It's 4 o'clock in the afternoon and my heart is beating twice the tempo of time, I'm breathing heavy, like a marathon runners final strides across a finish line, my legs are throbbing in pain, screaming for me to stop... pedaling.
As I will myself up a steep, dirt trail, lined with wispy, pussy-willow branches and tall, emerald, green grass, the old mossy oaks shade my effort from the late spring sun. With all my strength I push down through the pedals one at a time, counting each and every agonizing revolution in my mind as my wife Katie walks leisurely at my side. She empathetically hoots and hollers, encouraging me to continue just a few more feet to my incremental goal: a tiny brown bush at the side of the trail.
During my struggle I can't help but laugh out loud at the contrast and juxtaposition of effort between Katie and me in this moment and how it must seem to an onlooker. I'm sure it looks odd with me grunting and snarling in self-imposed pain while Katie smiles with joy and ease as she strolls along. But then again, Katie doesn't have a spinal cord injury.
Sixteen years ago I broke my neck racing a motorcycle, which instantly paralyzed my body from the chin down, rendering me a quadriplegic. I have since dedicated my life to challenging my one-in-a-million prognosis. I now have the ability to pedal a bicycle, drive a car, build a business and most recently, walk down the isle with my beloved Katie.
As a couple, we love spending time outdoors, camping, hiking and riding. For me, living with a high-level spinal cord injury, I have faced significant challenges accessing the wilderness, that was until now...
The machine that I pedal up this remote mountain trail is a custom-built, three-wheeled, off-road monster, I call the Honey Badger (aptly named, I feel, as it truly doesn't give a shit). Spinal cord injury or not, this thing, propelled with enough human force, will go almost anywhere! Built by Jake O'Connor (a paraplegic craftsman) from Crested Butte, Colorado, his company Reactive Adaptations pride themselves on handcrafting some of the worlds finest adaptive off-road cycles for alternative athletes living with some form of injury or ailment.
I have witnessed high-level quadriplegics, amputees, stroke victims, obese persons and many others experience the joy and liberation that comes from riding a machine like the Honey Badger. For those who were once limited by either a physical condition or psychological barrier, the smile on their face as they ride says it all... The possibilities truly are endless!
And now that I have pedaled my way to the top of the mountain, I pause for a moment of silence, gratefully thank my body, sip my water bottle and gaze out at the view, while I reflect on my journey. And although the climb was difficult and took every ounce of energy to accomplish, the kiss and fist-bump from Katie was all I needed just before I buckled my helmet to drop in for the blazing fun ride down. Trust me when I say... The juice is worth the squeeze.
See a photo of Aaron, Katie and the Honey Badger HERE.