Grey Matters: Age-friendly outdoors

The camper van has (sadly) been put to bed until spring. “Mr. Spock,” my 1998 camper van, is pure luxury age-friendly camping. My old arthritic bones will no longer take sleeping on the cold, hard ground, even with a foam mattress. I managed eight trips totalling about 3,300 kilometres to nine campgrounds on Yukon and Atlin roads in the last six months. There were many more I would have loved to travel to, but it was definitely a full summer.

It’s the most camping I’ve done, either solo, or with my woman friends. The advantage to camping with friends is that we shared in meal preparations and had communal meals depending on our individual schedules—some being early risers for coffee and others sleeping in, or napping during the day. We took reading, writing and art materials for times when we felt inspired, or if it was rainy. I learned how to play cribbage and I even managed to win one game, although I suspect my friend may have given me a few extra points while scoring. I went on solo retreats, or with a group at Braeburn camp to write and read. I felt replenished after those outings.

My husband provided the maintenance support before and after, filling the tank with fresh water and emptying the septic, chopping kindling and checking to make sure all mechanical systems were operating properly. After an initial refresher from him on setup and takedown of the camper, I felt confident to handle all the systems. My husband chose to stay home and do his projects around the yard or have his own retreats at home without a “honey, please do list” looming. I convinced him to go for a longer camping trip to Tombstone campground on the Dempster Highway. Have you ever heard of a lichenologist? I had not until I met a real one at the park. She was an expert and opened up the world of lichens and their beautiful colours and delicate lacey designs. There are many activities still to explore at other campgrounds. There are recreation sites and opportunities to learn about wildflowers, medicinal plants, birds, beavers, berries and bushcraft. I have already started a list of places to visit next year.

In my camping travels, I did a bit of informal research on age-friendly campground features in Yukon. By age-friendly, I mean outdoor spaces that are safe and comfortable for oldsters like me who may have limits on sight, mobility, physical strength and hearing. One of the features that I think is ingenious are the campsites with adjustable cooking grills over the firepit. In many campgrounds, those sites are designated for people with mobility limitations, but we did try out one of them. It was perfect, not only for those of us with arthritic backs but also just for ease of adjusting the heat for cooking.

Another feature I saw at the Wolf Creek campground was a rubber mat with large mesh/grid design that kept the gravel in the camping spot packed down for ease of mobility for people with walkers or wheelchairs. In all campgrounds, there were outdoor toilets with ramps, but in some cases the ramps had a small lip which could cause tripping. I think people in wheelchairs, or with limited upper body strength would have difficulty lifting the lids on the bearproof garbage bins. In addition, these bins are usually on wooden platforms that prevent getting close enough to the bins for wheelchair or walker aid users.

Larger font on signage for toilets and more frequent signage on trails would be useful in finding one’s way. Wolf Creek provides a wide gravelled trail suitable for walkers with mobility limitations, but we found that once we explored the other trails, we weren’t sure where we were. A few additional signposts would have assisted us in easily finding our way back to the campground.

I felt very fortunate to be able to access the outdoors during the last six months. Now I will take on the challenge of the next six months. Hopefully Yukon communities will consider age-friendly measures to ensure walkable and accessible trails and sidewalks so that we can remain active outdoors in the winter. Clearing of snow, ice free and well-lit pathways, accessible public washrooms and benches in public outdoor meeting spaces (e.g. around the Totem pole at the end of Main Street), would make our communities safer and healthier for elders and older adults. Hopefully these are points for newly elected mayors, councillors and politicians to keep in mind in the planning ahead.

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