Revisiting the Great Outdoors

by Darla Greven

This summer my husband and I wanted to find a way to go camping in Yosemite National Forest. Although we used to love camping, we hadn't tried any outdoor overnights since my injury 10 years ago. We didn’t pull down our old tent and camp stove, but we found some great adaptive alternatives that got me camping and enjoying the great outdoors again with my family.

My Kodak moment… here I am out in spectacular nature; triumphing over obstacles that could keep me from this beautiful place, because of my impressive willpower! Right? No. Unfortunately, my willpower can’t change the fact that real forest floors and true wilderness don’t conform to my new list of special needs.
What I’ve learned I can do is work hard and explore my own resources and push my own boundaries to find ways I can enjoy the things I have always loved, like the outdoors. Since I began living with spinal cord injury, paralysis and pain years ago, it so much more challenging; but I am finding that it’s totally worth the effort!
The viewpoints along the way

On our ten-day road trip last month we drove 1,600 miles from our home near Portland, Oregon to Lake Tahoe, California, then to Yosemite National Park. On the left, in the distance is Half Dome, a famous granite landmark. On the right, I’m with my grandson, using a move I saw on “Pushgirls” - lifting myself up onto my armrest for a minute to see over the wall. It actually worked!

The detailed planning to include my special needs, the phone calls checking on accessibility of lodgings, careful packing and counting medical supplies, etc., is not easy. But being out in spectacular nature with loved ones, for me, it doesn’t get any better than this!

This is how we travelled. My chair fits in the back of our car, even with a passenger, and pulling our small trailer doesn’t affect our great gas mileage much. That’s an accessible outhouse in front of the car. I’m probably the only tourist who got excited and took a picture of it! Unfortunately it was just as stinky, but hey, it worked!
Camping in a Tent Cabin

We remembered camping years ago in Yosemite’s “tent cabins” which are cheaper than a room in their lodges, but more structured than camping in a regular tent. We were happy to discover they have added some accessible ones that don’t have the front stairs like all the old ones and are right next to the spacious ADA family bathroom. They have a wide, flat entry door, a regular height double and single bed with just enough wheelchair room between them and wooden floors, which make them so much easier to move around in than any accessible motel rooms we’ve stayed in. PS: I love opening doors myself.
This is just a small section of the awesome views just outside our tent cabin! Since there’s a combination of paved, packed dirt and loose dirt, I used my Freewheel, (which is the large front wheel that attaches to my footplate and takes the place of the small front castors) and my husband helped me push through some parts. Because of the bears, there’s no cooking allowed in the tent cabins, so we ate at a variety of casual places, all accessible. Not having to cook saved more time for adventures, especially since all the basics I need to do take more time when I’m traveling.
In my able-bodied days we would hike, backpack and explore the wilderness here, but now I find there is enough beauty to discover just by pushing around the Valley floor and looking up! The massive granite walls and waterfalls that are visible from the accessible sidewalks and shuttle buses can keep you busy for days even without hiking. But if that’s not enough, there’s also a big swimming pool with a chairlift (and an accessible shower in the locker room), a handcycle available with bike rentals and some boardwalk paths through gorgeous meadows. Here’s an excellent webpage for more specific information about traveling in Yosemite in a wheelchair:
“Enjoying the steep push up the Vernal Falls Trail” or “The day I destroyed my wheelchair gloves”

Most every push of this two-mile round trip, 400-ft. climb took the determination and strength of both me and my husband. Most of the other hikers stared or encouraged us, many offered to help, and some pleaded with us to turn back or to be careful, but we finally reached the bridge with a view of the waterfall. This is definitely not an accessible hike, but because it was paved most of the way and wide enough and we both wanted to conquer doing something we had done in our pre-injury days, we did it! The crazy part was pushing up and rolling down such a steep incline that neither of us could have managed alone. My gloves were my brakes all the way down and even with my husband holding onto the back of the chair, my strong hands worked so hard they eventually started cramping and we had to pull over and wedge the front wheel against some rocks that kept the chair from speeding down the hill. Other times we’d just stop to marvel at the view and take pictures. Okay, I admit, maybe sometimes it is the willpower!

“We made it!” Our grandson’s hands added just the extra power we needed at the end. When we were near the top, thinking of giving up, he continued the steep uphill to scout out how far we had to go. He came back saying 424 steps! (As we began again, exhausted, we kept asking him, “How big were your steps again?”)

Driving out of beautiful Yosemite Valley, I soaked in the views one last time. Summer is almost over and I’m home from our ten-day road trip, swamped with things to put away and to catch up on. 

Our next bigger adventure is right around the corner: three weeks win Europe! Being a tourist in a wheelchair and with the other complications of spinal cord injury that make life and travel so difficult, I’m a bit nervous. Am I crazy?! Yes, I think I just might be. But that’s just me being me. A drunk driver made finding adventures so much harder, but with planning, and hard work, I’ll be taking more of those “triumphant” shots of me in glorious places. It’s still possible and it’s still worth it, (as long as there’s an accessible bathroom at the end of a paved trail J).
Factors that make travel like this possible for me:
  • Accessible bathrooms and motels along our travel route
  • Accessible tent cabins in Yosemite
  • Many paved and packed dirt trails throughout the valley
  • Shuttle buses with ramp and wheelchair section
  • Strong arms and a “Freewheel” to go on dirt, grass and broken pavement
  • A strong companion who can help push me up and down occasional stairs, steep hills, etc.
  • Money to eat out
  • Ability to drive long hours in the car
  • Flexibility with my personal care

I’m also grateful to any disabled “pioneers” who have travelled before me and paid the price of time, angst and energy to push for ADA compliancy upgrades to our National Parks.
To read about my upcoming trip to Europe, see more pictures, and other stories I write about living through grief, disability and pain and finding the joy, check out my blog at


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