Connecting to Nature, Connecting as a Family, on America’s Trails

Posted 01/14/21 by Darlene Maxfield in America's Trails, Trail Use

The Three of Us | Courtesy Darlene Maxfield

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.

My husband, Eric, and I have been avid users of trails for more than 25 years, and we have enjoyed 20+ years on the trail with our daughter, Kristen, and our son, James, who has disabilities. Since the pandemic began, biking has allowed our family to get out and enjoy nature in a safe manner and within our family’s limitations. One simply cannot deeply appreciate the beauty of this nation as much as you can from being on a trail, in the serene quietness of nature.

Eric and I both were avid cyclists growing up. He enjoys mountain biking as well—but my first mountain biking experience landed me face first into a creek, and we quickly decided that we needed alternatives to experience the love of biking together as a young couple raising a family!

Beginning in the 1990s, Kristen was born and loved biking with her dad, so we got her started with a rear-mounted child bike seat. When James was born with many needs, he changed our way of life forever.

James Maxfield and his father Eric out on the trail together | Photo by Darlene Maxfield
James Maxfield and his father Eric out on the trail together | Photo by Darlene Maxfield

For the first couple years, we would pack lunches and squeeze both children into a child bike trailer to explore the wonderful trails in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania and across this great country. As they grew older and heavier, they both migrated to using tag along bikes. Kristen quickly zoomed on her own on two wheels in no time; however, James had significantly limited gross motor capabilities—making it very difficult for him to independently hop on a bike and go for a ride, despite how much he loved our family bike trips.

Determined to continue to bike as a family, Eric purchased special bikes and modified them with special straps, pedals, adaptive handlebars, special supportive seats and safety belts. Each weekend, bicycling was our special activity—an enjoyable and very affordable escape, a way for our children to get exercise and see our beautiful country. Nothing could be better.

James and Eric Maxfield | Photo by Darlene Maxfield
James and Eric Maxfield | Photo by Darlene Maxfield

Over the years, we purchased many different bikes, including the Buddy Bike and a triple tandem. Eric and James now share a Hase Pino Tandem recumbent, which—although fantastic—makes for a 400-pound load when combining Eric, James and the bike. Eric decided to take measures to protect his knees from future wear, tear and damage, and motorized the tandem bicycle. Our recent vacation in October enabled us to ride 150 miles on trails in Pennsylvania, including the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, in a five-day period.

During this time of quarantine, our family has been greatly impacted.

James and Eric Maxfield | Photo by Darlene Maxfield
James and Eric Maxfield | Photo by Darlene Maxfield

James has been forced to remain at home, leaving his day program that included serving Meals-on-Wheels each day in the Baltimore area, and volunteering for nonprofits that benefit others, such as the American Red Cross and other community service organizations, including homeless shelters. Since James also has health concerns, we felt it was best to keep him quarantined at home with little direct contact from other people, except for close family members (he benefits now from virtual lessons through his day program facilitator, which has enabled him to see some of his friends day to day).

When the pandemic struck, Eric and I felt it would be best if I gave up my job so that I could ensure James received proper care during the day. This was a difficult decision for me, as I had enjoyed my work. At the same time, the workload significantly increased for Eric and Kristen. James missed the normalcy of his routine. The need to escape on two wheels and go biking has helped our entire family remain healthy, both mentally and physically.

The opportunities to experience wildlife, colorful foliage, natural bodies of water, neighborly communities and landmarks, while meeting other people who share the same enthusiasm and passion for being outside, is inspiring and uplifting. James talks and waves to everyone he sees.

(Try your best on the Triplet!) Eric and James Maxfield | Photo by Darlene Maxfield
(Try your best on the Triplet!) Eric and James Maxfield | Photo by Darlene Maxfield

The tandem allows Eric to pedal away the miles with James—and we have had the pleasure of biking on so many of these wonderful trails, such as Pennsylvania’s Great Allegheny Passage (gaptrail.org), West Virginia’s Mon River Trails and the Great American Rail-Trail.

Since COVID-19 began, our activities have been limited and our universe has shrunk. I know we’re not alone in this; so many people have been limited in what they can do during this time. But we found that one activity still brings us so much joy—biking as a family on our local trails. 

We are profoundly grateful to all the individuals that continually tend to the upkeep, conservation and development of trails that enable so many families with so many different needs to enjoy the great outdoors. Keep up the excellent work!

James and Eric Maxfield | Photo by Darlene Maxfield
James and Eric Maxfield | Photo by Darlene Maxfield

Related: From Burnout to Biking: Rediscovering My Love for the Outdoors on Ohio’s Trails

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