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Spinal Cord Injury Community

Adapt the Adventure: Exploring Off-Road with SCI

Aaron Baker
Spinal Cord Injury Lifestyle Specialist | Shield HealthCare
08/04/20  11:14 AM PST
adapt the adventure
Kirk Williams C6-7 Quadriplegic fishing from his uniquely modified adventure van “Spock”

The great outdoors, nature and all her majesty is where I like to be most. I grew up wandering the coastline and redwood forest of central California, hiking, biking, camping and fishing deep in the wild world. Some of my fondest early memories are the sights, sounds, and scents of an early morning camp next to a river or in the mountains. There was a real sense of freedom and aliveness out there.

My freedom and aliveness was drastically changed after sustaining a spinal cord injury, I cringed at the thought of my limitations and cried when I’d return to my hometown, literally and figuratively feeling boxed in by the sandy beach and rugged mountains I once so frivolously explored. I felt trapped by my wheelchair and thought I may never get to explore the way I once did.

That was over twenty years ago and at that time there weren’t very many public examples of folks modifying their mobility equipment, or adapting their life to access the outdoors. Organizations for inclusive sporting, or outdoor accessibility were few and far between. I mean, at the time, National Parks along the beaten path were hardly accessible, let alone inspired exploration.

It has been recent years with the advent of social media that people and organizations are sharing their creative and exciting new ways of accessing the path less traveled.

Take Kirk Williams for example, an athlete and photographer who lived and breathed far out adventure prior to his spinal cord injury. In 2009 a mountain bike accident left him a C6-7 quadriplegic and limited by the agonizing fear that he may never get to explore the world again.

In his words:

“Let’s face it, not everyone loves to travel. Planning and preparation can be challenging. Add a disability, and the challenges only increase. The what-ifs are oftentimes so overwhelming that you end up staying home where everything is familiar and set up just for you.

It’s not that I don’t love home comforts, it’s merely that a stationary life terrifies me! I want to see the world and its different cultures, lifestyles and ideals. Getting outside can quickly change your perspective on life. Sometimes you have to experience things firsthand.

I’ve figured out a new way to travel!

It’s not for everyone, but for those of us who like to get off the beaten path, take control of your destiny and have complete off-grid independence, nothing compares.”

Kirk devised a way to see the world again…on his terms.

He began with funding assistance from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in Colorado because his van is essentially a mobile office for his drone photography business. Kirk consulted Benchmark Vehicles to help with the custom layout and accessible van design. He then made a list of the most critical items like the necessary adaptive equipment to drive, including a Superarm Lift, 6-Way Transfer Seat and hand controls. His other necessities were the bed, bathroom and work space.

“The bed frame, mattress and topper couldn’t be too tall. It’s critical that everything is as simple as possible. The easier it is, the more you’ll use it.”

“Sometimes it feels like my life revolves around when and where I can go to the bathroom. I plan trips around my ‘days’ and never want to get caught unprepared. For this, the van is a savior. I have a travel shower and commode chair by Nuprodx and a trash can.”

“Without dexterity or abdominal functionality, I’ve learned that finding switches and plugs in an easy-to-reach spot is important. I’m constantly charging drone batteries, computers and cameras, so we had to calculate ample plugs, wiring and sufficient wattage. I also added USB and light switches near my pillow. Again, convenience is key!”

“My camper van is so much more than a vehicle. Its an extension of myself, my mobility and my independence. Anywhere the van can go, I can go too. And I carry everything I need with me.”

Kirks ingenuity inspires me greatly, his will-power is strong, he follows his dreams despite his adversity and that is something I sincerely admire and love to share.

He has toured all over the U.S., journeyed from Colorado to Alaska, down to Baja and back, even shipped “Spock” the van to Chile for a South American adventure.

Although I have not met Kirk in person, I feel a kinship of adventure and I look forward to the day our paths cross…way out in the middle of nowhere.

You can follow Kirk on his continuous journey at impactoverland.com or his Instagram @impact.overland.

Cheers to the roads less traveled!

-Aaron

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