Author: Tina Eckerlin
I have been exploring the backcountry for many years. As someone with physical mobility, I can pretty well go and do most things within my physical fitness or skill level.
I was recently scrolling on Facebook, checking out posts from my different groups and came across a woman and her son. He was in a wheelchair, and they were both smiling out on a trail.
Seeing them reminded me of a time many years ago, when I worked with a young quadriplegic man who had Spina bifida. My job position was to be a care-giver and companion, although it was much more than that. We quickly became friends, and I wanted to make sure that he experienced everything a young man of his age would. We went to rock concerts and movies. I even took him to a exotic dancer bar for his 19th birthday.
Photo Left: Completely inaccessible section of Bruce Trail close to Hilton Falls, 2018 - Courtesy of Patricia Pyrka
You see, my experiences were focused in the city, where many (not all) locations were accessible via wheelchair. We traveled by car, and then later a large adapted van with a lift. The streets and sidewalks were paved, and locations had accessible washrooms.
When seeing their happy faces on the trail, I was so inspired. I know what it is like to be a mom who wants to share my greatest passions with my children. I also understand the desire to encourage your kids to make the most of every experience. I couldn't help but think about the obstacles on the trail, and I wanted to learn more about their story.
Patricia Pryka is the loving and outgoing mom of a typical teenager. Sixteen year old Finnan Pryka loves rock-climbing, swimming, writing, and of course hanging out with his friends. He uses a wheelchair as a mobility aid, but it doesn't slow this young man down!
While living in Europe, Patricia said she was sad that she couldn't share her love of the outdoors with her son. So when he was in grade 2, Patricia decided to 'give it a try' and took Finnan to the mountains.
Photo: South of Munich, 2020 - Courtesy of Patricia Pryka
The alps were so large and overwhelming, and Finnan was so small and unfamiliar to the outdoors, that he was scared.
Fast-forward 8 years later, Patricia and Finnan are exploring the trails whenever they can. As a matter of fact, 'he loves it' and is always asking where they are going to next!
Photo: Killbear Provincial Park, 2018 - Courtesy of Patricia Pryka
When speaking with Patricia, I asked how they plan what trails to explore? Firstly, 'nature is not accessible' she said. There are many rails-to-trails, which are flat, wide and well maintained. However, they are flat, wide and often boring. She tries to help Finnan get the full nature experience.
They spend time hiking, skating and out on the cross-country ski trails.
Photo: Arrowhead Provincial Park, 2023 - Courtesy of Patricia Pryka
Patricia approaches trail choices based on many factors, such as: terrain, if they have help, and of course how Finnan feels. They also try to investigate the direction and hills, rocky and/or rooty sections, and the shapes of those rocks to see if they can maneuver the trail.
Photo: Dundas Valley, 2021 (maneuvering under a fallen tree)- Courtesy of Patricia Pryka
They approach trails as 'doable versus non-doable'. They have put out a call in Facebook groups, asking if anyone would like to join and help out. Some amazing humans have come out to enjoy the trail.
With my love of all things camping, I asked if they spend any time camping or backpacking. Patricia said that they both love to camp, but unfortunately between transportation and gear, things get quite costly. I agreed with Patricia that 'getting into nature shouldn't be a financial barrier'.
Photo: First hike in Ontairo, (Kelso Conservation Area), 2017 - Courtesy of Patricia Pryka
The Pyrka's live in a large city and rely on Parkbus for most of their outings. They are a huge supporter of their outings. They use the Parkbus to get to trailheads that are out of the city, and have used this transport for a camping trip to Algonquin Park. They had a great time, but unfortunately 'camping in Canada is dependent on vehicles', and there is no transportation in the park. The distances from campsites to the trails is too great a distance.
We are excited to see that many parks are installing wheelchair accessible ramps to beaches and other mobility aid services. But feel there is still a long way to go.
After speaking with Patricia, I felt inspired by their love of a shared passion. This is their freedom, and their special time together to make memories, reconnect and be together. These are two beautiful human beings with a great love of the outdoors.
Photo: Tubing on the Grand River/Elora Gorge, 2017 - Courtesy of Patricia Pyrka
Finnan is an adventurous young man with an amazing mother! I hope to visit their city in the future, and call them up and join them for a hike.
Before ending our conversation, I asked if there was a particular trail that Finnan was interested in exploring. Patricia said that 'Finnan is fascinated by the Trans Canada Trail'. She laughed. I guess we will need to wait and see where their adventures will lead!
Do you have a great story to share? Let us know in the comments below!