“I wanted to get that autonomy back, I wanted the safety nets taken away,” he explained.
Although Thomas thinks the backcountry isn’t for everyone, he thinks the outdoors should be. In 2013, he started the Team FarSight Foundation to help other visually impaired people hike, climb and enjoy the outdoors.
Even short hikes can be meaningful
Ambika Rajyagor, 26, from Chino Hills, California, loves hiking with her sister, Devika, 23. The couple have traveled to Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree national parks, but sometimes struggle to find accessible trails.
Devika suffers from cerebral palsy, has seizures and does not speak. She was able to walk until about five years ago, but now she can only control her facial muscles. She cannot control a motorized wheelchair and her family is unable to buy a wheelchair for different terrains.
If the sisters want to go on a hike, Ambika has to push Devika, which is difficult because Ambika also has a disability, an autoimmune disease that affects her joints and energy level.
On a recent hike in Carbon Canyon Regional Park in California, Ambika and Devika were testing out a bright purple new wheelchair, with thin rubber wheels providing some traction. Even with better tires, the pair struggled to get out of the parking lot, which was covered in large rocky gravel, before reaching the dirt path.
“We’re not going to let the track stop us,” Ambika said.
After encountering unexpected inclines on a short loop labeled “easy” by online reviewers, Ambika had to rest. She took off her sister’s headphones, which played Taylor Swift’s favorite Devika music, so they both could listen to the birds fluttering in a small grove of redwoods. Devika smiled at him as they rested.
For Ambika, this moment of joy symbolizes the view that hikers with disabilities can bring to outdoor culture. While many outdoor enthusiasts intend to conquer the outdoors by hiking increasingly difficult to higher and higher peaks, some hikers with disabilities often take the time to appreciate the outdoors.