With Earth Day approaching, I have been thinking a lot about all of the different outdoor activities that I enjoy that make me feel close to the earth. As a person with low vision, finding ways to make activities such as hiking, kayaking, camping and skiing accessible isn’t always easy, but in the end, it’s worth it every time.
My biggest problem with hiking has been my depth perception, or rather lack thereof. Navigating slanted, loose, or uneven ground has always been something that I have struggled with. Since I usually can’t tell exactly how steep the ground is, I watch the person in front of me and try to mirror their movements and follow the path that they take. I also usually have to ask the person that I’m hiking with to warn me if there are any sudden drops or unexpected loose rocks. Hiking uphill or across semi-flat landscapes, I can usually find my way pretty independently, however; sometimes, descending steep downhill sections, I have to take somebody’s arm or place my hand on their shoulder so that I don’t lag behind or end up rolling down the hill! That isn’t to say that even with that precaution, I don’t still have my clumsy moments. I haven’t really hiked if I’m not covered in dirt by the time we reach the bottom, but that’s just part of the fun. With the different methods that I have found, I have learned to hike safely and semi-independently, even if I do look a little funny.
I am in no way a skilled skier, and it’s only something I do for fun once in a while, so I don’t have a lot of advice in terms of skiing more competitively. However, I have been able to find ways to navigate the slopes in the context of a fun, recreational activity. Once again, the main problem is depth perception. I have a hard time judging steepness, and any powder or bumps just sort of blend into a sea of whiteness, so unless I am familiar with the run, I need to ski following another person, and they need to remember that they’re my designated guide!
That brings me to my other challenge. Unless the person I am following has a brightly coloured ski suit, I have trouble tracking them on both sunny and foggy days. Glare, steamy goggles, freezing rain and many other uncontrollable factors help in restricting my visibility. One recent change that had a huge positive impact on my experience was finding the right tinted goggles. Different colours may work better for different people. I personally found that rose tinted goggles helped me to see colour a lot better than the usual orange or amber colour. What had once been shadows were now distinguishable shapes of people. The other factor that has greatly improved my skiing was finding something bright for whoever was guiding me to wear. My Dad, for example, has an all black ski suit, so for a long time, I had trouble separating him from the army of other skiers dressed in all black, and then the last time we went, we had an idea. My dad bought a hot pink t-shirt from the gift shop and pinned it to the back of his coat like a sort of cape. It looked a little funny, sure, but I was able to follow him easily through fog and glare. I’m not saying you have to go quite so extreme, but adding one piece of bright colour that is easy to spot to your guide can make a world of a difference.
This year we were finally able to find bright orange “Guide,” and “Visually Impaired,” skier pinnys from www.reliableracing.com
The main issue I face with kayaking, and any water sport really, is the glare that reflects off of the water. Because of this, I usually end up wearing my sunglasses and a hat even when it’s not super sunny. Sometimes judging how far I am from the shore and how deep the water is a little tricky, especially when bringing my boat in somewhere there isn’t a dock, so verbal commands are important. I usually kayak with my mum, who is really good at explaining where we’re going to go before we go there so that I don’t have to worry about losing her. (Of course, it helps that her kayak is bright orange.) Also, she will try and point out any reeds, rocks or other things that I might not spot so that I can steer around them. As long as it’s described to me where I need to go, rather than the infamous, “Over there,” followed by a vague point, I can navigate my way through the water without any problem. Asking someone to occasionally stop and explain things to you may seem inconvenient at first, but in the long run it will give both the guide and the guided much more freedom to relax and paddle at their own pace.
Maneuvering your way around a pitched tent isn’t easy for anybody, and adding low vision into the equation only makes tiptoeing around those wires and stakes more trying. My parents usually tie flagging tape around the wires, which although does not completely eliminate, greatly reduces the amount of ropes I find myself walking into face-first! Also, either my mum or dad will walk me around the perimeter of the tent, pointing out each stake sticking out of the ground. Sometimes when the area is particularly rocky or uneven, I will use my cane during the night. When I was younger, I was a Girl Guide, and I used it a lot at those camps.
I am so grateful that I have been able to find ways to functionally participate in the outdoor activities that I love so much. We are so lucky to have such a beautiful and diverse natural world to explore, and I hope that we can find ways to protect and preserve it.