As part of Sea to Sea (link to facebook page) we just completed almost two weeks of cycling in Super Natural British Columbia. As we cycled each day, the British Columbia tourism tag line definitely reminded us of the Super Natural God that we serve. The landscape leaves one in awe at the beauty, majesty and awesomeness of the creator of this world. And to think that the Rocky Mountains are young mountains that are still gaining in height as they are being formed through the shifting plates of the earth. (So if you are a procrastinator, the longer you wait to do a trip like this the more climbing that you will have to do.) On a bike one experiences all this up close and personal.
Rather than seeing the awesomeness of the Rocky Mountain through the windshield of a vehicle and at predetermined rest stops, we had the privilege of seeing it in its unencumbered beauty. On a bicycle we could pull over at any spot we chose without impeding the flow of traffic.
The grandeur of the mountains, whether one attempts to capture it on camera or whether one tries to capture it through statistics, just doesn’t compare to the experience of being on a bicycle. The height of the mountains could be felt in my legs.
The steepness of the ascent could be experienced by the slow crawl forward. The descent, after a hard slow climb is purely and simply exhilarating, winding down the mountainside at speeds of up to 65 km/hr.
The route we took was along the Trans-Canada highway. There are no secondary roads through the highest passes of the Rocky Mountains. Because of that, we had to contend with a high volume of traffic, both passenger cars, semis, and holiday traffic in campers. The element of risk was never far from my mind. There were sections or road where the paved shoulder narrowed down to less than six inches. There were sections of shoulder with too much debris on it to cycle safely. There were sections of road where we has cars, campers and semis pass within inches of our shoulders. In places where we were squeezed onto the traveling portion of the highway it was a matter of checking for an opening in the traffic and then ‘owning the lane’. The safest vehicles to have behind you when ‘owning the lane’ is to be in front of a semi. You know you are dealing with a professional driver. The riskiest time to ‘own the lane’ is to be riding in front of a rented camper, (not that one can tell looking through a loonie size rear view mirror) probably being driven by a person who is at best unfamiliar with the vehicle and at worst uncomfortable driving through the mountains.
The most interesting time to ‘own the lane’ is when we were traveling through the snow sheds. The sudden change in lighting both for the cyclist and for the vehicles can create some surprise situations. Fortunately nothing significant showed up.
In fact, just before entering a series of three snow shed we passed through a traffic control zone. We were asked to wait for a minute or two to let some truck traffic pass. Then the ‘flag lady’ stopped the traffic for about five minutes and gave us the go ahead. For the next four or five kilometers we had the whole lane to ourselves. Gradually the traffic caught up to us, but they made no attempt to pass us. While we raced through the snow sheds at up to 45 to 50 km/hr they crawled along behind us.
It was a real sense of accomplishment reaching the summit of Rogers Pass. Even though it is only 1300 meters high it took about 7000 meter of climbing and 900 km of cycling to get there. It’s the ups and downs and turns in the road that adds to the beauty of the ride.
The day we cycled through Rogers Pass was a long day with chilly temperatures requiring us to layer up first thing in the morning to 35 C temperatures in the afternoon. We cycled 152 km and climbed 2281 meters while contending with highway traffic, and road construction. We couldn’t break up the day because there are no towns between Revelstoke and Golden. Since it is bear country it is not advisable to set up an improvised camp.
Having completed the ride through Super Natural British Columbia, we are leaving behind the majestic scenery and probable the physically most challenging part of the tour.
And now we will be riding through Alberta the province that a few years ago trumpeted itself as ‘Beyond The Super Natural’. They have meanwhile updated their tagline to “Remember to Breathe”. Even the first couple days in Alberta is proving to be breath taking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The nature of the topic and how it engages me has some bearing.
The type of personalities within the group. If someone is boisterous and dominating that will overload me quite quickly.
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.
The coherence of the conversation. The more often the conversations breaks up into subgroups and then reemerges again has a noticeable wearing effect.
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.
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.