Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Bike SEPTA

Mile Marker 980: 

I used to bike SEPTA.

My favorite thing about Philly's transit system is that the buses have bike racks.  For a bike commuter, they come in handy more often than you'd think.  Sudden flat tire?  Errant rainstorm?  No problem.  Just flag down a bus and hitch your bike to the front!

I am not yet ready to bike SEPTA again.

But I am ready to ride SEPTA.  And bike.  Separately.

 I bounce down 2nd Street, headed for the nearest EL station.  It's a rare "love-my-new-socket" moment.  Not to mention a welcome change from the snowy reaches of Vermont!

The sidewalk in Old City spreads before me like a patchwork quilt.  I scan the path ahead -- flagstone, brick, gravel, grates.  Each step's a gamble even on a beautiful day like this.

The familiar SEPTA stop rises in the distance, a roof-covered stairway leading down to the subway tracks.  This journey feels like uncharted territory, but it's really not.  In another life, I rode the EL to work every morning. A speedy, straight shot.  10 minutes, end to end.

When I moved to South Philly, the new commute required a bus and a train.  With wait time, it took almost an hour.

But BIKING cut the time in half -- and doubled the fresh air benefits!  In a pinch, I could always "bike SEPTA" home.

Now it's been over 2 years since I've done either one.  Those subway stairs seem daring.

I grasp the steel railing and descend carefully.  Over the loudspeaker, I hear the familiar announcement, "69th Street train making all stops."

The old me would've made a dash for it.  The new me doesn't dash.

"Doors are closing," says the automated voice.

I continue down slowly and finally drop my token into the turnstile slot.  I am underground.

On the dimly lit wall, there's a transit map -- ribbons of interwoven train lines.   I study it like a foreigner.

I'm going to 15th Street station.  It's a busy hub, deep below City Hall, where subway lines run together like tunnels in an ant farm.   I'm surprised to learn -- according to this map -- there's no elevator there.

There's one at 13th Street, 2 blocks before.  But that station isn't as familiar to me, and it's farther from my destination.  I weigh the options, known vs. unknown.  Stairs vs. elevator.  I choose stairs.

The next train cruises in.  "69th Street train making all stops."

I step inside.  So easy.

I slip into an open seat.  Still in shorts, my Genium's exposed for all the world to see.  But among the smattering of riders here, no one even glances in my direction.  It's comforting to blend in.  Just a normal commuter on a normal day.  I watch the darkness go by.

At 15th Street, the doors pop open again.

I follow the sea of people.  On the stairway I huddle to the right, hand on the railing, one step at a time.  Some folks rush past me, others just plod along behind.

There are 49 stairs to street level.

I emerge under the famous Clothespin, squinting into the sun.



The next day, I anchor my old college Schwinn to a bike rack on the trunk of my car.

For 20 minutes, I drive cautiously down I-95, glancing in the rear view mirror to make sure it's still attached.  (For the record, SEPTA bike racks are simpler.)

Thankfully, we arrive in one piece at Prosthetic Innovations.

I get myself "bike ready."  Elastic power belt to keep my socket secure, biking shoes to fit the pedal cage, and helmet -- well, for obvious reasons!

PT Jared escorts me to their parking lot, my training ground for the past 2 years.

The first time I walked without my crutches, I pushed out the door into this parking lot.  A spring breeze whipped it out of my hands and nearly knocked me over.  "Watch out for the wind!" Prosthetist Tim yelled after me.

Since then, I've used this blacktop to demo new feet, new legs, and new sockets.  To learn to walk and skate.  To step off curbs and swipe up stairs.  To try to run.

Now I'm about to BIKE.

It's been over a year since I rode my bike at the rehab gym.  With my most recent socket, I couldn't bring my leg up high enough to pedal.  I think this newer one will be better.  It's time to try.

In the off-season, my balance has improved.  Now, I stand steadily on my prosthesis and flip my right leg over the bike.  With a hip movement, I shimmy the Genium's foot into its pedal cage.  Then I reach down to tighten the pedal strap.

I hop, hop, hop with my right foot until the pedal is in a front position.  Then find my place on the seat.

Go!  I lift my right foot off the ground and start pedaling like crazy -- a kid who's just cast off her training wheels.

My turns are shaky and wide, but I'm riding!  We practice going left, then right.  Turning tighter and tighter.  Pushing with my right foot and pulling with my left.  Faster and harder against the pedals.

It works!




Except for a detail or two...

Every few strokes, my left heel catches on the pedal arm.  Not on every rotation, but enough to make for a bumpy, jarring ride.

As usual Tim has a solution. "When you walk, your toe has to be rotated 5 degrees out," he explains.  "But to pedal a bike, it should be 5 degrees in."

He gets out the wrench and shows me what to do.  We loosen 2 screws at the ankle and make the hairline adjustment.  Who knew 10 degrees could make such a difference?

I walk back toward the bike with a funny, toed-in waddle.

But the pedals flow better.  I feel like a biker again!


So why ride SEPTA?  Why BIKE?  And why now, at this point in the journey?

Directly across from the SEPTA station sits a café.  Over lattés, I meet with Diana from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.  We're both excited.

She's helping me plan a very special Mile 1000.

And the BIKING lesson?  Well, that's to make sure I'm not just spinning my wheels....

Finish line ahead!

2 comments:

  1. Step by step, choice by choice, day by day... you keep moving forward.
    Congrats on a few more "firsts"!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sounds like good training for the Bike the Drive event in Chicago in May. Maybe even ride the Chicago "L".

    ReplyDelete