It takes a lot of courage and drive to set out into the woods and just start following a trail. It is way easier to just drive around the mountains and stop at all the scenic overlooks. But as we can tell just by the existence of the AT and many great trails like it, this isn’t enough for some folks. O’Ree Crittenden is one of those people. He loves the outdoors, living an active lifestyle and wouldn’t change for anything. O’Ree may be a quadriplegic, but he isn’t using this as an excuse as to why he can’t hike the Georgia Section of the AT. That’s right. 78.6 miles from Springer Mountain to Bly Gap. With the help of a special wheelchair called a TrailRider and a crew of super awesome buddies from high school and the following years of his life, O’Ree is about half way there as I write!!
Before an accident that left O’Ree paralyzed, he was more active than he is currently. Currently, he is more active than most typical Americans. He recently was on a wheelchair rugby team called Shepard Smash and just last month went sky diving. He unknowingly became the poster child for independent disabled persons in his community by simply living a life true to himself. After the accident, the desire to get back on trail and continue backpacking was always strong. O’Ree loved watching his friend Lee and his family and keeping up with their outdoor adventures. One day, that dream to hike started to become a reality when O’Ree sent Lee a text: “Do you think you could get me out there?” Lee responded with an immediate and resounding “Yes!” Enter the TrailRider.
A TrailRider is a specialized kind of rugged wheelchair that sits on one off-road tire and operates by one person pushing and another pulling along the trail (check out the video below). Lee says that there are about 117 TrailRiders in existence and estimates about 20 are in the US. This awesomely mobile wheelchair has been up Mt. Kilimanjaro and down into the Grand Canyon. But this is the first time a TrailRider has been on the Appalachian Trail! They aren’t the cheapest rig in the world but O’Ree and his band of most excellent buddies got to work on collecting up the funds to purchase one. Once they cleared that hurtle and had one in their possession, they began to tailor it for O’Ree’s specific needs. They changed the seat up and switched out the belting system with the same sort of belt O’Ree used for wheelchair rugby. They removed the foot plate and rigged up their own system. They changed the locations of the hand brakes for more versatile braking. Over several test hikes, the crew created the perfect all terrain wheelchair for the expedition.
O’Ree and the crew rolled into Neel Gap late in the afternoon and took up camp in the hostel. They took a zero day the next day resting up and waiting on a spare tire for the TrailRider if the one should blow. They cooked hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill and hung out all day in the temperate weather somewhere between Summer and Fall. We snuck down as many times as we could just to hang out with them. We caught them in conversation anytime they came into the shop. It was just too great to have a group of such happy and fun people around!
But alas, the show must go on. O’Ree and the crew rolled out this morning. We can’t wait to continue watching them hike north!
By The Way:
When O’Ree isn’t out chasing after his dreams in the wilderness of North Gerogia, he works for a nonprofit in Columbus, GA called Access 2 Independence. He also sits on several boards and committees throughout the community to represent the disabled demographic. If you’re looking for inspiration to live a purpose and meaning filled life, look no further than O’Ree Crittenden.