First Time Hiking

Ok, so, it wasn’t really hiking. It was more like casually strolling along a short trail in the Shenandoah National Park. Kudos to SNP for having a couple of accessible trails to pick from along Skyline Drive!

We picked the smaller of the two trails, and I think we chose wisely. We all enjoyed the walk, especially getting to spend some time with one of T’s brothers and family, and we saw some interesting things that spoke to Captain’s nature spirit.

Let me back up and start at the beginning. Our day began early. The park is two hours west/northwest from where we live. Captain wanted to be at one of the picnic grounds by 10 so he could catch the Birds of Prey Ranger program. So we left right before 8 am.

About an hour and a half into the trip, Handsome got carsick. We were expecting it since he was refusing to eat his breakfast or drink his juice and we were on some pretty serious winding roads. He threw up 4 times before we got to the park entrance.

When we arrived at the visitor’s center where we had arranged to meet with T’s family, we had to change shirts. I had brought 2 changes of clothes for Handsome that day, but the only long pants he had were the ones he was already wearing. It was chilly in the park, plus we were hoping for mosquito and tick protection. We did not get there in time for the ranger program due to having to deal with the aftermath of carsickness.

Once changed from the vomitty shirt, we walked around the visitor’s center. Handsome seemed to enjoy this and only demanded the tablet after we had walked through the museum part and were walking around the store. We were still refusing to give the device to the boy until after we hiked. It was pretty dang tough to stick to our guns because he knows how to instantly turn on jerk-mode when he is not getting what he wants.

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We asked the rangers at the visitor’s center if they could recommend an easy trail for someone with disabilities and they gave us maps for two.

The first one had a trailhead right there by the Byrd visitor center at mile marker 51 (near Big Meadows campground). The trail is called “Story of the Forest Trail” and is not specifically labeled as ADA accessible (at least not on the map). It is 1.8 miles long. According to the map, this is the easiest trail in this section with an estimated hiking time of 1.5 hours and a 290-foot elevation gain.

The second one, the one we chose, is in the Skyland area, at mile marker 43, and is called “Limberlost Trail.” Map information for this trail says it is a “partially ADA accessible, 1.3 mile circuit stroll. Pets not allowed.” I’m not sure what their policy is on service animals, but I have to admit, not encountering any dogs or evidence of dogs on this trail was quite nice.

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I cannot say enough good things about this trail. It was mostly gravel and level. The walkway was wide enough for us to walk 2-3 side by side when we weren’t meeting others on the trail. When we did meet others on the trail, it was easy to walk by without having to make room, even for strollers and wheelchairs.

We saw one family there pushing their daughter in a wheelchair. They looked like experienced hikers. The dad said the only tough part of it was the end, which has an incline, but still doable for them. There are a couple of areas where the trail got more narrow and that was to cross little footbridges, which were easy and were not arched like some are.

Along the trail were these awesome rocks jutting up from the ground. Just simply amazing.

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Seriously, how cool is that?!

One other awesome thing about the trail: benches. There are benches positioned all throughout the trail. Not just a couple here and there. I’m just guessing here, but maybe every 200 feet or so there was a bench along the trail. It did not interfere with the actual trail, but you did not have to leave the trail to access the benches either. I wish I had taken a picture but I honestly wasn’t thinking about the walk in the park as being blog-worthy! {Shame on me! Isn’t everything potentially blog-worthy??}

There are only two things that I would say about this trail that detracted from it. One was that there were only 2 handicap spaces available and a very limited number of other spaces…like maybe 8 total. However there were 2 reserved spaces for RVs. All of the regular spaces were filled and many people using the trail were families with small children (strollers). I get that, I really do. But it’s still the ONLY option for someone with disabilities. The lot was also full from people who didn’t appear to have a need for an accessible trail. Now I know there are a lot of invisible disabilities. However, a group of 10 young men who are trotting along and goofing off and laughing and pushing each other around, just didn’t appear to really need this trail when there are many, many, MANY other trails available to them. Also, the one family with small children, they met up there in three different vehicles. I mean, come on! I know there is no regulation for this kind of stuff. Like the idiot on a motorcycle that parks in the extra-wide family parking space at IKEA…oh, don’t get me started on that one. {Tricia, let it go. Breathe.]

The other thing was that it’s just too bad there wasn’t an accessible restroom facility located here. To get to a restroom, you would have to drive a few miles in either direction. But those two things are not enough to prevent me from coming back to this trail.

Anyhow, I don’t share those two things with any ill intent. Just so that anyone who may have an opportunity to go would know that in advance.

Moving on.

While on the trail, Handsome wanted to hold his aunt’s hand. I mean, this boy, he never ceases to amaze me! He was so happy on our walk. Just content. Making his happy sounds, occasionally running or hopping, and just overall enjoying it. Which of course means the rest of us got to enjoy it, too!

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[Side note about National Parks in general. If you have a lifelong disability, you can apply for an Access Pass. The Access Pass allows for free entry into National Parks, and even some affiliated museums will honor it. This came in especially handy for the $25 entrance fee to Shenandoah NP. We’ve been able to use it at some museums and it has afforded us free entry for our entire family, not just for Handsome.]

After hiking, we found a picnic area and settled down for the next few hours. The flies and gnats were horrible! But, much to my amazement, that did not seem to bother Handsome. The rest of us were tormented by them, and the only good thing I can say about them is that at least they did not bite. You can see in the picture below that there are flies all around him.

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We ended up getting rid of the flies and gnats when we started the fire smoke screen. Like all good stories, there’s an adventure here. But let’s just say, eventually we got enough of a fire going that some were able to roast chocolate donuts and cinnamon rolls over the flame. But seriously, if you’ve got a fly or gnat problem, smoke will clear them out. And as soon as you put out the fire, they will return.

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Eventually we had to give the boy his device, because I did promise him “first walk, then tablet” before we ventured onto the trail. Also, look how toned this boys calves are. All that toe-walking has made for some long and powerful legs! As you can see, he’s still in toe-walking position here.

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More than once he set the tablet down and walked away from it. He enjoyed wandering around the picnic site. Eventually his diaper leaked and got his shirt and pants soaked. So you’ll see here he is wearing his 3rd outfit of the day! πŸ™‚ He’s always got to keep us on our toes.

Our drive home was much less eventful than our drive in. Since by the time we were leaving the park in the late afternoon, Handsome had eaten a sandwich and a piece of chicken. Also on the drive home he decided it was a good time to eat his breakfast and drink his orange juice.

So that concludes our day at the park and all of the awesomeness and delight for finding this trail. But right up there with the awesome sauce of the park having this ADA accessible trail: Handsome did not poop while we were out. Talk about going for the win-WIN on an outing day. Three changes in one day, no big deal, because none of them involved poop. And in my book,Β thatΒ IS blog-worthy!


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