Local Paul Lewis hoped to take one last trip to a wilderness site he had been to many times before his own disabilities prevented him from ever seeing it again.
Thanks to the help of two community members who supported him through a hiking trip, he was able to go out.
“This place kind of meant a lot to me because I spent many years camping with my boy at these spots, from when he was a little boy all the way up,” said Lewis. “We would go on overnight trips or day trips."
The area, north of Darrington, is no longer a camping location though.
“It was wiped out 20 years ago by a storm, and when that happened even the bridge was wiped out and the campers had to be rescued,” said Lewis. “For many years I have been wanting to go back, just to see it one last time."
Lewis has had many health problems that limit his ability to do physical activity without pain, including having both hips replaced and many torn tendons.
“They’re saying because of the tissue damage they don’t know if surgery will help me,” he said. “Over time it’s progressing, which is why I wanted to do this now, because if it wasn’t now, I didn’t think there would be another time."
Lewis asked local organizations but no one had the volunteers to help him. Because he served in the U.S. Army in the ‘80s he also asked veterans support groups but they were not able to help either.
Lewis runs the Forgotten Kingdom Animal Shelter in Tulalip, an animal rescue which focuses on the non-dog, non-cat animals in need of a home.
“One of my volunteers, Matthew Shoop, had a little bit of a legal past and said ‘hey, I have some friends, is it okay if we do it,’” said Lewis.
Shoop and Jay Jay Ellis know each other because they share a probation officer and came together to help Lewis.
“They said ‘this is a veteran who wants to see this one last time because of his health, so we’re in,’” said Lewis.
This May, the three of them went out to visit the former camping location, which proved to be a difficult trip as the area had not been maintained.
“Making it in there was not easy,” said Lewis. “I could not believe how much they helped me."
Some of the areas that Lewis was familiar with were completely covered in water now, however one campsite he used to use was relatively intact.
“That camp was still there, although it’s starting to wash away and collapse,” he said.
Lewis had prepared for the trip with his doctors, but still found it difficult.
“My doctors did some cortisol shots and we’re helping me through this so it wasn’t too damaging,” he said.
Eventually he had to be carried in the back of a truck trailer.
“These guys took such good care of me. It's amazing how much they helped,” he said. “I’m walking and it was to the point I could no longer function … my life was in their hands,” he said.
The group stayed out for one night, which was the maximum time that Lewis thought he could stay out.
“I was in so much pain at that point,” he said.
The trip wouldn’t have been possible without the two volunteers coming out to help him, said Lewis.
“They talk about how people won’t give them jobs and the stigma of being on probation, and I’m like ‘you guys are incredible,’” he said.
Lewis still takes simpler, less-intensive camping trips and hopes to continue with Shoop and Ellis in the future.
“I trust these guys so much I said if I go camping do you want to come,” he said.