Growing up in humid Florida, Syren Nagakyrie relished the mild-weather days when they could sit in nature, dreaming up stories about the birds and the flowers. At community college, Nagakyrie took biological-science courses that brought them to the Florida marshes and the Grand Canyon. “That was [when] I learned I can’t experience the outdoors in the same way that a lot of other people do,” they say.
Nagakyrie has multiple disabilities and chronic illnesses—including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which can cause joint pain and fatigue—but that never diminished their love for the outdoors. When they moved to Washington State’s “stunning” Olympic Peninsula in 2017, they planned to explore the area’s hiking trails. However, on one early hike, despite having researched potential obstacles, Nagakyrie immediately encountered steep stairs and a sharp drop-off on the trail; the trail guides they’d read hadn’t mentioned either of these.
“I almost lost my footing several times and was getting increasingly frustrated and in pain,” they say. As soon as Nagakyrie got home, they created the website Disabled Hikers and chronicled their experience. Today, the site hosts nearly two dozen detailed guides for hikers with disabilities or illnesses that require them, prior to an outdoor adventure, to gather lots of information about things like access to benches and water—filling a void left by an outdoor community that centers nondisabled people.
This article appears in the Spring 2022 issue of Alta Journal.
Through Disabled Hikers, now a nonprofit, Nagakyrie has led numerous group hikes for disabled folks who find relief in trekking with others who understand and accommodate their needs. After all, misconceptions about disabled hikers abound, Nagakyrie notes—for example, that they want to “pave over the wilderness.”
In reality, minor modifications can make trails accessible.
“Everyone who is outdoors has an impact on the environment,” Nagakyrie says. “Why is it that some people’s impact is acceptable and some people’s isn’t?”•