Most people use off-road vehicles as a thrilling way to experience the outdoors. But when Frank Traver hits the woods, the ATV becomes his legs.
Traver, 59, of Rathdrum, lost the use of his legs during a logging accident in 1982. He was operating a tracked-skidder when the machine went over an embankment and he was thrown as it rolled. He was 28 years old.
“I try anything and everything,” Traver said. “I played wheelchair basketball for years. I tried snow skiing, road racing.”
But the outdoors remained off limits until his wife, Donna, bought him his first ATV.
“When we first met, I remember asking Frank, ‘What do you miss the most being in a chair?’ ” Donna said. “He said, ‘I miss walking in the woods.’ I remember thinking, ‘I am so going to get him a four-wheeler so he can get back out into the woods.’ ”
When Traver arrived last Saturday for the Backcountry ATV club ride, he unloaded his ATV himself. In fact, most members said they often forget that Traver has any disability whatsoever.
“This guy actually went down a trail one time with a chainsaw in his wheelchair, clearing a trail, and he put guys to shame,” ride organizer Dan Hutchins said. “Not only that, he teaches little-league hockey and plays wheelchair basketball.”
Traver serves as treasurer for the club, which has more than 190 members.
“He’s going with us tomorrow near Cataldo to help us open trail. When you get to know Frank, you end up forgetting that he can’t walk,” Hutchins said.
But Traver has had both elbows worked on and his shoulders hurt from the force needed to turn his big machine. Knowing his issues, the club pooled its money last year and paid to install power steering on his ATV.
“There was not a dry eye there,” Donna said, “because they want him to continue riding with them as long as he can.”
Jim and Kathy McBride, of Bayview, are both longtime club members. They said Traver is one of the best riders in the group.
“He goes everywhere,” Kathy said.
Traver has a modified steel rack attached to the back of his ATV that allows him to carry his wheelchair wherever he goes.
“We’ve worked with him clearing trails,” Jim said. “I can’t believe how much he does. Most people would have given up after an accident like that.”
But giving up isn’t part of Traver’s creed. He’s figured out a way to snow ski and water-ski, among his many exploits, his wife said.
Traver, who speaks softly behind a huge smile, said his wife was training for second Ironman in Coeur d’Alene when she bought a small ATV. He used it to ride alongside her as she trained on her bicycle for the race.
“He had a hand-crank bicycle and would ride with me on my long runs,” Donna said. “I bought him (an ATV) so he could be on my long bike rides. Frank can change a flat tire in a heartbeat. I always felt so safe with him riding behind me.”
Donna, 62, who has had health issues that forced her to give up bicycling, bought a second ATV so the couple could ride together.
“It’s the best thing that has happened to him,” she said.
For a man who spent a decade logging and his life outdoors, the ATV became the only way to experience a little bit of his past.
“It’s just beautiful out there,” he said. “I get the fresh air, the great scenery and I get to see the animals.”