Written and photographed by Kerri Knudson
Exploring is for Everyone
The air is different in the mountains. It's crisper. It's fresher, and I love that I live so close to a place with so much beauty!
From a young age, I felt at peace when I was in nature, but actually getting outside was hard though. I was born with a muscle disorder called Arthrogryposis. It is a rare condition that has caused me to be in a wheelchair my whole life. It causes a lack of strength in my legs and some in my shoulders.
For a long time, I felt like I was missing out because I couldn’t get into the wilderness like I wanted to. I think this stemmed from not ever knowing anyone else that had the same physical challenges as me. The only people I knew that went on outdoor adventures didn’t look like me. So I never thought it was an option. As I have gotten older, I have realized that I can go much further than I thought. The outdoors may not be the most wheelchair friendly, but it's not impossible. It's all about perspective. I decided to be the person that I needed when I was younger. I want people that have similar challenges to not be afraid to get out and try. I am grateful that my family encouraged me when I mentioned things I wanted to try. I remember on one of my first “hikes” I came across a large boulder that I couldn’t roll over so I transferred from my chair onto the rock, I picked my chair up and put it on the other side. Honestly, it was tiring, but so worth it.
One of my favorite places to go is Ogden Canyon in Northern Utah. It’s a quick 30-minute drive from my house. You can camp right along the river. It’s surrounded by trees, and it’s absolute heaven! I love that when you wake up in the morning, before you even open your eyes, you can hear the water in the river rushing over rocks. You can hear the birds waking up. There is a turkey farm close by, so you can hear their strange gobble sounds. It is colder in the mountains in the morning. I love getting out of the tent and making my morning coffee or tea so I can watch the water move and wake up slowly.
Recently I went up for a quick overnight trip. There is no cell service and it’s a perfect escape. I got a new tent, ENO hammock, and camping stove, and I wanted to try out. I chose the DoubleNest Hammock specifically to share with my daughter, as we go to the mountains a lot together. I also own the SkyLite Hammock, which features a spreader bar and built in bug net, and between the two, the DoubleNest is easier for me to shimmy into.
Setting up everything takes a lot of time for me. It's an interesting process in a wheelchair, but it is super rewarding! My tent is pretty big, but I try to use the law of gravity in my favor. It has a separate “living room” area that allows me to park my dirty, dusty wheelchair and then transfer to my cot.
I love that once I have my tent, my hammock - an ENO DoubleNest Hammock with Atlas Straps, and camp kitchen set up, I can roll back and feel proud that I have figured out how to do it. Once I set up, I can relax. Swaying in my hammock is truly the most relaxing thing. I love that I can just breathe and move with the pace of the mountains. It's calm and easy. There is no stress. I am completely focused on relaxing. I don’t have to be anywhere else but there at that moment. I either read my book or drink my tea and look up through the trees at the sky! Pure joy!
There is a misconception that if you aren’t physically a certain type, that the outdoors isn’t for you. Every time I go to the mountains, I try to do one more thing that I haven’t tried before or go to a place that I haven’t been before. Hammocking was one of those things. I wasn’t sure I could ever set up my own hammock. But why not try? I do it differently. My arms don’t reach over my head. So I will either use my power chair that makes me taller. Or I will use a long stick or a reacher (a contraption that is like a stick with a pincher on the end) to put the straps up higher. I will take my chair to places that people would think a chair shouldn’t go, which sometimes makes people nervous. I will take my power chair over rocks and roots to get to the best spot. I feel so free that I have allowed myself to push harder and farther. It feels powerful and liberating. If I am going to get out there, I want to make the most of it! The world is full of so many beautiful places. They should not be missed. So what are you waiting for? What is holding you back? Whatever it is, push past it… It’s definitely worth it!
Kerri is a single momma of a 14 year old daughter based out of Utah. She is an advocate for disabled rights and awareness. She is constantly seeking new opportunities to push the boundaries for what people typically expect from the average person in a wheelchair. Follow her adventures with her daughter on social media @get_a_grip_sis