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Bicycling through Alaska Winter: Insanity, or Mere Stupidity?

Monday March 27, 2017

This is the fifth winter in Anchorage I have spent trying to get around mainly by bicycling. If you think it’s stupidity at best or even outright insane for anyone, let alone a person diagnosed 15 years ago with Parkinson’s Disease, to ride the icy dark streets of Anchorage in winter, I have a certain amount of sympathy for your argument. Why would a person do such a thing?

Allow me to answer that the most annoying way I can, by asking you why you don’t ride year-round.

Don’t you feel better on a bike than in a car? I do. I get to feel the wind on my cheek, hear the ravens talking, to engage with my environment in a way that is impossible when insulated by steel, glass and plastic. And when I arrive at my destination, I invariably feel better when I arrive by bike.

But, with Parkinson’s? Let me just double down on that one. Especially with Parkinson’s. Commuting and running errands by bike build all-important exercise into my day. We’re down to one car, which my wife normally takes to work, This means that if I want to go somewhere, I automatically get exercise as part of the deal. Not to belabor a point often made in this blog, exercise is crucial to dealing as well as possible with Parkinson’s disease.

Furthermore, driving is marginal now for me as a matter of safety. It’s a multi-taking skill that requires one to pay strict attention to the job at hand, regulating speed, analyzing conditions, being watchful for other drivers, pedestrians, random moose etc… I don’t concentrate as well as I’d like behind the wheel, especially with a passenger aboard. Not only do I focus better on a bicycle, should I lose concentration and ram something, or worse, somebody, I expect that there will be significantly less damage to all concerned if I do it with my bike instead of our massive pick-up truck.

Biking for me is a chance to steal something back from Parkinson’s disease. I like the feeling of strength in my legs when I chug up a hill, and the sensation of speed I enjoy when flying down the other side. I like the feeling of getting somewhere under my own power when PD is working to undermine my autonomy in so many other ways. I’ll admit to feeling a little machismo when I see others, who seem perfectly healthy, who won’t undertake the rigors of riding through the winter in spite of its many rewards. And a decade and a half into my diagnosis, I have to take my machismo where I can find it.

Do I bike everywhere at all times? No. Do I accept rides from friends and family? Of course. Do I sometimes fall? Well, yes. See previous statement about machismo. Are the conditions at times too wet, too cold, too icy, too snowy, or too dark, leaving me stuck at home? Inevitably. I deal with it

Biking is one of the few activities I can do which give me the sensation of being almost PD-free. I can’t see giving that up for almost six months of the year just because of ice, snow, cold and dark. Not as long as my trusty bike has studded tires!

Oh, and there is this… In the countless miles I have logged in my bike saddle these past five winters, I have yet to see a bicycle abandoned helpless in a ditch, its wheels reaching forlornly skyward. That’s more than I can say about many an SUV.

Peter Dunlap-ShohlPeter Dunlap-Shohl
NWPF Blogger

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