I Can’t Walk, but I Can Bike!by Tamia Nelson

That’s what I wrote in a letter—remember letters?—to my aunt, longer ago than I’d like to recall. But I was reminded of it when a free-running dog knocked a friend off her bike. The dog was uninjured, but my friend had a broken leg. By unhappy coincidence, this came almost on the anniversary of the long-ago day when I caught an edge on a black diamond run and struck a tree, shattering my tibia and fibula. In a way I was lucky. If my leg hadn’t taken the force of the crash, my head would have, and I’d have been dead.

That was my last ski outing for the season. I was in a full-leg cast for five months—a plaster cast, mind, nothing like the lightweight, high-tech casts of today. I couldn’t shower, and I couldn’t walk. Instead, I hobbled around on crutches, with my plaster-shrouded leg sticking out ahead of me, looking disconcertingly like a droopy Dalek.

It was a long five months, during which time I developed formidable calluses under my arms from the crutch pads. (I refused to yield to the temptation to take the bus, walking—or rather hobbling—the mile to and from school, week in and week out.) But at last the day came when the cast came off. The sight which greeted me was not a pretty one, however. My leg was waxy white, covered in long hairs, and about half the size it had been. It also sported some odd bumps in strange places. Still, the worst was over. Or so I thought.

I was wrong. My leg was now too weak to support my weight for more than a few halting steps. Worse yet, my knee buckled without warning, tumbling me to the ground again and again. So I was soon back on the crutches. But I had a bike—a gleaming new ten-speed that my grandparents had given me as a graduation present. (I graduated just after the cast came off.) At first, it didn’t even occur to me to try to ride it. I couldn’t walk, could I? How could I ride a bike? But needs must, and when I was still on crutches after two more weeks, I was ready to try anything. So I threw my withered leg over the saddle and pedaled tentatively off, expecting the worst.

But my first short ride was a success. If my bum leg couldn’t do much to help turn the crank, it didn’t hurt much, either. And it was wonderful to leave my crutches behind on the porch, even for a few minutes. I felt light. I felt strong. I felt as if I had been granted to the keys to every city in the world. That night, I wrote to my aunt to tell her the good news. My letter began with these words: “I can’t walk, but I can bike!”

I rode every day thereafter, and my rides got longer and longer. It was many weeks before I could walk more than a hundred yards, but by then I was cycling for miles. And by the time the first leaves on the maples were tinged with scarlet, I had ditched the crutches for good.

Which is why I was glad when my friend’d leg healed and she was able to get back on her bike. There’s magic to be found in these strange-looking assemblages of steel tubing, aluminum hoops, and rubber tires. Good magic. Healing magic. Just watch out for dogs!

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.