Three Heritage House residents feel the sun on their face, the breeze in their hair, and the smell of fresh air.
Residents of the Santa Barbara assisted-living community experienced the thrill of a smooth bike ride in late May amid a global pandemic.
The three-seater bike called a trishaw allow Heritage House staff to provide rides to residents of senior-living homes around the area. The person in the saddle can switch from pedal to electric power if needed.
In conjunction with John Seigel-Boettner’s Cycling Without Age program, Heritage House residents are soaking up the sun in the specially built bikes that have a passenger carriage in the front.
Seigel-Boettner trained a handful of Heritage House employees as pilots who are ready to hit the road. They take two — sometimes three — trips each day.
It’s a chance for Heritage House residents to get outside of the facility and experience the community in a way that’s likely not possible during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s important for physical and cognitive health,” said Philippe de L’Arbre, Heritage House’s operations director.
Only limited visitors are permitted at Heritage House and other Santa Barbara-area assisted-living facilities at this time, given the serious potential for the virus to spread in congregate-living facilities and senior living communities.
Heritage House implemented approaches designed to protect people from the virus that causes COVID-19.
Adults 65 years and older, and people who have severe underlying medical conditions seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The trishaw activity is something to look forward to while the senior care facility imposed some strict measures to prevent COVID-19.
“Our protocols are more strict than people at home,” de L’Arbre said. “We have had to isolate residents in their rooms specifically and not doing group activities.
“We will bring people out individually and escort people outside,” he continued. “The rides are a way of still getting our residents out and about in a safe way in the community, and there is still some normal daily fun that they can experience.”
Apple‘s FaceTime video chat application is used to connect virtually with loved ones in the midst of the coronavirus.
The outside rides have helped socially distanced families connect at times when they can’t visit in-person because of coronavirus safety precautions.
Along the way, passengers might bump into people they know.
Relatives can visit from a safe distance with their older family members at points along the ride.
The air kiss and wave have replaced hugging.
Karen Engberg’s mother — Catherine, also known as Kay — calls Heritage House home.
Engberg said it is heart wrenching not to be able to visit because of the coronavirus, but getting pictures and seeing her 91-year-old mother during a ride is reassuring.
Heritage House staff will give Engberg a heads up when Catherine is going out on a ride, and the family will meet at a designated spot.
It’s a special face-to-face encounter during social distancing.
“It’s the only way I can see her unless it’s on a video call,” Karen said. “When they (Heritage House) call me and say we are going out for a ride or this park — it’s wonderful.
“We do whatever we can,” she continued. “We put the kids in the car and drive out, and stand at a safe distance and put masks on — and have a nice visit.”
The cycling rides occur four to five days each week, and four trishaws with a driver behind the handlebars can be taken out for the duration of the COVID-19 situation.
Staff take one Heritage House resident on each bike.
The routes are somewhat dependent on the weather and time, and how long the resident can be outside or desire to be away from the facility at 5200 Hollister Ave.
The adventure will last 20- and 30-minutes or up to an hour.
Bicyclists make their way on a paved trail that runs adjacent to a creek that ends at Goleta Beach.
Bright poppies blossom alongside the bike path on a still-warm early afternoon ride nearly two weeks ago.
The pack of riders stop and enjoy nature.
The interactions between participants and passersby are all waves and ear-to-ear grins during a trishaw ride adjacent to Heritage House.
Riders waved at neighbors from across the street and strangers behind the wheel of cars.
A friendly honk is a go-to gesture for some encounters.
“The reactions we get, in general, are another one of the parts and pieces that make it enjoyable for us and the residents to go out,” Heritage House President Bill McGeever said. “If you have a trishaw and you put somebody in the seat, and you go pedaling around, people are going to like to see it and be happy to see it.”
A chiming of trishaw bells sounded off as riders and passengers briefly traveled along Hollister Avenue in Santa Barbara.
The trishaw rides have been meaningful and well-liked for Heritage House residents who have experienced the expedition.
Heritage House resident Jean Escalera is all smiles on the hour-long ride.
“The ride itself is great,” Escalera said on the 1200 block of Orchid Drive in Goleta last month. “This is like heaven up here.”
Heritage House passengers might share personal stories and recall warm memories with their pedaler during the bike ride. They might feel relaxed to sit comfortably and enjoy a purple canopy of jacarandas on San Ricardo Drive.
“It makes a full community again,” Seigel-Boettner said of the experience, later adding, “We will giggle within 30 seconds of peddling down the road.”
Cycling Without Age started in Denmark in 2012, and it has blossomed into a worldwide network of chapters in more than 30 countries.
Seigel-Boettner operates the program in Santa Barbara.
He first took Heritage House passengers on bicycle outings a little over a year ago, and he has offered the rides to residents since then.
Heritage House is making the best of a situation — especially for seniors — that could otherwise be devastating during a public health emergency.
“If you were to pass any one of these groups today, you would get waved at from someone who is in the highest risk group there is,” Seigel-Boettner, a Santa Barbara local, told Noozhawk. “They are waving with a smile on their face.”