I love riding our adaptive tandem. But I also love spending time with lots of folks who may be getting a chance to experience riding a bike for the first time in their lives. Last year a number of us were able to participate in the adaptive cycling program offered at the Blackstone Bikeway, but this year, thanks go to the MADCR’s Universal Access program, which provided funds for not one, but five separate adaptive biking events, offered in Worcester and Blackstone, MA.
So many different organizations actually worked together to support this program. The Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC) coordinated obtaining the funding, recruited the many volunteers needed to make this a success, (I am an official volunteer with the Heritage Corridor), and provided staffing as well as all needed permits to conduct the events. MA DCR Universal Access teamed up with All Out Adventures, to provide skilled staff to manage the multiple types of bikes made available for people of all abilities, and two large vans filled with bikes of all types, tandems, hand-cycles, and more.
We met for the first ride of the season at the new BHC Visitor Center in Worcester as a sort of “shake down” event, discovering what worked best for this location, new for many of us, both volunteers and participants. It turned out to be a great location, completely handicapped accessible, with ramps from the parking lot up to the entryway for the visitor center, with the bikeway entrance right next to the building.
We even got a chance to tour the new visitor center, which not only offers multiple bathrooms (yeah!!) but also features a mini-museum focusing on portions of the industrial revolution that took pace directly on the site of the visitor’s center.
Every detail fell into place, which reflected the careful planning on the part of the organizers, especially Suzanne Buchanan, who is the volunteer coordinator for the Heritage Corridor.
We had more than enough volunteers, including members of the Seven Hills Wheelmen, who brought their considerable biking skills and knowledge of bikes with them. Many of them rode as escorts for each session, assuring the safety safe road crossings along the trail.
One-time volunteers from the MA Department of Public Health also filled out the ranks of helping hands. These folks are encouraged to take two days a year from their work routine to give back to the community. Strangers to others of us at the start of the day, every one of this group jumped right in, pitched in cheerfully wherever they were needed, and and left at the end of the day, still smiling. The difference was that by the end of the day, rather than saying goodbye, they offered hugs, and expressed the hope to see us again in the future.
All Out adventures and Universal Access folks worked with diligence to get all the bikes ready for the expected riders. Part of their protocol is that each participant must register in advance, to assure that exactly the appropriate bike is available, regardless of a person’s challenges. Prior to the arrival of the first riders, volunteers were assembled and All Out Adventures staff went over protocol to assure safety for the participants, and watchcare to offer respect to each person. Most items were common sense, but everything covered were helpful reminders–we were, first of all, working with people, not disabilities.
Defying stereotypes, Charlie Croteau arrived in his wheelchair with his helper. Charlie has joined the ranks of official volunteers with BHC, and has been in a wheelchair for 46 years. He builds adaptive bikes. Once settled into a tandem bike for the day’s event, rather than head onto the trail with the group, Charlie set off in the opposite direction. “I wanted to explore the other trail on the other side of the tracks,” he explained when he returned an hour or so later. Well, of course. I should have known. Clearly Charlie has been defying expectations for the past 46 years (and probably longer than that!). I look forward to getting much better acquainted with Charlie in the coming days.
I finally got my chance to settle into a tandem for the last ride of the day. The environment for this event was quite different from last years rides on the Blackstone Greenway. The Greenway offers spectacular bridges (8!), most over the Blackstone river, a few offering portage over roads in the area. The ride itself is wooded, somewhat private. In Worcester, we rode alongside Rt. 146, separated at time only by a fence from high speed traffic. We stuck together to facilitate the road crossing near Wal-mart in Worcester, and thus presented a colorful parade, our multi-colored flags waving as we pedaled along. Passing motorists smiled and waved. We smiled and waved back.
The Blackstone River, near its headwaters in Worcester, flowed alongside the bike trail for much of our ride. Shallow and fast moving, the river is a constant reminder of the history and the landscape that helped form this area of New England. An early source of power, the river was essential for the many industries that sprang up along the banks of the river from Worcester to Pawtucket.
What I love about riding a tandem is the opportunity to easily chat with the pedaling partner who comes along for the ride. Jonathan took the front seat and was responsible for steering and shifting, while I sat in back and pedaled. We talked of travels, family, and bikes as we made our way to Milbury and back.
If this event was any indication, I expect each of the other biking events will offer surprises, and challenges. Different participants, a different cast of volunteers, and two different locations create variables that will keep all of us on our toes. What has been consistent, and what I expect to continue to see, is a huge dollop of joy, on the part of volunteers, participants, spectators, and among those of us who fit all those categories.
Whoever thought volunteering was all about sacrifice has never really given it a chance. Or perhaps they simply have not found the right situation in which to volunteer. Exhausting, for sure, but for me, it’s one of the best ways to spend a day. I expect many who were at this event might agree.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.