The Bear of King’s Canyon National Park

But Maybe She Wheel King's Canyon National ParkWe parked alongside a quieter portion of the Roaring River in Kings Canyon, near the end of the careening road through the stone walls. I wanted to make my hippie ancestors proud and wash myself in the cold mountain water, so I changed into my swimsuit and grabbed a towel and our biodegradable camp soap. “I won’t be able to feel the water, anyway,” I assured myself, fearing this river water would be similar to the freezing water we’d waded in at Lake Tahoe but knowing that my spinal cord injury would prevent me from feeling anything up to my waist.

But Maybe She Wheel King's Canyon National Park
King’s Canyon National Park

But I was very, very wrong. Even though I couldn’t feel the ice water that I’m sure was going to freeze over any minute, my legs still spasmsed violently in protest. Quickly I squirted the soap all over my head and over my body, caring less by the second how clean I was actually getting. Ethel looked worriedly over the top of my head, balancing on the rock I was leaning against to check on me but not caring so much that she would have to get in the water too. Dusty just clutched his stomach laughing at me, having camped and trained in the woods enough times to know no amount of clean was worth getting this cold. “Qqq-uuiiet you”, I scowled at him with my teeth chattering and braced myself for another dunk to rinse.

But Maybe She Wheel King's Canyon National Park
King’s Canyon National Park
But Maybe She Wheel King's Canyon
King’s Canyon National Park

Dusty helped lift me from the water and sit me down on the rock behind me to dry off in the sun. The dry air and high elevation thankfully made quick work of my sopping wet hair and soon my breathing returned to normal. “Julia, look,” Dusty said suddenly and grabbed the back of Ethel’s harness. I turned to reprimand him, I don’t like anyone grabbing at Ethel other than myself and her former trainers, but he pointed to thirty feet away on the other side of the river. “A black bear!”

 

And sure enough, there was a black bear. Not quite a mature adult, the smaller bear was walking along the far bank of the river looking for what seemed to be a good place to enter the water. He (or she, I’m not going to pretend to know how to tell the difference between male and female black bears) was moving in the way bears do in what only can be described as a gallumphing fashion (gal-LUMPH gal-LUMPH) with the paws on each side moving in asynchronous order.  Hardly hearing myself, I alternatively commanded Dusty to “take a picture! Take a picture! Hold onto Ethel! Ethel, don’t move! Did you take a picture?!”. The large paws gripped the slippery rocks as he bent towards the water and then smoothly glided into the stream. It was majestic watching him swim, barely making a disruption in the fast moving water. “Ok, we gotta go,” Dusty said suddenly. “Why?” I wanted to watch this beautiful beast catch a fish like in the Pixar movie Brave. “Because it’s coming to this side of the river. Let’s move!”

But Maybe She Wheel King's Canyon National Park
THE BEAR in King’s Canyon National Park

Forgetting that I, you know, can’t walk, I tried getting to my feet in a sprint to get back to the RV. All I got was wet as my feet slid back into the water and Dusty turned so I could climb onto his back. Ethel had seen the bear too and while interested in the big dog across the way, Ethel wouldn’t go near water to meet any friend or person. But the bear either hadn’t seen Ethel or wasn’t interested and I was not in a hurry to find out. Dusty jogged back to the RV, too much in a hurry to try to secure me with his arms and left me dangling from his neck getting jostled with each step. On our way we called out to the four caravan family that had just parked behind us, telling them of the bear that could be headed this way. They didn’t seem that eager to photograph a bear sighting on their family vacation, because I distinctly heard car doors slam as Dusty set me down safely inside the RV.

 

It wasn’t until later, after we’d left the river, did I remember from the educational signs all over the park that I was supposed to make a lot of noise if a bear was nearby. So, for good measure, I screamed loudly when we had pulled into a gas station to fill up. Even though I explained I was trying to save all of our lives, Dusty was still mad.

 

And thus concluded my first bear sighting. You could say that while we ended up safely ensconced in our RV afterwards, we really only bear-ly escaped.

 

But Maybe She Wheel King's Canyon National Park
King’s Canyon National Park

 

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An Accessibility Review of Olympic National Park

But Maybe She Wheel Olympic National Park

 

There is a great resource from the National Park Association about accessibility in Olympic National Park, giving detail descriptions of campgrounds, trails and sights deemed accessible. We used this resource to guide our itinerary, choosing to visit only the sites and trails I could roll easily. Already equipped with our accessible RV, La Tortuga, choosing an accessible campground was less of a necessity. Here is the list of campgrounds where we stayed and trails that we took during our exploration of Olympic National Park, as well as a map from the park service.

 

Staircase Campground, just past Lake Cushman in the Mount Skokomish Wilderness

This lovely campground is deep into the forest, off the paved main highway 24 by twenty minutes on a gravel trail. But the campground itself was built among giant boulders and thick trees, giving each camp site rock walls and tree trunk screens of privacy. The thick canopy of leaves overhead makes the campground continually cool and just a few meters from a few of the camp sites is the rushing Slate Creek river. There is a handicapped campsite, which was a level paved site located right next to the campground bathroom (also accessible) and water station. Due to the nature of the location for the campground, however, it is quite hilly and I relied on my service dog Ethel to pull me up and down the rolling grounds.

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Beach 1 through Beach 4 of the

Kalaloch campground

Continuing west from Staircase campground, we arrived at the coastline on Highway 101 and parked at the Kalaloch Ranger Station to explore the beaches. Unfortunately, we were disappointed to find that the shoreline was twenty feet below us and could only be accessed by a steep climb down the cliff side. Stairs had been fashioned at each of the Kalaloch beaches (beaches 1 through 4) and there was a trail above the shore connecting each of the beaches. Upon further review of the Olympic National Park accessibility guide, we saw that only Beach 4 was made accessible and the ramp was only taken out during the summer months.

However, we parked for the night at the Kalaloch campground and were astounded by the view. The higher vantage point above the shoreline gave us an eagle eye view of Washington coast. Windblown trees surrounded each campsite to give privacy, as well as the planted hedge groves separating each site. There were several handicapped camp sites, which had more of the site paved than a non-accessible site. The campground bathrooms and water stations were accessible as well and the entire campground was paved and flat. There were several trails along the coast that left from the campground and while they were not paved, there were level and wider.

Washington State, But Maybe She Wheel

Madison Falls

This short hike was well worth the drive off Highway 101 following the Elwha River. The drive of Highway 101 around the perimeter of the park is a scenic route in itself and is enjoyable. While the parking lot was not paved, the entire trail to the falls was paved and level. It became steep at a few points, but my service dog led the way and after less than a mile we had arrived. The hike leads to a viewing platform of the Madison Falls waterfall and made for a pleasurable afternoon.

Olympic National Park But Maybe She Wheel

Hurricane Ridge

The drive to Hurricane Ridge takes you south into the center of the Olympic Wilderness and climbs up the Klahhane Ridge mountains to reach an elevation over 6000m. While our RV is small enough to handle the hairpin turns and switchbacks of this drive, I was white knuckled as I listened for any signs of our belongings flying out of the cabinets. None did and we arrived at the top of the ridge safely. The few is astounding from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, which is paved and accessible. There was also a short, paved trail around the top of the ridge to reach a higher viewing area.

Olympic National Park But Maybe She Wheel Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

While not part of Olympic National Park, this wildlife refuge sits on the northern Dungeness Bay above the little village of Sequim. We camped here for two nights and while not advertised as accessible, this refuge was one of the more inclusively accessible areas we had come across in the park. The camp sites were level and the camp bathrooms were accessible, however I only saw the RV side of the campground. But the best feature of the wildlife refuge was the accessible trail along the coastline and down into the tiny peninsula Dungeness Spit. The refuge covers the Spit and Bay shores, which are accessed by a paved trail through the Wildlife Refuge complete with informational signs about the protected species of the refuge. Down on the Spit, a common sight was the hoard of seals that would sun themselves on the rocks. The last portion of the paved trail is a very steep descent down to the water and was too steep for me to roll down, even with Ethel and my husband. I would not recommend the trail for manual wheelchairs, but a power wheelchair could have climbed this last portion with ease.

Olympic National Park But Maybe She Wheel

There was another trail that was part of the Dungeness campground that followed the coastline through the Dungeness Recreation Area. The trail hugged the edges of the cliffs with the water twenty or so feet below. This was not a paved area and there were roots protruding the trail every so often, but did not have steep portions.

 

Port Angeles and Port Townsend

This seaside villages were great hubs of all the necessities campers in the park would want. We visited a few restuarants and gorged ourselves on the fresh seafood taken right out of the bay a mile away. The towns did not seem to have the funding to have the most accessible sidewalks, however, and I did encounter many stores without ramps and streets without sidewalks.

 

 

Enjoy Olympic National Park!Olympic National Park But Maybe She Wheel

 

 

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A Washington Silence

 

Washington State But Maybe She Wheel Olympic National Park Leaving the experiences of Yellowstone and its’ later twin Pike Place behind, Dusty and I turned our RV towards the Pacific coast of Washington State. We were needing the solitude of the forest, the serenity of the ocean and the caffeinated high of Washington style coffee.

 

We were not disappointed. As we drove into the Olympic National Park, giant dark trees with moss climbing up their trunks towered over us with their canopy of deep green leaves. Low hanging branches dripping with stringy, hairy moss cradled the deserted road where we traveled and blocked the sun to give the forest a magical, dim glow. I couldn’t decide if we had entered someone’s Secret Garden, the Dark Forest at Hogwarts in Harry Potter or a rainforest where any minute a monkey would shriek out our arrival. But we were met with silence. The racketing sounds of various instruments clunking in the RV as we drove along were the only noises and they echoed off the ravine walls and dense forestry, giving way to the small waterfalls that appeared every now and again. But these sounds too were swallowed in the thick mist of silence of the forest.

 

We parked at Staircase campground, a secluded spot along a small river deep inside the southeast corner of Olympic Park. We could faintly hear the other campers in their camp sites scattered around, but the steep embankments that surrounded each site gave a rare privacy not normally seen in public campgrounds. The thick air seemed to swallow the sounds of tents rustling, cook wear washing and the twinkling jingle of light conversation around us.

But Maybe She Wheel Olympic National Park

There was a time in my life when silence unnerved me. I felt a responsibility to fill any gap in a conversation or to divert attention away from an awkward silence. A fear would seize me in those moments of silence, where I anxiously thought that the silence was brought on by my uninteresting self and my fault. I fled from yoga, meditation, moments of reflection or even the silent pray time at church.

 

But something changed while we were stationed in Europe. While traveling in Spain, Portugal and Italy, I would notice the young and the old sitting around tables at a café or in the benches in front of fountains gazing at something in the distance. Sometimes their eyes would lazily wander of the crowds in front of them and occasionally these eyes would close and I’d hear a satisfied, slow sigh. These quiet ones along the peripheral of the densely populated tourist cities of Europe struck me as one of the more unusual things I had seen. In the United States, the only people I remember seeing being stationary in the cities were either homeless, elderly or made of marble. “Why aren’t they doing anything,” I wondered to myself. “Aren’t they going to be late for something? They’re just sitting there, wasting time.” I mentally dismissed these quiet curiosities as lazy and, feeling superior and self-important, I carried on my trek.

 

How wrong, judgmental, sanctimonious and ignorant of me. These gazers, sighers and quiet examples of strength sitting in the edges of my selfie photos in front of World Heritage tourist sites were investing in a practice so foreign to me and so crucial to happiness. They were practicing being silent and relishing in the happiness that silence can bring.

Washington State, But Maybe She Wheel

Back in Washington, the thick canopy of the trees and cradling rock ravines towering on either side of the road in Olympic National Park forced upon its’ inhabitants a quiet stillness that no human could break. I could sit on the edge of the river below me, nearly as still as a lake, and yell out to the wind but the sounds would simply ricochet around the rock walls and fade away. The park was intent on keeping its’ sanctuary as free from human sound as possible and as we set up camp for the day and hiked in the woods, I surrendered to its’ silent will. I shut my mouth and tried to simply be. I had taken enough meditation and yoga classes just to accompany friends in the past to know you always try to start with focusing on the breath.

 

There have been so many conversations over the years between Dusty and myself or with friends that claim a desire to find contentment in a slower life. “Yeah, at the next duty station we’ll be able to slow down and take it easy,” we’d assure our friends, who would respond with an agreeing “You should try to meditate, I read about how healthy it is for you. But who has the time, really? There are so many things to do in a day!”. And given the opportunity to learn how to be still and be happy with moving slowly, I’d push down the gas pedal and promise to go slower in the next chapter of life. Military assignments at different posts required fast decisions and rapid movements. Traveling called for cramming in as many sites and photos in the available hours as possible. Being silent and moving quiet equated with not keeping up, not being good enough. There was never a real desire to slow down because that meant letting go of another opportunity to move on to what always seemed to be greener pastures.

Washington State, But Maybe She Wheel

Sitting on the bridge by the river in our campground in Olympic Park, I let my eyes become unfocused on the slowly moving water and breathed in crisp air. Unsurprisingly, my timid but unrelenting friend Doubt whispered in my ear as he moved in close to my shoulder. “You’re missing seeing the trail behind you. This isn’t going to do anything for you, you’re not good at this and you can’t learn how to get better,” he malevolently said. I tried to shrug him off and concentrate on breathing, but I could feel his tight grip in my mind. Ready for a fight, I imagined my breathing as a dragon, with flames of passion and when I exhaled my next breath I visualized the flames coming from my mouth to chase away the scampering, simpering Doubt. But then the flames blew into an oven in my mind and in the oven cooked what had to be brownies and then I forgot what I was doing on the bridge in the first place and when was the last time I had a brownie.

 

Muttering to myself to stay focused, I quietly continued to breath a few more breaths and but again got lost pondering the curious relationship between a dog and an elephant I had seen online after searching for the meditation recipes that dominating Pinterest and Instagram. Frustrated I had lost focus again, I reminded myself sternly that I was supposed to be finding contentment and following in the footsteps of all the yogis I’d seen smiling serenely on Pinterest. I could hear Doubt laughing on my shoulder. “What a jerk,” I thought to myself. And then I realized something.

 

I didn’t need to be good at this now. I didn’t need to make this happen today, this trip, this year. I’ll know when I’m ready to understand how to be silent. Maybe it’s more important to appreciate each step in this journey of learning how to find contentment in simply being than it is to have mastered this on the first day.

 

I heard the gravel crunch as Dusty walked towards me. “The next campsite is further north, near the beach. Ready to go?”, he asked. I refocused my eyes on the stringy moss wrapping around the trunk of the tree next to me. “No, I’m not,” I answered slowly, with a smile. “Let’s stay here a little longer”.

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