Lucinda Chandler finds her legs

Lucinda Chandler at the controls of her three-wheeled Catrike dressed up in a removable shell called a Velokit. — File photo by Lynn Christoffers

When you fall off a horse, the old saying goes, climb right back into the saddle. So it probably came as little surprise to Lucinda Chandler’s friends and family that immediately after recovering from a traumatic car accident, cancer surgery, paralysis of her lower extremities, and two spinal surgeries, the 43-year-old cyclist decided to mount a hot pink three-wheeled bike for a 2,200-mile coast-to-coast solo ride. Oh, did I mention that Ms. Chandler is the mother of eight children?

Today, she is cancer-free, living in Oak Bluffs, and the entrepreneur behind Trike Panther Travel Adventures, a company that offers all-inclusive recumbent trike tours of Martha’s Vineyard and other scenic destinations across the United States.

A Wisconsin native, Ms. Chandler moved to Massachusetts in her teens, married and divorced, remarried, raised seven of her own children and a stepdaughter (often home-schooling them), lived in Scottsdale, Ariz., and earned business and nursing degrees. Along the way, she traveled to every state in the U.S., all provinces of Canada, much of Europe and some of the Caribbean, frequently toting little more than a backpack, bicycle, and a passel of her adventurous kids. An avid rock climber, cyclist, rower, kayaker and hiker, Ms. Chandler also found time to grapple her way to a black belt in judo.

She moved to the Vineyard in 2004, following many summer vacations on the Island. That August, she was driving two of her daughters to the Agricultural Fair in West Tisbury, when a car stopped suddenly in front of her. She was quick enough to avert an accident, but the 15-passenger taxi van behind her was not. It ploughed into the rear of her car, causing soft tissue injuries to her daughters and far more serious spinal compression to Ms. Chandler. “I was lucky to have been in the car accident,” she maintained, “because doctors discovered that I had medullary thyroid cancer after reviewing my CT-scans.”

On February 14, 2005, surgeons removed her thyroid and the malignant tumor. Mobile, even with the spinal compression, she felt well enough several days later to walk around Boston with one of her sons. Scheduled for spinal surgery in March, she was suddenly stricken with an excruciating headache, nausea, and the inability to use her legs. She was rushed to New England Medical Center where she was told she needed emergency surgery. Within a week of her thyroid operation, Ms. Chandler was back on the table, her doctors using the same incision at the base of her neck, this time to relieve the spinal compression by inserting a bone from a cadaver in her skeletal system, as well as a titanium plate. Weeks of physical and occupational therapy followed, all surrounded by the uncertainty of whether she would ever walk again.

“I kept visualizing a cycling trip across the U.S. with my children,” she recalled. “I even planned the exact route, picturing my legs working, my muscles pumping the pedals over mountains, feeling the breeze flowing across my face as I rode.” By April 2005 her nerve endings started to work again, and she checked herself out of Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. A third surgery, in the fall of 2006, removed the titanium plate and screws from her spine, since the donor bone had successfully fused with her own.

By March 2007, Ms. Chandler was ready to transform her vision of a cross-country cycling tour into reality. Her kids, however, were not. Saddled with school and work schedules, they opted out of the journey. Undaunted, she mapped and plotted her route, promising her significant other and her children that she would be accompanied by other cyclists. “I’m very athletic and strong-willed,” she says matter-of-factly, “and I knew I’d come across other people I could ride with during the trip. My family and friends were dead-set against it, so I said I was going with other people.”

And, although she’d envisioned riding an upright bike, Ms. Chandler realized that it would put her back and neck at risk. She’d seen three-wheeled recumbent cycles before but had never ridden one. A recumbent bike places the rider in a low, laid-back, reclining position, distributing the body’s weight comfortably over several square feet of the back and buttocks. First introduced in the mid-19th century, today’s recumbents come in a wide range of sizes and configurations, including the trike, or three-wheeled variety, Ms. Chandler chose for her journey. She commissioned a Florida company, Catrike, to manufacture one in celebratory hot pink.

Following two weeks of practice rides, she shipped the trike off to San Diego, the starting point of her journey. Trusting her lifelong athleticism, Ms. Chandler felt confident that she could complete the grueling eight- to 12-hour days of riding across the southern U.S. She left San Diego on March 17, 2007, and arrived in St. Augustine 58 days later, on May 12. Her greatest challenges: avoiding sunburn and exhaustion from heat and humidity. Her greatest reward: she “found her legs,” pedaling and standing on them alone, proving to herself that she had the physical and mental fortitude to survive just about anything.

Returning to the Vineyard, Ms. Chandler had a tough time giving up both the rigors and the pleasures of long days on the road. She’d found the Catrike exceedingly comfortable and realized that it would be an ideal vehicle for anyone eager to explore the outdoors. The comfortable chair-like seat allows riders to enjoy their surroundings without stress on shoulders, neck or hands, while three wheels provide stability. Searching online, she failed to find even one company in the U.S. that provided tours on recumbent trikes. An idea was born.

During the summer of 2008, Ms. Chandler launched Trike Panther Travel Adventures on a limited basis. Last summer, 2009, was the company’s first full summer in complete operation on the Island. She purchased 13 recumbent trikes and a specially outfitted “support van” that accompanies riders around the Island. Her website, provides full details on the array of tours she offers, including half-day lobster dinner tours, artisan tours, pedal/paddle and bike ‘n hike tours. This spring, she led trike tours in Alabama, Arizona, and Florida.

Trike Panther tours was in hibernation on the Island this winter, but there was still the occasional sighting of an extraordinary hot pink nylon- and plastic-encased vehicle wending its way across the chilly Island roads. It was just Lucinda Chandler on her trike, now sporting a “VeloKit” — a removable, protective shell, custom made in pink to keep her moving in style all year long.