Well. After much bureaucratic ado, I’ve finally made it over here to the other side of the world, to Russia, with mobility aid in tow. And let me tell you, I sure have been grateful for my crutch. Unfortunately, the jet lag has finally caught up to me. I have very little energy for a lot of words at the moment. So I’ll highlight a few things I’ve learned so far:
1.) If I compare my past experiences traversing (or trying to traverse) wintery surfaces in Russia without a crutch (which I have done twice in the past six years) is much much worse than the experience of traversing those same surfaces with a crutch. Gone is that intense corporeal that radiates outward from the core of your body the second your unsteady foot strikes a snowy, icy, or wet surface. Gone is the floppy foot that trips over every loosened cobble stone, brick, and solidified ice mound. When I walk, I’m no longer searching frantically for those patches of pavement that might have slightly less ice or snow and thus might prove less hazardous. Instead, I am upright and confident. I’m (almost) surefooted. And best yet, I can pay more attention to my surroundings. Such as this beautiful wintery landscape:
I’m also almost entirely free of the low back pain that plagued my unaided self, and this, in combination with my newfound surefooted gait has allowed me to walk longer distances. Three cheers for empowered aided mobility! I must say, it is nice to be driven inside by temperatures of -25 C rather than by pain and fatigue! And speaking of temperature, this brings me to my second point.
2.) Tornado Tips and the cold. I truly do love my Fetterman Tornado Tip. It is perfect in almost every way. But cold climate mobilizers beware: Once the temp dips below -15, the Tip’s shock absorbing properties decrease exponentially. My theory is that this happens, because the rubber, and possibly also the gel, gets cold and hard. I don’t want to be too hard on the Fetterman company; it is likely that there is NO affordable rubber compound yet on the market that could remain flexible under such harsh conditions. Let’s face it -25 is pretty darn cold…
3.) And then there is the matter of accessibility. Having lived in the former Soviet Union before, I knew in advance that ‘disability access’ is a very new word in this part of the world. But this time I’ve really NOTICED what that actually means. Here is what it means, most unfortunately: Pretty much every building, public space, and transportation vehicle built or installed in Russia before 2011 is guaranteed to be difficult to access at best and entirely inaccessible at worst. The odds of access are slightly better for those of us who employ walking aids, but they are positively dreadful for someone who relies on wheels. More on this, with illustrations, to come in another post.
4.) Marshrutkas are a big problem. I know I know, what the heck is a marshrutka, right? A marshrutka (literal translation: route traverser) is a kind of private bus that ferries freezing Russians from the metro to distant buildings or along routes that are poorly served by other forms of public transport. The former is more common than the latter, because public transportation in Russia is frankly down right fabulous. But here is why compromised mobility, mobility aids, and marshrutkas do not mix: Although a marshrutka serves the same purpose as a bus, it is not really a bus. Rather, it is a SEVERELY battered mini-van with roughhewn seats and limited passenger capacity. But that doesn’t stop people from piling into it one on top of the other, sometimes to the point of nearly hanging out the side door (Seriously. I have seen the exceedingly narrow footwells so crammed with standing passengers that I was sure that someone was going to have to open the door and grip onto the roof.) Indeed, most marshrutka drivers will not leave until their vehicles are literally bursting with human cargo. So not only are these rickety transporters difficult to climb up into and out of, especially in icy conditions, but one is often required to move briskly into the very back or to balance precariously in a tiny standing space. Both tasks are pretty much impossible for someone with compromised mobility. Put this together with the fact that almost all mobility aids, save folding canes or telescoping crutches, take up extra space in public areas, and the prospect of a marshrutka ride becomes increasingly dim. This means that one has to do more walking in freezing temperatures than one might have expected. What’s the solution: More layers, thicker gloves, and failing that, a taxi.
Photo of marshrutka to come. Stay tuned.