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The Braille Monitor November, 2000 Edition
by Bruce A. Gardner
From the Editor: Bruce Gardner is a member of the NFB Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Arizona. He is the father of six and a leader in his community and his church. He has an extremely responsible job as an attorney. I have not the remotest idea how he finds time to do all the things he does, but one of them is participating with his sons in scouting activities. In the following article he describes some of his adventures. You might want to take a nap in preparation for reading what he has to say. Here it is:
For most of my adult life I have served in one capacity or another as a volunteer leader with the Boy Scouts of America. The last few years I have served as a scout troop committee chairman. Last summer I hiked the Grand Canyon with my son Bruce and the other Explorer Scouts (sixteen- to eighteen-year old boys) from our troop. We hikedfrom the South Rim to the North Rim and back to the South Rim, which was approximately fifty miles. Unlike the other fifty-mile hikes I have taken, there is very little flat or level hiking in the Canyon.
We camped in the National Forest at the top of the South Rim the first night. Early the next morning we put on our backpacks containing our sleeping bags, camp stoves, food, water, and other gear and headed down the Canyon. The sheer cliffs and scenic vistas were simply breathtaking.
The first leg of the trail was about seven or eight miles to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon, which is more than a mile in elevation below the rim. On that July summer day, the temperature in the Canyon was over 110 degrees. We stopped to cool off in Bright Angel Creek and to eat lunch.
Then we hiked seven or eight miles across the desert floor of the Canyon through a maze of smaller canyons to the base of the North Rim. There we set up camp, cooked our dinner, and bedded down for the night. At about 3:00 the next morning we got up, cooked breakfast, and headed up the North Rim of the Canyon, hoping to get a jump on the sun and the intense heat it would bring. Like the South Rim, the North Rim was over a mile in elevation to the top along a beautiful scenic trail seven or eight miles long. Once at the top we ate lunch under the tall pine trees and enjoyed the cool mountain breeze. It amazed me to think that only the day before we had been on the other side of the Canyon, now some ten or eleven miles away as the crow flies. It seemed strange to realize that at the bottom of the Canyon we had hiked through a blazing hot desert, while at the rim of the Canyon we were enjoying the cool pines.
After lunch we marched back down the North Rim to the bottom of the Canyon, and across the desert floor back to the Colorado River, where we cooked dinner and bedded down for the night. All told, we had put in about twenty-one or twenty-two miles that day. Early the next morning we cooked breakfast, packed up our gear, strapped on our backpacks, and started up the ten-mile trail back to the top of the South Rim.
By the time I reached the top of the South Rim, it was clear that my get- up-and-go had got up and went--I was tired. The last 4.5 miles up the Bright Angel Trail is called the wall because it is nonstop switchbacks. It seemed a little like walking up a four-and-a-half-mile staircase.
The two walking sticks I made from agave wood (a desert plant commonly known as century plant) were as helpful for taking the strain off my knees as they were as white canes. At the bottom of the Canyon we had been hoping for some cloud cover or rain, but we did not get much that day until we were about a half mile from the top. At that point a little thundercloud rolled in and drenched us. It felt good at first, but when we crested the Rim, we were soon chilled.
Although we were cold, wet, and exhausted, it was a thrill to reach the top. The entire trip was tremendous. As we sat under some shelter to rest and wait for the rain to stop, we looked out over the Canyon. I could not help comparing this scouting adventure with others I had experienced. This trip had been different.
As we planned for this hike, about half of the fifteen scouts wanted to hike to the bottom of the Canyon, spend a day or so, and then hike out, while the other half (the high school athletes) began challenging each other to hike rim to rim to rim. Of the four adult leaders hiking with the fifteen young men, I was the only adult who was interested in the extended trek. Because I had hiked the Grand Canyon twice before, once down and out in one day, and once backpacking from rim to rim, I had hoped some day to hike from rim to rim to rim.
We decided to divide into two groups, and I would serve as adult supervisor for the hardy boys. No one questioned my ability to hike or supervise the scouts, and no one suggested that some one would need to be assigned to take care of me. The fact that I was blind was never an issue.
Of course it had not always been that way. Once when I was a Boy Scout at junior leader training at summer camp, we were scheduled to go on a night hike. I had been a scout for about three years and had been on many hikes. In fact, I had earned the Eagle Scout award the previous year. However, the leaders of the summer camp assumed that I would not be able to make the hike and did not want to take the risk of having a blind boy go on the night hike, so I was not allowed to go. The fact that I was an Eagle Scout, had earned the hiking merit badge, and had served as a guide for other Scout troops on a thirty-five-mile historic trail hike in Southern Utah made no difference. I was blind--that was all that mattered. Therefore I was not allowed to go on the hike.
It hurt to be denied the opportunity to go on the hike with the other scouts at the junior leader training. But at that time I had not yet heard of the National Federation of the Blind and did not know how to deal with others who treated me as if I were helpless.
As I said, this hike in the Grand Canyon was different. It was even different from hikes I had been on with these same boys as recently as four or five years earlier when I had spent the week with them at summer camp. During that week at camp we had gone on several short (three- to five-mile) hikes. One of the boys' fathers (a neighbor of mine) came up to camp for a couple of days and went on one of the hikes. He was shocked to learn that I was participating with the boys on all their activities. As we hiked that day, he took it upon himself to serve as my guardian and personal protector.
He walked in front of me along the trail feverishly trying to remove all the obstacles along the way. If there was a rock or log in the trail too big for him to move, he would attempt to grab me and physically maneuver me around it. Of course I did not put up with that, so he resorted to trying to walk backwards ahead of me so he could watch my every move and orally guide me through each obstacle. The young scouts got quite a chuckle at the spectacle he made. Of course it would not do to get mad or become offended, so I patiently explained to him that this type of assistance was not necessary and that the white cane I was using told me where the obstacles were.
Gradually he relaxed a little so that by the end of the hike that day he had turned most of his attention to visiting with his son and only occasionally would he attempt to serve as my personal protector. Of course that evening around the campfire he could not stop talking about how wonderful I was.
Later that night I went to take a shower. The shower house was two or three campsites away. After I left our camp, this same neighbor turned to the other adults and asked, "Isn't someone going to go with him? He will get lost." The others in camp just shrugged their shoulders and told him I knew what I was doing. When I did not return promptly, he began asking others returning from the showers if they had seen me. Because none of them had, he was convinced that I had gotten lost, and he suggested that a search party be formed to look for me. When I finally sauntered back into camp, my would-be protector was greatly relieved. He asked where I had been, and my casual reply seemed to dumbfound him.
I explained that on my way to the showers I had come across two very young scouts who were lost, scared, and in need of help. They had become separated from their scout troop while on a night compass course hike. When I found them, they had been wandering, hopelessly lost for nearly an hour. Their flashlights had grown dim, and the boys were obviously scared and worried about all the night sounds around them. When they saw me, they simultaneously burst into nervous, excited chatter. They described their plight and asked me how to get to their campsite. When I explained that their camp was about a half mile away, they asked if I would take them there, and of course I did. Then I returned and took my shower.
All of this seemed to be beyond my neighbor's comprehension. I was blind. How could I possibly do a normal thing like help lost scouts find their way back to camp? Gradually, however, my neighbor has come to understand that blindness does not mean helplessness and that by using alternative techniques we who are blind can enjoy full and productive lives.
Well, as I said, the scout hike last summer in the Grand Canyon was a wonderful, exhilarating, exhausting adventure, and the fact that my blindness was never made an issue made it especially rewarding.
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