By: Blonde Two
‘Will you take me wild camping?’ is a question to which Blonde One and I always like to respond in the affirmative. Whatever the weather, we love teaching people how to enjoy the freedom of packing their kit into a rucksack and wild camping on Dartmoor. This is probably why it didn’t take us long to say ‘yes’ when the lovely Rachel Morris asked us the same question, with the additional information that she would be coming in her wheelchair. I am ashamed to admit that the issues of accessibility and wild camping hadn’t occurred to me before but we knew a good route, were pretty sure our camping location would be suitable and are always keen to learn. On top of all this, Rachel herself was so positive and encouraging about the possibilities of the experience that, well before our wild camping course started, we had both become very eager to meet her. Wheelchair wild camping was a new one to us but of course, campsites are not everyone’s cup of tea and the thirst for adventure and wild spaces can hit any of us, at any time.
I have been an outdoor leader for a long time now and I know a fair amount about the role but I have lost count of the number of things I learned from Rachel during our weekend with her. For a start, I found out pretty quickly how physically strong Rachel was. Far from needing more help than the rest of the party, she was faster along tracks than any of us, strong enough to help me with my rucksack when it was misbehaving and eager to keep going when the rest of us were ready to sit down and enjoy the view. There was mental strength there too: we all know how difficult putting up a tent in the wind can be but doing it on your own, from a wheelchair, without help, well that takes a certain kind of inner determination.
The other, and perhaps most important, thing that I learned from Rachel was that barriers differ from person to person. I had thought that rough ground, getting in and out of a tent and keeping up with the group might be issues but (I eventually realised) those are the things that I worry about for me. The barriers I hadn’t considered included things that can impact on an outing but can’t be predicted beforehand. For example the stiles and kissing gates that aren’t shown on most maps but regularly occur along footpaths and bridleways.
We had a truly wonderful weekend with an amazing group of people. We enjoyed listening to conversations on the International Space Station as it passed overhead (thanks Matt), laughing at stories about legs and the lack of them (thanks Rachel), designing utility underwear (thanks V) and admiring some creative cookery (thanks Roddie). People often say they feel humbled after spending time with those who face physical difficulties. I didn’t, I came away feeling empowered, and with the exciting thought that maybe the outdoors actually is for everyone after all.