Domino Effect

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Mystery part

Domino Effect.

A break in routine should not be a big deal. Little did I expect the domino effect it would create. Given the strenuous nature of the activity I should have had some inkling.

I was the last of 85 cyclists to leave camp that morning. In hindsight I should have left later. Being the last rider did not concern me as we were scheduled to meet at the 120 km point in the century ride for a photo op. The midpoint was a milestone, an occasion not to be overlooked. It had been 3490 km since we had dipped our tires in the Pacific Ocean, with 3490 km to go before we would dip our tires in the Atlantic Ocean.

I arrived at the midpoint with a little over an hour to spare. I was a great opportunity to take in a nap… well, more to the point, a nap just happens when I relax after being very active for a few hours.

Failed recovery

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Steam whistle

After the photo op I completed the last 40 km of the century ride for the day. With the long break in the early afternoon and the heat I arrived in camp knowing that my recovery protocol was essential. I couldn’t afford any short cuts or missed steps today.

This is where a seemingly very good day began to unravel. I didn’t have sufficient time for the full recovery protocol. I had set up my tent and prepared my recovery liquids as expected.

About forty minutes into my recovery time, supper time was announced. I had relaxed a bit, but had not had the benefit of a nap (a key element for brain recovery). The nap at the midpoint was to blame. I decided to get up and head over to the pavilion some 200 meter away. Missing supper was not a good option.

My walking was very slow and difficult, not a good sign. As I approached the pavilion with almost a hundred people engaged in animated discussions I looked for an empty spot near the edgge. No luck. I knew I couldn’t take the level of noise in the middle of the pavilion.

I chose a picnic table about 30 feet from the pavilion. By this time, the effort of walking, the unsuccessful attempt to find seating, added to my sensory overload, further reducing my functioning to the bare essentials. I sat down at the picnic table in tears.

The other term that is used instead of sensory overload is the term flooding.

Shortly one of the support drivers came over, having decided something was amiss. She asked me what was wrong. As I was unable to say anything coherent, she followed up with insisting that I tell her what was going on with me. Good intentions but the last thing I needed was to be flooded with questions. My brain was too fatigued. I didn’t need help. I just needed a quiet place with no questions adding to the flooding.

A second person came over out of a sense of caring. He asked me a few questions further adding to my flooding. Again, I was not able to give a coherent response. He suggested I move over to the group not wanting me to feel isolated. He insisted I was among friends and didn’t need to shrink away from them.

Had I decided I felt too vulnerable in my condition I would have foregone supper and remained inside the safety in my tent. I had chosen to join the group because I trusted this group of people based on the generous support I had experienced earlier in the tour.

I managed to convey that I simply needed a quiet place. In response the fellow decided he would join me for supper and just wouldn’t talk so I would have the quiet space I needed. An interesting choice for which I had no objection.

While I was eating my supper a kitchen staff member came over to me and simply put her arm around me. No questions. No need to know what was happening with me. Without adding to my flooding, I could simply convey my appreciation by putting my arm around her. No need for words, yet an unambiguous sharing of support and appreciation.

After thoughts

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Flywheel

I have meanwhile arranged for an advocate to step in should I have another situation of sensory overload or flooding. I would simply refer the well meaning help to my advocate so that attempts to help me doesn’t add to my flooding.

Once again, I have stumbled across a situation that is hard to plan for. I did not have my regular support people near by. It’s just not possible to plan for all eventualities. Can’t be done. How does one plan for the unexpected?

For most people it’s hard to understand how to deal with someone who is neurologically atypical. Their experience with neuro-atypcial people might be rare or non-existent. Trying to help becomes counter productive. Without some careful reflection, the situation can continue into a downward spiral when the necessary answers or responses aren’t forthcoming.

In thinking aloud, I do wonder whose needs are being met with the questions that were put to me. What information was essential to my well-being at that moment?

Suggested guidelines

When someone is experiencing ‘sensory overload’, or ‘flooding’ or severe neuro fatigue, it is most helpful to keep things simple. My suggestion is to focus on whether the person is in a crisis that would require emergency action. The two most helpful questions would be:

1. Are you in pain?

2. Do you need help?

Both of these questions can be simply and clearly answered with a nod or shake of the head.

Some helpful questions could be:

1. Would you like me to keep you company?

2. Are you fine where you are now?

These questions while being less intrusive can be just as effective in assessing what help is needed with neurologically typical people as well.

Comedy

One way to determine the difference between a person who is upset or distraught as opposed to experiencing sensory overload or flooding is to use humour. It might seem strange to use humour when a person is in tears. A person who is experiencing sensory overload or flooding is not able to respond to humour. Since the key purpose of the intervention is to determine whether additional help is needed, using humour would not be considered inconsiderate or out of place.

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Reynold – Corlis steam engine

Overwhelmed by…

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One kilometer view of a Century Ride

Set up for a Century Ride

About a week ago, after having struggled with sensory overload for a couple of days I was happy to be riding, enjoying the countryside and taking in the sound of birds during the quiet moments along Highway 1, also known as the Tran-Canada. I was doing a century ride of 163 kms into Regina.

The first two weeks of the ride had it’s challenges. At this point things had settled down and I was getting into a workable routine.

I woke up that morning to find out that my glasses had fallen out of the mesh holder and and must have broken when I rolled onto them. The lens was lying in one place and the left arm was broken. My attention was initially on salvaging my glasses as best I could. I got the lens reseated with no apparent damage. I taped the broken arm which not surprisingly failed later in the day.

The scenario with the glasses put me behind schedule. Of all days to encounter a delay. It was going to be a hot day, and we were scheduled to pull out of camp at 5:30 rather than the usual 7:00 start. The intent was to get as many kilometers behind us before it got hot and before the favourable winds would turn against us.

After about an hour of hard cycling, partly to make up for lost time and partly to help dissipate the sensory loading of the morning’s setback, I was gradually finding myself in a better space.

On schedule, as predicted, at about eight o’clock as the thermal convection overpowered the predominant westerly flow of air, we began fighting a headwind. For the remaining 80 km of the ride we were fighting either a headwind or a crosswind. The occasional windbreak gave some appreciable relief.

Despite the elements we were facing, I was doing well and enjoying the ride. It looked like it would be a ride that would leave me with some energy to spare.

Turning Point

Just fifteen kilometers from the campground we were passing through a highway construction zone. As we approached the active working area I was sizing up the pile driver that was working in the median. I could see from the regular puff of smoke rising from the hammer, that it was on a 10 second cycle, pounding in steel columns for a new overpass.

There was no alternate route. As I approached the rig I covered my left ear with my hand hoping to block as much of the shock waves as possible. The bombardment of the sound waves got progressively stronger. Before I was even abreast of the pile driver I knew I was in trouble. I could feel my brain going into shutdown. I had no choice but to keep pedaling. Traffic was moving slowly but was heavy. I put all my energy into keeping myself moving forward as I felt my brain turning to mush. When I was almost past the rig I was in tears. The pounding was overwhelming, bombarding my whole body. The hand covering my left ear virtually ineffective. My eyes were stinging because of the mix of sweat, sunscreen and tears.

I remembered how one air horn blast from a truck a few days ago set my recovery back a half hour. I lost track of the number of hammer blasts. Given the time it took to pass the rig  there must have been 20 to 30 hammer blasts before I was out of range.

When the bombardment of the pile driver faded enough I stopped at the side of the highway trying to pull myself together. At the urging of my cycling buddy I started cycling again to get out of the construction zone and away from the traffic.

A kilometer further was one of our refreshment stops. I made it to the stop and then knowing I was out of danger, I physically, mentally and emotionally fell apart. I stumbled around trying to get my bearings, searching for a sense of pulling myself together. Meanwhile I was too incoherent to explain to the attendant that I would be okay. At least I wanted to convince myself I would be okay. Her concern was in order because she said she had never seen me in such a rough condition.

I sat down for about five minutes to let the worst of the sensory impact fade. After a bit my riding buddy decided that if I was not ready to ride in two more minutes I should be sagged into camp.

Problem solving challenge

I was in a tough situation. When I am in crisis my ability to problem solve is seriously compromised. I had not anticipated the scenario that had just unfolded in the past 15 minutes and therefore had not considered possible exit plans.

Yet I was forced to weigh the options. Ending the ride there with 15 km to go would mean I would miss the exhilaration of completing the ride and instead have to deal with emotions of disappointment on top of the sensory overload I was already dealing with. To stay at the SAG stop meant I would not be able to do my end of the ride recovery protocol within the most effective time frame. Also, cycling is an effective way to help dissipate some of the sensory loading (unless I am feeling physically exhausted), while taking a ride in a vehicle would add to my sensory loading.

I opted to continue cycling since there were only 15 km left. I was trying to determine how much of my decision was influenced by being too proud to stop when I had managed other rather difficult parts of the tour. Had it been significantly further to the camp I would have packed it in for the day. (Easy to say that now as I look back on it.) Despite the heavy traffic getting to the far side of Regina, the rest of the ride went well, though I noticed my riding was not as steady and needed a few reminders to be attentive..

Willing support

When I arrived in camp I experienced a supportive community at it’s best. My riding buddy stepped in and arranged for people to help with my end of ride protocol. This involved getting my recovery drinks ready, my tent set up and for this situation to have one person attend to me while the supports were carried out. Once things were set up I lay down in my tent for about an hour. Didn’t sleep much in that time but was away from others and could relax. A couple people told me later they adjusted my tent fly so that I would be out of the direct sunlight. The tent fly had only been installed part way so there would be additional venting as it was still in the mid 30’s C.

I am interested in see if the earplugs would make a difference. Not that I’m interested in finding out at this time. I was told the earplugs would likely have minimal effect. The nature of the pounding is such that the whole body is impacted, not just the ears. I now pack a set of earplugs with my bike just in case.

After thought

What an experience to travel with a group of people who are focused on each person being cared for. It’s like the success of the tour depends on the success of each person who is part of the tour.

There is a strong sense that we are on a big ride for an even bigger cause.

Life in the Bicycle Lane

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Bison Transport, a company with the most courteous drivers on the road.

More than a Routine

One could try to summarize the Sea to Sea ride as a simple routine of ‘Eat, Sleep, Bike’ though not necessarily in that order or at the same time. One couldn’t be more mistaken.

It has become very clear to me that life in the bicycle lane has a daily routine that is designed with a similar template. However, it’s the content that goes into each day that is as varied or rather more varied than I would sometime like it to be.

Reading My Gauge

I have learned to read my overall well-being according to how well I am able to carry out the numerous early morning routines. Once I have gone through the routines of breaking camp, getting breakfast, making lunch, doing the personal details of sunscreen and having the bike ready to roll, I measure my well-being based on how many details I missed.

I’ve decided that a score of ten is tops. For every item I forget I lose one point. If I score less than 6 I know I need to make focusing on the ride a priority. That means, minimal conversation while riding, focus on riding steady, and focus on the traffic from behind. A score of 1 or 2 probably means I shouldn’t ride that day.

A difficult visit

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit a friend and former colleague that took me back to my teaching time in Alberta. As the tour approached Picture Butte I made inquiries and was able to have a wonderful and meaningful visit.

My friend had a stroke a few months ago and so I knew that with my lack of sensory filters that the visit would take it’s toll on me. It was a short and focused visit. During our visit we had some tearful moments, but for the most part I was able to hold it together. We both understood from experience the difficulty of dealing with loss.

We laughed about things that I didn’t realize she remembered from when I worked with her. She thanked me for visiting. It would have been harder to ride by without stopping to visit. It really was my honour to visit her.

Once I left the building, the full impact of the visit hit me. I was in tears. I was unable to talk. It felt good to be riding, but the tears kept coming. As I turned the corner to get back onto the route I heard someone call my name. I saw a crowd of riders getting treats, and in that crowd was my riding buddy.

Caring support

I had prepped my riding buddy about the visit and so she wasn’t surprised by my condition. I walked past the group of riders to a quiet spot a couple store fronts further away. My riding buddy came over and sat with me. She explained to some others who didn’t know why I was upset that I had just had a difficult visit and needed some quiet time. Our tour chaplain while respecting my need for a quiet space came over and prayed for me.

In the next two hours as I rode I once more gradually became aware of the southern Alberta scenery around me. My riding buddy was able to give me a balance of time alone and offer occasional diversions. Over the next 50 kilometers I was gradually feeling more at peace.

Moving ahead

The next morning I knew I was still dealing with some significant emotional sensory loading of the previous day. The shorter ride mapped out for the day was a bonus.

Not thirty kilometers into the ride a passing truck driver intended to give a friendly honk. What came out was an ill-timed blast of the horn just as the truck was beside me. While my riding buddy noticeably jumped in her saddle, I was overwhelmed by the blast. I was instantly into sensory overload. I was in tears off and on for the next hour. The blast set my recovery back a half day.

The emotional sensory loading from the previous day was still at a high and sensitive level. The emotions reside in the Temporal lobe of the brain which is near the ears. The assault on the ears will suddenly put a person back into a recent emotional event. It’s like suddenly and unexpectedly being dropped right back into the event.

Despite this additional setback, when it comes to ‘cost / benefit’ I had no regret making the visit the day before. I was fine dealing with the setback and letting the rhythm of the ride gradually bring me into a better space. The routine of looking ahead, checking my rear view mirror for traffic and scanning the countryside was helping to dissipate the acuteness of the sensory loading.

The need to be aware

Not fifty kilometer further the healing affect of the cycling abruptly ended. I noticed an oncoming transport truck suddenly swerve towards me. The driver having noticed too late some debris in his lane. As he focused on straightening out his rig, I noticed the second trailer was out of control and swaying wildly as it moved towards our lane.

My riding recalls me saying, “What’s going on.” Then, “Whoa!!!”

I was trying to get her attention because she was about 3 or 4 car lengths closer to the impending disaster. I was concerned about her not having enough time to get out of the way.

My riding buddy was concerned about me. From her position she saw she was out of the trajectory of the second trailer. She pictured me being right in the path if the swaying trailer.

The driver was able to regain full control. We tried not to think about the further complication had a car been coming up behind us.

It took me about ten minutes to recover from the immediate effect of the close call. I decided I would carry on. Can’t change was had just happened. I reasoned that should a third incident happen that day I would call for SAG support and call it a day.

Coming into camp

As we approached the end of the 150 km ride my riding buddy was ware that I was still struggling with the sensory loading of the previous day, compounded by the two incidents this day.

As we rolled into camp she immediately summoned help. She had one person take the bike off my hands. She sent someone else for my tent and sleeping bag. She herself got my recovery drink ready and made sure that I lay down and begin the recovery protocol. Slept for almost two hours before supper time.

After a good night of rest, the next day was a great ride. It was a long day with 165 km to cover. Thankful for a shorter ride the day before, and ready for a long ride that day.

Why do what’s hard?

I am beginning to understand people who are able to be passionate and enjoy an activity despite dealing with suffering and difficult experiences in the process.

It’s not that I would go out of my way to do something that causes pain. So why continue with one major set back each week of the first three weeks. Somehow, with this group of riders, the greater the need, the great sense of community that one experiences.

Also, this ride which I hoped would help my rehabilitation is giving me new insight into living with ABI (acquired brain injury). This new insight is based on my own ‘detective’ work and then reinforced by a scientific analysis of the different responses my riding buddy observes. (She told me that I was providing her with a very interesting case study.)

The harder the learning, the more exciting the outcomes. It is definitely rewarding.

 

Love and Support

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It’s been two weeks of the tour and last weekend Jane left the tour to visit a friend in Edmonton. While she had signed on as kitchen help, which everyone has benefited from, the more significant part is that she has been here to see me through the first two weeks of the ride.

What a blessing it has been sharing these two weeks with her. She’s helped to keep me on track when the ride became too challenging. She’s made sure I had things ready and organized on the mornings when I wasn’t in the space to pull things together. She made sure I got supper when I overslept my 2 hour post-ride recovery nap.

Jane is leaving the tour knowing that there are other riders who are looking out for me. Several riders have offered their help. All I need to do is ask. It would do me well to ask Andrew or Stuart to make sure I don’t over sleep in the afternoon and miss supper. It would do me well to not be hesitant to ask for help with other needs, because failure to do that would come at my expense.

It’s become very clear to me, when I see the offers of support that I’m not alone in wanting to have a successful ride. Fellow riders are determined to help me have a successful ride.

In looking back, I realize I would not have managed much past the third day of the ride if it wasn’t for the support I have received from a number of people. I am still dumbfounded to end up with a riding buddy who is not only a brain injury specialist but had been assigned as a member of my Service Team. As members of a Service Team we have devotion and sharing time with 6 or 7 people (depending on which week of the tour one looks at the list.) There is only one word for that, providence.

With Jane taking a break from the tour I know I will continue to receive the support I need. And for Jane it is reassuring to know I have caring and supportive people around me.

Helpers, helping the helpers raise awareness for a cause that aims to help people to End The Cycle of Poverty.

When the Real Thing… part 2

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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.

Neocortex

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.

 

 

When the Real Thing Happens

 

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Ally a knowledgeable and very supportive riding buddy

Not even three days into the tour and one thing has become very clear; despite all the training and the thorough preparations that’s no guarantee that the real thing will go well. Even the four day pre-ride didn’t bring out the challenges that the start of the Sea to Sea ride dropped on me.

I say, dropped because it was wholly unexpected. Day one of the ride caused me some difficulty because of the waiting around, getting the first day of the ride to start in an organized way, and doing the ceremonial tire dip in the Pacific Ocean. The ride portion of the day went very well, so I looked forward to reasonably uneventful days after putting the first day behind me.

Day two was an easy ride with 90 km and minimal climbing. We had a refreshment stop at one church with lots of fresh baked cookies, drinks and lively conversations. The lunch stop later in the morning was at a Christian school where we were served a choice of 5 different soups, buns with an assortment of meats and cheese and watermelon.

I rode with two cyclists to minimize the sensory loading from being around too many people. We had the wind on our backs with most of the route following quiet secondary roads which ran more or less parallel to the Trans Canada Highway. Arriving in camp, it was my Service Team’s job to set up the supper tables, erect the canopies and unload the cooking equipment from the kitchen truck.

With the cycling done for the day, and my service team duties done by 2 pm I knew it was time to relax and hopefully get in a short nap. After lying down for an hour and napping for a half hour I figured I was good to go for the balance of the day.

It was when I got up from my nap that I realized I was dealing with a significant bout of sensory overload. The timing of it took me totally by surprise. During the day I did not notice any of the possible signals that my body usually gives me. Nevertheless, when I got up from my nap I was dealing with some very strong side effects, making it difficult to get my tent set up, showering and laundering my cycling clothes with any efficiency. Supper went okay because I found a quiet place to eat after going through the buffet lineup.

Usually a night’s sleep will dissipate enough of my sensory loading to function in an okay manner the next day. When I woke up the next morning I soon realized I was still very close to my limit of sensory loading. Taking down and packing the tent, rolling up the sleeping mat and sleeping bag took a long time because I couldn’t focus enough to get things organized. Between having things stored in the tent, in the gear truck and using the washroom facilities I ended up misplacing too many things. I then tried to retrace my steps to find my missing stuff. I managed to find everything back eventually except for my only official pair of biking shorts. (No worry, I do have a couple back up pairs.) By the time I had my camping gear in the gear truck I had missed out on most of what was available for breakfast. The challenges of packing up and getting myself ready to ride for the day put me into a downward spiral.

When I was finally ready to roll my two cycling buddies from the previous day were patiently waiting for me. That simple gesture by itself was a real morale boost. It felt good to be cycling, which gradually helped dissipate the sensory loading – no schedule to meet, no planning, no organizing demands, just pedal my bike. And so with one soothing pedal stroke after another I began the 70 km ride from Hope BC to Manning Provincial Park a 1300 meter climb.

The rhythm of the cycling helped me ease into the rest of the day. Gradually my symptoms began to subside a bit. We were climbing in the early morning so the shade cast by the mountains kept us relatively cool. As the day progressed the temperature increased. By early afternoon I was once more at my limit as the sensory loading again reached a point where cycling became difficult. A couple of short breaks and a some encouragement from a couple of people was enough to help me complete the last 10 km for the day.

The two and a half day experience did not bode well for the 65 days of cycling that lay ahead. What troubled me is that a four day ride a month ago went much better than the first 3 days.

My godsend was a fellow cyclist Ally who is a brain injury specialist and had been my cycling buddy since the start of the ride. She had observed my struggle and had given me some general pointers in the first couple days. When we got to camp she gave me a dose glucosamine and recommended taking a dose everyday within 45 minutes of completing the ride. In addition to that she recommended taking magnesium to help relax and rejuvenate the muscles. The combination of these two vitamin supplements allows me to sleep better and help my body recover from the demands of the day. This was in addition to the variety of vitamin supplements I had been prescribed by a nutritionist before starting the ride.

Each cyclist is part of one of eleven Service Teams, organized to get vital tasks done in camp each day. My Service Team has been very encouraging and accommodating of my limitations. The tasks assigned to us will change from week to week, so my ability to contribute my share will vary from week to week.

Each rider is part of this tour because of a common purpose – to raise money for helping people get out of poverty and at the same time to spread the news about the work that Partners World Wide and World Renew are doing to meet that goal. What is heartwarming to see is that the desire to help others is being practiced among members of the tour. With such a generous outpouring of empathy and support my ability to complete this tour looks much stronger.

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.