Archive for May, 2009
You hope to stand on the shoulders of those who went before you. Our attempt at the handcycle record for the White Rim Trail in Southern Utah, couldn’t demonstrate the concept of standing on the shoulders anymore. It must have been 1996 or 1997 when Mike Augspurger called me out of the blue to ask if I wanted to become a test rider for his off-road handcycle. During the winter I used mountain bike tires on my wheelchair. I’d seen the downhill mountain bikes, but he said that his vehicle would be different. Marrying his trials riding experience (the guys who jump on and over all sorts of obstacles without putting a foot down) and ingenuity of building custom mountain bikes, he said his vehicle could go up and down anything.
The vehicle that I tried that first day looked very much like the prototype that it was. Mike had used forks and other parts from old bikes. It was called the Afghanistan model having gained its inspiration from a news piece featuring amputees from the Soviet invasion attempting to negotiate the rugged rocky terrain in wheelchairs. Mike knew there was a better way, just not exactly what it would look like. That first vehicle was crude. It took an assembly line of people to get me into it, yet it had the chest steering pad that would make the rig so distinctive. With it I could pedal with my hands and steer by leaning to one side or the other.
That day I became the first disabled test rider of what would become Mike’s One-Off Handcycle. With a lap around the parking lot of the hulking, old, white Florence, Mass factory now converted to bohemian studio offices for artist and progressive thinkers like Mike, I knew that this would be something revolutionary. I envisioned riding over anything, and with the fully engineered vehicle, I could. It changed the landscape of the wheelchair industry, adding steep, rocky uphills and uneven terrain to the rough-edges smoothed with pavement, ramps and curb cuts mantality. In a word, it was exciting, and I bought one of first batch to finally make it to the woods.
This past year Mark Wellman debuted a film called “Crank It Up,” in which he, Bob Vogel, and Steve Ackerman became the first handcyclers to complete Southern Utah’s 105-mile White Rim Trail, one of the most famous mountain bike trails in the world. First is so important. Like Mike, with his revolutionary vehicle, the threesome proved that it could be done. Think about that, three wheelchair users conquered one of the toughest off-road trails in the world. Conventional wisdom said that they shouldn’t even leave the pavement, but these three weren’t limited by conventional wisdom. They rode the vehicles, over particularly difficult terrain they dragged themselves and each other through deep sand and up loose surfaced climbs. Teamwork and willingness to do whatever it took allowed the three to compete the circuit in six days.
My team and I hope to stand on the shoulders of both Mike Augspurger and the three handcyclists. Our vehicle is a tweak of a four-wheeled, two rear-wheel drive vehicle that Mike built. We shortened the wheelbase improving traction and reduced the weight by almost fifty percent. How much of a difference will our changes make? I think it can make a lot. In the film Mark, Bob, and Steve had one of their most difficult days starting at Labyrinth camp, where they almost immediately encountered deep, almost impassable sand. Bob jumped off his handcycle, dragged it and a rope up a hill and then pulled the others behind him. It took them five to six hours to make it to the bottom of the Hardscrabble climb. A couple of weeks ago, I started at the same camp, climbed over Hardscrabble, past the Potato Bottom camp, along the river, then back over Hardscrabble and another five miles past Labyrinth in about the same time that it took them to reach the bottom of the climb. I’m not bold enough to say that we’ve changed the landscape in the same way that Mike and the threesome did, but I’m hopeful that we will be able to add to their efforts.
We think that we can complete the tour in four days—reducing the existing record by a third. Four days is significant. The average cyclist completes the tour in four days. Our victory will be both physical and social. If we can complete it in four days we will show that paraplegics can share one of the greatest mountain bikes trails in the world with their able-bodied friends as a peer—as an equal.
For me, the White Rim Trail will be my first big test since being hospitalized in January. I’ve never gone 105 miles in four days. Each day, starting with the 37-mile first day, will force me to go further and challenge myself more than I ever have. I see this effort as a great steppingstone for our Kilimanjaro preparation. It will tell us where we are and indicate what we still need to do.
In history, Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, Sir Edmund Hillary summitted Mt. Everest, and Chuck Yeager broke the speed of sound. Many doubted whether man should even attempt any of these—whether man was even supposed to try. Mike Augspurger introduced us to the woods. Mark, Bob, and Steve showed us that a handcycle could complete the White Rim Trail. Maybe we can help bring the disabled communities from the shadows to the mainstream. We’ll aim for four days. It will be difficult. Temperatures will soar to 95 with no shade cover. Dust will cover everything. And I’m looking forward to the whole experience.5 comments