Healing by getting back on that bike

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Back on the biketrail in Gardner, MA

It’s been over 20 years since I was able to hop on a bike and pedal myself down a path. That saying, “just like riding a bike” always catches me—people think riding a bike is something you can’t forget how to do. Yet for some of us, because of balance issues caused by many things, riding a bike is exactly what we can no longer do. Maybe it’s not that big a deal for some folks. But before my life changed because of surgery to remove a life-threatening brain tumor, I was physically very active. I loved to get outside, loved to walk, loved to swim, loved to dance, and biking was something that was easy for me.

I am so grateful the paralysis that gripped half my body after life-saving surgery has abated to some extent, but I continue to live with many life-changing consequences, not the least of these was my inability to balance on a bike alone. But after I met my husband, a lot of things began to change. He was determined to figure out how to allow me to share his joy of bike riding, with him.

We tried several tandem bikes, but found them very difficult for me to manage. But one day we rented a bike that was easy—so easy for me! I mistook this ease for healing on my part—perhaps my ankle was so much more flexible that the tandem we’d purchased would now be easier for me to ride—I couldn’t wait to get home from vacation to get back on the tandem we’d found on Craigslist.

Alas, when we returned home I discovered my ankle had not changed very much. It was the style of bike we’d ridden on Sanibel Island that was different. And so our quest began.

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Acadia National Park, hitting the carriage roads at Eagle Lake

It took several years for us to obtain a tandem with slightly foot-forward styling that allowed me to begin to really enjoy biking again. Over several years we’ve modified our bike to make it easier for my right foot to stay on the pedal, we’ve added panniers to the back of the bike to make carrying ice and jackets and other such items safer. (I easily overheat in warmer weather; ice is a necessary precaution we have to carry with us.)

And then this spring I fell. Not just fell, but landed from a raised porch flat on my back. No broken bones, amazingly, but muscle damage, extreme pain that’s taken five weeks to heal from. We woke to a gorgeous spring morning the other day and my husband wondered if we could try our bike. We rode it down to the end of our street for a test run, and I felt OK. Yes! We headed out to find a new bike trail near the New Hampshire line, in Gardner and Winchendon.

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On the bike trail near Winchendon Center

Riding a bike is the closest I come to feeling like I’m flying. My view from the rear seat is a little blocked since I’m riding behind Jon, but there is so much to see and feel. The wind blowing in my face, the stone walls that often follow the paths we ride along, swamps, streams, rivers, ponds, birds, and on this latest ride—a snake in the middle of the path.

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Garter snake asking to get run over in the middle of the bike path

We stopped, turned back, concerned this silly snake would get itself run over as it sunned on the warm pavement. With little encouragement from us, the garter snake slithered off the pavement back into the nearby woods. Done—our good deed for the day.

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Trailside next to the pond

Many proposed railtrails have disconnected portions of the trail completed, but it’s difficult to tell trail conditions without actually visiting each path. This was the case when we went to Winchendon. We checked Google Earth, but even this wonderful tool was not as updated as we needed. In fact, we found a lovely brand-new paved portion of railtrail that crossed several streams and offered some really pretty views.

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Derelict factory buildings near downtown Winchendon

We found one more portion of trail that followed the edge of a pretty pond and led into the downtown area of Winchendon. There we spotted some old factory buildings right on the edge of the water, and Jon recalled years before when he had worked in the area in one of the buildings. Remnants of a much more prosperous era of productive factories, these old buildings continue to stand next to the waterway, increasingly derelict.

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Alongside a stream, standing on a brand new bridge along the railtrail

I was able to see all these things because I flew along on our bike. I cannot walk long distances, but once again, after healing from this latest injury, I can pedal along, with support.

We hear comments regularly, as we pedal by, from children who think our bike is “really cool!” and adults who smile and nod. A couple stopped to talk as we ate our lunch beside the lake. They asked how we liked our bike. I answered, “It’s the only way I’m able to ride.” I then smiled at my husband, the person who has been so determined to help me share these experiences with him. “He’s my hero,” I said. People see my smile, my joy, and perhaps think we’re simply having fun. But it’s so much more than fun. In reality, it’s grace, in action.

Marjorie Turner Hollman

Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, Easy Walks in Massachusetts, and More Easy Walks in Massachusetts. A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://marjorieturner.com

https://www.amazon.com/Easy-Walks-Massachusetts-2nd-Northbridge/dp/0989204340

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6 Comments

Filed under Blog posts--Easy Walks, Blog Posts-Personal Histories

6 responses to “Healing by getting back on that bike

  1. Jim

    Hi , I don’t have balance issues , but I do have back and shoulder issues . It’s difficult for my shoulders to hold my upper body up , over bike handlebars . Now I have a recumbent trike , which causes no pressure on my back or shoulders . I can ride farther , and in greater comfort . Sometimes it seems like the bike trails are too short . The SNETT , is right down the street from my house , so I’m hoping they pave it , and , maybe , connect it to the Blackstone River Bikeway . The thing about “bent” bikes , is they’re very low to the ground , and even with a flag , I’m afraid to ride them on heavily trafficked roads .

    • marjorie561

      OUr bike is of the recumbent type–very slightly recumbent, with the pedals foot forward. It really does make a difference, doesn’t it? Good news about the SNETT–also down the street from our house in Bellingham. The Blackstone/Millville section is paved, we are hopeful the Triad bridge will be finished by early summer, which will provide at least 4 miles of continuous pedaling from Canal Street in Blackstone, where there is a large parking area) to Rt. 146 Uxbridge. YOu might want to try the Trestle Trail in Coventry, RI–we parked across the street from the Coventry Library, not sure of the mileage but it is substantial distance paved, with very pretty water views along some portions.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Good for you! Keep at it! I love biking.

    • marjorie561

      Thanks! We clearly have a lot in common 🙂

    • Jim

      I think a trike would be good for you . It doesn’t have to be a recumbent , as they are a bit on the pricey side . I just think “bent” bikes (as they are called) , are so much more comfortable . Once you ride one , I doubt if you will ever want to ride a conventional bike again . I know I didn’t . The only problem , I find , is the low profile . People don’t see you in high traffic areas , especially when they text and drive , like they do today . That’s why I try to stay on bike paths , or very low traffic areas .

      • marjorie561

        We’ve considered a trike, but transporting is quite difficult. Like you, we almost exclusively ride on dedicated bike paths for safety’s sake.

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