This article is part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trail Moments initiative—to elevate new and tried-and true trail voices around the country, and how trails have impacted the lives of Americans during COVID-19. Learn more at trailmoments.org and #TrailMoments on social media.
When I reflect on it, I can easily say that most of my life has been spent on a bike seat.
I was lucky enough to grow up near a great rail-trail—the W&OD Trail in Northern Virginia—and as a child I used it regularly for leisurely rides. As I got older, the bicycle became a means of transportation for me, and I made a transition of riding for fun to riding for transportation—and fun. “Why sit on a bus when I can bike to school in the same amount of time?” That was a daily thought as I pedaled away on a Sears bike I found in the garage.
In college, I used a bicycle daily to get to class, and for my job as a bicycle courier, logging countless miles on city streets. In those early internet days, the money delivering paperwork and legal filings was good and helped put me through undergrad in Virginia and graduate school at Temple University in Philadelphia. I still used trails often during those years, mainly for weekend rides to local parks in the region. When I look at photos of myself from back then—with a radio connected to a courier bag strap, and a giant chain lock around my waist—it seems like a lifetime ago.
It was by chance that I left the world of being a bicycle courier and fell into activism, promoting trails and better active-transportation options in America. In the early 2000s, a friend of mine was struck and brutally injured during a hit and run on her way home from a DJ gig on her bicycle. This was one of many similar incidents that made me want to get involved. During that same time, I became involved in, and helped lead, a successful effort to fight proposed legislation that would have negatively impacted bicyclists—specifically bicycle couriers. Eventually I found my way to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC).
The fixed-gear bike and bag got traded in for a touring bike with panniers, and my passion for trails continued to grow. As someone who spent 40 to 50 hours riding in traffic every week for close to 10 years, trails were a welcome relief. It was like swimming with someone holding your leg all week, and then finally having them let go so you can glide, paddle and breathe easy.
Over the years, trails found a place in almost every aspect of my life—for leisure and recreation, as my favorite way to commute to work, at one point up to 20 miles roundtrip per day, and as quiet escapes from the urban hustle and bustle of daily life.
Unfortunately, all of that changed the week of March 13, 2020.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing to stay safe, RTC closed its physical offices, and we have all been working from home for the past five months. As RTC’s Trailblazer Society Manager, I had been regularly implementing long-distance bicycling trips on trails; with the pandemic, my trips and public events were canceled, and my living room became my new office.
Because I am the father of a young child and have aging family members, I made the choice to not ride my bike until I learned more about how the virus is transferred. It was also difficult, if not impossible, to carve out time for a ride with a toddler and no childcare. Though I was taking regular walks, this chunk of time off the bike was the longest gap of not riding I had ever experienced in my life—and it made me appreciate all the more how much trails have impacted me, and how critical they are for American communities.
"During these times of uncertainty, it is reassuring to have trails as a constant. My local trail has never been so important to me."
The moment I realized our son could fit into a bike seat, and that being outside was safe, I dug out an old commuter bike from my garage and had it set up at the local bike shop. Now I can access our local trail with our son jabbering away from the bike seat. His newest word is “bye,” and it is pretty funny to hear “bye, bye, bye, bye” as you ride along past others on trails.
Once again, travel and leisure from a bicycle seat has come into my life. As a trail advocate, I want everyone to be able to access the same safe, useful and beautiful trails I get to experience. I am sure that as my life continues to change over the years—riding, walking and traveling by trail will always be there in some form. During these times of uncertainty, it is reassuring to have trails as a constant. My local trail has never been so important to me.
Have you recently discovered trails, or are you a long-time trail enthusiast? Either way, we hope you’ll share your “Trail Moments”—and the stories of how trails have impacted your life during COVID-19. Take the survey below, or share using #TrailMoments on social media.