Well, this is my second blog on hiking. We have made some adjustments to the how-to’s of blind hiking. Our latest hike took in a bigger group than ever. Twenty-two of us hiked, west of the Burfield chairlift, out of ski area boundary, to a cabin referred to in a promo video for Sun Peaks Resort. This hike was done in September 2015 and the conditions were transitioning from summer to fall. There is more soft ground, dew-wet grasses, mud puddles and muddy patches.
The first adjustment I made was my stance. I had no idea this had changed until a woman I hiked with at the beginning of the season was “tail-gunning” my guide and me. “Your stance is so different than before.” “It is? How?” “Your center of gravity is lower; your knees are comfortably bent and soft. You walk in a wider stance unless told otherwise.” Our other techniques of tapping or kicking a larger rock or root in the path continue to work great. We still find less talk is more.
Usually we are out for 4 hours and the group visits back and forth on less-demanding parts of the trail. With too much directional chatter I get tired more quickly and cannot be part of this socialization. It is great to have a tail gunner who points out the end of tricky sections so my mind and body can relax. I started using a tail gunner in downhill skiing for the blind and have come to really rely on and relax knowing they are back there and watching the upcoming traffic. This tail gunning technique has worked well for us hiking in the mountains around Sun Peaks Resort and the surrounding areas of Kamloops, Clearwater and Heffley Lake.
We find that “wide” or “right behind” are short, clear and effective words. “Wide” means to me that I step more mindfully and with a wider stance. I presume we are going over a big rock, root or something. We still find using the white cane horizontally between myself and my guide works well. This is twofold: the consistent distance it gives us between each other seems perfect and I have a mobility aid when we stop. “Right behind” means to keep the white cane that my guide and I are holding between us straight, so I can feel any pressure against my hip that the guide makes as they navigate and thus adjust my line of travel. Heads up! If your guide pushes on the cane for any reason (for example, to tap on a root), make sure that your friend behind you doesn’t get the end of the cane in the gut!
The next adjustment made was my hiking boots. Light hiking boots worked until conditions became wetter. These boots came over my ankle and I like the extra support this provides. It’s inevitable that my ankles are going to rock and roll on any hike. Rocking is one thing but rolling over is something I want to avoid. So far so good. I have now purchased new hiking boots that are water proof, light weight, over the ankle and have deep treads. I find the deeper treads provide better grip, less slipping and my feet remain dry and comfortable in spite of the increased dewy conditions.
My guide dog comes on most hikes, but this is time off for her. I put a bear bell on her collar and the group keeps an eye on her. She loves this time off harness, running back and forth to check on me and round up the group. This little black lab dynamo turns out to have a bit of a herding gene.
My balance, confidence and conditioning have improved over the past 4 months. I no longer use my hiking pole in one hand as often as I did at the beginning of the season. Two reasons really: improved balance and I want my other hand free to hold onto the back of a pack or a hip when crossing muddy patches or man-made boardwalks. These little boardwalks have no edges, so I hang on to ensure I remain exactly behind my guide and don’t drift towards, or off, an edge.
As a team of blind hiker and guide, we will continue to adjust as our hiking goes into the fall. Sun Peaks Resort has many trails to explore and I will have to start making decisions as a blind person as to where I go and in what conditions. Basically, flat-out rain I consider too dangerous and uncomfortable to go out in. (So do my guides!)The chances of slipping or turning an ankle increase exponentially on these days. I am very active and want to be safe so I can be active on another day, whether this is working out or a walk with my guide dog on the village trails at Sun Peaks.
Oh yes, clothing adjustments have been made. Rain gear come s in all types. I am interested in the most waterproof, least noisy material. That way my ears can still assess and take in the surroundings. Too crinkly a material and even my communication with my guide, less than 4 feet ahead, becomes interrupted and more difficult. When an obstacle is being navigated it is paramount to hear any directions as they are given. No real time for “Sorry, can’t hear. What did you say?” By then an accident could have happened and more importantly could have been avoided.
On that note, I also find a large-brimmed waterproof hat good to hike in. This leaves my ears open and less obstructed than by pulling up the jacket of a hood or wearing a toque. The hat also keeps my eyes dry and leaves any residual vision available for me to use and appreciate.
An added bonus to the hike to the cabin was a pesky, cheeky whiskey jack bird. One of our hiking group had the bird eating out of his hand. I wanted to try. I expected a soft, momentary action with some weight to it. I got a full stop, grasp on the side of my hand with the soft claws. A surprise to me. A thrill, my stomach jumped and it was magic, a new experience to add to the memory banks. This whiskey jack preferred bites of apple to pieces of a protein bar. Well, we tried. We figured protein bars were healthier but the bird was not interested.
Blind hiking creates many memories for me with great friends and newcomers. Try getting out into the hills of your town to enjoy the fresh air and some exercise exploring the terrain. Start slow with people you trust and know. As your comfort level improves and your balance increases build it up a little at a time. This will give your body time to build up muscle memory and give you and your guide(s) time to understand each other thought processes and body movements. Blind or sighted you’ll be glad you got out and active.