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No Barriers Podcast Episode 96: Reclaiming Life Outdoors with Quinn Brett



Record-setting climber, Quinn Brett, speaks to Erik and Dave about the accident that left her paralyzed in 2017 and her subsequent journey back to the outdoor spaces she knows and loves. This episode is sponsored by the Winnebago Industries Foundation.

Having Minnesota roots, Quinn’s parents were committed to taking their children to national parks all over the country, gradually traveling further and further west. With her first look at El Capitan, Quinn knew that she’d climb it one day; ten years later, she did. Since that first climb, Quinn has amassed an impressive list of big wall ascents, speed records, and difficult free climbs, first in places like Yosemite and Zion and then in the larger mountains of Patagonia, Greenland, and India. But everything changed in 2017 when Quinn took a one-hundred-foot fall while climbing the Nose of El Cap, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Today, Quinn lives in her beloved Estes Park, Colorado where she works for the National Park Service, using her background as an environmental advocate to speak up for increased accessibility on public lands.

Special thanks to the Winnebago Industries Foundation for their support of this podcast and their advocacy for accessibility in outdoor spaces

Resources:

 

Book recommendation: Sitting Pretty by Rebekah Taussig

 

Follow Quinn on IG: @quinndalina

 

Visit Quinn’s website: https://www.quinnbrett.com/ 

 

 

“People think that people that have disabilities are restricted to the pavement or the little paved trails and we’re not capable of doing stuff, just like women couldn’t keep up in climbing, but I wanted to show them that we could.”

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Episode Transcript

Dave : Today's episode is brought to you by the Winnebago Industries Foundation and is part of a series highlighting pioneers in outdoor and adventure accessibility.

Quinn : Why not push the barriers there? People think that people that have disabilities are restricted to the pavement or the little paved trails and we're not capable of doing stuff, just like women couldn't keep up in climbing, but I wanted to show them that we could. We can set our own records and have our own things. So I feel like that's my same path, which is funny to still be on it, but right, it took me three years to kind of weave my way back to it.

Erik : It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Eric Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. Part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call no barriers.

Dave : Having Minnesota roots, Quinn's parents were committed to taking their children to national parks all over the country, gradually traveling further and further west. With her first look at El Capitan, Quinn knew that she'd climb it one day, and ten years later, she did. Since that first climb, Quinn has amassed an impressive list of big wall ascents, speed records, and difficult free climbs, first in places like Yosemite and Zion and then in the larger mountains of Patagonia, Greenland, and India. But everything changed in 2017 when Quinn took a 100-foot fall while climbing the nose of El Cap, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Today Quinn lives in her beloved Estes Park, Colorado, where she works for the National Park Service, using her background as an environmental advocate to speak up for increased accessibility on public lands.

Dave : Well, welcome to another edition of our No Barriers Podcast. Quinn, thank you so much for joining us. An extraordinary story to talk through today and learn from Quinn about her journey.

Erik : All right. So first of all, let's just have some fun and talk about these amazing places. I'm reading your bio, just blown away as you as an adventure, going over to Patagonia and speed ascents on the nose. Talk about some of the cool places you've been to in your adventuring career.

Quinn : Well, definitely Patagonia is one of my favorite places in the whole wide world. Southern Patagonia, the mountain skyline that's on the Patagonia clothing, that's the mountain range. Fitzroy is the big one. So traveling down there, I mean, and yeah, so I live here in Estes Park, Colorado. The wind is off the hook all the time. So I think that was fantastic training for going down to Patagonia and being on mountains that are incredibly windy. It can be scary in that weather that moves in so fast. So it was good training and good experience to be down there, running around in those mountains. Beautiful, yeah. Incredibly beautiful terrain and overwhelming, in fact. The glacier travel is intimidating, and just the mountains themselves are intimidating. You look at El Cap, and it's 3,000 feet looming above you, but you walk under Fitzroy, and it's 4,500 feet looming above you and 7,000 feet if you're in the Torre Valley. That's huge.

Dave : I remember when my wife and I went to Torres del Paine. We did a hut to hut, and the wind was so ridiculous that we came across many people who were just curled up in a ball, crying. It was terrifying. We came back from our trip, and the cover of National Geographic that year was about the trip we had taken. It was called land of the living wind, and the guy said, "I stepped out of my Land Rover and opened my door, and the door blew off." But it's an intense place, definitely.

Quinn : It is, and it can definitely break your trip. My first season down there, my freshman season, I think it was just like ... Yeah, the clouds were lurking over the mountain range the whole entire time, and the wind was awful. We never had a weather window, as we call it, of more than 12 hours, which isn't really conducive for when you have to hike six hours into the mountains. You're certainly not climbing any of them, because then you have to hike six hours back out, because the weather's already come in.

Erik : That's why I've never been to Patagonia. Yeah, I don't want to sit in a tent for a month with a risk of sitting there in the wind and rain. That would just bum me out. I don't think I have the constitution for it.

Quinn : Yeah. But then the next season we went, I mean, that season, luckily, we did ... At the very, very end of my freshman season, we had a six-day weather window, and that's when I climbed Fitzroy for the first time. That was very lucky and very fortunate to have that happen and definitely lured me in to want to return there. The next season, I went back, and it was totally different, almost tropical. We landed, and I was wearing a tank top at the little local airport in which the season before, I was wearing all my layers. So that season was off the hook, back to back to back adventures.

Erik : Oh, wow.

Dave : Where do you attribute your sense of adventure? I mean, have you been this way since a young kid? Where did it come from?

Quinn : I was lucky in that we had a cabin in northern Minnesota as a child, and so I definitely got to play outside and spend most of my time playing in the woods and wiping ticks off me and with my face in the earth, fishing and whatever. I think that just, yeah, my dad was always about exploring and playing outside. So I think that just instilled in me that sense of exploration, like, "Let's go see."

Erik : Some Minnesotans take that path of snowmobiles and ice fishing. You took a more extreme path, it seems.

Quinn : Yeah, that's great. We had that cabin, and so we fly fished, and my uncle bow hunted. So he was more, I guess, not mechanized. We didn't have mechanized toys. I mean, as a kid, even just coming home from school, I had to ask my dad if I could watch TV. It wasn't like I could come home and just turn it on and watch it myself. It was more like, "Yeah, maybe you can" or most likely no, like, "Go play with some Legos. Go build something. Go down to the local park and go play. Just be home for dinner at 5:30."

Dave : Quinn, for non-climbers, what is it about that period in your life where you were so focused on climbing? I heard you even described it as it became like you were the artist. This was your thing, and you were this beautiful painter and an accomplished climber in that same way that an artist gets into their craft. What is it that attracted you to that sport?

Quinn : I think the physical and the mental aspect of the sport. Yes, it's definitely physically challenging, but it's a definite mental mind game. Hanging on a cliff at 3,000 feet, we all have a fear of heights, like regardless of who you are, but overcoming that fear. I have some training in yoga, and I really find that translational in that in holding a yoga pose, you're trying to find comfort in an uncomfortable pose. So rock climbing was very similar to that, like, "Okay, this is uncomfortable right now. I'm scared. I don't have very good gear, and I don't see any holds above me." You can't just freak out, and you can't just let go. You've got to figure it out.

Dave : Why go for speed records? What drives that?

Quinn : I think that was the hyperactive child in me, just running through the forest all the time. My mom would get mad at me in the kitchen while she was making dinner. Our linoleum floor had the perfect width of a balance beam, and I was in gymnastics. So I would practice my balance beam routine on the linoleum floor, just twirling and twirling. It would upset her mildly. So I think I just have a lot of energy, and, I mean, I didn't intend to be a speed climber, but I do recall in my twenties being like, "I think I'm kind of good at rock climbing, and I know I'm really good in endurance sports." I grew up swimming and running and doing triathlons. I don't really know. I wanted to write, but I was like, "I'm not Beth Rodden or other famous climbers. Nobody wants to read about my adventures." I don't know. So my ability to move quickly across terrain fell into like, "Oh, well, you're about efficiency, and you have good lung strength." I don't know. I just fell into it, kind of.

Erik : Your thing was that you loved ... Somebody described a photo of you doing a handstand. That was your thing, to do a handstand on the top of every rock face you climbed, right?

Quinn : Yeah.

Erik : I'm picturing you right on the edge, doing the handstand.

Quinn : No, I didn't always need to be sketchy [inaudible 00:09:22]. It was just like [inaudible 00:09:26]. I don't know. I'm just a very physically expressive being. So it was just a lovely way to be like, "You know what? Yes, I used my legs all the way up here, and now I can like get upside down and get some blood back into my head and, yeah, find a little balance."

Erik : It's good for you to be upside down, right?

Quinn : It is. It's fantastic.

Erik : So it was on one of your climbs of El Capitan that you had your accident, if I'm correct, right?

Quinn : It is. Yes.

Erik : Yeah. I mean, you fell a long way. Do you remember anything?

Quinn : I dom and I've been trying not to change the narrative, as we have a tendency to do with time. So I'm trying to stick to the facts. But yeah, I remember so I was on the nose of El Capitan, the route that I have the speed record on, and had climbed many a times, over a dozen times. I was climbing the very ... A girlfriend and I, we climb it in two sections. So I lead the first 1,500 feet or so, and then she leads the second 1,500 feet or so. So I'd been climbing for about 1,450 feet. I had about 50 feet left before we could switch and I could relax a little bit. The tendency is to not leave very much gear on that last pitch, just because of the way it works, efficiently-wise.

Erik : That's the [inaudible 00:10:36], right?

Quinn : Yep, and it was still not ... In my protocol, I usually have two pieces of gear in, and I'm tethered to both of them. For some reason, on this day, I had one piece of gear in, and I was reaching for the second, but it was a little later than usual for me to be reaching to that second piece. Usually I'm pretty diligent about having them both in always, and I was reaching for that second piece. Then I slipped.

Erik : That's a super slippery section as well, right? So I think you hit the Texas Flake, and then you went on further down into the boulder.

Quinn : Yep.

Erik : Do you remember anything after that, or did you just wake up in the hospital, or do you kind of have some vague memories of ...

Quinn : Yeah, vague memories. I remember the granite whooshing in front of me, and I remember waking up behind the boulders to just Josie, my climbing partner, saying something to the effect of, "I messed up."

Erik : Wow.

Quinn : I was in pain, and I couldn't feel my legs or something. I remember vaguely then the rescue rangers coming in, two climbing rangers that are acquaintances of mine. I remember vaguely having a dialogue of that. I remember vaguely landing in the meadow. So it was a short helicopter ride from the side of the cliff down to the meadow below El Capitan. Then I was transferred to another helicopter. But in the interim, I remember the climbing ranger who I was staying with at his house, he came up to me and he was like, "Quinn, we have to transfer you to the helicopter." I was like, "But I can't afford that.'

Erik : You were worried about the price.

Dave : Worried about the price.

Quinn : Yeah, and then they transferred me to the other helicopter, and I remember him putting something in my arm. Then I was lights out for, I don't know, five days.

Erik : So, I mean, your accident's so sudden. Again, it's a hard subject to talk about, but, I mean, it's so sudden. When I went blind, it was like ... This is the worst analogy ever, but it's like somebody slowly closing a door on your finger. I'm like, "Ah, dread, doom. Oh, God. What's going to happen? Oh, that hurts a little bit." But you, it was like, "Bam," like that. You just wake up. Is it unfair to say you wake up and you're in the middle of your strongest years as a young, happy climbing artist, this painter that you described, and then you wake up and you're looking at this brand new life? I mean, I don't mean to overdramatize it, but it's about as big a transition as I can imagine in our lives.

Quinn : I would agree. I joke that I'm 80 all of a sudden. I'm clearly not, but it definitely felt like I went from 36 to 80 in a snap of a finger or 36 to an infant again, because with this injury, a spinal cord injury, golly, you have to learn how to pee again, how to poop again, how to move around again, how to communicate your needs, how to drive, all of it.

Dave : When you think about that initial period of time when you're realizing what you're no longer going to be able to do and all the things you have to learn, we work with lots of folks who come to these very traumatic moments in their lives, and that part is extremely difficult. Can you kind of walk us through how you navigate that initial period of just everything's changed and you don't know how you're going to get through it?

Erik : Yeah, because also, you have this really sunny, positive disposition. You know what I mean? Or at least you're known for that. I know you're human, so you're not always like that, but yeah. So maybe that made it easier, or maybe that made it harder.

Quinn : Well, right. I think I'm just naturally opportunistic. I think that was one helpful, but I definitely have my dark, dire moments. For me, even knowing ... I have a degree, a master's degree in psychology and all of those things. So I know the phases of grief and all of those things, but once you're in them ... There's this lovely riddle or analogy that somebody gave me once that was like it's like Santa's carrying his big sack on the back of his backpack, filled with presents, and one present is grief. One is blame, and one is denial. There's a hole on the sack, and every once in a while, a present falls out. But you're not really sure which one it is. So it's not really like a linear process of grief. It's definitely like, "All right, I guess I'm dealing with this one now." You put it back in the sack when you're done, and it can still come out later.

Quinn : So it's perpetual, this grief, and it definitely ... I've gotten better. I cried a lot in those early days, and I definitely ... I think I was a firehose of expressing emotion to people close to me, spraying my ... I was also going through a breakup at the time. So with this new body, how am I going to find love? [inaudible 00:15:19] going to appreciate me? Who am I? That's incredibly difficult, to have to reasses my identity.

Erik : Were there times you just fell into denial? I would imagine, "This couldn't be a chapter in my life."

Quinn : Maybe not as harsh as that or maybe more harsh. Sometimes I was like, "Really? That little girl twirling in the kitchen, this is what was destined to be?"

Erik : Yeah. I'm glad you were wearing your helmet.

Quinn : I know. I know. It flung off upon impact.

Erik : Oh, gosh.

Dave : Quinn, talk a little bit about ... I read some things that you were struggling with forgiving yourself and that theme of when we're going through struggle, we're often really hard on ourselves, and it's really hard to forgive. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Quinn : Yes. I think that's still something that I'm very aware I should let go of, but I'm still not ready, because it was my choice to be there that day. It was my choice, even if it feels far-flung of like, "Why didn't I have those two pieces of gear that I usually do?" It was still my choice not to, even though I wasn't necessarily cognizant in that moment of choosing to only have one piece. I did, because it was maybe my last 40 feet. I was like, "I just want to go," or whatever it was.

Quinn : So yeah, it feels like if I forgive myself, then maybe that means I am comfortable with how it is now, and I don't want to be comfortable. I want to keep pushing science and technology and figure this out. We have so much crazy opportunity out there, where we've come from with computers and all of that stuff. For my leg braces that I wear to look still like the Forrest Gump leg braces from 1965, that's kind of unacceptable. So I think if I forgive myself, then maybe some of that drive will go away, perhaps.

Dave : Part of the definition of who you were was a climber, like, "I am a climber, and I am an amazing climber. I'm breaking these records." Then, all of a sudden, one day, you lose so much of that ability, not that you can't still be a climber. Obviously, you can, with adaptive climbing, but how did you handle sort of that identity crisis? I'm assuming there must've been a piece of that, like, "Am I still a climber? Is this still who I am?"

Quinn : Yeah. I would agree with that. I think my initiative's as a climber. I don't know. I found myself as a speed climber or somebody who was active, running around all day, every day, doing 24-hour missions, 48-hour missions. So what I miss the most is moving, moving across the earth, and that's what speed climbing kind of allowed me, but more running and bridge climbing really allowed that. What I was doing with climbing was maybe nothing. Yes, I guess it's pronounced as it's some exceptional ... I have records, I guess, but for me, it was more like low-hanging fruit of women in particular having tried these things, like, "Let's try to run 12 miles and then link up this ridge and do it in a day." So I feel like I have that similar attitude with sports now.

Quinn : Yes, identity-wise, I do identify as a mover. I'm a fidgeter, and I'm sitting in a wheelchair now. But I still can't sit still. It's just not in my being. Now the hand cycle is that way. A hand cycle or a Nordic ski are the two ways for me to mostly move across the earth. So why not push the barriers there? People think that people that have disabilities are restricted to the pavement or the little paved trails and we're not capable of doing stuff, just like women couldn't keep up in climbing. But I wanted to show them that we could. We can set our own records and have our own things. So I feel like that's my same path, which is funny to still be on it, but right. It took me three years to kind of weave my way back to it.

Erik : The art of movement still. Yeah, so you're on a Nordic hand ski, where you're pushing with your arms. That's got to be incredible hard work.

Quinn : I am thankful for friends that go help tow me.

Erik : Then you have this super cool full suspension hand mountain bike that you get out on trails that are not "accessible."

Quinn : Right. Yeah, correct. They don't have to be accessible.

Erik : Right.

Quinn : That's a misnomer, too. Sure, ADA has its definitions of what's accessible, but as far as trails goes, those will never be ADA, nor does everyone want them to be ADA. We want trails. We want that solitude wilderness experience. But what we do want is some more information about what that trail looks like, so then I can make a more informed decision of how far I can get on that trail.

Erik : Yeah. One of the things I noticed right away when we mountain biked together was that ... and I hope you don't mind me bringing this up, but I bring this up as a badge of strength. You have a motor on your hand cycle. I don't want to be too long-winded, but I did this adventure race once with this injured Marine, and he had a bad back, because he had been blown up. He was strong as can be, but he had this bad back, and he kept stopping in this adventure race and leaning over and moaning. "My back." I said, "Dude, let me carry your pack." He's like, "No, I could never let you carry my pack." I'm like, "Well, all you're doing is slowing us down. You're helping me. You're guiding me. But you won't let me help you."

Erik : So I found that putting that motor on enables you to go up hills at the pace of everyone else, because, I mean, arms are not as strong as legs when you're biking. So you're able to be a part of the group. You're able to be up in front, and you can push yourself as much as you want to. It's not like an ego thing. I found that really super mature. Am I putting words in your mouth?

Quinn : No, you're right. That's exactly ... I mean, I didn't get the motor right away on the bike. It took me a year before I was like ... because when I first had the bike, I was like, "This is a pain in the ass. Not only am I working my butt off, but right, now I have to transfer into my car using my arms. Then I want to take a shower using my arms. I don't have the arm strength left, and I only did a mile trail and it took me an hour and a half, when I used to run up that trail in 20 minutes." So then I got the battery, and I was like, "Oh, now I can participate with my friends. We can do things together."

Erik : I think that's a great ego lesson for a lot of people as they age or as they have challenges. You know what I mean? Do what works. Don't worry about this ego thing that just kind of becomes a barrier and holds you back.

Dave : Quinn, I love that you have always been trying to push the limits of what other people think are possible. I'm curious. What are the things that sort of you look at in the world now and your new life that just sort of piss you off and you think, "It shouldn't be this way. This could be better?" Because I think you have that lens of ... Like you were talking about, you look at something. You're like, "This should be better. This hasn't changed for 30 years." Give us some education about what are some of those things that just piss you off that should be better?

Quinn : Yeah, so much with this, especially having thrust into wheelchair technology. One, my biggest beef is that we are given this mobility device, this lovely wheelchair, and it's kind of like ... I think it's pervasive in society, and that shows in research how far we haven't come, like, "Okay, we've given them this tool. Now they're okay. They can get about the world." No, we want better. I really appreciate ... Hugh Herr is a friend of mine, and he's also a rock climber. He took that in the eighties with the amputee world, and look how far it's come.

Quinn : I even told the story the other day of still in society, we have pictures or stock photos. Everything is a stock photo of a wheelchair that looks likes a hospital wheelchair. Somebody's got really thick legs, they clearly use them, and they're in the chair that's clearly not an actual person who lives in a wheelchair. But if you were to still use a photo like that similarly in the amputee community, like show a guy with a wooden peg leg in a magazine today, they would be pissed and irate, or it'd be humorous, because that doesn't exist, and that's not what should exist. But on the wheelchair side, it's kind of like, "Well, that's what it looks like" or "That's what we see, so that's as far as it goes." That's even pervasive amongst the community. There isn't much learning or education going on or advocating for trying harder, doing better, making more change.

Erik : More innovative devices as well, right?

Quinn : Yeah, exactly.

Dave : Yeah. I mean, some of the equipment that you use for off-roading is at the cutting edge of innovation in wheelchair technology.

Quinn : Right.

Dave : But like you said, there just needs to be so much more. So if you're a listener out there looking to innovate and create some new product lines that have never been tried before, there's a lot of space in here that is ripe for new invention and making people's lives all the more adventurous. So definitely consider that as a pathway forward.

Quinn : Definitely if you're going to do that, find somebody in the community that actually uses these devices as a voice, because sometimes people create stuff and they're like, "This is going to work well, right?" But they have no experience with people who are actually using it.

Dave : When you were talking about forgiveness, I feel like this ties to this idea of innovation, because you said, "Well, I don't want to fully forgive myself, because I want to believe that I can get through to some other level of performance that people don't believe to be possible." So talk about what that is. That's not just about wheelchair technology.

Quinn : So I have been mono skiing, which is one ski underneath in this bucket, and it's downhill skiing. But last winter, I dislocated my elbow, and I was down to one limb. So I was like, "Maybe downhill skiing is not worth it." So the Nordic skiing has been more my jam, but I live here in Estes Park, and there's not much flat Nordic skiing to actually do. I can do Trail Ridge Road or Wild Basin Road. So my friends and I have been kind of doing back country ski adventures.

Quinn : Last weekend, in fact, we went to Anna's hut in Leadville, and we use a tow system, like a little bungee between us. I'm pushing as hard as I can with my arms, and they have their skins on and are pulling me up the hill. But how cool would it be if that Nordic ski on the way up could then become a split board on the way down, and the skis then ajoin and now I'm in my mono ski? So now I can do the downhill adventure, because the sit ski, my Nordic sit ski doesn't have any edges or shock or anything that is really conducive to letting me go downhill by myself.

Erik : What are your observations about kind of getting at this perception that people have of folks ... Now you're in a chair. How do people treat you differently that you don't know? Because this is a common issue in our community, at least, that people just don't know what to do when they see someone in a chair.

Quinn : I'm going to preach one book that I just finished reading, and I really love it. It's called Sitting Pretty, and it's by a lovely woman. I think she lives in Kansas, and she grew up with a disability that has put her in a wheelchair. She speaks a lot to this, but right. So maybe some of my grumpiness also comes from all day ... Especially early on [inaudible 00:26:44], I'm still a mover. I want to go swimming. I'm going to go to the grocery store. I've got to have things to do in my day. But the compliments that people would give throughout the day or their intended compliments, I've also learned that those are kind of either their societal perception of disability, like so many of, "Oh, it's so nice to see you out." Yeah. I'm not going to lay in bed all day. What do you expect from me? So those kind of comments, as they go throughout the day, those can have a tendency to make me grumpy if I've had them 10 to 20 times in the day.

Erik : But people mean it as a compliment, right? I was on the [crosstalk 00:27:19] just today, climbing, and some guy walks up and he's like, "You're such an inspiration coming in here." I'm like, "Dude, I'm in here every day."

Quinn : Right. I've taken to asking ... because inspiration means it motivates you to do something. So I've taken to when people are like, "You're such an inspiration," I was like, "Oh, really? What am I motivating you to do?" I've taken to turning it around on them, because it really is. People have been using those inspiration ... Yeah, like we're inspiration porn because we're out doing cool stuff. I don't know. I'm not complimenting you getting groceries. Why are you complimenting me getting groceries?

Erik : One of the things I was really proud of you is that I think you were a park ranger, and now you have gone back to the park service. At least one of your roles is bringing attention to what accessibility and inclusivity means in the park, national parks. I think that's really cool. Talk about that new role and how that's going and what you're learning and teaching.

Quinn : Yeah. So I think I mentioned a little bit kind of what we can do for the trails. So my role, I'm split divisions. I'm in the wilderness division, the outdoor recreation division, and the accessibility division, so three dreamy things, things that I still love. I want to be outdoors, I want to be recreating, and now I need things to be accessible.

Dave : Quinn, when you're looking for trails that will work for you, are there apps or types of things that you go to to assess whether this is something you can do, given your skill level, or is that another gap and an innovation that needs to be developed?

Quinn : That's a huge gap, and that's something that we're working on. I've with a few others created a coalition of sorts all over the nation. We have Kootenay Adaptive. We have Teton Adaptive. We have Kelly Brush Foundation in Vermont, Catalyst Sports down in the Southeast. So there's eight or nine of us that have been talking about, yeah, things that are needed. One, we don't have a ... There's this guy, Jeremy McGhee in California, and he's kind of avant garding all of it himself, but not necessarily ... He's doing some really awesome stuff, but he's doing technical mountain biking with his hand cycle, and he's created a rating system. But our goal is to ... Well, let's create a rating system that's attainable for people biking and using these devices, hiking.

Quinn : So yeah, so just like mountain biking, we need a blue-green back, maybe a little bit more nuanced, a few more on the scale. So first we need a rating system, and then yeah, we need people to help collect trail data, which Jeremy McGhee is doing. But yeah, it's very specific to technical mountain biking. So we need people on the trail who have then learned how to collect the data, and then we need this data to go somewhere. Then we need that data to come out somewhere.

Erik : There needs to be a climbing app where people are rating climbs. You know what I mean? It's like crowd first, right? Where enough people get out there and do it that they're rating and saying, "No, no, that trail stinks, and that's a great one," right? So is there any crowdsourcing?

Quinn : No, there's not any crowdsourcing. Jeremy has been working with Trailforks specifically for that, but no, that's where my brain was. I have reached out to the Mountain Project guy, and I was like, "Hey, we have Hiking Project now. Can we have" ... Eventually, even on Hiking Project, maybe we can have a little somehow thing that you can asterisk that it's a hand cycle used or something.

Erik : Right.

Quinn : Just to start, and then eventually it'd be sick to have Accessible Trail Project.

Erik : So I know there's every disability under the sun, but so if a family is coming to a national park and they have a kid or a family member who's disabled, either blind or in a wheelchair or deaf or any number of things, what's your recommendation? What should they do? Take them through kind of a bit of a step-by-step process of how they get the best experience.

Quinn : I would say have a list of the things that you absolutely need to make this trip go, and then call your individual park or wherever you're traveling to and ask them those specific questions.

Erik : I understand that every park has an accessibility expert, right?

Quinn : Supposed to, yes. I think that's something that we're trying to fix, is often that accessibility expert is something we call a collateral duty, which is like, "Hey, you're supposed to do the dishes once every three months."

Erik : Do you think that parks are totally underutilized by people with disabilities because they may be intimidated, or do you think people are getting out there?

Quinn : I would guess mostly that. Yeah, I think that they're underutilized. I mean, I think that's part of the problem, is like, "Yes, we passed the ADA 30 years ago, but still there's not curb cuts everywhere. Doors are hard to open." Particularly with spinal cord injury or other neurological disorders, there's so much going on. If you pee yourself, poop yourself, all that stuff, it keeps people inside. I don't think it necessarily gets them feeling comfortable that, "Okay, if I go outside, I'm just going to go around my house or my neighborhood, because that's where I feel the most comfortable."

Erik : Right.

Quinn : "I'm certainly not going to go to this other place. I have no idea what it's like."

Dave : Quinn, when you kind of look at the next five years, do you have a vision for who you're trying to be and what you're trying to do for the world, or is it more year to year? I mean, it seems like you're a strong advocate for the outdoors. You're obviously staying fit and trying all these new things. Do you have a passion you're going after right now?

Quinn : Right now, some bike adventures. This work thing is lovely, but it definitely is hindering my time off. I would like to keep the job. So my upcoming goal this spring, I want to try to do the White Rim in a day, which is 100 miles. I want to do that in a day, and I think that's totally feasible, self-supported.

Erik : In a day? Wow.

Quinn : Yeah. This is what I miss about climbing adventures, is the planning. I'm super detail-oriented, and so this adventure is kind of perfect, like, "Okay, I think I'm going to need three or four batteries. I get 30 miles-ish to a battery. Where should I start to best be conducive with the battery life?", that kind of stuff. Then ultimately, I really want to try to do the [inaudible 00:33:36] Divide in my hand cycle.

Dave : Wow. There are many members of the No Barriers community, community of listeners who, though their traumatic event is different than yours, have had this experience of one day I wake up and something has happened to me, whether it's a terminal illness diagnosis, an injury, a veteran getting injured in the military. I wake up, and the next day, I am something totally different than I thought I was. So what is your advice to people who might be in that battle of accepting the thing that has befallen them?

Quinn : Well, I think for me, being inquisitive is step one, asking your doctors why, or yeah, don't just accept no. You don't have to be grumpy or mean about it, but just being inquisitive about what's happening. I think that opens the doors to a lot of other things, like, "Oh, well, if it is that way, then we can do this or this or this." It opens up that opportunity. So I think step one is just find the space, even in your sorrow, to be inquisitive.

Dave : I love that. What a wonderful message. Quinn, we really appreciate you taking the time to share with us and our listeners. Thank you so much.

Quinn : Thank you.

Erik : Nice. Well, thank you so much, Quinn. It's really been fun to get to know you and be a friend and do fun adventures together. I think this podcast and interview will help a lot of people that have gone through transitions and just all of us as we transition through our lives, trying to figure out where we go next. So thanks for your time.

Quinn : Thank you, gentlemen. It was lovely.

Erik : All right.

Dave : Have a good evening, Quinn.

Erik : No barriers.

Dave : We would like to thank our generous sponsors that make our No Barriers Podcast possible, Wells Fargo, Prudential, CoBank, and Winnebago. Thank you so much for your support. It means everything to us. The amazing production team behind this podcast includes senior producer Pauline Shaffer, sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Cottman, and marketing support by Heather Zoccali, Stevie DiNardo, Erica Howey, and Alex Schafer. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance, and thanks to all of you for listening. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. Outro: (singing)


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