On the road to recovery

Published 10:36 am Monday, March 19, 2012

Ron Marsden, who hasn’t driven a car in 12 years, shows off a picture of himself taken before he started riding a bike to get where he needed. Since taking up biking as his only source of transportation, Marsden has lost weight and gotten in better shape. — Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Biker pedals away from alcohol and to healthier life

This story originally appeared in Progress 2012. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald.

After eight years in the Marine Corps, spending time in Vietnam and picking up some bad habits, Ron Marsden’s life seemed to be spiraling out of control. While coping with post traumatic stress disorder, Marsden fell into the trap of drug and alcohol abuse. He wheeled his way out on a bicycle.

Ron Marsden rides his bike everywhere, even during the winter. Taking up the activity as a primary source of travel, Marsden has become physically more in shape, seen an improvement in his mood and even has helped him overcome post traumatic stress and addiction, as well.

Marsden could walk into his garage, start his car and go anywhere he pleases, but he hasn’t done that for more than 12 years.

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Instead, he just rides a bike.

He’s not trying to prove anything or make a statement. It’s simply his way of life now.

“Finally, I realized that wasn’t the route to go after the third DWI,” Marsden said about his drug and alcohol use.

A car sits in Marsden’s garage, but it doesn’t go anywhere. While Marsden could easily renew his license, he chooses to bike.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t really miss driving cars.”

Since 1999, Marsden suspects he has saved tens of thousands of dollars by not using a car. But aside from not driving, a lot has changed for Marsden. His mood, his health and his outlook on life all improved. After riding bike nearly every day since 1999, Marsden went from 240 pounds to about 178 — a 42-inch waist to 36. He has a renewed sense of freedom.

“It’s just freedom; I feel free,” Marsden said about biking. “It just gives you a sense of freedom. The car — you’ve got the radio on — you’re totally oblivious to nature. It’s just wonderful to be out on a bike.”

Like anything, that freedom comes with risks. Biking all the time can be dangerous, especially at night or in the winter. And inevitably, as a Minnesotan, Marsden does plenty of biking on snow.

Ron Marsden locks up his bike at his home in southeast Austin. Marsden uses his bike to go most everywhere including during the winter.

“I like the thrill of being able to really realize you can actually ride through snow,” he said.

Marsden discovered brown, grit-filled snow is one of the harder conditions through which to bike, but after years of experience, biking on snow or ice has become second nature.

“You just have to have confidence in yourself, and you become one with the road,” Marsden said. “The first year, it was really a challenge, and I just said, ‘I can do this.’”

Now biking is easier than walking to Marsden. This winter, he slipped, fell and injured his wrist while walking. He said that likely wouldn’t have happened if he was on his bike.

And Marsden needs full use of his hands. At 57-years old, he went back to school and received his massage therapy certification. Now 64, Marsden hauls his massage table and instruments in a trailer attached to his bike. He uses mirrors to check for traffic behind him, and he doesn’t care what he looks like or what people think.

Instead of sitting at home or going out drinking, Marsden rides around Austin. He sometimes helps at Healing Palms Spa or hangs around Rydjor Bike Shop where he purchases his bikes and their parts.

“People, they trade cars,” Marsden said. “I trade bikes.”

Marsden knows the best routes around town and where traffic is difficult to navigate.

Ironically, biking is the one thing that makes Marsden want to get a car again, so he can do more biking on trails in the bluff country near Lanesboro. A car would only be a temporary mode of transportation, however, so Marsden can get even closer to nature.

“People are just missing it riding in these cars and turning on the radio,” he said. “You’re not going to be as anxious, depressed. You’re going to feel a lot better mentally and physically.”

Marsden is living proof of that. Biking has opened his mind, and he isn’t as hindered by PTSD anymore. He encourages others to try the lifestyle he discovered.

“I think if everybody bikes, doctors would be in trouble,” he said.

Marsden can’t remember the last time he caught the flu or even a cold, but that’s just one benefit that goes with the positive experiences Marsden has nearly every day. He doesn’t need competitions or mile markers to tell him how far he has ridden — just the wind blowing by, the sounds of nature, and a sense of freedom.