When Nerissa Cannon became disabled in 2013 and had to use a wheelchair full-time, she felt like she had lost her entire identity. As an active ‘outdoorsy’ person, she was not sure how she could continue doing the things she loved.
“The fear of being a burden on anyone consumed me—and as depression further weighed me down, I withdrew from friends, family, and society in general.”
Then, she found an organization called No Barriers. They reminded her of her value by teaching her to focus on the strengths she still had. She was inspired by all those who were creatively used technology and teamwork to accomplish incredible feats.
“I swore I would do my best to live a “No Barriers Life” from that point on,” she told Good News Network. “I want to inspire others to believe that even if you’re dealing with illness or injury, you don’t have to give up on your sense of adventure.”
She went rock climbing with the group’s co-founder, Erik Weihenmayer. As the first blind person to summit Mount Everest, Erik taught her that while we may have disabilities, we can learn to magnify and use each other’s strengths to gain more independence.
As a result, she was able—with the help of 27 friends and fellow climbers—to make it to the summit of the 14,000-ft peak of Mount Bierstadt in Colorado.
Because she was tackling outdoor adventures again, despite her injury, Winnebago, in partnership with No Barriers, asked if she wanted to dive into a road trip with a wheelchair-ready motorhome. The journey would begin at Winnebago headquarters in Forest City, Iowa, and take her 2,300 miles—all the way to the No Barriers Summit in Lake Tahoe, California.
“While I am fiercely independent, this was not a journey I wanted to do alone. So I asked my partner of two and a half years, Kelsom Owens, to join me and my service dog Cash.” .
The journey would end up covering six states, three national parks, and multiple wilderness recreation areas. Traveling around these places forced her to go well outside her comfort zone and helped her grow by continuing to push the boundaries of what she knew she could accomplish. For example, in Badlands National Park, she stopped at an overlook that included a descent of stairs to a lower platform. To enjoy a better view, she rolled herself down the stairs by holding onto the handrail, and got back up to the top on her own.
“Another highlight of the trip was the time I spent at Flaming Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (above). Here we enjoyed the pristine waters and magnificent views from our kayak. And even better, I was also able to do some spur of the moment bouldering at this location, pulling myself right out of the kayak to climb the rock wall. It was an indescribable experience.”
They made sure to visit Little Wild Horse Canyon in Utah. The main attraction of that state park is a stretch of very narrow slot canyons that have been beautifully sculpted by time. “I was able to utilize my forearm crutches, and while it was exhausting to hike with crutches, I was determined to finish.”
The Winnebago, as it turns out, was a huge part of her growth on the trip. Last January the RV company unveiled three new floor plans with wheelchair-ready features, like expanded hallways, roll-in showers, lighting and controls at waist height, and more.
The integrated wheelchair lift made it easy for Nerissa to get in and out of the Winnebago on her own. And it also proved to be a big conversation piece in the small towns where they stopped along the way.
Driving the RV itself was a big fear that she wanted to conquer. While Winnebago does install custom hand controls by request, the vehicle provided did not have that feature. So, the No Barriers photographer, Ryan Salm, did most of the driving.
“Although I was incredibly intimidated, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from driving it. After some coaching from Kelsom, I drove the RV over the finish line at the No Barriers Summit in California. The personal pride I felt in that moment was a reward in itself.”
Nerissa also discovered that RV travel fosters a sense of closeness and community that is unmatched in other methods of travel. “One of the sweetest benefits on the trip was the togetherness, and camaraderie with fellow travelers on the road.”
Though previously harboring a fear of being a burden on others, especially when traveling, the innovative RV, along with the support and encouragement from the team at No Barriers, allowed her to stand (pun intended) equal to those around her.
“In a world that doesn’t always feel designed for me, having a community of like-minded friends—and, on this trip, a comfortable place to inhabit while I adventured with loved ones—was priceless.”
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