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Wildwood Trail: Start to Finish

November 9, 2016

Guest post by Marcy Houle, author of One City's Wilderness: Portland's Forest Park

 

Last September, something truly amazing happened in Portland’s Forest Park. It was an achievement never before attempted. And, at its conclusion, it stands as an inspiration for many more to follow.

One City's Wilderness

On September 4 and 5, Alex Schay, set out to do a goal he had made for himself. He wanted to hike the entire Wildwood Trail, that winds 30 miles through the largest urban wilderness in the United States, and do it in two days. 

 

Other people have set and achieved this goal. Alex was not the first to do it. But one thing makes his goal unique, and never before attempted.

 

You see, Alex Schay is blind.

 

What’s more, the guide dogs for the blind, one of which is Alex’s faithful companion, Clifton, are only trained for city streets.

 

Alex, who loves the outdoors, knew this was an important objective he wished to accomplish. With his beautiful and smart guide-dog, Clifton, they worked together, hiking easy places at first, then more complicated, to get Clifton used to exploring native trails. At last they were ready. 

 

Alex contacted me to ask if OSU Press might provide him the Word documents for my book One City's Wilderness: Portland's Forest Park, so he could follow the trail descriptions written for Wildwood.  He wished to use the book to get a better understanding of the trail, and information on trail crossings and connections. The Press gladly consented. Before long, Alex set off, attempting to walk the trail only with Clifton, as his companion and assistant.

 

Alex also used a GPS-based app called Blind Square, to help him be aware of and navigate various trail crossings in Forest Park.


 Alex Schay and Clifton on Wildwood Trail. Photo: Wesley Mahan, NW Examiner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Caption: Alex Schay and Clifton on Wildwood Trail. Photo: Wesley Mahan, NW Examiner)

 

On Sunday, September 4, Alex left the zero-mile marker for Wildwood Trail, at the Vietnam War Memorial.  He covered half the park, contending with “washed-out bridges or sections of trail, overhangs, and roots and rocks too numerous to mention.” On Monday afternoon, September 5, he  successfully reached Wildwood’s conclusion at NW Newberry Road, near Sauvies Island.

 

He reached his goal, hiking 30 miles of the nation's longest hiking trail in any city -- Wildwood Trail.  He hopes his terrific and brave success will only be the beginning.  He encourages other blind hikers to attempt the hike, using the aides he did,  and find the great satisfaction of facing a challenging goal and connecting with the beauty of nature.

 

Congratulations to Alex! Below is a letter he sent to friends and supporters after the hike. Alex’s story is also featured in a recent NW Examiner article.

 

***

 

Hello:

 

I thought that some of you might be interested to learn that on Sunday & Monday, September 4th & 5th, my guide dog, Clifton, and I made a successful independent hike of Forest Park’s Wildwood Trail. We began at the Vietnam War Memorial near the Oregon Zoo on Sunday morning, and came out at NW Newberry Road near Sauvies Island Monday afternoon. At just over 30 miles in length, the Wildwood Trail is the longest contiguous urban trail in the United States, crossing numerous watersheds.

 

Many tools and techniques enabled a successful hike. First, I used textual descriptions about the Wildwood Trail, taken from Marcy Houle’s book, One City’s Wilderness, to get a general understanding of the trail, as well as an understanding of some of the trail crossings and connections. Thank you to Marcy! Mike Yamada from the Oregon Commission for the Blind may also be gratified to learn that Blind Square, a GPS-based app that helps blind people navigate and understand their surroundings, may be used to determine the proximity of various trail crossings in Forest Park. Blind Square can also announce upcoming trail crossings, which can be quite helpful. I was also able to consult with other hikers to confirm that I was on the right track, or to get back on track. And of course, Clifton did an amazing job focusing on details, like washed-out bridges or sections of trail, overhangs, and roots and rocks too numerous to mention.

 

 I am revising Marcy’s textual description of the Wildwood Trail so that it can be an even more effective tool for blind hikers, giving more blind people access to Portland’s remarkable Forest Park.

 

In the event you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to give me a shout

 

Warm Regards,

Alex

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