About a month ago now, our son Christopher managed to somehow dislocate his knee while getting into bed. Since then, he has been on a regimen of strengthening exercises every other day and instructions to ride his bike every day.
Because of his autism and his tendency to avoid doing things if he doesn't have to, Teresa or I would accompany him on these 10-15 minute rides. Lately, we've both started going with him, and we bring along the fourth member of our family, our beagle Oliver.
The buildup is fun to watch. As soon as Oliver sees us changing or putting on tennis shoes, he knows something is up; the game is afoot, so to speak. Oliver does not act this way in the morning as we are getting ready for work. Somehow, he knows this is different.
Even before we head to the door, Oliver begins to get a little excited. He starts walking faster, almost like an expectant father pacing. The tail starts wagging a little faster. And as soon as we get near the leash, look out.
I take Oliver with me, and Teresa rides along with Christopher. My bike is a Bike E, in its day a sort of entry-level recumbent bike. I describe it to people as sort of an aluminum beam with handlebars, tires, and a seat with a back.
Because of its design, it sits a little lower to the ground than a traditional bike. This gives me a little extra reaction time and makes it a bit easier to get my feet down and prevent falling should Oliver suddenly decide to take off in a direction other than the one I'm trying to ride.
The way it works is that I wrap the handle end of the six-foot leash around my left hand several times - I find I have better control with a shorter amount of exposed leash - and hold my arm out to the side to keep Oliver away from the bike wheels while I steer the bike with my right hand. Not the best approach, perhaps, but it seems to work, and I have yet to think of a better approach.
Once I start the bike moving in the direction we plan to go, Oliver takes off. For a few blocks, my bike is Oliver-powered, I don't have to pedal at all. If I close my eyes (not a good idea on a moving bicycle), I can almost picture myself guiding a sled in Alaska's Iditarod race.
For some reason, Oliver's running - with his body slightly angled as if going around a curve - reminds me of the greyhounds I would occasionally watch race when I lived and worked in Rapid City, SD. But I also see a sheer enthusiasm as he goes all out, running down the street.
Eventually, I have to slow my pedaling down a little as Oliver starts to tire a little. But he gets a chance to get outside, something he loves, and he gets some badly needed exercise. Each time we go, it takes him less time to recover afterward. Plus, there is something really remarkable about the sheer joy and power I see when I glance to my left and watch him running. I see him come truly alive, and sometimes I start to feel that way a little bit, too.