Monday, January 6, 2014

Guest Post from Sam Sullivan

A wheelie's delight - high and wild
It took me about seven years to finally look at my disability as an interesting challenge and not as a hopeless tragedy. I had enjoyed hiking and camping in the wilderness before I became a quadriplegic and I wanted to experience this again. Together with several other people with disabilities we formed the British Columbia Mobility Opportunities Society to explore ideas like this. Because we wanted to be as independent as possible our first vehicles were large and motorized. Environmentalists and back to nature enthusiasts were not thrilled to see us lumbering about through the pristine wilderness.

The Team on the Grouse Grind. Three
TrailRiders (DHS)
Eventually we came to accept that we would have to trade off independence for access. I met with an engineer who volunteers with the Tetra Society, a group that makes custom assistive devices for free, and I drew out on a napkin a one wheeled vehicle with handles in the front and back. Paul Cermak came back a few days later with a lounge chair that had been salvaged from the garbage outfitted with a wheelbarrow wheel and some makeshift handles. Thanks to some wonderful volunteers I was able to experience a wilderness hike that weekend. What surprised me the most was that I did not feel like I was being taken for a ride but rather that I was part of a team.

Not long after that I went on my first overnight camping trip. It was a truly moving experience to be able to wake up in the tent in the middle of the forest. For many years we kept improving the vehicle we called the TrailRider. Each time we went on an extended hike we would come up with a list of innovations we wanted for our next device. We would solve one problem but inevitably create other problems. It took many years to achieve the remarkable "Black Diamond" that is now being used around the world.

It gives me great pleasure to see that others are experiencing the wilderness using the "Black Diamond". And how amazing that Australia is becoming a real hotbed of TrailRider use thanks in large part to the enthusiasm and capability of David Stratton. Although I have not been involved with the program for many years I certainly enjoy seeing how people are using it to make their lives and the lives of others better.


  1. Wonderful to have Sam Sullivan, whom I regard as the "Father of the TrailRider" here on this blog. My favourite sentence is:
    "What surprised me the most was that I did not feel like I was being taken for a ride but rather that I was part of a team." That's it. This is what it's all about.
    Furthermore, I'm gobsmacked that the TrailRider's been taken up The Grouse Grind!
    Bloody hell! That's hard enough to achieve as one person with sturdy legs!
    Just goes to show what the TrailRider is capable of as long as there are enough fit and willing sherpas to share in the adventure.

    1. So true - buying a TrailRider is just the first part of a much more important story about the people who will be sherpas.

      Family members (thank you!) have worked well for me but I am blessed by the number, build and generosity of my family.

      A vital next step, which Parks Victoria are working on establishing, is a volunteer sherpa program. Watch this space.

  2. Great to hear about the history of the trailrider! Thanks Sam! The trailrider for us has become an important part of our life- so happy you came up with the idea all those years ago!

    1. I loved hearing the personal story and seeing (for the first time ever) not just one, not just two but *three* TrailRiders on the Grouse Grind which, as Ros observed, is a notoriously punishing ascent

  3. When there's a "Dr Dave tackles....Mountains"...Sam Sullivan would love one, I reckon!

  4. Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the write-up. Thank you. Very wonderful. :)


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