I saw him get out of the car and make his way carefully, painfully toward the glass visitor center doors. The interpretive ranger desk is situated ideally with a view of the five nearest parking spaces and the handicap space. It is not a sit-down desk, it’s more like a bar, really, with shots of information on tap and rangers dispensing topo maps instead of steins.
Creeping slowly up the sidewalk, slinging one foot ahead of the other, he greeted the all-sport 30-year-olds in their jeans and crack climbing gear who were returning from the restrooms. Nice restrooms. The kind with running water where you can actually brush your teeth and wash your armpits after a few days spent camping with the Anasazi.
He took his time coming in the door, feeling for the adjoining wall as a support. I took my time welcoming him and offering a map. I was waiting for the rest of the family to join him before commencing information. He took a drink of water from the fill station. Then, leaning heavily on the desk, he followed its curve to the cash register.
“What I need,” he said, “Is one of those walking sticks – a cane to lean on.” I hurried to the telescoping hiking pole display, selected a pole, extended it to what I judged to be his proper height and handed it to him. He tried it out. “I’ll just see how it works as I tour the visitor center,” he said.
“Would you like to use the wheeled chair while you are enjoying the exhibits and the bookstore?” I asked.
“What?” he said.
“Do you have a park pass?” I asked.
“Park Pass,” I enunciated clearly.
He showed me a vintage Golden Eagle Park Pass.
“I’m eighty years old,” he said, “I can’t hear very well.”
“Can I get you a map and directions, or shall I wait until your family arrives?”
“What? Oh, I am traveling by myself.”
He asked about the campground. Did it really mean what it said about the combined length being 26 feet? His motorhome was only 24 feet. He thought he might be able to park his tow car beside the motor home. Would that be all right? Eventually he bought the hiking pole and a couple books, made his way back to the car and drove the eight-mile loop. He retrieved his motorhome from somewhere alongside the road and camped in the park campground that night. I know this because I saw him pass the entry station three hours later in the motorhome with the car in tow. Both vehicles were snuggly parked side by side in the campground when I did the rove at 8:00 the next morning.
Eighty. He could well have been ninety. Deaf. Difficulty walking even 50 feet; yet he is still busy touring America and seeing the sights.
Twenty years ago I was hiking Box Canyon, Ouray CO, with the man I was wedded to at the time. The trail overlooked a wooded picnic area and we watched a family arrive in a van. They assisted Grandpa as he disembarked into a wheelchair and then they placed him comfortably at the picnic table.
“I hope,” said my husband, “that when I am old and in a wheel chair, someone will still take me camping.”
I have thought of that comment many times in the intervening years as I hiked, camped and travelled to beautiful places. Sometimes alone, other times with friends or family.
Yes! Somehow, some way, may we all keep on putting one foot in front of the other. May we enjoy the great outdoors until our last breath. Because out there is beauty and refreshment and life!