Guest Post: The Zen of Solo Handcycling by Dave Nickelson

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(Dave Nickelson, a patent attorney, is a low-level paraplegic passionate about the outdoors and lives in Florida)

As I unloaded my off-road handcycle at the trailhead I couldn’t help but stop and soak in the solitude. I was 70 miles from the nearest town and had left the pavement behind 55 miles ago. All of this just to reach the START of the trail I intended to ride that morning.

Growing up an avid hiker I was accustomed to covering long distances in state and national parks, enjoying the views and experiences that my own two feet could carry me to, but after a spinal cord injury in 2002 I quickly found that the ‘accessible’ paved paths and boardwalks left me wanting more.

My purchase of a Reactive Adaptations Bomber Off-Road Handcycle opened the door to regaining some of that independent travel I craved. These devices, part wheelchair and part bicycle enable travel over much rougher terrain than even the burliest wheelchair can handle.

As I set out down the trail, my truck disappearing around the bend I was exactly where I wanted to be again. Miles from anything, traveling solo under the power of my own body, with views of snow-capped peaks my companions for the day.

The trail, a long ago abandoned forest service road was slowly being reclaimed by nature, with carpets of wildflowers in places and the trunks of young trees overtaking it in others. Here and there I stopped to scan the hillsides for wildlife as this area of Montana is home to grizzly bears and I didn’t want to have a surprise encounter with one of those bruins.

On these solo rides I prepare as best I can, carrying repair kits for every reasonable scenario I can think of, and bear spray within easy reach on my hip. I also inform friends and family of my intended route and expected return times in case something should go amiss.

As I rolled further into the trail, views opened up of Bunker Creek in the valley bottom to my left, and Chipmunk Ridge to my right. From viewing maps I knew that a trail exists atop that ridge, but any attempt on that would have to wait for another day. One of my favorite things about our great public lands is that there are an almost limitless number of potential trails to see and ride. True, a great many of them will be inaccessible, either too narrow, too steep or too covered with downed trees to get through, but it’s this vast source of possibilities that keeps me coming back time after time.

This time the obstacles were minor. Some small washouts in the trail, a downed tree I had to saw through in another place, but none of them kept me from reaching the end, a junction of two creeks with a waterfall cascading over a rock precipice just a short distance away. I had covered 6 miles on the way in and didn’t see a soul.

I sat and enjoyed the sunshine for hours, the cool breeze of that day helping to keep the bugs at bay before I decided it was time to head for home, the anticipation of reaching the end of the trail replaced by the anticipation of getting back to my truck.

Two hours later as it came into view and I transferred off the handcycle I reveled in the satisfaction of achieving my goal of riding this particular path to its end and back. There will be other trails to identify and ride, but for now this was enough, exactly where I wanted to be.

– Want to chat with Dave about handcycling? Contact Dave on Facebook

– Watch Dave handcycle at Flathead Nat’l Forest in Montana here

– Dave’s recommended handcycle: Reactive Adaptations


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