When the Real Thing… part 2

Kitchen and Luggage Truck at a SAG stop

So what happened last week that left me totally surprised? What was it that made the first four days of the ride so different from my four day ‘practice’ ride?

Let me explain what I learned about the first four days as I understand it. It might not be totally accurate but it gives me an other level of understanding of living life with ABI. Living life with ABI includes an exciting component of learning new and interesting things about how God created each of us with a brain that is so amazing while at the same time, fragile, resilient, reshapeable, and other to be discovered attributes.

We all live with a brain that functions at many different levels or modes. Each serves a distinct purpose ranging from survival instincts to quality of life decisions. Some of the functions happen without our knowledge, but we benefit from the results. Other parts of the brain is used to do very intentional and carefully thought out activities.

Reptilian Brain

The reptilian brain is the flight or fight response center of the brain. That’s the part of the brain that jumps into action, giving us the adrenaline rush we need when we are suddenly confronted with danger. It gives us momentary super human strength when the need calls for it.

I find myself becoming fatigued while driving or being a passenger because my brain has experienced that activity as a potentially very dangerous activity. Subconsciously my brain is in a hyper-vigilant mode. That’s why I need a break every hour while traveling.

Fortunately that hyper-vigilance does not seem to occur while cycling. Don’t ask me why even though I’m on the road, I’m in traffic and vulnerable from being hit from behind. The one difference is that I’m moving at a much slower speed and therefore my brain can process impressions at a manageable pace.

Limbic System

The limbic system is the part of the brain that handles emotion, behaviour, motivation and long term memory. This is the part of the brain that handles learning. It organizes learning into patterns that can be readily accessed. New information is added to the existing pattern. This part of the brain is very efficient at adding new learning to the existing patterns.

This could be called ‘fixed brain’ functioning because the pattern provide a stable structure in which to add new information.

My brain injury has caused damage to my limbic system. This makes it harder to access memory. New information doesn’t get stored in the limbic system due to the injury.

However, that by itself doesn’t explain my regular challenge of dealing with neurological fatigue. It’s not that my limbic system functions slower.


The neocortex is involved with the higher order brain functions such as sensory perception, conscious thought and language. This is the part of the brain that is the creativity center of the brain. That’s where new ideas emerge. This is the ‘non-fixed’ part of the brain.

For me, the limbic system has been injured and so I am not able to use this part of the brain as I used to. The limbic system is the part of the brain that is efficient in learning new things and storing information. Instead I end up using the neocortex which is very inefficient at assimilating new information and retaining it. As a result this part of the brain ends up working much harder, therefore the regular occurrence of neuro fatigue. With the brain working harder than usual, I need more rest times. When the brain is working harder it uses up more energy from the body so it’s important to not just eat more but be conscious of the nutritional value of what I eat.

Why I Bonked on Day Three

The tour has put me in to a totally different environment. I’m camping with 100 other people whose names I am gradually trying to remember. I’m in an environment that changes with each new camp site. I’m in an environment that requires me to work on a rather tight schedule. I’m in an environment that has all new routines and many more steps in the routine than one would have living at home.

Since the neocortex is not good at assimilating new learning and is very inefficient with remembering new routines, each day is a challenge. I can set a routine for organizing my clothes. Or I can set a routine for packing up the camping equipment. Or I can set a routine for breakfast. However, I find myself forgetting the routines I set up for myself. Because the layout of the camp changes each day, I don’t have the visual reminders or the visual organization of my space to remind me where things are.

The overload of learning new routines was a major factor that I could not prepare for ahead of time. The tight schedule to get things done in the morning was a challenge because it wasn’t a matter of taking a couple steps to get what I missed. No, often it meant walking across the camp or into the next camp to get the one important thing I missed.

The extra time that it takes to get something that I missed puts me behind schedule. That quickly puts me into a downward spiral. It could mean I have an abbreviated breakfast or don’t get a chance to make my lunch. It could mean that I don’t get the things out of the luggage truck before the doors are closed. It could mean that my electronics or bike safety light isn’t charged up properly for the day.

While my insurance for a successful trip was to over train, it has left me with a bit more reserve to adjust to the things that I couldn’t train for. Routines that I needed to set had to be based partly on the set up of the camp each night. The morning and the evening times required many more routines than I imagined. Living at home I’m accustomed to long established routines, basic routines in an environment that is mostly fixed.

Gradually I’m adjusting to the changing environment. Steps in my routines are slowly getting familiar. Let’s see what week three of my ride across Canada brings.




Author: Jasper Hoogendam

After 36 years as an educator my career ended due to a TBI. Renewable energy as part of 'walking lightly on this earth' has been and continues to be my interest since my teen years. Since early 2015 I have been learning to live with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury). I don't want to let my ABI limit the goals I set for myself. I'm living with a different brain, not a lesser brain. In sharing my day to day successes and struggles, I am better able to understand how my life had changed and begin to accept the change. In sharing my experiences I'm hearing from caregivers and fellow ABI's. I'm encouraged when my experiences are helping others understand some of the complexity of living with ABI.

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