By McKenzie Chasteen April 13, 2022. Recreation.gov
I used to think being self-sufficient would allow me to accomplish anything, but have grown to know accepting what others offer is to experience more fully the adventure at hand. “Whaaat? You mean you need me?!” my friend said in disbelief. I can still hear the inflection in her voice, so eager, so shocked, so in awe that SHE was needed. “Of course we need you, we always need you” I thought. My friend wheeled over to the side of the path where she dipped her chin into the plaid flannel scarf coiled snuggly around her neck in attempts to fend off the October chill. Her quadriplegic body does not have an high affinity for the cold and the air had already begun to make her eyes water.
As I skated up beside her I saw water had welled up in her clear blue eyes as they reflected the turquoise coloring of Lake Mary across the way. She stopped in her battery-powered wheelchair as we were about to wind down the accessible path to Twin Lakes. She knew the slope was too steep for our other companion and me on roller blades, and if we were to all make it down to the general store unscathed we needed to form a human train. So my friend in her chair led the way and kept all three of us from toppling over the rocky cliffs. We made it down the first steep embankment when we pulled off to a view point hanging high over Twin Lakes. As she exhaled the fresh alpine air I saw again a glisten in her eye but I knew this time these tears were not from the wind when she said, “I feel like the little girl looking outside her window at children playing, but this time… this time I was invited to play too. I can’t remember the last time I was playing too” her voice faded off as a small sparkle rolled down her cheek.
At 72 years old, of which 55 were spent in a wheelchair, my friend had dedicated her life to others with disability. With such meaningful work she often gives no thought to her own desires and presses on with her mounting tasks. However, today she was a girl again. No longer paralyzed, no longer asking for someone else’s hands but offering her own four wheels to two friends in need of some dependable brakes.
Again, her words took my breath away and replaced it with perspective. Standing on the edge of the vista I felt ashamed of all that I had so often
taken for granted. However, my shame was short lived when I noticed my friend surveying the scene as if her eyes were reading a map, “see that peak over there? That’s Mammoth Mountain, I hope you can ski there one of these days. I’ll join you when all things are made new.” Just then she turned her chair and signed, “Ahh this is the MOST glorious day. Aren’t we the most blessed of people? Common, let’s go find something hot to drink.”
We reconjoined our train on wheels and whirled down the path through flittering golden Aspen leaves. I could not help but admire the two friends wheeling on in front of me. Both were my elders in age, wisdom and experience, yet they invited me into their friendship as if I had always belonged. It is amazing what belonging can do to the person; it gives a place to people of all speeds. I was reminded of John Muir’s words, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” No matter one’s speed or ability the endless beauty of our National Lands are to be cherished by all and for all. This is how I learned to experience beauty more fully, by lending and receiving a helping hand or wheel.