My wife and I flew in to Reno on Tuesday, and since we are traveling with her bicycle, I had reserved an intermediate SUV to accommodate our needs. The rental agency did not have any vehicles in that class, so they upgraded me to the largest one they had – a black GMC Yukon XL; a vehicle with slightly more square footage than my house, and a fuel tank bigger than my Jacuzzi tub. This thing should come with a crew. The rental agent smashed a champagne bottle on it’s front bumper as we pulled out. Nonetheless, it met our needs, and with bike and luggage loaded, we steamed into the mountains for a week’s visit in South Lake Tahoe. 

I am here on vacation, while my wife is here to participate in “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride”, a 72 mile jaunt around the lake this Sunday. An avid cyclist, it will be her first participation in a group event of this type.

She has been busy this week preparing for the ride. Of course, it turns out that preparation for her means dragging my fat, asthmatic ass up a variety of mountain trails. The trails are generally in good shape and well marked, which means rescuers have a passable chance at finding my lifeless body before the vultures do. At any rate, it was on one of these trails yesterday that I had a brief experience that could prove a useful moment in my ongoing war to change the disability mindset in this nation. It was a lesson we could all apply in our world of workers’ comp and pervasive disability. 

The trailhead was located in a county park that traverses the Nevada/California state line just east of the main strip through town. It was a modest trail, rising 1,200 feet over the 1.1 miles that we planned to trek. The focal points along the way are a scenic overlook of the entire lake, and a small waterfall that tumbles toward the valley floor. The trail itself is typical, and would not be considered by diehard hikers to be particularly difficult. Still, it had substantial pitch, narrow passes, slippery sand and stone, as well as plentiful rocks, roots and other trip hazards. It was not a place where one would expect to find someone with significant physical impairment.

About halfway up the trail, we encountered a hiker coming down the mountain. By most accounts he appeared as a normal hiker would, with appropriate outdoor gear and sunglasses.  The glaring difference for this hiker was what he held in his hands. In his right hand he held a white cane. In his left hand was the harness attached to his seeing eye dog. 

I have to be completely honest here. As much as I tout the ability of people to rise above their impairment, refusing to let their disability define them, I never expected to find a blind man hiking a mountain trail. This was something that surprised me.

And impressed me.

My wife and I stepped off the path to let he and his dog pass, exchanging pleasantries as they did so. I watched him for a moment, realizing that this was just another example of a person with an impairment who was choosing to live a life beyond disability. This was a normal man out for a nature walk; the fact that he was blind not apparently relevant. It was more evidence that a major impairment does not have to be a disability, unless one chooses to be disabled.

I’ve had a couple other lessons here in Lake Tahoe, which I will probably write about next week upon my return home. We head back to Reno Monday after the bike ride, and fly home Tuesday. 

In the meantime, we are enjoying the cool mountain air, and in addition to hiking have had some beautiful mountain drives. Of course, one thing you learn about California road planners, especially in forests and around lakes, is that they will take any 5 foot span between pine trees, pave it, and call it a highway. That is intimidating when you are driving a small house through the countryside. But if a blind man can hike up a mountainside, I expect I can navigate these roads – even if it means there will be a little less paint on the car and slightly less bark on those trees.


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