and carers we are conscious of good back care and we felt that three people or even four on more difficult tracks would be wise, if not necessary.
The views from Bradley’s Head were spectacular looking over at the Harbour Bridge and Opera House and on some of the bigger stair cases we had people offering to help. Most of them were out for their morning run so really we were providing a community service helping them with a bit more of a workout. BJ also thought all the high fives and “hello mate” comments were pretty good. We have found that the social side of getting out on the walking tracks with the TrailRider has definitely been one of the benefits we hadn’t considered before using it.
One of our favourite walks (so far) is Muogamarra Nature Reserve at Cowan.
We were so exhilarated at the end of this walk as we had seen beautiful scenery, a variety of wildflowers and BJ had a big smile on his face during the whole walk. People stopped to chat and were equally thrilled to see BJ enjoying the tracks. Muogamarra is only open for six weeks a year during spring for the wildflower season. I am sure that limiting visitors to a short time frame each year will ensure this beautiful area remains pristine.
The last park we explored while trialling the TrailRider was Kamay-Botany Bay National Park and this is now home to one of the three TrailRiders in NSW.
In our opinion Kamay is a fantastic choice of location for the TrailRider because it has so many accessible facilities and a variety of areas to use the TrailRider. Cape Solander (see the photo at the top of this post) is a well known whale watching location and it is a stunning location to explore.
Kamay also has some other lovely bush tracks to explore, picnic grounds, disabled toilet facilities and a beautiful waterfront location. I will do a separate blog on Kamay with full details of our experience.
It has been a truly liberating feeling being able to explore some of our local National Parks and it felt wonderful sharing it with our kids.
For more information on the TrailRider head to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife website here. Bookings can be made for the TrailRider from 20 December 2014 at Kamay and Dorrigo National Parks and guess what……………it is a free service.
Parks Victoria also have a TrailRider available so head to their website if you would like more information about their programme.
For information of other locations including other locations in Australia, Canada, USA and Japan head to the official website.
We would like to say a big thank you to NSW National Parks and Wildlife for entrusting us with a TrailRider for the trial and a special thank you to Christina for her vision and drive in implementing this program in NSW. People like Christina give me hope that one day there will be more accessible recreational facilities for us all.
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