I have a weekend on my own and intend to go for a trike ride but I can’t get myself out of the door. I scour the internet for cycle routes and wonder if I need to acknowledge mild agoraphobia. I am afraid, but realise the fear is rational. I am afraid of too-steep hills and muddy/gravely backsliding, of punctures and running out of battery power, of being too far from a road and in a place deserted so that I cannot call for help, of being without a phone signal when I most need it, of finding myself stranded between a rocky path behind me, unnavigable for a return journey and a steep-beyond-steep hill ahead because the map ran out of explicit information, or of the flight of steps that materialise from nowhere and leave me stranded on the wrong side of an underpass, or of getting lost because I can’t remember or recognise the path or decode the map because my brain doesn’t much work that way anymore, or of the crash landing from the trike or seeing the engine begin to smoke, every last one of which has happened some time over the past few years. The last two scare me least, but the others immobilise me. And yet I love my trike.
For me, it’s a biting of the tongue at the word walking (because I’m not, am I?) for the gain of a ‘walking’ buddy. It’s a temporary answer to a well nigh on agoraphobic anxiety I feel at taking the trike out along anywhere with a modicum of adventure, ruggedness or isolation (that is, all the best places).
Various things occurred to me from the workshop:
That what should be pleasure is predominantly anxiety. Pleasure is mainly a thing of hindsight rather than in the moment. And whist I exaggerate a little – my broad grin whilst triking ‘wild’ belies my anxiety – even at its best there is always an undercurrent of fear.
There will always be a degree of risk (puncture, isolation, etc and fewer options for extricating myself) but much of the risk is linked to environmental design (eg. choice of terrain when laying paths), equipment design and information availability (eg. how steep, what ground cover, how accurate the information is).
That places change with familiarity. They – and the conversations we have – may, by necessity, begin chiefly access-focussed (rather than broader sustainability), but this shifts with knowledge of a space, of our own mobility and of our partners, as well as with features that change, such as the weather.
That I’m not sure I’m ready to share the scale of my anxiety (or my grief) with a stranger, but it’s a part of any evaluation of ‘walking’.
A child asked one of the researchers the most perceptive question of all: “How long is a walk?” I can answer that: it is 20 metres according to the Department of Work and Pensions. They have brought in a whole new ruling that sees people eligible for mobility assistance through PIP only if they can walk no further than 20 metres. There’s scarcely a blue badge space within 20 metres of any shop or public place and it’s a measure that bears no relation to real life, yet people will lose their vehicles, their mechanisms of managing everyday life and even their jobs because of it. It’s a change in the system that is meant to support disabled people that ushers in a whole new fear of being seen to walk. While sustainability encourages walking, even using it as a rod to beat people into compliance, the DWP turns it into an offence.
Trying to shortlist routes for my meeting next week and I realise how hard it is – a combination of adapting my way of moving to that of a walker (distance, speed) but also wanting to seize the opportunity of a hiking-triking buddy to try out somewhere new and push the bounds of access whilst not knowing how far I can without knowing her capabilities and willingness much more. Can I risk there being a stile or deep gravel, a too-steep hill necessitating we turn around and retrace our movements? Or do I have to play safe and turn to routes tried and tested and a little tired of?
We’re both expected to suggest a route to take the other along, but I’m wondering whether to suggest she makes a shortlist for us both. I just don’t want to find myself triking the same old same old.
This morning was a hike-and-trike with my friend H, from our front doors, up and round the Downs. Lovely: green and talk. Thought about it in relation to Walking Interconnections. So easy to do with a friend such as her, where we each know the other’s limitations but also know each other well enough to ask or state upfront when we don’t.
I always begin, years of training, from an assumption that I am the one putting out everyone else. We detour in search of dropped kerbs, around steep hills, flights of steps, stiles and other objects. Along a street, our conversation is disrupted as I divert to the road and we try to talk around and between parked vehicles. My companion waits, time wasting, as I attach my trike to my chair. Today, we stopped twice while H took a phone call and the waiting was mine and I realised it was fine (not always, perhaps, but today): I looked around me, saw what I would not otherwise have seen had we been absorbed in conversation or moving ever forwards.
I would like to join a rambling group. I listen to Clare Balding’s Radio 4 Ramblings and envy the ease with which they discover new places, discover familiar places more deeply, deepen friendships and even fall in love. For me to join a ‘mainstream’ rambling group, I would need to know people first, to know whether they could/would take me in their stride, and yet I could not know them, or they me, without first joining. I do not want to join a disabled people’s rambling group, where disability becomes the linking theme and non-disabled people under the guise of fellow rambler are more truthfully there as volunteers. I want an experience more often like this morning’s with H.
What I found today is that much of Leigh Woods – 400 acres of woodland just across the suspension bridge; what R referred to as the lungs of Bristol – is trikable. In dry weather at least, I have a new space to explore.
Asked to draw a map of the route in advance, we decided instead to explore as we went. Instead, we each produced a map of our impression of the woods before setting out. R’s was leafy green and full, the river a buffer between city congestion and breathing space, whilst mine was a large blank canvas bordered by river and road. Today has begun sketching into that canvas, light and loose but with promise.
Walking Interconnections participant