Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence
My Travels with Multiple Sclerosis
Bill Metzger -- Somerset County, Pennsylvania
There are many wonderful things in this world, and I’ve spent much of my life trying to see them. I enlisted in the Navy my senior year of high school, starting my tour in September 1964. I wanted to experience more than my small town of Mechanicsburg, PA could offer and the Navy was the best way out. I served for three years, with a two-year tour in Guam. Following my military service, I educated myself in journalism and photography, and set about using those skills. I started getting the symptoms of MS in 1978 and was diagnosed in 1983, though that diagnosis never changed my desire and ability to see and explore.
I’ve been lucky to have always been employed in work I enjoyed. I retired in 2021, but when I look back at my career, it was all too much fun to be called work. After leaving college (I never graduated), I rode freight trains all over the country for five years, escorting heavy, expensive, and fragile machinery to make sure it arrived quickly and in one piece. Wanting to settle down a little, I returned to my roots in journalism and photography, working for two local magazines and on a variety of freelance assignments. As my MS progressed, I needed a career change and settled on creating maps and brochures. Four years of that brought me to my final position, as Contributing Illustrator for Trains and Classic Trains magazines where I made historic and contemporary railroad maps of subjects worldwide. I said it was the only job in the world I was qualified to do and I was lucky enough to have it. It allowed me to work at home regardless of my disability. I retired after 14 years and hundreds of maps.
When I was diagnosed with MS, I decided to become a stronger, fitter person so that I could handle anything MS threw my way. I quit smoking and started exercising. I ran when I was traveling. It was easy to just carry a pair of shorts and a pair of sneakers and go for a run wherever I happened to be like the beach at Padre Island, TX and the Louisiana State University stadium track while in my head thousands cheered. When running became unsafe, my feet stumbling too often, I took up swimming. After an ear infection (and if you had one you know what I’m talking about), I took up biking. My first bike trip was in 1981 from Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC, 184 miles down the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath. I took two weeks camping and enjoying and absorbing everything around me. After that first trip, I was hooked. Every year I planned and completed a two-week bike trip, with hundreds of small trips in-between. And when I wasn’t biking, I was thinking about biking and what I would see and where I could go. I’d drive to places, park my car, ride my bike, board trains to get me farther. I figure I did about 30,000 miles on two wheelers including one that lasted six weeks and 2,000 miles.
My MS hasn’t been a walk in the park. As my disease progressed, I found that handling a bike became increasingly difficult. One day, it took me half a mile just to get my left foot into the pedal clips. That was in 1984, the year I also had a cardiac bypass. I was despondent. Two of my neighbors who are occupational therapists introduced me to the handcycle. While I fought the idea kicking and screaming, once I rode it on our local trail, the Great Allegheny Passage, I was passing people, something that I hadn’t done in a long while. My handcycle wasn’t a step down, it was a step up to a new, incredible biking experience. My wife and I have done several tours in the US and Canada which were great fun. I keep a logbook and have put over 31,000 miles on the bike.
Though I’ve had MS for over 60 years, it’s never prevented me from living my best life. Of course, I’ve had to adapt at times, going from using a cane to forearm crutches and, for the last 12 years, a wheelchair, but don’t we all as life changes us? Now we live in a totally accessible house and a flat small town but I’ve traveled to thousands of places and met amazing people. I am a founding board member of the Montour Trail Council which has built 40+ miles of trail around Pittsburgh. I’m also a founding board member of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, now the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy, which built and maintains the Passage 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. We live along the trail and I’ve written a book about it, “The Great Allegheny Passage Companion” (it’s on Amazon). I’m working on a second book on the Montour and Panhandle Trails.
I’ve been married for 26 years to Pam, an amazing woman who shares my love of biking and my adventurous spirit. We met at a bike meeting when I was on the Pennsylvania Pedalcycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, appointed by Gov. Tom Ridge. I have an amazing VA neurologist, Dr. Islam Zaydan, who is my personal superhero. He’s helped keep me healthy and safe. And I’ve enjoyed excellent general health care through the VA.
As a biking enthusiast and adventurer, I’ve learned that there are good rides and there are better rides. There's no such thing as a bad ride. You learn to deal with whatever comes along, and you move forward. If it rains, you get wet. So what, just enjoy the journey. That’s life.
And as songwriter John Hartford wrote, “I’m still here. How ‘bout that.”