Friday, May 14, 2010
The Sound of the Man Working on the (Bicycle ) Chain Gang
(Above, a picture of me sent by friend Scott McMurren. It was shot from his car when he happened across me aboard my recumbent. In his typical kindly way, he titled this "Riding Nerdy")
Although I am crazy about bicycling, my earliest memory of riding is not a good one. I was maybe six or seven and was just learning on my sister's hand-me-down royal blue Raleigh. Before me, the open road. Behind me, my mom, running as I pedaled, her hand gripping the saddle to steady me. Only... what's this? Applause? That's Mom clapping! That can only mean there is nothing holding me up! Exactly like Wile E. Coyote walking into thin air off a cliff, when I became aware that there was nothing holding me up I went down hard.
I've had numerous spectacular falls since then, including one that left my right cheek impaled by an old rusty aerial from a car radio, and another when I smacked into a woman who was sharing a joint with her boyfriend on the path down from West High hill. And now that I have Parkinson's Disease I expect to fall from my bike frequently.
Yet I don't.
Even more mysterious than the human ability to balance on two skinny tires while hurtling forward is doing this while your movement is compromised by Parkinson's Disease. Recently a small sensation was kicked up by a report that a Dutch man with advanced PD was barely able to walk but rode his bike six miles per day (you can see him tremoring up a storm, then riding his bike here)
This is a case where the patients are way ahead of parts of the medical community. I doubt this news shocked Davis Phinney or Doug Bahniuk, or any of a great number of parkies who pedal.
Like them, I feel freest and most like my old self when on a bike. But what I didn't expect was all that biking could restore.
Lately I have been struggling with my voice, partly because new settings on my deep brain stimulator seem to interfere with my brain's vocal centers. My speech can quickly deteriorate into rushed and indecipherable syllables. And my singing, to use a decipherable syllable: Oy!
So I was surprised when about 45 minutes into a 2 hour ride yesterday when I found myself singing in the saddle with better pitch and strength than I had been able to muster for months. I easily warbled "Pancho and Lefty", "The January Man", and host of other songs from my personal hit parade. When I launched into "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" I envisioned a full-blown musical. In the show-stopping big production number the kids on a passing school bus joined in with four-part harmony on the chorus while a trio of street-corner inebriates doo-wopped and a bevy of meter maids high-kicked in between writing tickets. All this only slightly marred by gasps for air.
That exercise can at least temporarily improve PD symptoms is confirmed by exciting work done by Dr. Jay Alberts of the Cleveland clinic. But it's one thing to read about the amazing research results that Dr. Alberts is reporting, or even to see video. It's quite another to find yourself flying ahead on two skinny tires, singing your fool head off, and held up against all belief by an invisible hand.