In Accessible Travel, News & Blog, Peer Profiles

SCI BC’s Peer Support Program Coordinator Ryan reflects on his first solo camping trip of many, after his spinal cord injury.

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“What was the buildup like for your first trip, and were you nervous?”

I was recently asked this question by a new Peer after they read an issue of The Spin, where a story about my solo road trips and camping trips were featured.

I didn’t have the best answer off the top of my head, but after a bit of reflection, the answer became a little clearer.

My first ever photo from my first night hitching my tent! Looks more like a vagrant’s camp.

The buildup to my first trip was just like leaving the rehab centre after my accident—a mix of excitement and fear of the unknown.

I was pretty vague with my parents on where I was heading, and extremely vague with my friends. I didn’t want to tell my buddies I was going on this grand adventure only to give up after a few days for whatever excuse.

I had a ton of worries, all of which were related to my new injury. I had to try and put this aside though, as I was financially committed from buying all new camping gear.

Two days before the first trip my parents decided to have my brother and me over for a dinner. My brother inevitably got to ragging on me by bringing up various “what if’s” followed by some joke.

The rain hit hard while at my parents, and the question of “What are you going to do if you have to change a flat tire?” came up, which of course followed with my brother bugging me about how I will not know what to do. I told him I would be fine, and then he challenged me to change my tire in the driveway while the rain poured down. He offered me an ultimatum; change the tire within 20 minutes for $20 or let him shoot me in the butt with my dad’s childhood pellet gun. My mom squashed both of those ideas…

5 am came on departure day and I was out the door. My plan for the first night was to stay somewhere around Prince George, 780 km away. I kept an eye on the weather report the whole way, and the 50% chance of rain persisted the whole time.

On any other trip a 50% chance of rain in BC would be considered a gift from the camping gods, but on my first ever night camping alone, it scared the hell out of me. I wimped out and got a hotel that first night, trying to avoid getting hit with one drop of rain (it did not rain, of course).

Having one of my bottles of wine in Stewart, near the scene of my accident.

I felt a little embarrassed when I woke up to beautiful weather. I drove 370 km to Smithers the next morning, where the rain started to trickle down. With zero skills at finding free spots to camp at this point, I went to the closest provincial park.

I was excited to set up my first camp, but boy, it was not pretty. What used to take me 15 minutes now took me 90 minutes. I had too much bedding, and my idea of a rain tarp was laughable. It was an embarrassing sight to see. Even my first ever camping trip picture was out of focus and overexposed.

Sitting in my tent while it poured rain was not the most thrilling experience for my first time in a tent post-injury. I was worried—is the weather making me regret the trip?

I started thinking about my warm bed at home, what dinner I would have cooked up, and what movie I might have watched. I also thought about how long it would take me to get back home, and what excuse would be the best. However, I thought better of letting these thoughts fester in my mind.

The next day was pretty clinical. I woke up, got my coffee, and hit the road.

A recent trip in California. Finding these awesome free spots is now a seamless process.

Around six hours later I arrived in Stewart, BC, the place I was staying when I had my vehicle accident. I was expecting some sort of emotional sadness of being back at the area of the accident, but it was the opposite—I was thrilled.

This might have something to do with the fact that by the time I arrived, the sun finally made an appearance. I cracked some wine and watched the sunset over the dried out canal.

Even with the occasional bug drowning in my wine, it was the best bottle I ever drank!

That first trip in 2011 was something else. What started as a pipedream quickly turned into one week, then two, and by the time I was on the Dempster Highway in the Yukon, all bets were off.

When it was all said and done, I was on the road for a little over a month and had put almost 15,000 kms on. After my first trip I said to myself, “That was fun, I hope I get to do something like that again.” Little did I know that it would turn into a mild addiction.

I went from a completely green and naive camper to someone who can set up camp with one hand. And no, the trips have not stopped.

As I write this, I’m probably around the 145,000 km mark in terms of how much I’ve driven. I am continuously planning my next escape, I just don’t know where to yet…

Looking to head out on some adventures of your own? Check out Ryan’s other helpful posts on our SCI BC blog with tips for overnight camping trips and road trips with an SCI!

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