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Ride Vibes: Wheeling and Able

Ride Vibes: Wheeling and Able

Discovering the joys of adaptive mountain biking and making the outdoors more accessible

By: Amanda Powell
Posted: December 5, 2022
Amanda on an adaptive mountain bike followed by her daughter Zoey on a Strider bike, riding on a dirt trail

I have always enjoyed the mountains. One of my first memories in the mountains was using a walker to get around a campground with my family. I also had a bike which had safe and sturdy training wheels made specially for me and donated by Shriners Hospital. I wouldn’t have been able to ride a bike as a child without those training wheels because of my disability. Since it was a basic bike I had, I never ever imagined that I would be able to do anything like mountain biking. It wasn’t even a remote possibility until 20 years later in my 30s. Mountain biking combined two things I loved to do (biking and hiking) and I’ve found that there are tools to eliminate barriers for me to be able to mountain bike.

Pedaling in the mountains I love

I was born with Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy. I was diagnosed way before I even had any memories of the mountains. I always wanted to be active whether that was trying different sports or playing outside. My awesome parents gave me every opportunity to try whatever I wanted and for me that meant almost every sport. I was determined that one of those sports would be “my” sport. When I say “my'' sport I mean that it would be one I could excel in and feel a sense of accomplishment for myself. I didn't find that sport until 2022 when I tried adaptive mountain biking through the National Ability Center (NAC) in Park City, Utah.

I first learned of the NAC five years ago when I was visiting Park City. I did not enter the NAC building but saw that they had a climbing wall and ropes course. Other than that I didn’t think much about it. Last year, I remembered that my orthopedic physical therapist mentioned NAC’s adaptive skiing programs. My family used to go skiing every year growing up but I wasn’t able to go because I don’t have the balance for regular skis. After learning about the adaptive skiing program, I researched ways I could pay for the program. I came across a scholarship for Seek Your Summit, a mountain biking event put on by the NAC. I also learned that the NAC had so many other programs available to the public. They don’t want the prices of these programs to be a burden or a roadblock for people wanting to get into adaptive sports so they provide scholarship opportunities.

I applied for the Seek Your Summit scholarship but unfortunately didn’t get it. I was heartbroken. One of the coordinators for the NAC reached out to me and said they would have loved for me to get the scholarship, but I didn’t have the equipment (an adaptive mountain bike with e-assist) necessary to participate. However, they offered me the opportunity to become an ambassador for the NAC. I couldn’t be happier. Their values and purpose aligned with mine so I accepted the position. I decided then and there that if I was going to represent the NAC, what better way to do that than pursuing my dreams: being outdoors and learning to mountain bike and ski in a way that was adapted to me. I wanted to be able to ride the mountains I loved and eventually be able to ride them with my daughter.

"Amanda with her family in Utah"

A ride to remember

Learning to mountain bike was a little tricky with the high cost of adaptive mountain bikes. My disability also limits what I can teach my daughter when it comes to riding. Luckily, I was able to rent a bike from the NAC when I did my lessons there. I’m so grateful to have been able to rent one, but I knew I wanted my own bike to ride in more places. After a couple of months of lessons, I brought my daughter along for a ride. I rode my adaptive bike and she rode her Strider bike. We had been practicing for a while on short walks around our neighborhood and I knew she’d be ready to try an easy trail with me.

I want to tell you about that first ride because it’s something that was very special to me. I woke up that morning and I was so excited that I would finally be able to share my new-found love of mountain biking with my daughter Zoey. I had gained some endurance after taking lessons, and Zoey had decent balance on her Strider now so we were both ready. On our car ride out to the NAC, Zoey asked where we were going. I told her that we were going to ride bikes together and that I would get to ride with her. Her face lit up. She was so excited. I definitely had some happy tears and I won’t ever forget that feeling as we drove to Park City to ride together. 

We got on our bikes and even had some friends come along to take photos and videos of our first time riding together. The videos are going to be part of a short film that my friends are doing on me as Zoey and I learn to bike and ski together. It was so cute to hear her giggling with excitement as I said, “Come on Zoey, let's go!” We rode up and down the trails together and had a wonderful time. She even got annoyed at the drone following us which was funny to watch. It wasn’t the smoothest day (it never is, as I tire quickly and Zoey is a wild two year-old) but it was amazing. It was definitely a day I will never forget.

"Amanda and Zoey riding on a dirt trail"

Struggles and successes on the saddle

Our journey, like most trails, has its ups and downs. These are a few struggles and successes we have had:

Finding time to bike together

It's not that we don't have time to adventure, but finding a time for us to be able to bike together definitely takes planning. The time spent together is all worth it. Since I am currently saving for my adaptive mountain bike, I rent an adaptive bike from the National Ability Center and ride the NAC trails in Park City. Those trails are great but with it being quite a drive from home, we have to plan well in advance to make it happen. I am able to get some rides in, but the distance does make it a more difficult compared to finding a trail near my home to ride if I had my own bike. 

Bikes and accessibility

A lot of trails would be inaccessible to me if I had an entry-level mountain bike. I need the electric-assist since my legs don’t have the strength to pedal for miles on end. I have a dream of doing trail in every National Park that I visit while creating content to talk about the accessibility of National Parks and public lands on my website and Instagram.

Something that has opened up many riding possibilities for me is the e-assist feature. eMTBs have been a bit of a divisive topic for many outdoor enthusiasts because of their definition of “real” mountain biking. You will often see signs, articles, or businesses saying biking for all BUT they will restrict the use of bikes equipped with e-assist. They don’t understand what access can mean for riders of different abilities. To me they are saying, trails for all but leave your motors at home. The use of e-assist and other adaptive features on bikes can help thousands and thousands of adaptive riders access trails they otherwise could not ride. When I started mountain biking, I would often tire quickly because of the many climbs during the course of a ride. I would get frustrated because I couldn’t go very far, but I know that having e-assist on a mountain bike would increase the distance I can cover exponentially.

A life-long journey

The struggles of mountain biking always are much smaller than the successes I have had as a disabled mountain biking mama. Being out there on the trails with my daughter is worth every single mountain I have had to climb to get to ride with her. We may have to learn to adapt in how we ride, where we ride, and how we learn to ride, but it's worth every second to experience these things together. I never thought it would be possible to ride down a mountain with my daughter because of my disability but here I am. I’m at the beginning of a life-long journey of mountain biking. Through my platform, National Park Capable, I hope to bring about access for every BODY who wants to bike outdoors.

"Amana sitting on her adaptive bike while holding Zoey"

About the author
Amanda at Arches National Park

Amanda Powell is an outdoor content creator who focuses on accessibility in the outdoors. She has a goal of visiting all the National Parks in the United States and so far she has been to 15. She tries to get out and be active as much as she can with her three year-old. You can usually find her…

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