The TrailRider, a life-changing experience

Anthony Bartl
I went to the National Park and Cultural Centre in the Grampians. I use a wheelchair but at the park I used a TrailRider. I sat in the middle of the TrailRider and was pushed and pulled around the park. We crossed over creek beds, steep steps and sand. On one walk we saw families of kangaroos. We also saw Silverband Falls. I sat and quietly looked at the water for 10 minutes. I was able to be outdoors and see things for the first time. It was an incredible and life-changing experience.
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Anthony Bartl on 28/02/2012
Anthony in the TrailRider being navigated by two men.
TrailRider, Anthony Bartl

I felt like Julius Caesar.

It goes without saying disability has barriers. Being wheelchair bound is a case in point. In my language a step is a dirty word, and a multi-level building bereft of a lift isolating.

But in January, this wasn't the case. A liberating TrailRider awaited me. The all terrain TrailRider chair gives people with physical disabilities the opportunity to explore areas where a conventional wheelchair can't go.

The day

At 8am, with a tedious three hours driving ahead and a van full of outgoing helpers, I begin the long haul to Brambuk, the National Park and Cultural Centre, in the Grampians. Such a lengthy journey though is too taxing.

Halfway, and 90 minutes into the journey, a detour to Alexandria Tea Rooms in Ballarat is in order. Following a revitalising coffee and a bounce back yo-yo biscuit the next leg is here.

With high noon approaching and clouds dispersing, I arrive in leafy Halls Gap, a sleepy township nestled within a striking series of sandstone mountain ranges that is the Grampians. The astute parks tourism officer Megan Callabro cheerfully meets and directs me to my disability unshackling chariot. Or something resembling that.

The emperor

With single handles at its rear and pulling handlebars up front I sit in the middle of the TrailRider. I am pushed and pulled across terrain like creek beds, steep steps and sand.

I feel like an egotistical, dictatorial and inconsiderate Julius Caesar being carted around by flogged servants. After directing orders to the two nurses steering me, Michael and Noel, to manoeuvre me this way and that the picture becomes more real. All I need now is for my third carer, Andrea, to peel me a grape and fan me down.

Life-changing adventure

By design, the TrailRider is unexpectedly light with the frame made out of aluminum. My weight is positioned over one wheel that mobilises the vehicle. The TrailRider's downside is that it's all manual. I can't be fully free and autonomously and independently traverse the national park.

The adventure is nothing short of life changing. A whole world opens up to me. After negotiating several sharply dropping steps, gravelled paths and water-crossing bridges on the Halls Gap River Walk I arrive at a large expanse of grass.

The view is quite a sight. Lounging lazily and sporadically around are mobs of sun-baking, grass-chewing families of baby and adult kangaroos. For me it's a never-before-seen spectacle and I'm excited.

I ask Noel and Michael to sidle me up to a relaxed joey. As if guarding its personal space, I am merely a metre away before the grey youngster begrudgingly hops to be further away. For me, my closeness to them is unprecedented. Considering kangaroos often remain hidden or generally don't stray from thick bush, such abundant numbers is extra special.

Silverband Falls

Later into the adventure my staff help fold up the TrailRider into my van for its next use up the road. First stop is Silverband Falls. From the sloping car park I am hoisted out of my chair into the TrailRider and carted a short way across sandy pathways underfoot and shady, ferny forest overhead. Two footbridge crossings later over tranquil, slow moving creeks, in addition to being thrown around over a rocky creek bed, I arrive at the pièce de résistance.

Silverband falls is an imposing, enormous cliff face with gushing sparkling water cascading down its dark brown centre. For a whole ten minutes I quietly sit and admire its beauty. The sun's rays reflecting off its water make the feature even more impressive.

What is most impressive though is how I reached both sights. By lurching down steps, although somewhat jerky, and by navigating relatively smoothly across creek beds, this has all been possible.

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