It’s pouring rain…tropical storm remnants, bone-soaking, drenching, dripping, constant pelting rain.
The eighth graders from Lurgio Middle School in Bedford, NH have been camping and exploring the wilderness around Mount Cardigan in Alexandria for about 24-hours of a 48-hour trip. It’s been raining all morning. A blue tarp is strung from the trees and one class’s worth is huddled underneath. They’re finishing breakfast of bagels, English muffins and pop-tarts. They’re decked from head to toe in rain gear and they each have a giant backpack tucked under their poncho. They look like turtles, but they’re prepared. For teenagers, they’re noticeably cheerful and NO ONE is complaining. They don’t seem to notice the rain. They’re ready to hike.
The team from Northeast Passage has arrived. Dave Lee (CTRS/L), who has been on this very same trip on and off for the past 10 or so years, is leading the charge. Lurgio hired Northeast Passage to assist two students with disabilities on two different days of the trip. Dave is accompanied by Cathy Thompson (CTRS/L) and Northeast Passage’s intern for the semester.
Today’s student acquired a traumatic brain injury a little less than a year ago. He is non-verbal, but he is cognitively aware and responsive to conversation and questions. He can walk, but he has paralysis on his right side. Dave and the team are there to make sure he reaches the day’s destination (a waterfall, about a mile and a half from the camp site). They’re there to blend in and make sure the student is included, has the same experience as his peers and, perhaps more importantly, make sure his peers are involved in the process and they have the chance to experience the day with him. Lurgio, like the six schools Dave hiked with last year, makes it a priority for Northeast Passage therapists and equipment to be there for their students on class trips.
The class lines up in “hiking formation,” counts off and they’re headed down the trail in a duckling-like walk. This student is determined. He shuffles along behind his classmates, with his dad on his arm. After about 10-minutes of precision walking and lifting his feet, the student is reluctant to stop, but he’s ready for a break.
The team from Northeast Passage has brought along a Terra Trek all-terrain wheelchair for when the student gets tired of walking (a wheelchair with mountain bike tires and large front castors). Hiking with Northeast Passage is a team sport. It’s a bond between three or four helpers and the person with a disability. Sitting in the chair, the student is guided and hoisted over rocks and roots by two people holding rickshaw poles in the front and one stabilizing and lifting from behind.
Unfortunately, due to the terrible weather, the class has to turn around and head back to camp. Before long, four of the eighth grade boys offer to help guide the chair. With two on the front and two on the back, Dave helps them maneuver the obstacles of the trail, made even more difficult by the driving rain and mud. The boys push and tug in unison. Once loud and full of energy, they’re quiet now, working together and helping their friend. The student is happy and along for the ride. At one point, the chair tumbles over. The four boys quickly steady it and they’re back on their way.
As the group makes its way back into camp, Dave and his team hang back. They let the five boys climb over the last few fallen logs and roots into the campsite. The boys park the chair. It’s still pouring, but there are high-fives and smiles under the safety of the tarp.
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