Stories from the Front - Linda Jean Remmer

Not Slowing Down: A One-of-a-kind Adventure

While many of us see sandy beaches and reclining chairs as the ideal vacation getaway, Linda Jean Remmer, diagnosed with Parkinson’s in late 2009, is much more inclined for remote destinations and adventure.

In December of 2013 Linda Jean and Ross, her husband of 44 years, set out on a journey to Uganda and Rwanda to see Silverback Gorillas in their native habitat.

“When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s travelling to see the gorillas was one of the items on my bucket list,” said Linda Jean.

“I was worried about how long I’d be capable to travel. In 2011 we went to Kenya and Tanzania, but that trip was well organized. We went by plane and jeep to remote locations and game parks. We saw elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and cape buffalo plus all the major animals,” Linda Jean remembered.

The trip to Uganda and Rwanda was a little more off the beaten track, and presented more than one setback. Before they even got out of Toronto their plane experienced mechanical problems and they missed the connecting flight through Brussels. They were rerouted to Rwanda by way of Istanbul. They arrived in Kigali at 2 a.m. with their luggage still somewhere in transit, leaving them just enough time to clean up and gather loaner shoes, socks and shirts, which they were forced to wear for days on end, for their 4 a.m. excursion into the mountains by jeep.

“By the time we caught up to our group I had been awake for 30 hours. We started walking through the jungle led by guides with machetes cutting a path. The first day we were very lucky. After walking for two hours we came across a family of gorillas. At one point the male gorilla pounded his chest to assert his dominance. As he came running at us we got down on our knees and as he went by he ran his arm across my back,” Linda Jean recounted.

Linda Jean, for better or worse, seemed to be a favourite of the gorillas. “On our second gorilla trek with a different family, a younger gorilla came by and grabbed my knee. The guide in pulling me back inadvertently pulled me over as we were on an incline. As I did a somersault all the gorillas were looking at me like I was their entertainment. I certainly had their attention,” Linda Jean recalled.

On their third gorilla trek, now in Uganda on day six of their trip overall, the Remmers took a difficult three hour jeep ride (each way) combined with a two and a half hour (each way) climb down a mountain to find another family of Silverbacks. “Here an eight year old who had his back to us rolled over, reached out his hand and grabbed my boot. I was not afraid and he held on until the guide made clucking noises, then he let go. According to the guide this sort of thing is quite unusual.”

“The next day we got our luggage and clean clothes! My husband said the reason I was such a gorilla magnet was because I smelled like a gorilla,” Linda Jean joked.

After a highly strenuous but successful set of gorilla sightings, and finally getting their overdue luggage on the seventh day of their trip, the Remmers continued on to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for some sightseeing and white water rafting.

With some rafting experience in Canada and the United States, Linda Jean thought the excursion on the Zambezi River would be similar in difficulty. After another long hike down the gorge the Remmers received ten minutes of safety instructions before hitting the extreme Class V rapids with their tour group, not one of them over age 25.

“These rapids had names like “Stairway to Heaven”, and “The Terminator”. As we approached The Terminator the pilot told me to give him my paddle which he shoved under a bolster. Then he said, ‘Mamma, grab the rope’. Apparently calling me ‘Mamma’ was a sign of respect.”

“We overturned in The Terminator and I got trapped underneath the raft. My first thought was ‘I’m drowning’. My second thought was ‘don’t panic’. My third thought was ‘why can’t I get to the surface?’ I was under the raft. I tried to go up and I couldn’t get any air. There was no air pocket where I was. I looked up and saw my paddle still stuck under the bolster and then reached up and pulled along it to get to the edge of the raft. I went down and up to clear the raft. By the time I surfaced I had swallowed a lot of water. The pilot saw me and pulled me up on top of the overturned boat and passed me to another raft while they righted ours. Then we continued on.”

After the rafting trip, the Remmers spent a few more days abroad before coming back to Canada through an ice storm, which forced them to reroute their flight home and lose their luggage again for 13 days. All told, Linda Jean believes it was the most challenging physical event of her life.

“For me keeping active is the key. As long as you are active you should be able to do most things. It’s more mental; we (people with Parkinson’s) think we can’t do physical things so we don’t. I refuse to think I’m going to end up in a wheelchair. That’s my motivator for exercise. I believe it really is mind over matter. We are certainly capable of far more than we allow ourselves to believe,” finished Linda Jean.