How a Man With Cerebral Palsy Hiked From Mexico to Canada

I used to describe my cerebral palsy as a disability, but after hiking 2,660 miles from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve decided I need to redefine my condition.

On the spectrum of physical disabilities, my cerebral palsy falls on the moderate end of the gamut. My CP only affects the right side of my body, which naturally generates tension in my daily life. The left side of my body is strong and confident, yet my right side is feeble and insecure. I’ve never experienced life outside of the conflict between strength and weakness, but I’ve realized this physical and internal struggle motivates me to break through my limitations. Perhaps this tension led me to the Pacific Crest Trail in the first place.

Only a fraction of the people who attempt hiking north from the U.S./Mexican border to the U.S./Canadian border succeed. The odds seemed stacked against me when I started my trek towards the northern horizon, but I felt compelled to hike anyways. The thought of failure terrified me, but if I failed I could at least say I found the edge of my physical capability, and how many people can confidently say that?

unnamed (12)

unnamed (13)

unnamed (14)

The truth is, I almost quit after hiking the first 46 miles. I walk with a slight limp, which is partially due to my right leg measuring a quarter-inch shorter than my left, but it’s my lack of fine motor control that really impedes my physical abilities. I hike to a distinct cadence, which presented several problems early in my hike. After the first three days, I had developed numerous blisters, my knees ached and my left calf muscle became so cramped I had to check into a motel for three days to let the pain subside. I ordered new shoes, supportive insoles and a rubber heal lift to help equalize my leg length discrepancy. Regardless of my initial setback, I determined I had to continue hiking.

Throughout my journey I encountered moments of pure joy and deep sorrow, but like my lifelong dichotomy between strength and weakness, I learned to gracefully balance between the highs and the lows. Through the High Sierra and the Cascades, the trail forced me to ford countless creeks and my lousy balance (another CP attribute) created several dangerous and life-threatening situations. In moments of uncertainty, I focused on the task at hand and step by step I made my way to the Canadian border.

unnamed (15)

unnamed (16)

unnamed (17)

Over the course of my 139-day hike from Mexico to Canada I met hundreds of other hikers, and everyone hadtheir unique story and reason for being on the trail. People come from all over the world to hike the PCT. They come from different backgrounds, political parties, religions, age groups and income brackets, but I discovered two traits every thru-hiker had in common; they all possessed an adventurous spirit, and they were very tenacious. I too fit the bill. I may have cerebral palsy, but my perseverance makes up for my physical limitations.

Growing up with CP I had to creatively work around simple problems such as buttoning my shirt sleeves and tying my shoes, and through my frustrations I gained the traits I would eventually need to become a long-distance hiker. It almost sounds ridiculous when I say learning to tie my shoes helped me hike from Mexico to Canada, but it’s true. The numerous daily challenges I faced growing up with cerebral palsy helped mold me into the determined young man I am today.

Be adventurous. Like us on Facebook.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


To Several Strangers I Saw on the New York City Subway, Thank You

Although I’ve been living in New York City for over 6 months now, I still get overwhelmed by it — the pushing and shoving on the subways, the constant vigilance, the dirt and grime and overcrowding. But every once in a while a moment pulls me out of the day-to-day chaos and forces me to [...]

My Kid Is the One Trying to Get Inside Your House This Halloween…

It happens every year. There’s a lot of prep and apt timing on our part of getting the costume on (and feeling right). Sometimes only half a costume actually gets worn. There are no wigs, masks or make up. Usually our prep includes several weeks of practice trick-or-treating at both our home and therapy. Due [...]

Photographer Combines Portraits With Handwritten Letters to Change the Way We All See Epilepsy

James Smolka was photographing the effects of Hurricane Sandy in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, when he first met Scott*, a man whose home was severely damaged during the storm. Scott, pictured below with his wife, asked Smolka, 28, what else he photographed. Smolka told him about his project, “Falling Sickness,” a series of portraits and [...]

I Used to Pray I Wouldn’t Have a Special Needs Child

I never thought I’d be a special needs mom. In fact, the thought of that used to absolutely terrify me. I remember reading about all of the things that can go wrong when we were trying to get pregnant, and just begging God to give us a healthy child. Praying that I’d rather have no [...]