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Handicaps don’t get in way of enjoying the outdoors

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POSTED May 22, 2011 11:00 p.m.

Like most young adults, in my early 20s, I was pretty sure I was immortal and that I could hike anywhere with no problem. I would backpack into remote streams in search of the rare Golden Trout or the even more rare Paiute Trout.

The steep canyons of the Sierra were the home of monster fish and huge deer and bears that were unmolested by ordinary mortals. As years passed however, not only did I slow down a little, but I fished and hunted with fellow outdoor enthusiasts that were handicapped in some fashion. I began to realize that the outdoors was not only a place for the young and physically adept, but that there were ample opportunities afield and astream for the old and the physically challenged as well.

Probably the single biggest factor in my awakening to the opportunities in the outdoors for those with handicaps was when I met Arvel Gipson. Old Arv had fallen off a high transmission line and broken his back, which left him using crutches for the rest of his life. The odd thing was that Arvel refused to let his handicap stop his enjoyment of the outdoors. We camped, fished, hunted, and cut firewood together. Arvel would drag his chainsaw into the forest and cut firewood right alongside me. When he shot his deer, he tied a rope on it and dragged it out of the woods with his crutches. I recall him observing that when he was trolling for trout or bass out on the reservoir he was the equal of every other angler on the water. He knew darned well he was handicapped, but he simply refused to let it stop him.

Interestingly, age is also a handicap. The older you get the more you slow down. Again, being handicapped while very real, is hugely affected by your state of mind. Actually, I suspect we are all handicapped in some fashion, whether by accident, age, birth, or illness.

Heck, even youth is a handicap, they just don’t know it. I developed asthma in my early 30s and suddenly, those 2,000 foot deep canyons weren’t so easy to climb up and down in my quest for pristine fishing. Guess what? I adapted. Instead of trying to climb the canyon walls as I used to, I began to fish the river at the bottom from a white water raft. There are still huge fish, and I get the same thrill when I fight and release one, only now I do it from a raft instead of hiking and wading.

A number of years ago, there was a trout farm located between Manteca and Stockton that charged a fee for catching their stocked trout. My Grandfather was well past his 90th birthday and obviously couldn’t hop along the rocks of a typical trout stream anymore. But he still knew how to cast a rod and hook a fish. We had a big family excursion with grandpa, kids grandkids, and even great grandkids. Everybody caught fish from oldest to youngest. The trout farm cost a small fortune in fees, but it was well worth it. Old Pop had a great time and once more he was hooking into giant trout with his rod. Pop died a few months later, but I think he died with a smile.

As a society we have recognized that handicapped people have rights too. Did you know that every level of government from cites and counties to the states and even the federal government, must make provisions for handicapped people? I once represented a large hotel corporation to defend their right to build a boat dock that was handicapped accessible. The city involved didn’t want to allow a situation in which handicapped people might fall into the water and drown. They argued that some handicapped guy might have too many drinks at the hotel bar and roll into the water. In response, I argued that the very intent of handicap access laws was to give everyone the same rights, including the right to be stupid. The Handicapped Access Appeals Board agreed and the dock got built with full handicapped accessibility.

I’ve got a few handicaps, you’ve probably got a handicap or two, heck, and we’ve all got handicaps. Just don’t let them keep you from enjoying the outdoors. Get out there and overcome whatever your personal challenge is. Get out there and experience the great outdoors.

Until Next week,

Tight Lines

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