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From left: William, Billy and Bill Moffett. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
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From left, 4-year old William Moffett with his father, Billy, and grandfather Bill on a trail at Pocahontas State Park. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
Even without seeing Billy Moffett, you can sense the emotion swelling in his chest. Over the phone, he tells the story about a sunny Sunday in early April when he went to Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield County to ride the forested, off-road bike trails with his family.
He utters one phrase that throws him off as he talks about his father, Bill, pedaling away from him onto a 4-mile segment of trail known as Blueberry Hill. “What happened next ...” Billy Moffett says, and then stops. Overwhelmed by his recollection, he pauses to take deep, hitching breaths.
The 37-year-old then recounts what did occur when his father, a man disabled by Stage 4 Parkinson’s disease, embarked onto a winding trail downhill through the woods. “What happened next was kind of a big moment,” Billy says. He describes his 64-year-old father cranking away with abandon on his three-wheeled mountain bike, also called a “trike.” Bill Moffett's trike allows him to ride in a recumbent position, pedaling with his feet forward.
“He was absolutely on fire. The first mile of that trail is a downhill roller-coaster ride. ... The whole way down that hill, my dad is screaming at the top of his lungs,” Billy recalls. “But it's not the scream of fear. It’s the scream of someone sitting 10 years in a chair.”
Again, he halts — the memory steals his breath.
That Sunday was an outing Billy Moffett shared with his wife, Erin, and their son, William, who is 4, along with the elder Moffett and his wife, Wanda. Young William is the fifth in a line of William Thomas Moffetts. It was several days before Billy's birthday, and the next day in an effusive Facebook post, he said the experience had delivered him an early, unbeatable gift: the chance to live out his father’s dream to share a mountain-bike ride with his son, a competitive cyclist whom he cheered on for more than 20 years.
Because Bill Moffett's speech is limited by his Parkinson's disease, he asked that his son share their experiences on his behalf.
It was not until 2015 that the Pocahontas mountain biking trail network could accommodate the wider bikes ridden by adaptive cyclists.
The park now has two segments designed for beginner-level mountain bikers, including trike riders. The Gateway 1 and Gateway 2 segments are each about a half-mile long. One is flatter, with smooth, banked turns, gently undulating features, and obstacles that allow newer riders to build skill. The other is also smooth, hard-packed clay and incorporates more elevation change and slightly bigger features.
“It kind of gets people an opportunity to experience what they call a machine-built flow trail,” says Joshua Ellington, the park manager at Pocahontas. Trails like these use sculpted berms to create banking turns for the rider.
Although the Blueberry Hill segment was not designed specifically for adaptive cyclists, its wider path can work for trikes, too. Its elevation changes and challenging switchbacks make the trail “more intense” than the others, Ellington says.
One of Billy Moffett's longtime cycling friends, Wayne Goodman, largely receives credit for launching the initiative to create such a trail in the region. Goodman is a former president of the region's chief trail-riding group, RVA MORE (Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts). Moffett says that Goodman "built most of the James River [Parks] trail system with his own tools."
In 2010, Goodman had a low-speed bike accident in Forest Hill Park and sustained a spinal cord injury. With recreational therapy services provided at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Goodman, a Marine Corps veteran, was eventually back riding, trading two wheels for three.
Two years later, Goodman enjoined an effort with current RVA MORE president Greg Rollins to create a major “legacy” project that would coincide with the then-approaching 2015 UCI Road World Championships. The legacy project in mind was to establish the Richmond region as a Regional Ride Center, a sort of trail-riding mecca as designated by the International Mountain Biking Association.
To do this, RVA MORE and its partners planned to expand the region’s off-road trail systems to 70-plus miles combined. The effort involved the mountain bike association, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, the city of Richmond, the Paralyzed Veterans of America's Mid-Atlantic chapter and the Friends of Pocahontas State Park. Together with RVA MORE, the groups coordinated fundraising — toward a reported total of more than $325,000 — and volunteer trail work to expand the state park's already extensive trail network.
Today, the Richmond Regional Ride Center at Pocahontas is drawing more out-of-town mountain bikers to the park, Ellington says, but adaptive cyclists have yet to swarm to the trail system's unique features.
“The number of first-time users coming there is actually huge,” Ellington says, noting the popularity of beginner trails among families with young children, while only a smaller subset of adaptive cyclists seem to be frequent riders in the park.
“By far, [it is] the most rewarding when we see those hand-cycles over there,” he adds.
Preston Curry, a Paralyzed Veterans of America member who lives in Chesterfield County, stays active through adaptive sports including tennis, lacrosse, rowing, archery and fishing. Curry and many other sports enthusiasts with disabilities find a common resource in the local Richmond-based nonprofit Sportable, which empowers those with mobility challenges to stay active. It’s a quality of life factor that is psychological as much as it is physical, Curry notes.
The former Army soldier began hand-cycling in 2010. He has competed in various races and began off-road hand-cycling a year ago. "The all terrain part of hand-cycling is new to me," he says. “I'm definitely a rookie, and I'm still learning. I didn't know jack about it until they built a trail.”
Off-road adaptive bikes cost $2,000 to $10,000, according to Moffett. An off-road hand-cycle, for example, is a much different machine from the one that Curry might ride on an open paved path. Many hand-cycles and recumbent bikes allow the rider to sit back, feet first, and crank with their hands or feet.
Late last year, another mountain biker donated an off-road hand-cycle to Curry, and it requires him to adapt to a new riding position with his head first and legs tucked back. His first time riding at Pocahontas State Park, he says, proved a steep learning curve when he blew out two of his three tires on his ride.
It illustrates a component of adaptive cycling that is more common to riders like Curry and Bill Moffett: That the barriers to simply getting on the bike and riding in a safe environment are more challenging than for two-wheeled cyclists.
Curry prefers road cycling on a dedicated path, like the Virginia Capital Trail. Contending with road traffic is not an option because his cycle’s low profile makes it much less visible to motorists than a two-wheeled bike. But the trip from his Chesterfield home to a trailhead in the city requires a serious time investment. He is able to ride closed circuits in a park near his house.
In the future, he hopes that he can coordinate trail riding with other adaptive-use cyclists through McGuire. Because of the special equipment — he’s still eager to build his skill with it — and the newness of the trails in Pocahontas, he expects it will take time. “So many people are not aware of all-terrain hand-cycling or riding. It might be big in other places, but not here.”
Bill Moffett, like Goodman, is a Marine Corps veteran, and after he had an initial cycling experience on a borrowed incumbent bike, Veterans Affairs staffers helped him gain a grant to get his own trike. His first rides on the Gateway and Blueberry trails in Pocahontas were preceded by “training” rides with his son in city parks so that Bill could build stamina and strength after so many sedentary years. With his new bike, Bill also got busy riding around his neighborhood. “He was just super-stoked about it. He had been just sitting in a chair watching movies for years,” his son says.
Billy Moffett shares his father's sentiment about how necessary and vital it felt to be moving, to ride through the trees that first time on the trail, and to have the wind blowing through his hair. “It just opened up his world, man... His dream was fulfilled.”