By Seth McBride
Two years after a skiing accident left me with C7 quadriplegia, during summer break after my freshman year at the University of Oregon, I bought a used Top End XLT Pro handcycle and had it shipped to my family home in Juneau, Alaska. It was my first foray back into the world of outdoor adventure, and every ride was an expedition into unknown territory.
My first ride I managed less than a mile before exhaustion set in. I was slower than a jogger on the flats. It took an immense effort to claw my way up a shallow hill not more than 100 meters long. But on the way back down I felt a tiny rush while, for a short time, gravity worked in my favor. I picked up enough speed for the wind to rustle my pant legs and blow my hair back, and as I glided to my house I felt I’d just caught a glimpse of a long lost friend.
From that first ride on, I began seeking speed. Back then, still in the process of turning my arms into locomotive appendages, I would slog my way up any hill I could find, just to rush back down as fast as I could.
In Juneau, the only real hills are mountains, rising steeply from the sea like giants soaking their legs. The road to Eaglecrest Ski Area snakes its way up the stomach of one of these giants. It climbs nearly 1,200 feet in five miles. The road undulates from flat to gradual to soul-crushingly steep, and the first time I tried it, I barely made it to the top of the first rise before I gave up. My only consolation was my speedometer clocking 40 on the descent.
For the rest of the summer I continued riding from my house: eight miles out to the Mendenhall Glacier and back; 1