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Wheels Down in the Wilderness

Four disabled children experience Idaho's backcountry for the first time


As the sunset tore across the sky—clouds swollen with pink, orange, purple and blue—14-year-old Meghan Wildman didn't show much interest. She hadn't shown much interest in anything since landing at the Sulphur Creek Ranch in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. She spent a lot of time staring off into the distance. She spent a lot of time resting her head in her hands. She spent a lot of time sleeping.

The past few years have been rough on Meghan. You can see it by the way she looks into the campfire. Two years ago, on a nice day in March, she was riding with her brother the day after he got his learner's permit. They were T-boned by a semi truck.

"She got folded in half," said Dayl Wuthrick, her cousin, who lives with Meghan and her dad to help take care of Meghan's needs.

"I was really shocked when I woke up because I couldn't feel my legs," Meghan said. "That was the most scary thing."

Meghan traded her love of gymnastics and dance for a life of challenges and adaptations. She gets frustrated when people offer to help her too much. Dayl said she's in a place where she needs to learn to ask for help.

In all other ways, Meghan is a typical teenager. She wears hot pink sunglasses during the day and rests her phone between her leg and the chair—she's not super stoked about being out of service for the next three days. Meghan signed up for this trip—Wilderness Within Reach—trip after encouragement from the director of the Boise Parks and Recreation adaptive program.

Wilderness Within Reach has been flying groups of people with disabilities into the backcountry for 27 years, giving them access to wilderness they could never experience otherwise.

Each participant can bring one person, and the cost is only $35 each: That includes lodging at the ranch, flights in and out and three meals per day—a $3,200 value for eight people—paid for by the Idaho Aviation Foundation.

Four three days, June 23-25, four kids with physical disabilities and their families stayed at Sulphur Creek Ranch. They were flown in on a series of Cessnas and charter planes.

Meghan took a Dramamine before her flight, and it zapped her of energy throughout the day. As the sun set, she slumped a little in her wheelchair.

Every evening, the couple who runs the ranch let their 20 horses out of the corral and into the ranch yard. The horses grazed alongside a row of rustic cabins and, to the delight of the guests, made their way up to the lodge and fire pit.

Dayl pushed Meghan out into the field as the horses meandered. A large black horse stomped up to Meghan, who reached out a timid hand and swatted away the horse flies. The horse gave an abrasive shake of his mane and pushed his nose into Meghan's lap. She looked unsure. Then, she put a palm on the horse's face.

Two more horses came up and Meghan was suddenly surrounded. She swatted away more flies and smiled a little. Then she smiled a little more. Then she started to laugh. Dayl laughed with her, taking pictures with her smartphone.

From the lodge yard, pilot Tom Boyer watched this scene unfold in the field of horses.

"This is why we do it," he said.