I have my O & M (Orientation and Mobility) lessons on Friday mornings. Part of preparing for a guide dog is being able to navigate routes around where I live. So last week we started work on the route out of my complex, down the road, to the nearby store. We continued that today. So I left my apartment, found my shorline that I follow to the place where I cross the parking lot, down the way a bit, shorelining a curb, to the spot where I feel a difference in the asphalt, marking the gate to my complex. We pause a bit and talk about crossing over tho this circle thing, following that around, and crossing again to another curb. So I do this and get to the curb. Last week this was where we stopped and today we were continuing.
Once the curb stoppes, my shoreline is asphalt and dirt. Dirt to my left, asphalt on my right, since I walk facing oncoming traffic. We talked about what to do if I hear a car, how I will sweep to my left and then put one foot into the dirt. I can stand like that, so that the driver knows I won’t be moving, or I can put both feet in the dirt, as long as I have my balance. Before we reached this spot, there were a number of cars, but now there weren’t any, so Dave would just randomly say, pretend a car is coming. We walked all the way down the road in this fashion. Soon I could tell we were coming p on the major road. The road I am walking down is perpendicular to a major road, 3 lanes both ways, and cars travel fast. The cars come around a bend, and then my road is suddenly there on their right. So Dave figured out where I should square off to be most visitible, had me stand there and listen to traffic so I could draw a line in my head and point to where I need to cross. I pointed at exactly the right spot.
He then said, you have 2 options. Wait for an all quiet, or wait for your blocker cars. This is a difficult choice, because i know there is a left turn lane there, so if I wait for blocker cars, a left turner won’t be able to go. But if I wait for blocker cars, a right turner could come flying around the bend and right into me. I know this, because I used to drive it. The road is very fast, so you’re driving fast and have to turn pretty quick so you don’t get rear ended. I didn’t have time to decide, because suddenly it was all quiet and I shouted, I WANT TO GO NOW!!!! Dave said, GO!!!! And I went…….(lots of capital letters there, and periods, in case your reader doesn’t indicate)
So I charged. I had drawn the line in my head, and I had forgotten how big of a crossing it would be. As soon as I stepped out, I heard the cars coming around the bed. It wasn’t all quiet for long. I yelled, How far is it???? And Dave laughed. Then I suddenly felt concrete verses asphalt. I had hit the wheelchair ramp perfectly! This amazed me, because when doing residential street crossings, I almost always veered a little. So I stoppped and bent over and laughed nervously and said, that was a little scary! He said I did great though. I then asked, if I didn’t hit the ramp, would there be curb on either side? He said yes. So I then said, it might help to purposely veer to the right a bit, so I hit curb and not walk into the street. He said I could definitely do that, knowing that the perfect crossing wouldn’t happen all the time. He had tought me in the residential areas, to veer away from where traffic would be, if I was nervous. You can always hit curb and backtrack a bit. I like that option over possibly walking into traffic.
Its decisions like this that make him think I’ll be a good guide dog user, because since I refuse to put myself at risk, I won’t be risking a dog.
So we discussed going back up the road, again walking facing oncoming cars. So I didn’t need to cross back over. We’re pretending now that I’m coming back from the store. Dave shows me that I can actually walk on the shoulder here for a bit, because its soft sand, and I’d be off the road. So I felt when the shoulder narrowed into rock, and got back up on the road. I’m walking along, shorelining the road, sweeping my cane nice and wide, WHEN I HEAR A RATTLE!!!! )Thats in all caps and exclamation points)
Now, I’ve lived in the desert my whole life and never seen a rattlesnake, knock on wood. And I just knocked on my wooden coffee table. Yes, I am superstitious. Anyway, I heard a rattle and shrieked and jumped to my right, Dave screaming don’t move!!! and I’m yelling I heard a rattle!!! Dave laughing I’m standing still and he says, yes you heard a rattle and I”m like oh my God!!! I want God on our side at this point. He laughs again and sayd, you heard a rattle but its not a snake, come here, I’m going to rattle it. It was a low bush, with seed pods. When my cane swept and hit the bush, it rattled the seed pods, and it sounded exactly like a rattle snake, at least what I’ve heard of them on tv. He was amazed, had never seen a bush like that. I asked what I would do if I encountered a snake, either with a cane or a dog, and he said, listen for an all quiet, and safely cross to the other side. The problem with reacting the way I did, which anyone would do, is that I didn’t stop to think to sweep to my right before I lept in fright. Luckily I know the road, I know there is no man hole or anything, but that still could have been very bad.
Rule number 1 with the cane, always, always always always always, sweep before you step. Always. Dave pounded that in my head.
So, I survived my first experience going down the road, crossing the driveway with the flow of traffic, going back up the road, thinking I heard a rattle snake, several cars, and I barely broke a sweat. I definitely consider today a huge step. Since I haven’t done any work near heavy traffic, and I did it with confidence, I consider it a good day.
When we returned, he told me he saw nothing at all he can complain about. I said not even the leap of terror? And he said no, that was a good learning experience, and I instantly knew the danger I could have put myself in to.
So definite progress. We’re working on more crossings next week, and then the following week we’ll go all the way to the store and back!