Freedom for all to ride or walk in the great outdoors

August 28, 2017 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

A version of this piece was published as the monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Max - Maine Adaptive - credit Sarah Cushman

Max Michaud takes a break from her training with Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation at the Back Cove Trail in Portland

Walking and biking are not just for the young, fit and able-bodied. And the benefits of these activities extend far beyond merely exercise or recreation – to enhancing the connection we have with our neighbors in our communities. Fortunately, Maine is home to several organizations and programs that help seniors and people with disabilities get outside for a walk or a ride. Before I tell you about a couple of these efforts, let me start with a story that illustrates why they’re so essential.

I met Bangor resident Annie King recently when I taught a MaineDOT-sponsored class in defensive walking (think what you were taught about defensive driving; now apply that idea to walking) at Miller Square on Harlow, a facility for seniors in Bangor where she lives. Annie rolled into the room in a motorized wheelchair and joked that I’d been brought in because of “the crazy adventure” she’d recently gone on with her friends.

Annie and her friends, Diane and Marcia, decided to visit the farmers market one Sunday in June. Annie and Diane use motorized wheelchairs, and Marcia is legally blind and uses a white cane. Annie also has to carry her oxygen tank. “We went down to the market, across from the library, and cruised around,” she said.

“It was a nice day, so we said, ‘Let’s go down the next street,’ ” Annie continued. They turned down Franklin and then stopped at a little park on Kenduskeag Stream, where they sat for a few minutes so Marcia could catch her breath.

“You know, I’ve never been to that bagel place. Let’s go there,” Annie suggested to her friends. They followed the stream to Central Street and, after a snack at Bagel Central, headed home.

Norumbega Parkway-Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor - 2

Norumbega Parkway along the Kenduskeag Stream in downtown Bangor, where Annie King and her friends took a break on their adventure.

“It started to rain on our way home, and we ducked under the portico of one of the buildings while it poured,” Annie said, laughing. They had gone less than a mile.

A full, rich mile.

“It was our little adventure, just being free to get out and be with the rest of the world and not having to answer to anyone,” Annie said. “I don’t think you’re ever too old for an adventure.”

How many times have you done a simple outing like that – to a nearby park or to see a friend or to your downtown or village area to run an errand – and it turned into something that gave you such pleasure?

Which brings me to two Maine programs that help people who need assistance go on their own everyday adventures.

Two weeks ago, I stopped by the Back Cove Trail in Portland with my dog Lola to talk with some folks from Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation, among them Leo Albert. He greeted Lola warmly.

“I’m lucky to live near the Green Belt path in South Portland,” Leo said. “I can’t use this for long periods,” he said, pointing to the four-wheeled walker he was sitting on, “but I use my motorized wheelchair, and I know every dog. Every one of them. I bring treats, and they nuzzle around my chair for them.”

Leo started working with Maine Adaptive this summer to modify the recumbent tricycle he has barely used for the past 13 years, because of a painful leg length discrepancy.

He pointed to one of the tricycles parked nearby and said he was looking forward to riding it. “Riding will make a big difference for my leg circulation and relieve the pain in my legs and back. Plus it’s something I can do anytime from where I live.”

Maxine Michaud was pedaling on the cove, training for the Great Maine Getaway MS Ride on a Maine Adaptive tricycle. Max, as she calls herself, has multiple sclerosis and limited use of one of her legs. To get around, she uses the tricycle as well as an experimental, Maine-designed Afari, which helps her walk over uneven terrain.

“There is no such thing as being unable,” she told me. “It’s being differently abled. That’s all.”

She credited her involvement with Maine Adaptive (she got involved on a dare in 2012) with keeping her in her “happy place, doing everything I do. I don’t need any pain pills, I don’t need any anti-depressants. This is it. This keeps me above the clouds looking ahead. I soar.”

Another program, Portland Wheelers, also helps people get outside and connect, in their case, people who are physically or mentally unable to bike, even with adaptive equipment. The organization offers free recreational rides to people of any age who are living with a significant disability.

Portland Wheelers - credit to Portland Wheelers

Portland Wheelers pilots pedal adaptive cycles for riders, also known as “wheelers”, along the Back Cove Trail in Portland. Photo courtesy of Portland Wheelers

I took a spin with Doug Malcolm, the group’s founder and director. I sat in the “wheeler” seat with Doug, the “pilot,” pedaling just behind me on one of the program’s tricycles, a setup that made for easy conversation. We rode along the Eastern Promenade, soaking up the view.

“We’re yakking all the time when we’re riding,” Doug said. “Wheelers and pilots both love it. As pilots, we get to hear wonderful life stories. And when we’re in a pod of two or three trikes, we’re often laughing it up, because someone always seems to be telling a joke.

“We know from Canadian research, and a study we’re involved in ourselves, that if you get people outside riding in groups on a regular basis, it can dramatically improve levels of depression, appetite, sleep patterns and a sense of connectedness,” he said.

As a sustainable transportation consultant, I’ve come across similar findings, and not surprisingly they always make me eager to get out and walk and bike more. Annie, Leo and Max offer me a glimpse of the future I can feel hopeful about stepping into.

ADAPTIVE CYCLING OPPORTUNITIES

  • If you don’t live in Greater Portland or one of the residential facilities served by Portland Wheelers, the nonprofit offers a Come to Us service. Preregister on their website, portlandwheelers.org, for a Saturday ride time and get transportation to meet the group at Cyclemania in Portland.
  • Every summer, Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation offers its bicycling program in Portland and Bethel. On Sept. 23, Maine Adaptive teams up with Slipping Gears Cycling to hold an adaptive cycling day for people with disabilities ages 4 and up. Bangor City Forest, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Cycles of all types and sizes will be available or riders can bring their own. Preregistration required, email info@maineadaptive.org.
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Entry filed under: Active Transportation.

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