To the river, by Terra Trike
After two years sidelined, I'm rolling again. By happenstance, the day I first ventured outside on my new recumbent Terra Trike was two years to the day I last rode my Specialized Expedition "comfort bike" out of doors. My right leg was so weak on the five-mile ride home from downtown that afternoon, my left was doing all the work pedaling up the hills, and when I tried to pay some bills that evening, I couldn't even sign my name. A series of barely felt small strokes had remodeled my body.
I can't mount or balance on an upright bicycle anymore, but I can sit down and pedal a recumbent. I've been laid low, a tall tree felled. Now magnificent trees are a sheltering canopy for my self-propelled bed. Everything in my life has changed except for this arbor.
By next summer I'll have reached a landmark: as many years living within a few blocks of Liberty as I spent in Detroit after college. Though the two cities couldn't be more dissimilar, they both have a gorgeous river that they've managed somehow to make it difficult to reach.
As soon as I figured out how to handle my marvelous new contraption, I made my way to the Huron. My old favorite route out Geddes to Gallup Park and the bike path all the way to Parker Mill was way beyond my strength, so I headed for Bandemer Park, making a harrowing descent around the potholes on Hiscock and then a frightening jaunt up the jagged sidewalk on North Main to cruise the bike path from Bandemer to Riverside Park.
Once I'm there, it's a magic carpet ride. The water sparkles, rowers glide, a brave soul jumps in, a woman with blue-gray hair stands on a kayak with her dog and a paddle! My front wheels have mere inches of clearance as I squeeze through the fenced path over Argo Dam. Before my hiatus from the outdoors, there was talk of
demolishing it. Instead, I discover the cool new water park beyond it--the Cascades.
The landscape hasn't changed nearly as much as my perspective on it. I used to zip confidently between cars downtown; now I fear they can't see me. On my old bike, I shunned sidewalks as dangerous; now I often choose them, crawling cautiously past alleys and driveways. No longer the big-city veteran scoffing at Ann Arbor's pretentiousness, I'm a low rider now. I don't look down on anyone.
Up above me, pedestrians are unpredictable hazards. On the Diag, they're staring at their handheld screens and barely notice me till I'm on their heels. Everywhere downtown they're weaving three or four abreast. I can't pass, so I wait in line. I'm in no hurry anymore. Some people stop and gawk, some smile or scowl, some point out my "cool bike" to their kids. One woman asks me if she can have a ride. I'm no threat to anyone now. I'm a quaint curiosity--an old guy on a glorified scooter.
Up the long hill on my way home is the neighborhood where two houses held thirteen years of life and my children growing up. I pass by the woods I stewarded, on the road I helped keep the city from expanding. I travel this familiar route more observantly now. That guy near Eberwhite Blvd. still has golf balls for sale in his front yard, and I still never see anyone buying any. These are my bike lanes, this is my Liberty--hard won and newfound again.
I've always known freedom: I grew up on Lake St. Clair. The murky expanse of it seemed limitless; indeed, it stretched to another land. Now, my horizons have shrunk. Like the river, I go only where my channel leads. I'm content merely to reach the end of every day. I'm nearer the ground. The potholes are more jarring, and it's scary when I try to go fast.
I'm getting stronger, though. The other day I made it all the way to Gallup Park. Rolling along again, wondering what's around the next bend.
[Originally published in November, 2012.]