On Saturday, 34-year-old Ian Mackay began a 300-mile (483 kilometres), 10-day nature trail journey from Victoria, B.C. to Portland, Oregon.
The difference between him and those who have come before him is that he’s making the trek in a power wheelchair.
Even the best electric wheelchairs on the market aren’t exactly designed to blaze their way through nature trails.
But according to quadriplegic Mackay, these challenges don’t necessarily stem from his disability or wheelchair. Rather, the problem lies in the nature trails themselves, which are relatively inaccessible to those on wheels – including bicycles and strollers.
And this, he says, needs to change.
Dubbed “Ian’s Ride,” Mackay is currently “rolling across Washington” to bring awareness to the need for accessible trails and bike paths.
The chance to experience the great outdoors should be something everyone can enjoy. But Mackay isn’t able to do that the way he used to anymore. Before June 4, 2008, Mackay would often frequent similar nature trails on his bike. Then, a biking accident while riding home from college resulted in him losing control of his bike and going headfirst into a tree.
Though the helmet he was wearing likely saved his life, he broke his neck and sustained a serious spinal cord injury. Aside from his ability to shrug his shoulders, he is now immobile from the neck down.
That didn’t mean he stopped enjoying his passion for nature and the outdoors, however. Two years ago, he was back at it with the help of assistive technology.
Though he is able to enjoy many accessible trails near his Washington home, he says this isn’t guaranteed in all places.
“Me and my other paralyzed brothers that live in the greater Washington area — many of us don’t have the luxury of having access to beautiful trails or easy to access paths,” he says, according to Mashable. “Much of the time, we are stuck on the sides of roads and highways — and we don’t want to be at risk on the shoulder riding next to big rigs.”
To accomplish his mission safely, Mackay partnered with Washington Bikes, an organization that advocates for more accessible trails in the state.
Historically, the focus of the organization has been on cyclists and strollers, but the initiative now includes those with disabilities as an area of focus. The organization helped connect Mackay to the cycling community in the greater Washington region, to which he connected through his blog. Once he posted the proposed plan for his route, the community stepped in with advice, suggestions, pictures and positive vibes.
The result was a “much more polished, viable route” that reflects what’s most accessible. The majority of the journey will be on roads and shoulders of small highways. Not ideal, of course, but telling, given his initiative.
“Anywhere I can get on a path or trail, I’m going to be on a path or trail,” Mackay says. “But even me being visible on these roads and highways just highlights what I need more.”
Mackay’s mom, Tina, will join him on his journey, driving the route and providing general care during his journey. Mackay will also travel with at least two cyclists the entire time. Friends will meet up with him along the way.