Ok, let’s get this out-of-the-way immediately. In my first winter of being in a wheelchair (2011-12) I got spoiled. Toronto barely had anything we could even call a winter, with the least amount of snow in decades. I think there was one day with enough snowfall that I felt it wasn’t safe for me to stumble out to the car and deal with the chance of slipping. So I really didn’t get a great idea of how being in a chair would be once real snow hit.

This winter is certainly changing that.

Now, look…I already know I’ve whined and moaned and bitched about this on Facebook, even promised to make the statement every winter for rest of my life. That brought the standard links to high-powered tank tread wheelchairs, questions about chains on the tires and the like. It’s all very haha and I do appreciate the humour…but it really doesn’t get to the reality of what you have to deal with as the weather gets bad. Despite all attempts by governments to make things more accessible for the disabled…there really is only so much that can be done when it comes to snow (cross-country ski conversions be damned!)

Don’t get me wrong…Shannon and I have already experienced the problem with rain, getting trapped in a massive downpour while in Disney in the summer of 2011. Despite having a good set of gloves…no wait that’s not true…I had just repurposed some mountain biking gloves to make sure my rubberized push rails didn’t rip my hands to shreds while breaking…but in any case, despite the gloves, we learned quickly that once wet…well to put it bluntly, you are screwed, up a creek without a paddle and shit out of luck all at once. You have no grip at all, even trying to push with the tires instead of the push rails. This is a major issue when alone, but thankfully I had Shan with me. She blew out her back while trying to push me over the uneven ground in that downpour, but we made it back to our room soaked and using hair dryers for means not originally intended. The problem is that in 3 years when I qualify for funding on my next chair, I know I want to shift away from having the rear push handles, and a shorter back…relying exclusively on my own power to maneuver, and reducing the weight of the chair even more. I’ll get into the things I’ve learned that I would do differently another time. Weather though is still a challenge.

I have figured out that with rain you can switch from using the push rails to just using the tires to push in a pinch. It isn’t as efficient, but it does work in the rain.

Then comes the snow. I had really been hoping this winter would be much like the 2011/12 version…but this past weekend we saw a monster storm…and Toronto didn’t get hit anywhere near as hard as the US northeast and the Canadian Maritimes…and I was still house bound for two days. Even today (the Monday after the storm) I felt like I was using my walker to fjord glaciers just to get to the car. Then there comes the snow.

Now I am sure if you think about it, the obvious issues might come to mind. The front wheels (casters) are tiny and easily get caught in ruts in the road, let alone digging into deeper snow. That can be dealt with though by getting half decent at wheeling around backward so the big tires are the ones digging through the snow (tricep work…always wondered what I needed those for!). I will grant you that wheeling backward through a parking lot covered in snow isn’t the safest thing in the world…but you do what you can. Thankfully, there do seem to be a host of people willing to assist (I won’t say take pity) and come to push as needed to get one through the worst of it. It really does help that cynicism with the world when a couple of teens with their jeans halfway down their asses, stop and ask to help…and then pause asking politely about the story about what happened. Always funny when you tell them about the bicycle accident when I was their age and the chagrined look when they admit they never wear helmets.

Unfortunately, there are times you can’t get the assistance…and dammit if I’m stubborn and stupid enough that I am determined to make it through even in those circumstances (though I do obey when told by Shannon, mom and Arthur to stay the hell home and not risk it…Spouse 1, Spouse 2 and mother all get listened to…mostly). So you try to figure out how to push through. I’m still working on the best techniques and am researching bigger tires with studs and better push rails…but this is the problem with all of those…the moment you get over a few centimetres of snow (call it a couple of inches for those American cousins) you get this:

what snow does to a wheelchair tire
what snow does to a wheelchair tire

You get snow clogging into the pushrails (that’s the black rail on the right side, with a rubberized coating for better grip), it gets between that and the tire and then despite good treads, fills them and makes them nothing better than ice coated slicks. That doesn’t even cover how the front caster get completely clogged to barely being able to move. (the left side of the pic is my weather proof cushion, as picture was taken from top down).  So what do you do?

I’m open to suggestions but keep this in mind…everything with wheelchairs is bloody fracking expensive. One lesson Shan and I learned early: the moment the word “accessible” is added to something, the price more than doubles. So when it comes down to it…you take what you have and make it work. You rely on the assistance of great friends, family and even strangers and when you stare at that football length swath of untouched velvet white snow…you smile and push through to your car. When you get there, huffing and puffing from one hell of a workout that would have taken maybe two minutes to walk, but that took you ten minutes to push through…you look back see that path you just made in that perfect snowfall.

And then you turn and load up your chair and be glad you can drive yourself home no matter the weather.

There has been a lot to learn when it comes to living with the chair. Learning what I can and can’t do. Learning what is worth the effort and what is worth being safe. The surprising side has been…no matter what mother nature throws at us…more often than not its worth the effort to do as Master Yoda would say: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

Hey, we needed to throw a bit of geek in there.

Oh and no Arthur…this doesn’t mean I’m gonna be stupid and try to push through the next time we get another 20 cms of snow. 🙂 I may be adventurous…but I’m not THAT stupid. (wait for it…you’ll hear Shannon actually snorting at me in the background there)