It usually happens in May; it came late this year. It didn’t come at all in 2019 or 2018, because of my knee injury. I’m talking about that wonderful moment, after weeks of progressively longer bike rides, when you suddenly aren’t pushing it anymore; you want to keep going and you’re not thinking about the finish line. There’s joy of movement, endorphin production, and what I like to call “muscle confidence,” that solid feeling of strength as you move fast and easy down the road.
My moment came a week ago Saturday. I had ridden out to the berry farm north of town to get ripe local strawberries for an outdoor “distance dinner” with the neighbors. I masked up to go inside the farm store, bought 2 pints of berries and secured them in my bike bags, and pushed off to go home. I had planned a diversion into a nearby town to mail my Netflix DVD from the post office there. (Most of my bike routes are built on a premise that’s thinner than a Target blouse. Yes, I could mail the DVD from any public mailbox in my own town, but that’s not the point.) I crossed the Nooksack River, noting that it’s still plenty high for this time of year, and navigated the streets of Ferndale until I found the Hidden Post Office. The building is almost invisible, with its 1990s horizontal dark wood architecture backed up against trees, and I find it by locating the Ace Hardware store just uphill from it. I dropped my DVD in the mail slot and started back toward the river.
Wait, what’s that? A row of brightly painted old-timey store fronts where the Boys and Girls Club building used to be. The club burned to the ground a few years ago. I turned left toward home, then flipped back around—I wanted to check that new mini-mall out. It was about a quarter mile down one of the roads that crisscross the river-flat behind the dike. I saw that the new storefronts were actually a gorgeous façade for the new Boys and Girls Club building. I imagined the hours of loving volunteer labor that must have gone into that. And ooh, there’s Pioneer Park behind it—I rode on to have a look, as I hadn’t been there in a few years. I enjoyed the memory of bringing two exchange students there for a day outing and wondered how Dora and Zoe were doing back home. Then it hit me—I was cruising around on my bike, with no thought at all to how much energy I needed to make it home. I was a good 10 miles out, and here I was playing around without a care in the world. I’d hit that moment in training where it came naturally. After a 2-year recovery from a serious knee injury, I wanted to cry with joy.
The stereotype of people with disabilities is that we’re shut-ins who don’t get much activity. For many of us, physical activity is what keeps us functioning at a higher level, gives us the endorphins we need to cope with chronic pain, and maintains our sense of engagement with the world. I’m a bicycling advocate in my town so I get several bike org newsletters, and last week I received a video I absolutely love. It’s made by a Seattle disability org called Rooted in Rights, and you can watch it here if you like (It’s about 7 minutes long). It shows a mix of people with visible and invisible disabilities, participating in cycling. I especially love that they included a woman with mental illness and showed the joy and sense of safety and control she gets from riding.
I’ve tried to soft-pedal the bike talk on this blog (pun intended), because it’s not a universal interest of this audience, but we’ve been confined for months with this pandemic—I want to talk about how we’re getting outside and moving our bodies.
I’ve heard from lots of people who relied on swimming for their activity, who haven’t been able to go to their pools since March. I’m one of those people; in my rainy climate, I’m lucky if I get a ride a week in the winter and early spring. My pool and gym are both closed. Any day now it will be warm enough for open-water swimming, which I greatly prefer to pools anyway. I wish when they reopen the pool, they would soft-open it just for medical-necessity users at first. That would allow for a less crowded facility and a safer experience for those of us who need to be there.
Swimming is popular among people with disabilities because it offers a no-impact activity with freedom from gravity that makes sluggish limbs more mobile. I had a friend in rehab who has never walked a step in his life, but with the help of Water Wings, he bobbed around the pool with confidence.
In the Rooted in Rights video, a few people mention that they run into people who don’t believe they’re disabled because they’re riding around everywhere. I wrote about that a while back in this post, and how uncomfortable I feel asking for disability accommodation when I’m in full cycling gear. I’ve had trouble at work because my boss doesn’t understand how I can go on long bike trips, but can’t work 8 hours at a desk—never mind that they’re completely different things, and the bike doesn’t demand fine motion from a reattached hand. The bike trips demand a level of energy I couldn’t sustain for more than 12 days or so, and only after months of training.
My bike is adapted for my post-crash body with extra wide “mustache” handlebars that hold my shoulders farther apart to reduce shoulder and neck pain. I have a thick layer of “Bar Phat,” a Spenco product that mimics human fat, on my handlebars so my reattached hand can handle some weight. Because it still can’t handle the recommended 30 percent of body weight, I have an extra-long bar stem that keeps my hands up a bit higher, shifting more of my weight to the rear. These adaptations make it possible for me to ride a maximum of 50 miles in a day (at peak summer training). It’s nowhere close to my pre-crash record of 131 miles, or my pre-crash road trip average of 70 miles a day, but I feel like it’s a bigger achievement in this body.
I’m not able to enjoy activities like bowling (unless I use a lightweight child’s ball), running, or tennis, but those things might be right for people with different issues. Are you able to do something to keep active? What works for you?