by Chrystal Walsh
The truck camper was loaded up with their bicycles and a canoe. My grandparents traveled by air perhaps only three times in their lives, but from their Massachusetts home they knew the eastern seaboard from Canada to Florida well. A dog-eared book of maps moved between their vehicle and home, and my grandmother documented their travels, tracking fuel prices, campground rates and favorite camp sites, and where and how far they biked or canoed. Sadly these log books were thrown away during my grandmother’s Alzheimers, but some photos remain with handwritten notes on the back showing the sites and people they visited. Their appreciation for adventure, nature, and exercise lives on in me, an occasional participant in their journeys.
My mother, my grandparent’s youngest daughter, became a paraplegic at age 19 from a car accident. Gender, generation, and handicap limitations definitely impacted my mom’s life story, and my dad, well that’s a whole other blog. But as a child, I helped my mom reach things on the grocery store shelves and was allowed to ride my bicycle solo into town to get basic necessities and a candy or Slush Puppie treat for myself.
Outside of a cousin having to teach me how to ride a bike, my childhood bicycling experience was what I consider traditional. Riding to a friend’s house, bicycling to my first job at a local seafood restaurant, and occasionally riding a round trip 6 miles to my grandparent’s to swim in their in-ground pool. I wasn’t much of an athlete and after college and a move to the Bay Area of California, I would bicycle to the train station for work, until theft took its toll. Two bikes later I switched to walking.
Fast forward 20 years and I am married and balancing the needs of my children, aging relatives, and work. I had been living in Western Pennsylvania, in my husband’s hometown, with a long car commute for work in Pittsburgh. Exercise was at the bottom of my to-do list, but Covid changed everything. Daily walks became a part of our new family routine and soon we decided to try bicycling a 50-mile rail trail spread out over several weeks. We were hooked on cycling as a fun family activity!