A Timely Shake up

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Would an airbag improve bike safety?

Recently something went very wrong and very unexpectedly. It took me awhile to find a positive purpose.

I was biking along the Welland Canal with over two hours of free time ahead of me. It was a pleasant morning, I was biking on a scenic and dedicated bike path, feeling exhilarated. Unfortunately the great feeling and the ride only lasted about 3.5 km.

As I was approaching the Garden City Skyway, designed to allow vehicle traffic to not be detained by laker and freighter traffic, I misjudged a turn in the path. In my attempt to avoid losing control I made the mistake of grabbing the front break, which any cyclist would know, put me totally out of control. The bike flipped and I landed hard on my left knee and hands. This left me more shook up than injured, though I didn’t know that till after I had a chance to assess what had all happened in those 2.5 seconds.

In hindsight I learned several important and helpful things because of the upset. However, in that moment I recalled the cyclist on the 2013 tour who broke her leg on the first day of the tour. I realized how being so close to the start date of the tour that I have dreamed about since 2005 could have ended right there. It’s not hard to imagine what different injuries could have happened in those 2.5 seconds.

Fortunately the lower part of my body absorbed most of the impact, though not hard enough to cause serious injury to my knee. By misjudging the turn in the path I had fortunately landed in the grass and not on asphalt. Also a secondary benefit to wearing cycling gloves saved my hands from being chafed.

There was damage to the handlebar, damage to the back rack and the tire had popped right off the rim. When I realized I couldn’t get air into my back tire I figured my two hour ride was over.

I learned several things as a result of a momentary lapse of caution:

  • watch my speed
    • choose my speed according to conditions, not according to how I’m feeling
  • be extra attentive in unfamiliar territory
    • glad I fared better than the cyclist a friend mentioned who was distracted and hit the back of a truck, breaking his femur, pelvis and thumb.
  • make sure I know how to use the equipment
    • my bicycle pump didn’t fit the valve on the tube. Found out later that my pump had an adjustment for the two different types of valves
  • make sure all equipment is in good condition
    • I couldn’t fix my flat because the rubber cement in my repair kit had dried up

So I spent the better part of my remaining free time getting to a bike shop for replacement parts and then getting my bike back in working condition. At least I know I am able to trouble shoot and do my own basic repairs.

Second thoughts

The first ten minutes after flipping my bike I was having serious reservations about doing this Sea to Sea bike trip (7000 km in 67 days). While I managed to keep my level of anxiety in check it took it’s toll on me. An added challenge is my lack of mental flexibility; having to change gears from an anticipated two pleasant hours of cycling to figuring out how to get my bike fixed.

An interesting thing was happening after I flipped the bike. While working my way through this unfortunate combination of challenges and trying to assess what was going on, I also found myself being my own spectator. By that I mean, I was watching how well I was able to deal with the sudden and unexpected change in my day and the myriad challenges, some minor, some more significant, that I needed to deal with. If I had totally fallen apart it would raise serious self doubt about doing the Sea to Sea trip.

Support

In reflecting on this with my brain injury support person, she pointed out that I had assessed the situation, called for help, found a good bike shop, bought the parts I needed, put the bike back together, and was riding again a few hours later. (I did two short bike trips later in the day to keep my knee moving.) On top of that, I had sorted this out on my own, whereas on the tour there would be other cyclists there to offer support and advice.

Lessons learned

It seems like the longer something goes well, the less one is aware of the diminishing margin of safety in the routine and procedures as one is riding. After doing about 3000 km of riding without a mishap or bike breakdown, flipping the bike was somewhat humbling. Despite the fact that I had watched several bike safety videos a few days before, I guess experience is the sterner teacher.

Accidents have causes

I’ve heard that most accidents happen when there are 3 or more contributing factors. That left me wondering whether I had actually breached the number 3.

  • Speed was a factor
  • Unfamiliar bike path
  • Misjudging the situation
  • Mishandled equipment

The last one needs a caveat. I had just gotten the brake pads replaced. As a result it is hard to undo the brake cable which I need to undo to remove the front wheel when transporting my bike. So, to help remedy this problem I have been using the front brake more than usual, always in situations where it wouldn’t cause problems. However, the habit of using the front brake resulted in an unfortunate reflex when I entered the turn in the bike path too fast.

So I guess one additional lesson learned it to be mindful of each habit. Be methodical about using the equipment in a way that ones reflexes don’t contribute to a potential problem.

Timing

Having this mishap so close to my departure date was like being given a last minute opportunity to run through a mental checklist of a variety of items so that I am physically and mentally a bit better prepared for the ride.

The timing allowed me a few days to do a number of shorter and easier rides to make sure my knee would be in good shape and avoid possible complications from the full day rides ahead.

Serendipity

Doing several easy rides made me realize that despite exerting a lot less energy, my average speed dropped very little. This could be the answer to the nagging question that emerged following my four day ride from Cobourg to Sarnia. It took me two days of sleeping around the clock to recover from that four day, 600 km ride. Riding at an easier pace on the tour looks like the answer – a slower pace with 6 days of cycling and one day of rest. That should be manageable.

I realize that despite all the training, careful packing, and mental preparation, at some point one just needs to get out there and start the tour and pray it goes well.

Cycling Road Safety

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Important public service notice on a very quiet road

I recently completed a 4 day bike trip through a wide variety of traffic conditions. The experience left me appreciating many of the professional drivers on the road and dismayed at the lack of considerations that I encountered at other times.

One thing that is lacking is signs that educate drivers, informing them what “Share the Road” means. Too many drivers don’t seem to realize or don’t seem to care that they must give cyclists a 1 meter safety margin. I have thought about putting a pool noodle on the back of my bike that extends 1 meter into the traffic lane. At times I’m tempted to put a nail on the end of the noodle to leave my mark when a driver fails to give me my safety margin. Don’t worry, I’ve resisted the temptation so far.

Secondary roads

I prefer biking on quiet roads. While biking on secondary roads my experience with 100% of the drivers was one of courtesy. Each driver would make a wide berth around me as they approached me from behind. With no other traffic on the road, that was easy enough without impeding their own progress.

County roads

When I choose county roads, because it’s not always possible to get everywhere on secondary roads, it’s a different story. Most drivers will slow down behind me and wait to pass when the lane of on coming traffic is clear, giving me a wide berth of a full lane. Others will slow down and then give me the minimum 1 meter. The slower speed is a compromised courtesy which gives some margin of safety.

Truck traffic

While cycling it didn’t take long to recognize the professional drivers from the irresponsible ones. Every 18 wheeler, concrete truck and other large vehicle consistently gave me a full lane when they passed me. At times when one of these vehicles would slow down behind me, and the road was wide enough for my comfort, I would signal them to pass me rather than waiting for the on coming traffic to clear. That allowed them to not lose as much speed. Invariably I would get a signal from them that they appreciated the courtesy I gave them.

The truck traffic that was most discourteous and therefore very much reduced the margin of safety were usually the straight trucks or cargo vans. Many of them would over take me without slowing down and often without using the on coming lane even when it was clear. This left me wondering about the safety training and commitment to safety that the smaller companies who operate the straight trucks and cargo vans have compared to the heavy haulers or the long distance drivers.

City Driving

When I cycled in Toronto it was readily apparent that on the whole drivers in Toronto have a strong general awareness of cyclists. Drivers look out for cyclists when making right hand turns or check for cyclists before pulling away from a stop sign. The extensive road markings for cyclist and signage along with the sheer number of cyclists on the road seems to keep drivers alert to cyclists.

Even so, I would occasionally come across a driver who was blocking the bike lane while waiting to make a turn. On the whole the awareness of the majority of drivers is reassuring as a cyclist.

When I cycled in a few smaller cities I noticed reduced awareness and courtesy towards cyclists. With fewer cyclists around drivers had fewer reminders despite the ‘share the road’ signage that was posted along many streets.

Driver Education

It is disconcerting how little driver education has been done to inform drivers to enhance bicycle safety. It would be good if more public service announcements and other forms of driver education would be used in the province.

There are several areas of confusion when it comes to mixing bikes and motor vehicles.

  1. The law is not clear on whether cyclists should use a flashing red light on the back of the bike. I prefer using a flashing light over a constant red light as it will get a driver’s attention more readily. It seems like the approval of using a flashing red light is a recent upgrade to the traffic act.
  2. The law is not clear on whether it is legal to ride bikes two abreast. On the one hand it would appear safer to ‘own’ the whole lane. When a cyclist keeps to the extreme right side of the lane it creates opportunities for aggressive motorists to ignore the safety margin for cyclists. According to the CANbike training videos developed in Manitoba, a cyclist should ride 1 meter from the right edge of the road, to avoid pot holes and debris, and motorist must give cyclists a 1 meter margin for safety. That doesn’t leave much additional room for motorists to pass without moving over 1 lane.

Bicycle safety is everyone’s business but it’s the cyclist that carries all of the risk. As the bumper sticker reads, sent by a friend:

  • Bikes don’t have airbags. SHARETHEROAD *

http://www.sharetheroad.ca

The one item that I haven’t seen a definitive statement on is whether cyclists when approaching a red traffic light, stay back with the last car or move past all the cars, on the right hand side to the front of the line. The strongest statement I have seen about that is to move to the front of the line so that the cyclists are clearly visible to all traffic and less likely to get cut off by a vehicle making a right hand turn.

Come June 26 I will be spending the balance of my summer cycling 7000 km (4000 miles) across Canada with Sea to Sea. I won’t be home again till September if all goes as planned. When it comes to cycling, the long and short of it is, bikes are part of the traffic and subject to all aspects of the highway traffic act.

One stop sign near the CNE grounds in Toronto had an additional note on it. STOP – including bikes. When cyclists follow the rules of the road it enhances their safety.

Escape Plan

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Ready to roll – new drive train, accessories attached

In my recent session with my OT we spent over an hour developing an escape plan. While I have looked at many aspects in preparing for a successful Sea to Sea trek across Canada, I had not thought about developing an escape plan. Why? Well I was thinking in terms of success, not planning for failure.

I know from experience, that with my ABI, effective problem solving is a real challenge. Effective problem solving when I most need it, when I am in a situation in which I am dealing with severe sensory overload, will most certainly fail me. In failing me, it will likely create embarrassment for me, put extra demands on other people, result in poor decisions, in short it will likely make matters worse.

Get me out of here

The challenge of starting the trip so far away from home is that I can’t just quit after a difficult week or two and get a quick ride home. So, I have worked through a plan of how to exit the Sea to Sea tour ‘gracefully’ should it be necessary. I have settled on the likely exit points: Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Michigan, Owen Sound, Ottawa, Charlottetown. Each possible exit point comes with certain supports to minimize the potential challenges.

After developing the various exit points it gave me a sense of assurance. It took away the fear or anxiety of possibly creating a crisis should I find it too difficult to continue. With my fears reduced that is one less factor to weigh me down and in turn give me more energy to channel in a positive way – turning my pedals to keep me moving.

How do I know how I’m doing

In order to not end up exiting prematurely or at all, I need to know how I’m doing. Failing to properly gauge myself will result in being blindsided. With six days cycling and one day rest for each of the 10 weeks I need to be mindful of maintaining my reserves.

What to look for:

  • if I experience vertigo at the end of a ride or at rest stop I know I need to reduce my pace.
  • if I experience fatigue on waking, ride at a reduced pace that whole day. The thrill of biking once I get moving can falsely mask the fatigue and in turn show up in the form of greater fatigue the next morning.
  • if I am not sleeping well I need to reduce my pace. With too much physical demands it becomes harder to relax and sleep properly.
  • if I experience an increase in emotional loading, it will signal that I’m am not able to recover from the physical demands of the day or I need to curb some of the additional activities that could be causing the sensory overload.

Strategies for avoiding ‘trouble’

Even though I have done a four day ‘warm up’ bike trip, I need to be prepared for the unexpected. While I am aware of some of the activities that contribute to my sensory loading, there will be new activities which I need to be mindful of. For that reason I need to re-evaluate on a daily basis.

There are some simple strategies that I have agreed on that will hopefully stand me in good stead. I will schedule a nap as soon as I get into camp each day. From experience I know that after a physically strenuous day, I will likely be restless the first part of the night before sleeping better the second half. So it would make sense that a pre-sleep session should help make the whole night restful.

Riding in a large group can create a greater sense of camaraderie, but experience tells me that it will add significantly to my sensory loading putting me at risk of sensory overload. So, riding with no more than four cyclists would be advisable.

I’m going to have to see about the weekend celebrations as the tour is scheduled to hit a major centre each weekend to connect with supporters and donors. Participating in that might be a non-starter.

Despite the many contingencies that I have looked at, I find that cycling helps to dissipate much of the sensory loading that builds up as the day progresses. It seems like the physical, rhythmic action of cycling, along with the slower and simpler way of seeing the countryside provides relief and healing.

After analyzing all the different things that could go wrong, I actually found it to be a positive and a reassuring activity.

I have found some quotes about failure that are appropriate to different aspect of my upcoming bike trek:

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” – John Wooden

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” – Winston Churchill

 

Stick

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You extended an olive branch,

it brought a ray of hope

alas a short-lived ray of hope.

Your actions did not change

Ignoring reminders and requests

And a leaf withered

You refuse hear me out

Trying to hide the picture that emerges

And a leaf withered

You raise your voice at me

refusing to recall recent concerns

And a leaf withered

You extend an olive branch – you say

I see a stick.

Intriguing Four Days

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Minimum Bicycle Safety Margin

It’s been an intriguing four days. Rather than driving the four hour trip to visit my daughter I decided to cycle to her house. A four hour drive has it’s challenges but so does a 4 day cycling trip.

Challenge #1

My main challenge when I am driving is managing the sensory loading, some of which comes from an underlying hyper vigilance, a side effect from the car accident that caused my ABI. I am still trying to reduce the effects of post traumatic symptomology that lingers following the collision. The hourly breaks helps reduce some of the sensory loading that occurs from simply being in a car.

In the four days I cycled I did not experience sensory loading to a level that it would interfere with my normal functioning. On the second morning I intentionally cycled through down town Toronto at the height of rush hour. I proceeded down Dundas Ave which has a marked bike lane. That allowed me to move much quicker than the cars that were crawling across town. I was aware of the need to watch for cars coming out of side streets, watch for turning vehicles at each intersection and be aware of many other cyclists that were either overtaking me or as I was passing them. At the same time that I’m focusing on the traffic, I’m taking in the honking of car horns, the noise of trucks, police sirens. Add to that the smells of sewage, exhaust fumes, bakery smells and other unidentifiable smells in a quickly changing smorgasbord of odours.

When I reflected back on the 15 km ride through the Toronto rush hour I noticed no lingering sensory loading at the end of the day. Had I ridden in or driven a car the accumulated effect would have required several hours or a day to clear my brain.

What seems to make cycling different? I’m not really sure. As part of my training by my occupational therapist to become my own detective, I have some possible theories:

  1. When I’m cycling I am moving through traffic in a different way then driving a car. I am not dealing with the possible errors that could result from something going wrong with on-coming traffic as I am way off to the right side of the road.
  2. I am moving slower than in a car or in the case of rush hour traffic, not dealing with the stop and go matter, so the neurological demands are less. I don’t need to process sensory input at nearly the speed on a bike that I need to while driving a car.
  3. I am cycling, which is a highly physical and a highly repetitive activity. Yes, I have to shift gears, and pay attention to various factors in my environment, but it seems like the physical part helps dissipate the negative effects of the accumulation of sensory impressions. Driving a car involves very minimal physical activity – moving one’s foot between gas pedal and brake. As such there is an accumulation of stresses that will continue to build till I step out of the car and do something physical. Taking a walk isn’t very strenuous but it’s repetitive and 20 minutes or so of that makes enough of a difference to continue the trip.

Challenge #2

There are times and situations in which the emotional sensory loading brings me to a point where it interferes with my normal functioning. The day before I started the trip I had just been through an experience of extreme emotional loading which left me totally incapacitated for over a half hour. Such an experience would often take 2 days and sometimes longer to clear my system. As I was biking along on the first day I had two momentary relapses that reminded me that my emotional loading was still a concern.

The one relapse happened when I stopped in to see a friend of mine. I was explaining to him that I would be cycling across Canada next month. I was overcome when I shared with him what my occupational therapist has shared with me a week earlier. She told me that when she started working with me 18 months ago, she had done an extensive assessment, she did not think my condition would improve enough to be able to bike across Canada. She was overjoyed that I had proven her wrong.

By the second day and the following days I experienced no relapse with my emotional sensory loading. I can only attribute that to the repetitive, physical workout. While being repetitive, cycling is never boring. How can it be when you are seeing the countryside or the cityscape at pace that brings out many wonderful details and surprises.

Challenge #3

Conversing with more than one or two other people at a time will put me into sensory overload in about 15 minutes and often sooner. Each night, when I came to my lodging place I visited with two people. It was a chance to share experiences and insight of the day. After completing the 4 day ride I was visiting with my daughter. Shortly after I arrived a few more people joined in. I was able to enjoy being in a group of 6 people for over two hours and later in the day with a group of 9 people for about an hour.

I won’t jump to any conclusions too quickly as there are various factors to consider. There are many different factors, many subtle, that affects how well I can survive in a group. Some things that I consider are:

  1. The nature of the topic and how it engages me has some bearing.
  2. The type of personalities within the  group. If someone is boisterous and dominating that will overload me quite quickly.
  3. The rhythm of the conversation has a bearing. By that I mean the ease with which I am able to interject into the conversation or how in tune others in the group are to noticing a quieter person who is trying to share.
  4. The coherence of the conversation. The more often the conversations breaks up into subgroups and then reemerges again has a noticeable wearing effect.

Challenge #4

When I first started biking after my ABI, I would startle every time a car or truck would come up from behind me and pass me. It was annoying and difficult to deal with because even with a rear view mirror when I could see the approaching vehicle I would be startled by the ‘whoosh’ as the vehicle passed. Thankfully that happens very rarely.

When I am cycling I regularly keep an eye on what is happening behind me. When I see a car approaching I check to see whether they are moving over, an indication that the driver has seen me. Once in awhile someone passes closer than the law allows. When that happens it leaves me slightly annoyed but it doesn’t startle me.

I don’t know why keeping an eye on traffic behind me leaves me feeling okay, while driving a car and the hyper vigilance that it induces leave me worn out.

I have taken measures to ensure a greater margin of safety as vehicles pass me. I wear a bright orange safety vest at all times. When the sky is overcast I use a flashing LED light that can be seen from a kilometer away. I put the light on flashing mode figuring that an inattentive driver will notice that much easier than a constant red light.

Conclusion

While the main motivation for my four day bike ride was training for a Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean bike ride, it also gave me some insights into traveling by a different mode and how that impacts my ABI. Once I arrived at my destination I slept for 10 hours and then twice in the same day a 2 hour nap. Recuperating from physical fatigue is a much more enjoyable experience than recuperating from neurological fatigue. The sense of accomplishment without having incurred neuro fatigue is very satisfying and a real encouragement.

In the past four days I put myself through a more rigourous workout than the Sea to Sea cycling will be. This workout gave me insight into one part of the challenge I will be dealing with this summer. Cycling this summer with a group of about 100 people will likely give me new insights into dealing with other aspects of my ABI challenges.

And so the detective work and the detective training continues.

Finding a Gentler Way

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In the shade of a fieldstone wall

Conversing with a half dozen people is more wearing

Than biking 20 km in traffic

Participating in a worship service is more demanding

Than biking 30 km dodging rain showers

Walking into a store for a quick errand can be more frustrating

Than biking 40 km into a head wind

Listening to live music for half an hour requires more recuperation

Than biking 50 km through hilly country side

Driving for 4 hours will affect my balance more

Than biking for 60 km on a chilly day

 

Some activities have a way of causing neuro fatigue

While cycling rejuvenates the whole person

 

The physical exertion

The rhythmic movement

The outdoor ambience

Nature’s symphony;

The wind in the trees,

The call of the cardinal

The chirping of crickets

 

Sounds that respond to each other

Sounds that sidle up to you

Sounds that heal,

Sounds that sooth the senses

Sounds that lift one’s spirits

Being neurologically atypical, things don’t add up in a way that makes sense to others. While I am able to do certain activities with ease and experience satisfaction, there are plenty of activities that leave me challenged.

 

Over Compensating is my Insurance

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Every hill a new vista

In planning and preparing for my first multi-day (14 days) cycling event 4 years ago I did not have much time to train. As a result I decided that doing a 15 km (10 mile) ride 5 mornings a week would have to suffice for ‘training’. Now I should mention that the 15 km included about 120 meters of climbing and I gave it my all. Eventually that meant I could complete the 15 km in under 30 minutes. That give me a good aerobic workout and help build some strength in my legs.

Here I am 4 years later and once again preparing for a multi-day (70 day) cycling event. This time I have more time to do my training. No excuse this time for not having enough time to do the training.

It’s not my extra time that is making me diligent about my training. It’s that I am not sure what my endurance will be like this time. I don’t want my injuries to be a hindrance to my participation. Since my recovery and adjustment to living with ABI creates a big unknown factor, I feel compelled to over compensate. My diligence in training is focused on eliminating as many possible snags as I can.

So I make sure I can handle the distance – doing as many long distance rides as I can. Four years ago my longest pre-event ride was about 50 km.

So I make sure I can handle the climbing – I have taken on a Mt. Everest Challenge of climbing 8848 meters in one month of cycling. Last time I just didn’t check it out.

I have had some people wonder how I could possibly do a cross Canada (6700 km) ride while dealing with ABI. Fair question. While there are physical side effects to living with ABI, working on my physical endurance helps deal with other factors related to my ABI.

Cycling is a relaxed way to enjoy the countryside. Cycling is a way to live life at a relaxed pace. It means decisions that need to be made have time. The activity is not neurologically demanding. Recently while riding, I was doing fine, things were relaxed, the traffic decisions were fine. Then I stopped to pick up some granola bars at a grocery store. By the time I left the store I had encountered difficulties with 2 cashiers and in an attempt to moderate my frustration went back to the display shelf twice, and had the manager come over to see if she could be of help. I hope I had not been too irate with the cashiers, but I told the manager that the pricing of the products was just too confusing. The tags did not clearly show which products were on sale – or let me say I found it confusing and quickly overwhelming.

In reflecting on the situation later, a different manager might have has less patience for my confusion and possibly thrown me out of the store. I decided it’s easier to bike 50 or 80 km then to buy some granola bars in a busy grocery store with too many products on display and double and triple pricing information. (Regular price. Sale price for 1 item. Sale price for 3 items.)

When I started outdoor part of my training lately, the real significant of my ABI and physical effort started to become noticeable. On a regular ride I felt fine. On the longer and more strenuous rides I would arrive back at home and feel light headed. As I continued with my training the light headed experiences became less noticeable. My most recent ride of 140 km in one day left me with no side effects of being light headed. I have decided to do a 4 day ride in a couple of weeks to see if I need to make any adjustment before I leave for Vancouver to begin my cross Canada ride.

I chose to do a 4 day ride as part of a pattern I have developed while working with an OT. Each time I would undertake an activity she would ask me if it was the first time doing it since my brain injury. As a result I have camped in the back yard for a couple of nights before leaving home for a camping trip so I could make adjustments before doing the real thing.

The over compensating is partly due to not necessarily being able to adjust on the fly, something that I wouldn’t have thought twice about pre-ABI.