Andrew Wichmann and Pastor Clark Pfaff attend church together at the Valley Brook Community Church in North Granby. Last summer Wichmann gave Pfaff a book called I’ll Push You. It’s the story of two friends, one who is in a wheelchair, and their 500-mile hiking trip.
As he was reading the book, Pfaff thought about the annual Valley Brook Men’s Ministry hiking trip. It’s a weekend retreat every summer that culminates with a hike up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Men of all ages and abilities go on the trip with some making the four-mile hike with 4,000 feet of vertical gain on foot and others driving their cars up.
An avid hiker of the White Mountains, Pfaff also read about a hike with three wheelchair hikers to one of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) huts in New Hampshire. Inspired by these stories, he wondered if Wichmann would be interested in the next Mt. Washington hike (webhost.bridgew.edu/jhuber/readings/trailblazing_in_a_wheelchair.html). While taking a wheelchair up the four-mile trail to the summit of Mt. Washington would likely be beyond the group’s abilities, getting to the summit visitor’s center by car and taking Wichmann the last 50 feet would be an incredible experience. Not to mention the opportunity to explore other trails in the area.
So Pfaff ran the idea by trip leader, Ken Schulz, who was just as excited. When they extended an invitation to Wichmann, he immediately said yes and planning started almost a year out from the hike. Wichmann, who is 27 years old, was born with spina bifida, which is a birth defect of the spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. What most people don’t realize is he is only physically disabled; often people make assumptions about his situation. Wichmann said, “I started going to Valley Brook Community Church three-years ago, which changed my life. I met many amazing people who I now consider family.”
Thanks to his church family and to the adaptive rental equipment offered by Northeast Passage (nepassage.org), Wichmann’s world was about to expand. On Aug. 2, 2019, day one of two, he saw a moose and two waterfalls. The Motion Concepts Terra Trek was fitted with wider knobby tires and rickshaw poles making it possible for the guys to get him over steps, boulders, and rough terrain that they normally couldn’t have managed. The AMC’s focus on making accessibility a priority was another key to making this trip a success. The group stayed at the AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge (outdoors.org); accommodations included first floor access and wheelchair ramps.
Wichmann got to experience a different part of the world most of us take for granted. It has also opened our eyes to new possibilities thanks in part to new technology and a growing community of people willing to reach out and make a difference.
Valley Brook holds services on Sunday mornings at 9:15 and 11 a.m. Learn more about the church at www.valleybrook.cc.