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Colchester County women find freedom by hitting the pedal


ONSLOW MOUNTAIN, N.S. —

The mere thought of riding a bike once scared the living daylights out of Connie Boutilier.

One year later, the Onslow Mountain local cannot get enough riding, thanks to some gentle coaxing from her fellow bikers at Women on Wheels.

“I was terrified,” recalled Boutilier of her first cycling attempt. “I can’t tell you how terrified I was, oh my gosh, I was so nervous. My husband came with me and I was almost ready to vomit, it was that bad.”

Her first-ever bike ride was five kilometres, not bad for someone who previously refused to even climb on a bicycle. She learned how to properly mount the bike, then safely change gears, pedal, brake and balance properly.

“It was driver’s ed for bikes,” said Boutilier of her first ride.

Step by step, Boutilier’s new friends at WOW helped her overcome the fear.

One such friend is Evelyn O’Brien, who is 74 years old and ditched her car in favour of a bike. She is back on her wheels after undergoing two knee replacement operations, one in May and the other seven years ago.

“It’s a 100 per cent improvement because it makes my pedaling a lot easier,” said O’Brien of her surgery. “I call myself the bionic woman.”

Originally from Brookfield, O’Brien was about 18 or 20 when she cycled to Peggy’s Cove on a three-speed bike. She remained an avid biker and hiker throughout her life.

In her younger days, she also enjoyed sports such as soccer and baseball and “even wrestled the boys in football.”

Today, O’Brien uses both a speed and folder bike for her WOW rides and trips around town. She uses them to go shopping.

“Bike, bike, bike. Walk, walk, walk – that’s me,” said O’Brien. 

Meantime, Boutilier’s bike lay unused in her garage for four years after her son persuaded her to buy one.

Her own walk to conquering the fear began with the help of a friend who rode regularly. This person introduced her to WOW, a group of cycling women from the Truro region. The organization runs its own teaching sessions for beginners, which Boutilier attended.

Roughly one year after riding for the first time, Boutilier still has no idea why exactly she was once so fearful of cycling.

“It’s probably because I’ve never done it,” she said. “It’s fear of the unknown.”

Recently, however, Boutilier completed her first road ride, cycling 20 km through the Annapolis Valley with her husband. The pair completed the Fort-to-Fort Experience, a race from the Fort Anne National Historic Site to the Fort View Golf Course.

Boutilier joined scores of other bikers and runners on the highway, jostling for space with motor traffic. She would never have dreamed of sharing the road with cars last year.

“Now I look back and think, ‘why didn’t I do it earlier?’” said Boutilier.

When asked what she enjoys the most about biking, Boutilier said she loves riding through nature. She has also made new friends through WOW, widening her social circle.

“I feel happy,” she said. “Fear no more.”

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