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Wile E. Coyote, Spinoza, PD and Me 

Tuesday July 23, 2019

Wile E. Coyote, Spinoza, PD and Me 



The moment I realized there was going to be trouble, there was no time left to avoid it.

I was rolling along at a respectable rate on a favorite part of a mid-town bike path, a  bridge over a bright stream flowing through a lush greenbelt. The sun was out and the beta endorphins were flowing. 

As I cruised across the bridge, my mind wandered. So did my bike. When I realized that I had drifted too close to the metal lattice that encloses the bridge, I was already toast, condemned by velocity and geometry. My handlebar clipped a post, causing an abrupt right turn. My upper body slammed into into the sturdy metal framework. I retain a clear image of myself caroming off the railing, hurtling backwards over my handlebars and falling to the wooden planking where I finally bounced to a halt, like Wile E. Coyote after a run-in with a defective ACME product 

Miraculously I escaped serious injury, thanks to the fact that I landed on my padded back pack. My big worry as I struggled back to my feet was that someone might have seen my little mishap, and would feel obligated to rush over and give me sensible advice like “OMG! You stay right here while I call an ambulance!” or worse, “Hey old man, time to give up the bike!” Fortunately there were no witnesses, other than the trees and sun, who wisely kept their counsel. 

I checked the bike for damage, found none, re-mounted and pedaled unsteadily the last few miles home. 

Why do I insist on riding my damn bike in spite of this and many other painful misadventures? I could  go on at great length about the benefits of bicycling for Parkinson’s disease. The likelihood of the ability of exercise to promote the production of the neurotrophic chemicals that facilitate the growth of brain cells, the immediate positive effects on the symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as the temporary lessening of tremor, the volume restored to speaking voices, the lessening of depression, and the gentler overall long-term decline into disability. Any of these would in themselves be ample reason to mount and ride.

Add to these the important argument against a distractible person dealing with mental and physical deficits driving a car. Let’s face it, it’s much better to inadvertently steer a bike into the side of a bridge than do the same with an automobile. To say nothing of the difference between hitting a human with a car and doing the same with a bike.  

Those are all great reasons to stick to the bicycle. But when I reflect on what drives my devotion to cycling, another reason dominates. Parkinson's is a full-time affliction, akin to the condition of the philosopher Spinoza, when he was excommunicated. "... Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up. Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in."

Riding my bike is the one activity that seems to lift the curse, miraculously relieving the hindrances of Parkinson’s. My balance feels more reliable on a bike than when walking or standing. I don’t have clumsy or painfully slow movement, and if you saw me riding, you wouldn’t have a clue that I was suffering from a slow-motion brain injury.    

What's more, cycling transports me through time as well as space, back to when I was not afflicted with Parkinson's. Like then, I still get a thrill from the feeling of power when I chug up a hill under my own steam. And I still get the sensation of flight when I crest the hill and sail down the far side. If I must pay with an occasional body slam, it's a small price for the release biking provides from the tenacious grip of Parkinson's. 

Peter Dunlap-ShohlPeter Dunlap-Shohl
NWPF Blogger

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