This weekend Steve and I had a friend come to visit, and the three of us went to Coombe Country Park. It's very pretty and a really nice place to spend a sunny day. Entry is free, parking is the really quite reasonable sum of £1.90, and access is pretty good as these things go. It's "natural" paths rather than tarmac, so not the smoothest of rides, but in the dry weather the easy access route is very do-able and the medium access was what I would describe as bumpy, but possible with assistance.
I needed assistance three times.
The first time was to go over a bridge. The gradient of the slope up was just a little more than I could comfortably manage... I probably could have done it but there's no prizes for hurting yourself when you're with people who are entirely happy to give you a boost.
The second time was to go down a slope where the path had a deep rut all the way along the centre, presumably caused by a combination of feet, bikes, and from the look of it I suspect water when it rains. It was just a bit too wide for my chair to go astride it, and there wasn't quite enough space for me to go down one side of it - especially once nettles, tree roots, patches of loose pebbles, patches of loose sandy soil, etc got factored in. So Steve took my chair down and our friend took me, and we all made it safe and sound to the more solid path at the bottom of the hill.
The third time... the third time was the most terrifying, but was nothing to do with the park itself. It happened, of course, at about the furthest point of the two-mile medium access loop around the forest and conservation area. My left front wheel started making a funny noise. The funniness of noises is a bit subjective when you're talking about hauling a four-year-old cross-folding wheelchair along a forest track, but this was a really funny noise with more than a hint of ominousness. I looked down, and noticed that one of the two bolts holding the left front wheel unit on was sticking out by just over an inch. I put my brakes on, reached down, and caught the bolt as it came out completely and the whole wheel unit flopped.
Things got worse as I examined the bolt and saw it required an allen key. Although I had two pocket multitools with me, furnishing an assortment of screwdriver heads, cutting blades, bottle openers, tweezers, pliers, etc... the nearest allen key we knew of was in the car. Which was at least a mile away over terrain which in one direction was completely unknown and in the other direction would include going up the slope that I'd already needed help to get down.
I got out of the chair again and we all took a closer look to see how much of a field job could be done with the tools we had available. We hadn't lost any bits, and it seemed to have simply untwiddled itself rather than having sheared away or anything, so that was good. Unfortunately, Steve realised that lining up the bolt that had come out would mean undoing the second bolt as well to take the whole wheel unit right off, in order to align the whole thing properly for both bolts to go in together.
Being out and about, especially in nature-type places, always gives me a sort of thrill that people who've never been housebound don't quite get. Look at me, how daring I'm being, not only out of the house, but a mile or more away from the nearest car. Which is great until the point you're sitting on a dirt path, knowing that yes, that's right, you're an actual mile or more away from the nearest vehicle, and trying to stay calm while someone fully detaches a wheel from the object you depend on not just to get back to a place of safety but to move around independently once you're there.
Of course it could have been worse. There were three of us. It was a sunny, dry day with about eight hours until sunset. We were on an "official" path, we had phone signal, a picnic blanket, and plenty of water. I was hardly at risk of life or limb. I trust Steve, and I know that he has more mechanical ability than I do, and I know that he's read the manual, and I know he won't put me at unnecessary risk. I was happy to let him lead the repair effort, and he kept me informed and waited for my permission at each stage. Even so I was only one notch off a panic attack at the point the wheel was entirely removed.
Thankfully my faith was not misplaced. Within a few minutes Steve had got the wheel back on and we were able to move again, albeit somewhat cautiously and with all three of us continually peering at the chair every few minutes. The rest of the path was much kinder, and bit by bit we reached the visitor centre, got some lunch, and then I installed myself on the picnic blanket within not just sight but wobbling distance of the car.
On our return home, Steve tightened up every bolt he could find on the chair, using the Official Toolkit. Apparently most of them were pretty tight and the ones on the right front wheel were basically immovable, so we don't know why the left one managed to work loose.
The bad news is, now the car has started making a funny noise.