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Archive for September, 2008

At the outset I need to clarify that I believe our families are genetically pre-disposed to being adventurous. After all, my hubbies family were part of the original Europeans to immigrate to South Africa back in the 1600’s and believe me they had to be tough to survive travelling around with 16 oxen pulling them and all their possessions in what amounted to a box on wheels for thousands of miles! Also, my brother in law lives in a country that is very familiar with ice hole fishing, dog sledding and no daylight all winter! Yes, they are a tough breed and I was going to need all the help I could get to conquer Johnson Canyon. Don’t they say ignorance is bliss? So with only a slight worry tapping a tune in the back of my brain, one large Canadian, one large South African and one slightly smaller lady in battered wheelchair set off to achieve another milestone on our quest to overcome as much as we could in the time we had been allotted. How hard could it be? I suppose the clue really was that no other wheelchair or disabled hikers passed us on the entire trail and those people with babies had them in their arms or on their backs! The other thing was the well meaning glances we got from those returning along the path from the top of the falls.

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Let me just say at this point that we at least had enough sense to agree that the first set of falls was enough of a challenge for 2 unfit blokes, 1 unfit woman and a wheelchair!

Decision made, and off we set, heading up the nice path indicated on the map… this is easy! Round the bend and up an incline… okay, maybe a bit more challenging than it looked at first glance. Luckily we had wonderful dry weather because I don’t think we would have got too far in rain or snow. The path was well maintained for the tourists and for the most part it was fine (for walkers, not wheelers). It was the trees that suddenly appeared in our path that raised a few worried brows; so we took these opportunities to rest, recover and reconnoitre! I can tell you with all honesty that without the two burly blokes with me, there is NO WAY I would have got near the top, and I would have had to be air-lifted out! They manfully each grasped a handlebar and pushed, heaved, shoved and occasionally lifted me over the worst bits – I cannot remember how many times I asked “are you sure we shouldn’t turn back?” But, hardy stock that they are, we forged ever further up, up and onwards. The views were superb and we used this as an excuse to stop often and admire the scenery. When we eventually got to the first set of waterfalls, it was all worth it; for me anyway! Did I say thank you enough to my brave companions? If not, a BIG, BIG THANK YOU for giving me this amazing memory.   So, in short, this is NOT for the faint hearted, but then again faint heart never won fair mountain (ha ha, you get it?).

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It was around this time that my husband and I realised that a normal wheelchair was just not going to do the job for us! And, as an aside, maybe we could all loose a pound or two and get fit….

Now, can anyone tell us an easy way down this mountain?…..

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I thought I should share a few of my pre-K-2 adventures to demonstrate how much we needed a more rugged wheelchair. Picture this – newish wheelchair user, cheap wheelchair bought off the internet, first trip to Canada. Anyway, we had conquered Sulphur Mountain and needed to move onto bigger and better things – and believe me, there are plenty of bigger, better things at every turn in the Rocky Mountains. Next stop – Lake Louise. How many times have I said “amazing” and “incredible”? Oh well, what are a few more superlatives between friends! Wow, it is truly magnificent and the calmness of the water beautifully reflects the harshness of the mountains and the immense glaciers in the peaks. If I had been able to, I would have pulled up a comfy deck chair and parked myself on the shores with a book and not budged until the weather moved me on.

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We only had a few days so time was our greatest enemy and prodded us onwards. Our next stop – Johnson Canyon and the ultimate trial for the bruised and battered old wheels!

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We spent a wonderful week with our family in and around Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, then it was time to pack up and head for the mountains. When we flew into Calgary the Rockies were just a mountain range painted beautiful purples and blues in the distance. Having grown up in Kwazulu Natal in South Africa I love mountains and could not wait to get there and start exploring – but before that we had a 10 hour drive ahead of us through some extremely flat countryside covered in more wheat and sunflowers than I could ever have imagined. Over into the next province, Alberta supplied the occasional dip in the landscape in the form of a ravine where Drumheller is situated. This amazing town (which may feature in a future episode) is world renowned for its dinosaur finds and superb museum – only time for a quick lunch break before setting off again – we really wanted to reach our apartment in Canmore before nightfall. Tired and travel weary we arrived and settled into our apartment. After a well deserved rest we were fresh for our first trip into the Banff National Park. I could not have dreamed how beautiful this place was going to be and absorbed the atmosphere and scenery into every pore as we adventured deeper into the park. I cannot possibly list every place we went to but will pick a couple that have significance because we managed them all with me in the battered wheels! From Banff we took a gondola up to Sulphur Mountain. They were so amazingly organised that I didn’t even have to get out of my chair. With ramp attached we were quickly aboard and heading up the incredibly giddy heights of the mountain – awesome! Did I mention the few crazy individuals that actually climbed the mountain rather than make use of a perfectly good ride!! At the top at last and we were blessed with a beautiful clear day to enjoy all the wonders from a 360 degree viewing facility.

Many pictures and a good cup of hot chocolate later and we were heading back down the mountain for our drive to Lake Louise.

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I know this post is going to be very familiar to those international travellers amongst us, but bear in mind that I have only been a wheelchair user for around 2 years. I have been to many European and South African destinations without any disasters with my cheap (£140), internet purchased wheelchair. So, in September 2008, without a second thought we made for Manchester airport and the long flight and many change overs to visit family in Saskatoon, Canada. Manchester to Heathrow, Heathrow to Calgary and then an 8 hour drive back towards Saskatoon. Sounds simple? Think again! My wheelchair which was loaded at the plane door and should have been safe looked like it had gone a few rounds with an angry Rhinoceros. The back was bent, the wheels crushed and when we opened it bits flew all over the airport car park! The airline customer services we very nice when we reported the damage and they told us to replace the chair and send off the invoices for a refund. Easier said than done when you are about to go half way across a vast country to your next destination. Anyway, we decided to take the chair and have it repaired as best we could in Saskatoon. Considering the damage, the repairers did a great job that allowed me to use it for the duration of the holiday – it just did not open and close any more! Luckily my sister-in-law also has a spare wheelchair and I used this whenever I could in and around the town. The old battered one did however come into its own when we went off track because by then we had nothing to lose and were no longer concerned about damaging it; after all we could not possibly do worse than the airline. 

Canada was a pleasure to get around in a wheelchair and the facilities were very good.  Disabled bays were never used by anyone other than official badge holders – well done Canada!   Some countries can learn a lot from their respect for disabled drivers. 

On a completely different note, the other photo is just a wonderful reminder of many early mornings spent queuing outside Tim Horton’s for fresh coffee and the most amazing selection of doughnuts.  If you are ever in Canada, they should not be missed.

Next episode coming soon….

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