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Off-road wheelchairs bringing Prince Rupert hiking trails to everyone

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A group of smiling, excited people waving their hands while standing on a wooden bridge with river and forest setting.
Rider volunteers pose for a group shot on Butze trail in Prince Rupert. Jessie is pictured in a red tank top.

When you meet Jessie Gibson for the first time, two things become very clear: she loves her work as a physiotherapist, and she loves her community. Jessie is based in Prince Rupert, a place she’s called home since 2016. For the past couple of years she’s been involved in a community program called the Kaien Coastal Riders.

Kaien (pronounced KAY-en) Coastal Riders is a program that uses an off-road adapted wheelchair to help people who are wheelchair-bound or have unique mobility needs access outdoor trails. I caught up with Jessie to learn more about her and the program.

What is Kaien Coastal Riders and how did it get started?

Morgan Foisy — a past colleague — and myself worked together to get the program going. Morgan was a rehab assistant in Prince Rupert and spearheaded the program. Since we started working together on this project in 2017, we’ve had two trail rider seasons, in 2018 and 2019. We’re part of the Kaien Island Trails and Recreation Society (KITAERS), a not-for-profit in town. We have huge support from KITAERS and definitely couldn’t run without them.

A group of people on a beach at the edge of large trees, with a woman sitting in the Trail Rider equipment.
The Trail Rider is run by volunteers. Anyone with needs can access the program for free. It’s available in Prince Rupert and for nearby communities!

The Trail Rider is run by volunteers. Anyone with needs can access the program for free. It’s available in Prince Rupert and for nearby communities!

What exactly is the Trail Rider?

The Trail Rider is a mix between a wheelchair and bike. It’s really good for manoeuvering over rocks, roots and corners. It’s been around since the 80s and was invented by a man named Sam Sullivan – former mayor of Vancouver. When he was young he had a spinal cord injury. He still loved hiking, so he partnered with a friend who was an engineer to create the device, and the rest is history. There’s been lots of versions of the device since then, and our program has the most up-to-date version.

What inspired you to do this?

Before I moved to Prince Rupert, I was part of the BC Mobility Opportunities Society (BCMOS), an adaptive sport society in Vancouver. Morgan was also involved in a similar endeavour in the Okanagan. We both moved up North at similar times and realized there was no trail rider here, and not a lot of accessible sporting options in the community. The BCMOS supported us in making the program happen.

I like helping people – especially helping them get outside. I love trails and hiking; it’s something that makes me happy, so I like sharing it with others.

How does the program work?

The Trail Rider is run by volunteers called Sherpas who push the rider. Anyone with needs can access the program and it’s totally free! It’s also not just for Prince Rupert – we’re open to traveling to surrounding communities. We went out to the community of Metlakatla nearby, which was awesome. The trail rider is for whoever wants to use it: contact us and let us know if you’re interested!

What kind of impact has this had on the community?

It’s nice for people to know there’s another means for people to get out and access the outdoors. For individual riders, there’s been an overwhelmingly positive response. When they get out, they enjoy it. Most riders like to come out with their friends and family. It’s really cool to hear excitement from riders when they first experience a local trail that they might have never previously been able to access, even if they’ve lived here for years!

Kaien Coastal Riders also has a partnership with the Prince Rupert Ground Search and Rescue team. The trail rider is available for them for training and rescues if they ever need it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Kaien Coastal Riders?

I’m super grateful that we were able to get the program going! I’m thankful for the community of Prince Rupert and for the individuals and businesses that supported us to bring the Trail Rider to town (there are many).

We have so many supports, from our own personal bike repair guy, to the rehab department at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, which has always supported this out of work project! I’m thankful to see it as an option here. The program combines the things I love – rehab and hiking – and takes it outdoors. I’m always really stoked to get out with the Trail Rider.

We want more people to know about it! Kids and adults can use it. It’s available in Prince Rupert and for nearby communities.

For more information, check out