I fancy myself a mountain biker. I’m not an expert by any means, but I am generally able to ride most trails while remaining vertical, dismounting every now and then only to navigate the most difficult of passages. After I prepare my bike for the ride—making sure the chain is lubricated and the tires inflated—I have a checklist I use to ensure I have everything I need. Helmet, check; gloves, check; water, check; glasses, check; music, check. What’s not on my list? Spare leg, check. Extra arm, check. However, those items are on the lists of some very brave riders I had the pleasure of meeting.
When I first arrived at Blue Diamond, Nevada, for the Ride 2 Recovery event, I was a little anxious, not really knowing what to expect. At first glance the scene looked like any typical bike riding get-together. There were 50 or so people dressed in the easily-identifiable attire of a bike rider: colorful shirts decorated with sponsorship names and logos. But it didn’t take long to realize that this was no typical bike-riding event. And these were no typical bike riders. While many of the men and women who attended the event were able-bodied, just as many were amputees. Some had lost a leg, some an arm, some both legs, and a few were triple amputees, having lost both their legs and one of their arms in the service of their country. As I surveyed the scene I couldn’t help but be reminded of the words made famous by General William Tecumseh Sherman…“War is hell.”
Riders who had all lost their legs had specially designed three-wheel bikes allowing them to pedal with their arms. Riders who had lost arms in addition to their legs wore prosthetics that clipped into the “pedals.” I marveled as I watched Army veteran John Nasson, who lost both his legs and his right arm in Afghanistan, hop into the seat of his new three-wheel bike for the first time, eager to try it out. After clipping in his arm, he took the bike out for a spin around the parking lot. John took to the bike like he had been born to it, “pedaling” with ease—a huge smile on his bearded face.
Once the bikes and riders were ready, we were divided by riding ability. I chose to ride with one of the beginner groups, the one which included the three-wheeled bikes. I was surprised at how well these riders handled these bikes, going over rocks and cuts in the trail with ease. But what amazed me was how the group of men and women helped and looked out for each other. When the incline became too steep for the three-wheeled bikes, other riders—both able-bodied and amputees—dismounted their own bikes and pushed their fellow riders up the hill. Other riders stopped, picked up the bikes that had been discarded and rode or walked them to the riders who were assisting their fellow soldiers.
On one particularly rough hill, our group was met by another group of more skilled riders who had stopped at the top of the hill to wait for us. As each of us attempted the hill, we were cheered on to shouts of “go get you some” and “you can do it” by the riders waiting at the top. I’ve been on rides where I’ve met fellow riders and while they were always very pleasant, none of them ever encouraged me to “go get me some” as I climbed a hill. But then again, we’ve never shared an experience like combat.
As the ride progressed, I found myself forgetting I was riding with a group of soldiers, each who possessed their own “limitations,” and began to feel I was just on a bike ride. A great bike ride with good friends and I guess, after all, that was the purpose of the whole thing—to surround yourself with friends and forget that you are somehow different and, if only for a moment, experience life just like everyone else. +
Paul W. Papa is a bike enthusiast and the author of Best Bike Rides Las Vegas and Mountain Biking Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.
When not out on the trails, he can be found at www.paulwpapa.com.