For over 30 years I was a professional percussionist and pianist, primarily playing a style of African marimba that requires a rigorous technique, much like hammering continuously with heavy mallets for hours at a time. Over the course of my career, I developed chronic nerve impingement in the ulnar nerve of my left elbow and recalcitrant, bilateral tendinosis in both elbows. However, I was able to keep this at bay for a long time through intermittent rest and rounds of physical therapy. I was also an avid backcountry skier and sea kayaker, enjoyed mountain biking and had taught adaptive alpine and nordic skiing. With my husband, my life was built around a flexible schedule of teaching, performing and outdoor adventures. I had hiked in the Himalayas, whitewater rafted the Grand Canyon, climbed mountains all over Colorado and sea kayaked 650 miles of the Baja California coast.
As my husband and I entered middle age, we started looking at road biking as a way to enjoy cycling without the pounding on the upper body that one can experience with mountain biking. In 2016 we did a 14-day self-supported bicycle tour in Portugal and absolutely loved it! The upright rental touring bike did not cause me any discomfort beyond the normal bits of hand numbness that many cyclists experience. We returned home, did our research and purchased two new gravel/touring bikes.
We had the bikes professionally fitted, loaded them up with touring gear and embarked on an easy, 8-day bike tour on the Katy Trail along the Missouri River. Two days into the ride, I lost all mobility and sensation in my fourth and fifth fingers, which did not resolve. After about two weeks I began to regain the use of my fingers, but that was a wake-up call to me. I realized that if I continued to abuse my upper body as I had for so long, I could permanently lose the use of my left hand.
That event led me to having a complex surgery in 2018 to relocate the ulnar nerve in my left arm and repair the tendinosis in the elbow. The surgery was somewhat successful in that I no longer have chronic nerve impingement, but I did not recover sufficiently to return to my career as a musician or my beloved sports of skiing, kayaking and cycle touring. Having been a dedicated outdoor adventurer and traveler, I needed to find a new way to fulfill this missing element in my life.
I started researching recumbent bicycles and quickly learned that a 2-wheeled recumbent was not a viable option for me, as I could not risk a fall and the additional damage that could do to my arms. I initially was under the gross misconception that recumbent trikes were only for “old” people, but when I began demoing them and discovered how much FUN they are and how comfortable, I was thrilled! This was a way I could cycle without pressure on my hands, arms or neck, that would require minimal gripping, and that was stable and would not put me in significant danger of a fall.
In the summer of 2020 I bought an ICE Adventure 20” full suspension trike from the Recumbent Trike Store in Longmont, Colorado. I outfitted it with wrist supports, neck rest, rear rack with a riser, side bag, odometer and mirror and I was ready to go! I also had the Recumbent Trike Store outfit me with their unique bar-end shifter comfort grips that make it possible to use your entire hand to shift gears, rather than just your thumbs. For those of us with arthritis in our hands, this simple adaptive device makes a world of difference. Finally, my dear mother fashioned a neon yellow pouch for storing a 2-liter water bag on top of my rear rack for those days when we would be long distances between water stops. It also serves to enhance my visibility when riding in traffic.
After many training rides on country roads and paved bike paths, in the fall of 2020 my husband and I did a 5-week camping and riding trip through the midwest and southeastern United States, riding our bikes through fall colors and colonial history. That trip included a trial 4-day tour with camping gear along the paved Root River Trail, one of many paved rails-to-trails projects in the U.S. Unfortunately, riding dirt roads or trails, even with my full suspension Adventure, is too aggravating to my elbows, so I must stick to pavement.
With the success of that fall trip, we began planning a longer, more remote tour for the following year, and in the spring of 2021 we packed up once again for a 1,000 mile tour around the “Grand Circle” of southern Utah and northern Arizona, riding through spectacular desert landscapes and national parks, including Monument Valley, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Lake Powell, Natural Bridges and Cedar Mesa. The Adventure performed beautifully, carrying heavy loads and riding smoothly over country roads and in changing conditions (heat, rain, snow). I am now able to ride all day with no pain in my hands or arms, only some stiffness that resolves by the next morning. I also am very happy to report that I have no nerve impingement, no numbness or tingling in my hands, which I had always experienced when riding a traditional bike. My neck and back are relaxed and I need not overly grip with my hands to steer.
Now, we are taking our cycling adventure back to Portugal and are about to embark on a 3-month tour, starting in the city of Porto in early March 2022, heading south along the coast to Obidos, an ancient walled city formerly occupied by the Romans, Visigoths and Moors. From there we’ll start heading inland to the northern Alentejo region, known for its historic agricultural traditions of wine making, olives, cork oaks and sheep herding. Almost every village in this area is situated on top of a steep hill, often with the ruins of a castle as its center point. As we make our way to our destination each day, we will be treated with one final big climb before settling into a simple pension, guesthouse, or Warm Showers bed for the night. From the Alentejo we’ll head north into the Baixa region of Portugal, which will take us in and out of the Serra da Estrela mountains and along the Spanish border, though historic schist villages, in which all of the houses, walls and town structures are made of limestone schist. Eventually, we’ll make our way back into the Douro Valley, famous for its Douro wine, and then north into the Spanish region of Galicia, to Santiago de Compostela, the official end of the Camino de Santiago. By then it will be full-on spring and hopefully warm enough to dip our toes in the Atlantic along the fjords of northern Spain. As our adventure winds down, we’ll make our way back along the coast south to Porto. We anticipate this tour to be around 1,500 miles and the design of it is such that we will not be limited to a particular itinerary or schedule, but will be free to follow our whims, stopping to explore interesting sites, stretching our legs, or even resting for a day or more as need be. With my trike and John’s traditional bike as our means of transportation, we will be moving slowly, smelling the spring flowers and having a good look around.
Without the ICE Adventure, there is no way that I would ever be able to do this trip. The Adventure literally has enabled me to begin dreaming and adventuring again. It’s given me back my physical and emotional strength, confidence and joy, and all I really want to do now is RIDE! I find myself constantly thinking about future trips, as well as discovering new rides closer to home. Every day I go out on my trike, whether it’s part of a longer tour or a shorter day ride, I feel like kid, celebrating the simple pleasures of life, my legs pumping hard up a mountain pass, followed by the exhilaration of speeding back down, leaning into every turn and feeling one with my cycle.
I am so grateful to have given myself the gift of my ICE Adventure and recommend it to every person I meet who has some sort of disability, chronic pain or condition that makes it difficult for them to ride a traditional bike or exercise at all. The Adventure has changed my life. It has enabled me to adventure once again and I could not be happier! Thank you, ICE!
This first blog entry is part of an article I recently submitted to Inspired Cycle Engineering (ICE), the manufacturer of my Adventure recumbent trike. ICE is based in Falmouth, England and has been producing top-notch recumbent trikes since 1986. For more information about their products and local dealers, visit https://www.icetrikes.co.