Walking and biking are not just for the young, fit and able-bodied. And the benefits of these activities extend far beyond merely exercise or recreation. Fortunately, Maine is home to several organizations and programs that help seniors and people with disabilities get outside for a walk or a ride. Before I tell you about a couple of these efforts, let me start with a story that illustrates why they’re so essential.

I met Bangor resident Annie King recently when I taught a class in defensive walking (think what you were taught about defensive driving; now apply that idea to walking) at Miller Square on Harlow, a facility for seniors in Bangor where she lives. Annie rolled into the room in a motorized wheelchair and joked that I’d been hired because of “the crazy adventure” she’d recently gone on with her friends.

Annie said she and her friends, Diane and Marcia, decided to visit the farmers market one Sunday in June. Annie and Diane use motorized wheelchairs, and Marcia is legally blind and uses a white cane. Annie also has to carry her oxygen tank. “We went down to the market, across from the library, and cruised around,” she said.

“It was a nice day, so we said, ‘Let’s go down the next street,’ ” Annie continued. They turned down Franklin and then stopped at a little park on Kenduskeag Stream, where they sat for a few minutes so Marcia could catch her breath.

“You know, I’ve never been to that bagel place. Let’s go there,” Annie suggested to her friends. They followed the stream to Central Street and, after a snack at Bagel Central, headed home.

“It started to rain on our way home, and we ducked under the portico of one of the buildings while it poured,” Annie said, laughing. They had gone less than a mile.

A full, rich mile.

“It was our little adventure, just being free to get out and be with the rest of the world and not having to answer to anyone,” Annie said. “I don’t think you’re ever too old for an adventure.”

Which brings me to two Maine programs that help people who need assistance go on their own everyday adventures.

Two weeks ago, I stopped by the Back Cove Trail in Portland with my dog Lola to talk with some folks from Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation, among them Leo Albert. He greeted Lola warmly.

“I’m lucky to live near the Green Belt path in South Portland,” Leo said. “I can’t use this for long periods,” he said, pointing to the four-wheeled walker he was sitting on, “but I use my motorized wheelchair, and I know every dog. Every one of them. I bring treats, and they nuzzle around my chair for them.”

Portland Wheelers pilots pedal adaptive cycles for riders along the Back Cove Trail in Portland. Photo courtesy of Portland Wheelers

Leo started working with Maine Adaptive this summer to modify the recumbent tricycle he has barely used for the past 13 years, because of a painful leg length discrepancy.

He pointed to one of the tricycles parked nearby and said he was looking forward to riding it. “Riding will make a big difference for my leg circulation and relieve the pain in my legs and back. Plus it’s something I can do anytime from where I live.”

Maxine Michaud was pedaling on the cove, training for the Great Maine Getaway MS Ride on a Maine Adaptive tricycle. Max, as she calls herself, has multiple sclerosis and limited use of one of her legs. To get around, she uses the tricycle as well as an experimental, Maine-designed Afari, which helps her walk over uneven terrain.

“There is no such thing as being unable,” she told me. “It’s being differently abled. That’s all.”

She credited her involvement with Maine Adaptive (she got involved on a dare in 2012) with keeping her in her “happy place, doing everything I do. I don’t need any pain pills, I don’t need any anti-depressants. This is it. This keeps me above the clouds looking ahead. I soar.”

Another program, Portland Wheelers, also helps people get outside and connect, in their case, people who are physically or mentally unable to bike, even with adaptive equipment. The organization offers free recreational rides to people of any age who are living with a significant disability.

I took a spin with Doug Malcolm, the group’s founder and director. I sat in the “wheeler” seat with Doug, the “pilot,” pedaling just behind me on one of the program’s tricycles, a setup that made for easy conversation. We rode along the Eastern Promenade, soaking up the view.

“We’re yakking all the time when we’re riding,” Doug said. “Wheelers and pilots both love it. As pilots, we get to hear wonderful life stories. And when we’re in a pod of two or three trikes, we’re often laughing it up, because someone always seems to be telling a joke.

“We know from Canadian research, and a study we’re involved in ourselves, that if you get people outside riding in groups on a regular basis, it can dramatically improve levels of depression, appetite, sleep patterns and a sense of connectedness,” he said.

As a sustainable transportation consultant, I’ve come across similar findings, and not surprisingly they always make me eager to get out and walk and bike more. Annie, Leo and Max offer me a glimpse of the future I can feel hopeful about stepping into.

Sarah Cushman, a sustainable transportation consultant and former master-certified auto mechanic, is always looking for sensible solutions to help folks save money and comfortably get around via public transportation, sharing vehicles, on foot and by bicycle. Contact her at [email protected]