How You Can Create Accessible Nature for All Outdoor Users (Ira Edwards, Disability Advocate and Very Interesting Man)

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Ira Edwards Humans Outside podcast

Dubbed “the real-life most interesting man alive” by The Chive, Ira Edwards isn’t just out there living an active outdoor lifestyle in Alaska, he’s doing so from a wheelchair. After creating a wildly adventurous and outdoor-centric life, Ira was struck by a falling tree about 10 years ago and paralyzed from the waist down. Today he continues many of his adventures despite the physical barriers, inspires others to do the same and advocates for creating and maintaining accessibility for all users.

In this episode Ira talks about what it takes to stay positive and active despite a life-altering disability and guides us through what everyone can do to make sure nature is as accessible as possible for all types of users.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:41] Ira Edward’s favorite outdoor space

[3:53] How Ira became someone who likes to go outside

[4:45] The story of Ira’s injury

[7:36] The challenge of recovery

[9:12] Moving forward mentally

[12:44] The crazy expenses

[16:08] Why modeling the possible matters

[20:28] The role of heading outside in staying positive

[22:00] Staying warm while doing it

[26:12] The biggest challenge of heading outside

[28:12] Why this crazy thing that I didn’t think of is the real barrier (literally)

[30:14] It’s all about money and policy

[31:26] The easy things we can all do to help

[35:00] Did you ask a person with a disability?

[36:50] Ira’s favorite outdoor gear

[40:45] Ira’s favorite outdoor moment

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Listen to this episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go heading outside is always worth it. Welcome to humans outside where we’re using the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while learning from fascinating outdoor minded. I’m Amy Bushatz. I’ve let curiosity be my guide as a journalist for 18 years, but life, including my husband’s war injuries had burnt us out. So we moved sightunseen to Alaska to see if a change of scenery and new focus on outdoors. Was just the shift we needed. Since September, 2017, I’ve spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day, no matter what to explore, how nature can change my life, ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same. Let’s go.

One of my favorite parts of hosting the Humans Outside Podcast is the incredible people I get to meet as part of doing these interviews. I have recorded over 80 interviews with some of the most fascinating people you can imagine. And today’s guest is right up there at the top of the list of interesting and inspirational.

In fact, he’s so interesting that the child proclaimed him the real life. Most interesting man alive. Ira Edwards has had careers that have included land planner and biologists for the state of Alaska and a mapping specialist for the us department of agriculture. And he has worked as a state park ranger and in Nordic skiing. He subsistence hunts and fishes, which is a term used in Alaska.

That means he does those things to put food on his table. And for the last decade, he’s done all of these things from a wheelchair. That’s because while working to clear trees from a state park area, not unlike the wooded area you hear me talk about that’s right behind my house, one of the trees he was removing fell, hit him and left him paralyzed.

But he does not use his injury to keep him inside. If anything, he’s turning the sports, hobbies, and lifestyle. He loves into inspiration for others who also are facing recovery from a life altering injury. To do that he leans on positivity and the push getting outside gives him. Ira, thanks so much for joining us today on humans outside.

Ira Edwards: Yeah, it’s nice to be here.

Amy Bushatz: So we start our episodes imagining ourselves in our guests. Favorite outdoor space, or I would imagine you have many, so one of them as if we’re just hanging out, having a conversation with you somewhere outside that you super love. So where are we with you today?

Ira Edwards: My favorite activity is Nordic skiing. So I have done that a lot of my life, and I still continue to do that from the wheelchair with a sit ski. So. Somewhere with a groomed cross country ski trail could be Hatcher pass near the Palmer area could be Kincaid park and Anchorage. I like being out in the fresh air and sliding on snow.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And that should be easy for people who are not familiar with Alaska to imagine because they see lots of pictures of me out there skiing very poorly. So.

Ira Edwards: And I’ve uh, skied very well. And I’ve coached a lot of people that have skied even better than me. So, uh, I uh, am definitely a part of the groom trail crowd, even though I love back country skiing. I don’t tromp through the deep snow, like I used to,

Amy Bushatz: if you hit the groom trails and you see what a mutual friend of ours, Ed Strable, calls cartoon tracks off the trail, going into a snowbank. That was me.

Ira Edwards: I have seen such tracks. Definitely looks like a silhouette of a person in the snowbank.

Amy Bushatz: Yes, Amy was here. That’s this first sign.

So can you tell us, how did you become somebody who likes to go outside?

Ira Edwards: So I grew up in the Palmer, Alaska in the early eighties. My father moved us up to Alaska to be a nurse for the public health service at the native hospital, with what used to be the Indian health service. And uh, like maybe some of your listeners that grew up in the seventies and eighties your parents told you to be home by dark. So that’s what we did. We didn’t have a lot of parental supervision. Luckily a lot of us uh, survived. I don’t actually know anyone that got killed as a little kid by not being home before dark.

Amy Bushatz: Dark happens pretty late here. So that’s a real big parameter in the summertime, but shorter in the winter.

Ira Edwards: Yeah, usually we were home when we got hungry.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, that’s when my kids turn up too. It’s crazy how that works crazy.

So if you don’t mind, tell us about your accident and the journey to getting back to a place where you could be active. Give us just a little bit of history.

Ira Edwards: Yeah, like you said, I was working for Alaska state parks as a park ranger and in Alaska, that’s a law enforcement position that also includes public safety. And part of public safety is keeping the public safe, obviously. So I had a lot of training in trail construction and recreation management, trail building, and also having burned and heated with firewood most of my life. Having built trails for the state I had a lot of training and removal of trees with chainsaws and things like that.

We had a super big windstorm right before the Thanksgiving holiday, and unfortunately there were many trees across all the trails. It was probably comparable to what we had in January in t his winter in Palmer, but it was uh, farther up towards Willow.

Um, Yeah, so we were removing down trees across the trails to get them ready for the Thanksgiving holidays, so people could go Nordic skiing, people could go snow machining out to private cabins and public use cabins. And one of the trees we were trying to take down is what’s called a widow maker. The top half is broken off and leaning across the trail. There’s a lot of safety issues with that. So we tried to take it down safely, but instead of falling the way we planned, the top broke off the tree and pushed the trunk down my safety path. And when it cracked, I ran and you pick a path and run and you pack down your safety path, clear out the bushes out. Did not expect the tree to chase me down my safety path that should have fell in a different direction.

So yeah, I was uh, basically a nail and the tree was a hammer. I got pounded and pile drived into the ground. So I did not only break my back. I broke a lot of other bones, punctured organs, cut part of my aorta. I did not bleed out, but uh, it could have but yeah, my spinal injury is from, for people that don’t know you have, cervical is your neck spines. You have thoracic, which is your mid middle back. You have lumbar, which is your lower back. And you have sacral, which is your tailbone and pelvis area. So I broke um, spines and a lot of other parts and messed up my spinal cord from what’s called T nine down to the L three area. Uh, So that’s the bendy part of your back so the bendy part of my back is now bolted together with 12 inches of steel. And I don’t bend so well anymore, but I have perfect posture for the rest of my life.

Amy Bushatz: So you, I imagine the recovery process from this not just from having broken your back and having the perfect posture situation, but now you’re in a wheelchair you’re recovering from puncture, punctured organs. You’re recovering from almost bleeding out on the trail. What does that recovery process look like? How long did that take for you to go from, you know, just devastating injury to back even in a spot where you could potentially become active again.

Ira Edwards: Yeah. It was a hard recovery for me mentally and physically, I was uh, never knocked out. So I knew, and I was a highly trained uh, EMS person had a lot of trauma and medical experience dealing with others and rescuing other people in the wilderness.

So I knew right away that I was in bad shape and the crew that I had with me, I was able to luckily instruct them on how to save me and how to get my radio out so I could call for help, but I knew I was messed up. Didn’t know how badly until we got to the hospital. So yeah, , I was able to look at the MRI and tell the doctor, he should knock me out and fix me.

But yeah I was kept under a medical coma for a few days and I was in intensive care ICU for a full month and that’s a long time to be in intensive care. So I was in pretty rough shape. And then I spent almost a total of four months in the hospital doing rehab and learning how to do activities of daily life. Like how to it didn’t break my neck to worry about not using my hands, but you know, there’s a lot of things being a wheelchair. I’m a six foot five and it was 250 pounds. So I’m four 10 right now sitting down. So there’s a lot of things that I was used to doing, being really tall that I can’t do anymore just cause I’m short.

Uh, So learning how to live like that how to go to the bathroom, all kinds of things. But yeah, it was uh, I, yeah, it was probably eight months before I felt healthy enough to do anything active again, which was mentally challenging. And then, I mean, it’s 12 years later and I’m still learning how to do things.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So there has to be, or imagine there, there’s a moment where you have a decision almost where you are deciding, if you were going to be active and try to go back to doing the things you love or not. Is, am I making that up and some drama in my head? Or did you have that moment?

Ira Edwards: Yeah, when I was in rehab in the hospital and also while I was in intensive care I used volunteer at a adaptive sports program called Challenge Alaska. And since I loved to ski, I helped out with the ski school. I never dealt with physically disabled people, but I helped some of the special kids from time to time, but I had seen ski sit skiing. So I knew it was a possibility to ski again. So it was definitely a goal of mine while I was in the hospital to be able to ski again.

And since that’s been a major part of my life for all of my adult life and something in my childhood I made that a goal. So. Having a goal is definitely something that drives people. Um, I mean, very few things in life can be accomplished without goals and some path and direction.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. And so you identified that goal. But today, you know, as we said earlier, you are extremely active. You do more stuff outside than I do, and I’m not in a wheelchair, right? Like you’re, you have more varied activities than many, many, many people. So, how do you go from this moment of, I, you know, my goal is to ski, to, I’m gonna get out there and I’m gonna do all of these things regardless like this isn’t keeping me down.

Ira Edwards: It may seem like I do a lot, but I honestly do less than half of what I used to do. I didn’t have a lot of resources as a child. We had a large family. I I’m the oldest of six. So, um, things were always on a budget, but I luckily had a lot of friends that they’re parents were able to take them on a lot of cool adventures.

And so I learned how to do a lot of things in the outdoors, not only from my dad and some of his experiences, but with friends and their families. So I used to do a lot of things. I’m still relearning how to do some things. Like I still haven’t climbed the Butte in 12 years. I’m hopefully gonna do that if it ever stops raining. But yeah. So. I personally feel like I’m not doing that much, but again, I didn’t have social media to tell people all about it before. So it may seem like I’m doing a lot, but it doesn’t feel like that to me.

Amy Bushatz: How do you, how do you deal with that feeling of wanting to do more but not having the option?

Ira Edwards: Some of it is frustrating. I got hurt on the job and uh, so I’m involved in workers’ compensation. So they have not done a great job of helping take care of me and all my medical issues. My health insurance, would’ve been a lot better option than workers’ comp for taking care of everything. But uh, so that’s somewhat frustrating, but I’ve got a lot of friends and there’s a lot of different organizations around the country that help out people with disabilities.

So I’ve been able to experience a lot of things. And also help buy some of the equipment to make that work. I mean, I mentioned I love skiing. For the average person, a pair of skis is approximately six or $700 for a high end, big mountain type of ski, $300 for bindings, maybe $400 or $500 for boots. So I still have skis and bindings, but my boot is now a full suspension chair that I sit in that costs nine to $12,000.

So that’s a really expensive single ski boot. Not everyone is really able to afford that. So I’ve been able to apply for grants to get some of those things. Um, So that’s uh, something that you normally wouldn’t have to think about just because everything adaptive is very specialized. My hand cycle costs $14,000 and it’s the equivalent of Shimano LX, which is lower midline. So that’s and it weighs 50 pounds. So that’s my super high end bicycle is a 50 pound tricycle with midline to low end components. And that costs $14,000. So yeah, the that’s a limitation for a lot of people with disabilities is just getting out. Luckily Challenge Alaska, the sports program has a lot of equipment to loan people if they need it. Me being gorilla size, they didn’t have anything to fit.

Amy Bushatz: You mentioned you did fundraising, and I know you work with other people who find themselves newly disabled or newly facing this challenge. So what do you tell them and how do you help them change a mindset or go forward in this life change that is in such a way that will help them in the future? Is that helping them stay positive? Is that getting outside? What does that look like?

Ira Edwards: Uh, yeah, I’ve spent some time visiting people in hospitals and um, various other things. And then just trying to help people get outside. I mean, I refer people to Challenge Alaska, if possible, if it’s something easy, like biking or skiing that’s something that they specialize in.

I mean, I help teach in instruct in those kind of things, but they have all the equipment and they have people that do this full time. There are other things like going out fishing I can take people in my boat or The Chive recently helped me get a side by side. I’ve taken out people to Knik glacier.

Yeah. So I’ve been able to help people realize that losing a limb or losing your legs or other disabilities is not really the end of the world because I fail at lots of things and if I can do it, it still works pretty good. And. I have a, not the world’s worst injury, but there’s a lot of people that get injured less than I am that don’t feel they can do anything.

So I uh, show them that even though I have a challenging injury it’s still possible to get out stuff and do things. Some of that is a mindset you have to believe you can do it. And if I mean, there’s an old Henry Ford quote, if you think you can, you will, if you think you can’t, you won’t. S o a lot of people have never experienced the outdoors in their life and didn’t know anything about it before they got hurt.

And now they’re presented with an opportunity and definitely think they can’t because they couldn’t do it before. And they definitely can’t do it now. So that’s a kind of a stereotype of people with disabilities as they’re not able to do anything. So I have a disability, but I do not think of myself as disabled. Um, There’s kind of a difference in wording there and a difference in philosophy. .

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. And I, I mean, it words matter, right? Like that, how you term that into just even to yourself. And I imagine also other people talking to you, but how you use those words has a direct influence on how you see the world, how you see your mindset um, and um, that influence results in action or not

Ira Edwards: Exactly. So, I just show people. Things are possible. And maybe not everyone is interested in hunting or fishing. But things like hand cycling. Or if I take people on the side by side, out to the glacier and Knik glacier is about 20 miles away from the town I live in Palmer. It’s off the end of the road.

So it’s usually ATVs or dirt bikes or in the winter, sometimes people can fat bike or cross country ski out to there or run. It’s only 13 miles on the short course in the winter when it’s frozen. But in the summer, it’s 28 miles each way. Um, so uh, in a motorized device, that’s a lot easier. But yeah, having the wind in your face, seeing beautiful views is inspiring to normal people, but for people that haven’t been able to get outside, it shows them that life is still possible and life can involve a lot of things indoors and ou t. It’s just, you have to believe you can. .

Amy Bushatz: Is there an outdoor thing that you do today that really surprises people like that they, that they just, I mean, people who are suffering an injury or not, that they just assumed was off the table, but you regularly do that they’re then surprised is not off the table.

Ira Edwards: Yeah, hunting and fishing. I built a new house. Thanks to moving back to Palmer there was nothing accessible to buy, so we even able to be fixed up. So I had to go through the process of building. And if everyone’s familiar with, since COVID all kinds of construction is super expensive, so I haven’t been out much fishing this year. But when I take my skiff out of Whittier um, the Harbor master, at least before COVID has been there for 20 plus years. And I was the only person in a wheelchair that launched a boat. In the whole time she’d been there. And then hunting, I have not been able to harvest an animal every year, but I have not had to buy beef for over 25 years.

So there are a lot of ways I’ve been able to fill my freezer. It’s more challenging, but it’s still totally possible. And I also have a lot of friends that help, but uh, yeah. I mean that a lot of that is believe me, you can, and it takes me a lot longer to do. So having patience is important. But yeah, everything takes me twice as long and then takes me three times as long to prepare for it in the first place.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And I was just thinking of like the- I think people who don’t hunt don’t really understand the physical factors of that. Not just getting to the location, but you know, bringing the animal back and then butchering, harvesting, field dressing. However it is you tackle the tackle that it depends on where you live, right,. Is a very physically demanding activity. It’s not easy. And so I just, I imagine that just takes a tremendous amount of patience to move through that in, in an adaptive way.

Ira Edwards: Yeah. I mean, I had in my previous life done everything, human powered you know obviously I drove a highway vehicle to a trailhead or something like that, but I took a backpack and would hike in and work harder than most people that had ATVs because I was willing to make it work.

Because I can’t walk now I’ve had friends with ATVs that have taken me out with. And I’m still able to shoot really well. My spine is bolted together, so I can’t bend the way I used to. So I had to relearn how to shoot which was challenging. Cause I was a, what I considered an expert marksman before and I’m back to that, but I had to re reteach myself how to shoot.

Butchering an animal. I mean, a moose sign quarter can weigh 150 pounds or more. And I could easily lift that up no problem before. Now I can push that up if I’m sitting on the ground, but only so high, so friends or a winch to haul it into the back of a ATV or side by side is helpful. I mean, a lot of people use power tools that aren’t disabled. But having a disability, that’s a requirement for me nowadays something you wouldn’t have to think about if you’ve, I mean, I had never owned a motorized device. I’ve used them a lot for work. I didn’t feel the need to own one. Um, Yeah.

Amy Bushatz: How do you think having this outdoor mindset this love of spending time outside and all of these outdoor activities that you enjoyed before your injury changed your ability to recover from it as compared to somebody who didn’t have that do you see outdoor recreation as having a role in helping you stay positive and move forward?

Ira Edwards: Uh, for sure. I mean, I, like I said, I have done a lot more things prior to my injury than what I do right now. So that gave me things that I had a goal to strive towards to do them again. I mean, I have a little butt pad I can strap on like a climbing harness and it lets me scoot around on the ground.

So I’ve done lots of things with that. I’m not always in my wheelchair when I’m away from home, either on a bike or a ski or snow machine or a side by side or a four wheeler. A lot of things have changed. But it’s still something. The fact that I had experienced those things beforehand gave me some reason to try to get out there and do it again.

And I also was fairly skilled driving motorized devices. I mean, snow machines are challenging. You have to know what you’re doing. Driving through mud holes or trying to avoid mud holes in the first place on a motorized device. So I have not had a lot of problems adapting because I knew how to do those things before.

My upper body strength, cause I start to lose muscles at about the bottom of my ribcage and I pretty much don’t have anything below my waist. I have some muscles, but not a lot that can do anything. So it’s I’ve gotten a lot stronger in the upper body. I went from a size large to a double, extra large.

And my shoulders got, I got a new suit for my brother’s wedding and I grew 12 inches around my shoulders since my injury. So that a obvious, I adapted because I had to. But yeah, some of the things I, I liked to do them before and that definitely gave me goals, but also gave me the experiences to be able to do them.

Amy Bushatz: Right So this is sort of a little bit of a diversion, but I’m actually very curious about this. So you’ll have to forgive me. We both know how cold it can get here in Alaska. So typically dressing warmly and doing winter activities like skiing or even more so activities where you’re not moving a lot um, are a exercise in responding to feelings of cold. So I’m wondering how you go about keeping your low body warm enough if you cannot feel those temperature fluctuations or have that sensation of “I’m feeling cold.”

Ira Edwards: Yeah. I uh, start to lose sensation at my waist and I have almost no sensation going down my thighs and that’s pretty much all gone by the time I get to my knees. So even though I don’t have motor function, I still have some feelings sort of almost down to my knees. It’s kind of like like, I can sort of feel something if I bang my knees into it, but not really. Yeah. So, cold is a definite concern. I’ve had some pretty bad frostbite not like I lost toes, but I was concerned about that for a little while.

But yeah, I dress differently than I used to. I mean, I can still wear, and I also, because I’m sitting. I have poor circulation. When you physically walk, your body has valves inside the veins that actively pump blood back to the heart. I am not walking, so I don’t use those veins to actively pump blood.

So my circulation is much more reduced than the normal person. But I wear down booties if I’m cross country skiing, which seemed like overkill, and I put sock warmer toe warmers inside there just to make sure. Um, If I’m riding machines or skiing, I use snowboard boots uh, also because it’s like little kids, you need extra help putting your feet into boots.

And I used to snowboard so I can joke about it, but snowboarders also need extra help putting their feet into boots. Um, But uh, yeah, they open up wide so I can get my foot in and they’re made with a lot of … intuition foam, which is a specialized moldable foam that stays super warm and I can keep my feet warm in those.

And if it’s below five below or so, I will put chemical heaters inside there. And those those last eight to 10 hours. And I am most likely not outside for more than eight to 10 hours. If I’m on a snow machine, out in trips or I’ve been ice fishing, I will take the boots off and put new toe warmers inside there after a while. But yeah. I’ve had some pretty bad frostbite and that’s something I have to be really careful of because I can’t feel it. And I have an, an advantage that since I’ve been a little kid, my body temperature is almost a full degree warmer than normal. So I’m hovering close to a hundred degrees all the time. even though I have So even circulation, I’m not quite as cold as some people.

Amy Bushatz: Hey, humans, if you wanna build your own outdoor habit, the Humans Outside 365 Challenge is a great way to get started. You can even score some really cool and exclusive challenge swag, including a finisher, decal, and metal in the process. All you need to do is visit humansoutside.com/challenge. You’ll also get an outdoor challenge guide written by me for you, an exclusive challenge tracker and insider info all year long. You don’t wanna be left out of this. Go to humansoutside.com/challenge to learn more now, okay. Back to the show.

So I’m wondering what people who are not facing these kinds of challenges can do to help people who are to make the outdoors more accessible, to make it more friendly, to make it so that people who are facing injuries like yours can enjoy the same kinds of things that you know, those of us who have not been injured enjoy . What, how can we assist? What can we do

Ira Edwards: Access is the biggest issue. There isn’t any that’s mm-hmm I mean, that’s pretty much what it is. I mentioned that I’ve

Amy Bushatz: is that true in the lower 48 or just here in Alaska?

Ira Edwards: Everywhere I’ve ever been.

Amy Bushatz: Okay.

Ira Edwards: I mentioned that I’ve built lots of trails or actively worked on trails . Every year I try to teach a uh, adaptive trail construction class at the state trails conference.

But people want to keep motorized devices off trail. And back in the eighties, ATVs and three wheelers used to be fairly skinny. Now there’s pretty much nothing narrower than four feet. Most hand cycles and wheelchairs are close to two and a half, three feet wide, but they still put the rocks less than two feet apart to block the access in the trails. And that in itself blocks access. I may not be able to use every trail, but if I can’t get to the trail in the summer or the winter, it doesn’t matter how active and how good I am at doing things. I can’t actually get to the trail. Or they put those steel posts with concrete in the middle to barricade things. Those are often put too narrow to actually physically get from the parking lot to the trail. So access year round on all kinds of things is a huge challenge and policy makers, even though I spent a lot of time, I was on the state trails board for several years, have chosen to not address that. And that’s a nationwide thing.

The us forest service and the national park service are starting to, but they still haven’t fixed the old trails they’re working on going forward. And there’s still lots of cool trails that people like to hang on that aren’t accessible, even if the trail is doable or maybe like I said, like, I wouldn’t know if it’s doable or not cause I haven’t had the chance to try it.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. It’s interesting because I did not think about accessibility before this conversation as being simply getting on the trail, I have always thought about accessibility as being the trail itself. Right. Is it flat? Is it graded? Is it, you know

Ira Edwards: I’m stubborn, I cna get a lot of places that some people can’t get that aren’t even disabled.

Amy Bushatz: But I never thought about it in terms of you can’t even get to the trail, because the posts are too close that never even occurred to me. I’m gonna be honest.

Ira Edwards: That’s that is the biggest issue nationwide for people with disabilities is access and it’s not, you don’t have to make the trail accessible. Someone like me can figure that out on their own, whether or not they can do it. And of course, good signage to say this is a super challenging trail might make me choose not to go on that trail. Because there’s, I mean, all the trails have like signs like green, blue, black kind of difficulty ratings.

And that’s getting better for people with disabilities being able to rate the trails, but there’s a lot of really cool wheelchair accessible trails that you can’t actually get to. I mean, even with the park service in Denali, they just recently right before COVID they built a whole bunch of wheelchair trails that you

Amy Bushatz: Like Kesugi ken?.

Ira Edwards: Uh, No that’s state parks. They a pretty good job with that. Some of the trails are too steep, but that’s my own fault for not being able to make it up it, but they’re at least accessible, but in um, Denali national park some of their campgrounds, they built some really cool trails with super packed gravel. And until very recently, they, you physically couldn’t get onto the trails and they built the trails, designed them and designated them ready for disabled access, but they still blocked them off.

Amy Bushatz: But I can’t even imagine that moment where you get there and you’re like Awesome. Aces. No. Yeah. So has to be extremely frustrating

Ira Edwards: And I never thought about it before I got hurt. I mean, I knew two people in wheelchairs. One of them did nothing. The other guy gets out and does things, but he is not active outdoors. He just lives his life. The other person stays inside all the time. And I’m not really great friends with them, but I, those were the only two people I knew. So I did not want to be like them because I did a lot of things outdoors.

So I never thought about the challenges of getting around in a wheelchair. I mean, and I was already super outdoors and super in tune to wheelchair access in buildings and things like that because I. helped provide recreational access. But then not until I actually had to try to get around and do stuff on my own, did I ever think, oh, even though I tried, it’s not good enough.

Amy Bushatz: Right. Right. So access is the biggest thing. Is there anything else, any other steps after, you know, if we get somehow conquer that what’s next?

Ira Edwards: I mean money, I mean, access is a policy, a governmental. Uh, I mean, if private land owners build trails so they can have recreational stuff on their private property, that’s a different issue.

But yeah, I mean there’s and a lot of it comes down to public policy um, funding for disabled sports funding for access. It, it comes down that everything accessible costs more .Um, building accessible trails actually doesn’t cost more because usually when you build trails, you make them wide with a bulldozer and then you make them narrow again by shoveling all the dirt back onto the trail. So to not shovel the dirt back onto the trail, leave them three feet wide or four feet wide is cheaper. It’s kind of a weird thing way to think about it that it’s less expensive to build accessible trails in some instances. But yeah, so it’s a lot of policy work and advocacy but there’s not a whole lot you personally, Amy can do to help me unless you wanna help take me with you on some adventure.

Amy Bushatz: Well, but it’s, but there’s, I think that you’re making a very valid point about the policy and the accessibility, because it’s keeping the interests of people who are outside of your own personal experience. So me as somebody who is not in a wheelchair, keeping the interests and needs of somebody who is in the forefront of my mind or as equal to my own needs and priorities. When we talk about things like this, when we talk about building trails, you know. I, as a as a reporter, do quite a lot of reporting on just local trails here in Alaska. And it’s as simple as me saying when I do those stories, for example. Okay. So is this going to be a trail that’s wide enough to get a wheelchair onto? What’s the accessibility plan for this? How are you addressing that? And even just beginning to ask those questions and for people who are listening to this, who don’t do reporting, it’s asking the same questions when they have the opportunity. Because news stories, address questions that readers ask. And so it’s asking the questions themselves when they’re doing it. And I, you know, in my ex, in my experience as a reporter and as a reader of news, just continuing to ask those questions eventually does cause change. People stop, start getting annoyed by being asked the same question every time and not having a good answer.

Ira Edwards: And definitely the squeaky wheel gets the grease for sure. . Yeah, but it, a lot of it is if you’re making a choice to restrict access for ATVs or something like that, think about what else you’re restricting. That’s the other thing, a lot of people just don’t want the motorcycles on the trail, but a bicycle can get it. If you’re blocking, if you’re letting a bicycle through any, a dirt bike and motorcycle can get on that same trail. So you’re not really excluding the ATVs by only letting bicycles through the slots or the gaps and hikers can get through the gaps too. But. It, having some thought put into what you are excluding besides the targeted exclusion.

Because a lot of other people fit within that realm. And like I said, you can still exclude ATVs and let wheelchairs through. And a lot of it might be asking what someone in the wheelchair needs, like before you go out and build something. Talk to somebody in a wheelchair. I know it’s really cool.

The Borough recently, well, right before COVID built a wheelchair accessible lookout trail up a Government Peak.. The problem is, is that it’s a super steep first 25 feet. You can’t get to it. And then it goes over some big roots and some other steep sections. So the lookout point is super nice and flat and I made it work to get there when we did the trail opening because we had the press there, but it is nowhere near accessible. And unless you had someone to help push you the whole way. But they didn’t have someone come look at it during the construction. So the contractor did a great job on the trail, but he didn’t know what not to do or what to do to begin with.

Cuz it just, it wasn’t a part of the bid. He was told to build a trail with certain grades and certain areas and uh, they had a definite trail plan, like where to put it.. Um, But they hadn’t actually talked to anyone in a wheelchair. It was someone’s grand idea that someone new someone in the wheelchair and they should build a perfect lookout there.

So it was a great idea, but nobody talked to anyone in a wheelchair until the grand opening.

Amy Bushatz: Right, right. And it’s almost like, uh,, the devils and the details and you have to, to actually talk to somebody who’s dealing with this and not just make presuppositions..

Ira Edwards: Yeah. I mean, a really good friend of mine. He used to build trails here in Palmer and he moved to bend Oregon and they’re building some new bike trails in the area and they’re requiring the contractor to have someone with a disability work with them to give them what they need to do to do a bid on the trails, which is really cool to do a trail assessment, they want someone in a wheelchair to do the assessment with the contractor. So each in order to give a bid, you have find someone in the community to do that with you. I unfortunately can’t go down to do that with him. So I’m reaching out to some other friends that have wheelchair bikes or hand cycles in the Pacific Northwest, but at least some, this is the first time I’ve heard that a trail building organization wants to have someone from the disabled sports community consulted in actually designing these trails, not, because what you think might work for someone like myself, is I is a great thought, but until you talk to me, I might say, oh, that’s super easy, or like there’s no way I can possibly do that. And a lot of people just don’t think about it because it’s not their personal experience.

Amy Bushatz: Right. Right. And that goes back to that idea of taking the extra step to keep the possibility open that experiences other than yours are also a priority. And that’s really hard to do even for the best intentioned person that can be hard to do. You know, so I’m not trying to pass judgment on, on people who don’t do that. Um, And again, like what you’re saying today has never, literally never occurred to me, that the accessibility of a trail is more than just having a paved path or a leveled path. And literally comes down to the gates, the width of the gates in front of the trail. It’s such an obvious thing, but did not occur to me.

Ira Edwards: And I never had to think about it before I got hurt. I mean, one of those most popular spots in all of Alaska is Glen Alps, Flat Top in Anchorage, and they built a super nice, super beautiful paved parking lot that handles twice the size and twice the number of cars it’s still full all the time. They put it an electronic parking pass reader. You can just use your, a, your card on that. And all the sidewalks were eight inches, tall square berms, square sidewalks. The curb was eight inches tall, they didn’t have any wheelchair ramps in it. I went up there a couple weeks after they opened it. This was shortly after I got out of the hospital and there was no physical way to get onto the trails, even though the trails were flat. Cuz I can’t step up eight inches. I can bump up a curb about six inches.

So they actually put a wheelchair ramp on the wheelchair parking spaces. And then they made all the curbs, those super curvy S-shaped sidewalk curbs, cuz then I can carry some momentum and roll straight up the curb. . But yeah, they just, you know, they never thought about that and they did what they were supposed to do, they made the parking spaces, the right size, there’s hash marks next to the parking spaces. So you can get out of your car, but initially you couldn’t get onto the trails. And it’s, you don’t think about that. Cuz the you never had to worry about it.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you. This has been really eye opening for me. I, again, something as simple as that is just not something that I thought about, and I’m gonna tell you, I’m gonna start asking some different questions when I do my news reporting here locally. So, because again, this is, it’s what we talked about before. It’s people asking questions and people being interested in the answers.

Ira Edwards: Yeah. And that’s super helpful because, I mean, like I said, I may choose to decide not to ever do those trails again, because I couldn’t make it work, but if I can’t try it out, I’ll never know.

Amy Bushatz: That’s right. So we close our episodes talking about two things. First of all, I love to know my guest favorite outdoor gear or an outdoor Item that they just really love or can’t live without most essential whatever.

For some people that’s just as simple as something as awesome as a really good snack, which I endorse . For me, you know, like I love my certain kind of water bottle. So what what’s yours? What is your most essential favorite outdoor gear?

Ira Edwards: The thing I use more than anything else is I have this strap on butt pad, made it a whole bunch of air cells. And I sit on it like a climbing harness and just strap it on. Then I can scoot around on the ground for gardening or riding on a snow machine, riding on an ATV. But part of being paralyzed is I have a lot of muscle atrophy in my lower body. So my, you can actually touch my bones through my skin and my butt. Um, And then it’s something you have to be really careful about when you’re not in your wheelchair. So in order to keep myself healthy and keep myself doing it all I use that almost daily. So ,

Amy Bushatz: And I have to tell you, you’re the only person who’s ever recommended a butt pad as their favorite outdoor gear. So, um, yeah.

Ira Edwards: Yeah. So, but I mean the other parts, it depends on what the season is. I mean, obviously skis, I work for Rossignol ski company in Toko ski wax. Um, so skis, I have a favorite ski for Nordic and a favorite ski for Alpine. In the summer, I have a little MSR reactor cook stove, which goes with me everywhere because it’s small, it’s compact, it’s super efficient way better than a jet boil cost about twice as much as a jet boil, but you know, it works better. Yeah, it depends on what I’m doing. Cause I do activities year round, but I still use the butt pad year round and almost every day,

Amy Bushatz: all season butt pad. I like it.

Ira Edwards: Yeah

Amy Bushatz: . All right, and as a final thing uh, we love to walk out of these episode. Uh, Hearing about our guests FA a favorite Mount outdoor moment. You may have more than one, but just something that you just sort of like, remember back. just as an example, I love to think back through these times where I’m just going through wild fly flowers up on like the high Alpine and just like, it’s like a dreamscape that’s totally real. And that’s a moment that I go back to. So what about you? What’s a, what’s a favorite outdoor moment that you like to go back to.

Ira Edwards: Um, My favorite spot in all of Alaska, and I’ve seen a lot of Alaska because of work and I’ve made the work choices to not make a lot of money, but see Alaska is the Mint Hut up in Hatcher Pass. It’s up on top of a big dome and a shelf and it has probably one of the best views. I think it’s even better than the Sheldon Hut in Denali National Park which is widely touted as having amazing views. Um, And I was up there probably three weeks, two and a half weeks before I broke my back. So I still keep thinking that someday I’ll figure out how to ride my hand cycle to the base of it and using my butt pad to scoot up the 800 foot hill up to the shelf.

But yeah, that’s that was probably my favorite spot in all of Alaska. And I’ve still think about it all the time is that someday I’ll figure out how to get back up there. I mean, I’m sure I could drive a snow machine up there with a permit. But that would let other people drive on the same trail cuz everyone follows another trail. So I don’t wanna be that guy that gets everyone else in trouble, but somehow I’ll figure out a way to get back there someday.

Amy Bushatz: I absolutely believe that you will, and I cannot wait to hear about it. ]

Ira thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today. I sure appreciate your time and sharing and hearing the advice that you’ve.

Ira Edwards: Yeah, it’s been great to be here.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of humans outside. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, take a second to leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts that makes it easier for others to find the podcast too. Your positive review makes a huge difference. Now go get outside until next time. We’ll see you out there.

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