Image for Madeline Kreider Carlson

Bike medicine

I never used to think twice about riding a bike. As a kid, I rode to the park and the library. In college, I pedaled to class. When I moved to Philly, frugality and scarce parking turned me into a bike commuter. It wasn’t until last year that bicycling revealed its healing superpower to me.

In early 2014, my younger brother and I hatched a plan to go on a bike trip across New Zealand. He had done a few shorter bike tours, but this was new territory for me. I was hungry for an adventure.

Bumps in the road

Nine weeks before departure, I discovered I needed knee surgery. The trip we had been planning for months became an uncertainty. As an active, adventurous person, I felt like I had been sidelined from my own life.

My surgeon said I could go but it would be hard work. My physical therapist thought I was crazy, but he agreed to help.

After surgery, my first tiny recovery milestone was bending my knee enough to pedal a full rotation. For seven weeks I rode a stationary bike every day, imagining New Zealand’s spectacular landscapes whenever I felt weak or discouraged. Slowly I regained strength, and two days before we left, I got the okay to ride outside on a real bike.

The first days on the road were tough. Pulling a loaded trailer up actual hills was much more challenging than the hill workouts programmed on my stationary bike. Despite many hours of rehab, my right leg was still dramatically atrophied. A few days in, I got in a nasty crash that left me with 18 stitches and a whole lot of road rash.

The crash could have been the end. Part of me wanted to say, That’s it, I’m taking the bus! Instead, new opportunities arose: accepting hospitality from friendly Kiwis, slowing down, building trust and camaraderie with my brother.

Getting back on my bike was scary—I felt vulnerable, hesitant and shaky. I took it one mile and one day at a time, focusing on the horizon.

Vehicle for healing

My brother and I biked 1,194 miles across New Zealand, traversed landscapes straight out of Middle-earth (and consumed 20.7 pounds of Nutella—our proudest trip stat!). Through all those miles, my bike was my constant companion and buddy. I got stronger and faster as we pedaled from jagged coastline to snowcapped mountains.

Even sweeter than my much improved strength and range of motion was how much more confident, powerful and present I felt. I had fallen off and climbed right back in the saddle. There was no better feeling than riding through new territory by my own power.

New adventures

In my new role at Bicycle Colorado, I am lucky to work with thousands of members and allies who find bicycling meaningful for many reasons. Each day as I ride in to work on the Cherry Creek Trail—despite wind, rain, ice and the occasional rat—I am grateful for strength, healing and the chance to explore and interact on my bicycle.

Have you found healing in riding? What other hidden powers has bicycling revealed to you?

Madeline Kreider Carlson

About the Author: Madeline Kreider Carlson


Scott Christopher - Reply

Thanks for sharing, Madeline. A great story about New Zealand, an even better story about your strength, perseverance and recovery.


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