I am posting this story, but it is actually a guest blog post from the Troy Bike Rescue Community. Rachel’s story is a truly moving one, and I am so glad she is sharing it!
Community Bike Therapy
by Rachel Carter
Unusual love stories are my favorite kind; I am comforted to know that unlikely odds do, in fact, happen. Yet, the most surprising relationship of my life recently has not been with another person.
As a first-time passenger on the back of a motorcycle four years ago, I couldn’t believe the feeling of wind rushing over my whole body so quickly. It was a little alarming, and in the first few moments, I felt that the only foreseeable obstacle to enjoying the ride would be my own nervousness. Only a few miles into the drive, the driver attempted to pass two cars on the hill we were ascending, accelerating rapidly. In the opposing lane, another car reached the crest of the hill just as we did. I had no control over what was happening–should I jump off the back to my death, stay on and close my eyes, or watch? Though time felt spacious with delirium, speed and force quickly eliminated the potential to make any decision. The motorcycle driver suffered serious, almost fatal injuries, and the people in the oncoming car were dealt minor ones as they collided. I sailed off the back, one-hundred and sixty feet through the air and down the road, stopped in my flight by a guardrail and a telephone pole. I fractured my skull, neck, shoulder-blade, collarbone, radius, two lower vertebrae, four areas of my pelvis, left femur, both sides of each ankle, and my left foot. As I opened my eyes in the bright April sun, splayed out on the grass beside the road, I could see that I was losing a lot of blood. My kidneys were ruptured, and I had sustained too many breaks to move. The guardrail had torn off the front of my left quadricep down to the kneecap, and it was left open and inside-out, resting on my shin. My femur was not inside the open back of my thigh, but in small pieces around me. Looking at what was left of my leg, simply a hamstring without visible bone, I began screaming for help, convinced that I had just lost a limb.
After seven and a half pints of blood transfusions, several major surgeries, multiple titanium implants, weeks of hospitalization, nine months of physical therapy, and a year without walking, I was part of the world again, but I hardly felt that I could function in it normally. I had a slight limp and lacked a few knee ligaments, a section of my inner thigh had been lost, my joints ached with arthritis, and I had a great deal of visible scarring. Mentally, I was struggling with post traumatic stress disorder, and the anguish of believing that my ability to perform any rigorous physical activity had ended at eighteen years old. I logically knew that my accident wouldn’t happen again, but I still felt frightened by all forms of motion. I swore that even a child’s tricycle would be too upsetting for me to ride, and I was worried that if I pushed myself physically, I would only experience more pain and further injury. Transportation of any kind seemed like a guarantee of vulnerability and unpredictable disaster to me, though I reintegrated driving a car into my life as it was ostensibly unavoidable.
Last summer, in 2010, I discovered Troy Bike Rescue and was instantly intrigued by the beautiful frames, some old and some new, suspended from the ceiling, and the existence of a collective that joyfully resisted conventional travel by car whenever possible. The signs explaining the “Learn-and-Earn” process of volunteering, selecting and repairing a used bike, and contributing by donation indicated pragmatism, kindness, and fun all at once. The friendly faces and dirty hands of volunteers of both genders and all ages welcomed me in. I eventually decided to overcome my fear of being on two wheels with a dark green Trek 820 frame. I didn’t grasp every concept right away as my hybrid commuter evolved, but my repetitive questions, often about the derailleur, were met with a deep well of patience from each person who worked with me. As the weeks went by, watching and helping others provided many opportunities to understand universal mechanic principles, specific bicycle components, and maintenance throughout the life of a bike. The concept of “re-cycling” promoted by TBR extended for me outside of the bike realm as well, and suggested a whole new perspective on our culture’s relationship to consumption and waste. Simply purchasing a bicycle at a shop and reading cycling material online never could have prepared me as well for riding as my time at TBR did, and for a fraction of the cost. Beyond that, TBR offered me more than just a cursory knowledge of tools and parts; I found people to ride with, advice on how to navigate traffic, stretches for my injured knee, inspiration from the cyclists who had taken their passion on incredible trips, and the courage to think outside of a society indoctrinated by the use of petroleum.
No one ever told me not to drive my car, or not to be afraid, but the example set by TBR gently encouraged me to move past those habits, and to bravely venture out regardless of the season or topography. I now ride several times a week between Troy and Albany and I have worked through most of my anxiety in heavy traffic. I recently built up a road bike for touring, and I am planning longer rides this summer than I could have ever dreamed. The rush of wind on my skin finally feels like freedom instead of loss. There’s something incredibly humanizing about moving through the world at a rate you can genuinely feel, one that is exhilarating and yet, still within your ability to safely control. Every bicycle I meet now holds a story for me, much like my own. I can recognize damage, new parts, new paint, and the promise of adventures to come. For what TBR has given me, I can only aspire to become more like the core volunteers I’ve come to know there who ride, educate, and come together every week to create a community resource freely and fearlessly.
A romance with cycling, as with real love, happens both suddenly and slowly, and has a way of showing you who you are when tested. It also resembles one other aspect of love–it’s too good not to share.
My refurbished Motobecane Grand Touring
(circa 1983) awaits many journeys.
Editors Note: This story was originally published in the Times Union Bike Blog on June 17, 2011. Thank you Ms. Carter for allowing our Community to better understand the importance of a bicycle and the independence it can bring.