A friend recently asked me how I manage hiking with limited vision. I have actually been thinking about writing a post about this since I started hiking again. I thought it might be something other people wondered about as well. How the hell can a blind woman go hiking? You have to remember, I am blind but I can see. It is probably less confusing if I refer to myself as VI (visually impaired), but I am legally blind.
During, and for months after my mobility training, I felt both empowered and restricted by Zelda (my white cane). I was trying to be positive about the lessons and see her as a tool for independence, but I also started creating a list of things I could no longer do; hiking was one of those things. I told myself that a VI person has no business hiking, that it is too dangerous, so I joined the gym. I hate the gym. I tried to get excited about it, made playlists and bought new shoes, but I rarely went and was wasting a ton of money, so I cancelled the membership. I stopped exercising, started drinking more, gained a ton of weight and entered into a very confusing relationship with Zelda (a post for another day).
I was depressed, and when I hit the floor of my depression, I decided that I needed to move, to get out of my head and into my body, so I made a new playlist and headed for Runyon Canyon. I knew I needed to stop limiting myself, to stop taking things away that didn’t have to be taken away. I needed to feel like the person I once thought I could be, to feel like I was more than just my disease. I had allowed myself to become afraid and that fear immobilized me. I needed to remind myself that I was capable and that I had some control over my own life.
Runyon is about a mile walk from my apartment, but once you get to the canyon, the danger of cars is gone. There are several different trails, but the path I take is the safest for me. It is a paved path, about 2 miles, uphill. There are no cliff edges, no rocks in the path, no uneven ground to get tripped up on; it isn’t beautiful, but it is a damn good work out.
I am not a natural exerciser. I prefer the comforts of home, the couch and a good book or tv show, but I actually like hiking and I didn’t want the one exercise I actually like, to be taken away from me. So, I took it back. Runyon is a busy spot with lots of people and dogs walking or running up the hill, but I still find hiking there to be a wonderfully solitary experience. I don’t have to talk to anyone and it is free. Kind of perfect really.
Although there is no threat from cars in Runyon, there does exist a possible danger that exists for me everywhere I go. Collisions. I am really good at navigating the world with limited vision, but collisions still happen, and I knew I was going to have to extra vigilant at Runyon; it is filled with people who are focused on working out or on their dogs or friends and aren’t really paying attention to where they are walking. The path sort of does that for you, unless you are VI. I wear headphones when I hike – I can’t do any kind of exercise without music – but they are not noise cancelling and I don’t crank up the volume. I need my ears when I am hiking.
On my return to Runyon, I realized how honed my hearing has become. Even with the headphones on, I can hear someone approaching behind me long before they have reached my point on the path. I can hear dogs running up or down the path, their footfalls and panting, minutes before they come into my field of vision. I can determine how many people are in a group and how fast they are walking, so I can move out of the way if necessary. I am constantly scanning my surroundings with both my ears and with the usable vision I have. I make it work and I feel empowered by that, by taking control over something in my life rather than giving over to the RP. I may not be able to do it forever, but for now, the fucking trail is mine!