Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.
Mike May, Davis, California
This third Way Fun adventure shares key elements of independent travel with the previous two years in Ireland/Scotland 2004 and the California Gold Country in 2003. Six students this year added a high level of enthusiasm and energy to 5 days exploration in Portland and Bar Harbor Maine. Sponsored by five organizations, Sendero Group, HumanWare, Adaptive Technology Consulting, the Seeing Eye and Delorme, these students, along with 25 others, tested their limits and the full range of orientation and mobility skills while learning GPS wayfinding technology. The students gave me a break this year and wrote the Blog entries for each day. See their Blog links below. As I look back over the past five days, here are some of my thoughts and feelings.
We ate incredibly well beginning with a group dinner at the floating Dimillo’s restaurant in Portland to kick off the event Wednesday. I am quite sure most of us don’t eat elaborate dinners five days in a row. When you have walked all day and then look at the plethora of restaurants in the BrailleNote GPS database, it is required to conclude the day with a food adventure.
For the first 4 days, we explored in groups of 4 to 6 people. In this way, the experienced users could help the novices including the Seeing Eye instructors, while they in turn helped with mobility issues and learned how accessible GPS could integrate with a Seeing Eye dog. The more intrepid travelers could speed up the slower ones and the slower participants could teach the others a measure of caution and self preservation. Keep in mind that we are traveling and getting lost among streets we have never explored before. A very complex intersection with islands was the first intersection we would come to outside our Portland hotel. In Bar Harbor, we had a busy road with a narrow shoulder for a mile and a half between the hotel and town. The participants shared a high motivation to learn and to push their limits but they ranged in ability on both the orientation and mobility fronts. Our mission was to set the bar high so everyone would be challenged to improve in both areas.
To test my own limits, I try to do something solo each Way Fun year. I love being the leader and sharing the power of GPS and good mobility with others. It is important that I challenge myself too while taking a break from being the organizer.
On our last full day, I was torn between the Carriage ride and a challenging hike with a couple of the students. I decided to try and do both. We hiked along the smooth carriage road from Jordan Pond to the Wildwood Stables and I rode in the carriage back to the pond with 6 of our group. While they stopped at the Jordan House for a spot of tea, I raised Adam and Stacy on the radio and set out on foot at a fast clip to hook up with them.
Adam radioed me his lat/lon position, which I entered into my BrailleNote and set as my destination. They had a one-hour head start so it was going to be tough to catch them.
The initial walk around the east side of the pond heading north was smooth. My dog Miguel was threading me through the trees from 3 to 5 miles per hour. I knew this by pressing S for speed on my GPS. I kept checking in with Adam from time to time on the radio, hearing about how they left the shoreline trail and were trying to figure out a steep side trail. My goal was to find that same trail.
My shoreline trail crossed 5 narrow wooden bridges and then became very rocky. I got so caught up in clambering to and fro behind Miguel that I finally discovered I had past the Adam and Stacy trail by .85 miles. I didn’t want to deal with walking back over the boulders behind me so I told them not to wait and I would continue around the pond and meet them back at base.
When the boulders ended, a narrow wooden walk began. It was made up of two 8 by 2 inch planks. It ranged from 6 inches off the ground to 3 feet. Sixteen inches is not wide enough for a dog and person to walk side-by-side so I angled behind Miguel and gingerly stepped along. I slipped off this precarious boardwalk a couple times including one full-fledged sprawl on my back. I was very glad to have the radio so I could call for help if I got hurt but mostly so we could trade play-by-play details about our respective hiking adventures.
The wooden walk carried on for three quarters of a mile. I thought it would never end and was immensely relieved when it finally transitioned to a smooth shoreline trail. Shortly there after and 4 miles since I set out, I reached the Jordan House. Adam and Stacy arrived a few minutes after I did. We toasted a pint to our mutual independent adventures. Although we love our sighted friends dearly, these hikes were highlights for us because we accomplished them on our own.
I was really proud to hear of other solo travels. On the first night, Adam and Jay got separated from the group heading back from Dimillo’s and had to use the GPS and their wits to find the way to the hotel on the very first night of the trip. Mark and Angela weren’t willing to wait for those of us in quest of ice-cream and also found their way back alone. Denna went Kayaking on her own because nobody else was going and she was bound and determined to go sea kayaking. Ilona from the Netherlands is a beautiful quiet spirit, seldom at the head of a group but always arriving at the destination with or without others. I sometimes felt like we had created monsters as the students and others charged off this way and that, reveling in the opportunity and ability to check out anything and everything. One never quite knew where a blind couple, Paul and Kathy, would turn up. I loved hearing others like Jamie get excited about points of interest we would pass if only because of a peculiar name. Jamie shares my child-like wonderment just to be able to know what is nearby.
When I awoke early this morning, I discovered a beautiful sunny day and wished I could stay longer. I was tickled to hear one of our new participants, David Egan, was one step ahead of me. He changed his flights to explore Bar Harbor a few more days on his own. It is good to know as we all sadly head home, that David was inspired by the group along with his newly developed GPS skills and will be creating his own independent way and fun while most of us return to work or school. As we hung out in the airport for our respective flights, we were already brain storming about places to go next year or sooner, Alaska, Australia, Italy, or maybe Prague for WayFun 2006. Best of all, we would be charging just a bit faster through our day to day life inspired by our new friends and wayfinding skills.