We’ve all Experienced a Hand Up

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…teach a man to fish…

Lemonade Stand (Unlicensed)

When I was training for my Sea to Sea tour I stopped at a lemonade stand being run by two pre-schoolers. I was looking for a grocery store to get some drinks for my ride when I heard this young voice ask if I wanted to some lemonade.

I did a quick U-turn and saw a 4 your old and his younger sister sitting at a table on the boulevard with a glass pitcher of ice floating in lemonade. The sister was all excited about having a paying customer. “Mom he gave us a toonie!” I asked the brother if he had tasted the lemonade. He hadn’t. So I asked if he knew whether it was good. Mom had supplied them and set them up probably with strict instructions that they were not to help themselves to the lemonade.

The next day I stopped by to see how the lemonade ventured turned out. The kids had raised $42 in one day. They pleaded with their mother to set up again the next day. When their mother talked to them about donating a percentage they were not as excited.

Partners World Wide

What the mother did for her children, with incredible stories, similar to what Partners Worldwide does for families in developing nations. For the two children their mother had given them a hand up by providing the lemonade, the cups and the furniture for the lemonade stand.

Partners Worldwide provides micro loans, often loans of less than $200. This provides families with the resources needed to become self sufficient.

Mark Ismond, engagement manager from Partners Worldwide shared an experience of a community in an African country where their life had been seriously disrupted. Raiders from the mountain area had been repeatedly coming into the villages stealing their cattle. As a result the young men were not able to accumulate a dowry. Without a dowry there was no prospect of them getting married. In turn the young me formed armed groups and hung out in the bush. They were returning violence with violence spending most of their time in the bush.

One of the elders in the village had a plan to turn the situation around. The young men were offered land on which to grow sweet potatoes. Partners Worldwide provided the micro-loans to start the project for each of the young men. The elder agreed to buy all the sweet potatoes they produced and sell them in the city markets.

In turn the young men were able to make a better living than when they were raising cattle. They were able to avoid a lifestyle of violence and accumulate a dowry to get married.

Partners Worldwide was the catalyst that enabled the villages to thrive. A great example of a hand up rather than a handout. On average it takes a hand up of $150 to help a family out of poverty.

Sea to Sea fundraising

By setting a target of $12,000 as a nation rider with Sea to Sea my funds raised will support 80 projects. Having surpassed my goal and raised about $16,000 that means my funds raised will support 106 projects.

When you think about the hope that one project can bring to a family, that is a lot of hope that is countering so much of the brokenness and poverty in the world.

If you choose to bring hope by helping a family or person out of poverty feel free to donate today. At the prompt you can type the name of any other rider you want to encourage in their efforts to help.

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.

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

 

Balancing & Cycling

 

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Main structure completed – Break time

I’ve completed two weeks of serious outdoor training for my cross Canada ride. While on the one hand it is more motivating to be training outdoors, it is also more challenging. There are several reasons for the challenges which I have been only partially prepared to deal with.

Location

While living at the top of the highest ridge in the area (600 ft above Lake Ontario, 1000 ft above sea level) gives some great panoramic views. However, no matter how I plan my route I am in for a long climb every time I’m nearing the end of my workout. Climbing the last 4 km to get myself home takes a lot of will power. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to make much difference whether I have just completed a 25 km ride or a 65 km ride, the climb seems to be equally daunting.

Choosing to stay on the ridge doesn’t reduce the amount of climbing as there are numerous creeks and ravines with tend to be carved deep into the landscape. Wonderful for great views and vistas.  In one week I logged 2300 meters of climbing. So I’ve decided to challenge myself to complete the Mt Everest Challenge during the month of May. The goal is to climb 8,848 meters in the next 31 days.

Season

While the snow just disappeared a little over two weeks ago, spring is not really here in full force. This morning I headed out prepared for the 5 Celsius temperature with a brisk wind out of the east. Alas, at about the mid point of my 26 km ride it began to rain. Rain at 5 degrees is not pleasant at the best of times. Going downhill with a headwind requires one to pedal hard just to try to generate a bit of warmth. However, going 40 to 50 km/hr into the wind just seems to blow every shred of body heat away. The main consolation was knowing I would get to the bottom of the long decline soon enough regardless of the effort I put into it.

When I compare the cold weather cycling to the summer weather, it’s a tough call as to which I prefer. While it’s easier to dress for the weather when it’s cold, I would prefer to avoid both extremes.

Recovery

I find cycling beneficial for my recovery. If I’ve had a day with activities that have put me near my limit for neural loading, getting out on the road helps quite a bit with recovery. The physical workout, with it’s regular rhythm, requiring minimal cognitive functioning, does wonders in alleviating a good amount of neural fatigue. I choose routes away from heavy traffic and city type distractions. Most of the county roads have wide lanes and paved shoulders much of the way. Secondary roads work well because I encounter minimal traffic.

While I am encouraged that cycling helps alleviate symptoms related to the after effects of my injury two years ago, I still need to be mindful of what sensory loading my cycling has on my overall well-being. This week it’s been a bit of a mystery whether the increase in my training has contributed to my sensory overload or whether I have taken on too many other activities while doing my outdoor training.

Mindfulness and Balance

On Friday I volunteered at an outdoor education centre for 4 hours helping build a set of stairs out of cedar logs. The physical part of the work was not very demanding. I took a couple of breaks to ensure I would have the necessary endurance. In hind sight what wore me out was working with 2 other people, discussing the finer points as we were working, deciphering instructions, and adjusting my thinking as the job progressed. The demands on my mental flexibility is what was most wearing. In the end it wasn’t physical fatigue, but neural fatigue. The drive home, only 8 km was difficult. The bike ride later that day helped me recover from the neural demands of the morning.

The next 7 weeks of training will be a balancing act. I will need to be mindful of balancing my training activities with my other daily responsibilities and routines. My one consolation is that the cross Canada cycling will most likely be less demanding than the terrain that I’m dealing with during training. Will it be a ride in the park… ? Who knows.

 

Scary Decision

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I need a different kind of ‘training wheels’

My bucket list includes cycling across the continent. I hope to make this a reality in the summer of 2017 by signing on to Sea to Sea 2017. However, I am still learning to live with ABI  (acquired brain injury). For those who have followed my recent journey, I’ve had to learn a lot about what I can reasonably take on.  Still figuring out my limitations has made me question whether a 10 week bike tour across the continent is achievable or even advisable.

Ever since the summer of 2013 I had my heart set on cycling across the continent. That summer I cycled from Lake Michigan to Montreal, a distance of 1400 km. I completed 250 km of the distance by unicycle. The balance of the 1400 km were completed on two wheels. The sheer enjoyment and success of the two week trip made me dream of one day biking across the continent.

On a good day I have been dropping hints with my family of my dream. On not so good days the thought of committing to this event has me downright scared. And so I vacillated from day to day, from week to week.

Pre-training

You could say I started my training last spring. I could not bike five kilometers without getting side effects of my ABI. By reducing my pace to about half of my pre-ABI pace I could manage five kilometers. Soon I was edging my distance up by five more kilometers, then ten more kilometers. On a very good day I could manage twenty kilometers. A couple months back I completed several forty kilometer trips. Still a far cry from the 130 kilometers I would need to do to take on the Sea to Sea tour.

During the heat of the summer I limited my cycling to late afternoons and cloudy days. With more than forty days that exceeded 30 C (85F) there were many days I stayed off the bike.

It’s almost like going back to ‘training wheels’. Through careful planning and training advice from my ‘brain coach’ I should be able to participate.

Pro

The things that encourage me to go will hopefully win out. The tour provides SAG support so I will not be left stranded if I have a bad day. It being a supported tour I will not have to carry my own gear. My experience with the previous tour is one of support and encouragement.

Cycling is one of the ways I cope with my ABI symptoms. I bike to help to help reduce my sensory overload or reduce fatigue brought on by stress and cognitive demands. I trust that I will continue to increase my biking distance. It’s not a race so I need to find a comfortable cycling pace.

In thinking back on my two week tour of 2013, cycling is one way to live a simplified life. Each day consists of some variation of ‘eat, sleep, bike’. The occasional extras would include pitching in with some of the group tasks.

Con

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East of Kingston Ontario, August 2013

Aside from getting to the starting point of the tour, Vancouver, there are other concerns while on the tour. Will I be able to handle the heat? According to the Farmers Almanac the temperatures should be more moderate next summer. Will I be able to handle touring with a large group, large gatherings for breakfast and supper and the daily peleton meetings?

Deciders

I signed on to Sea to Sea 2017 this week. I have 7 months in which to see improvement in learning to live with ABI. I need to accept the real possibility that there might be days in which it will be best to not cycle. That will be the biggest challenge – convincing myself to stay off the bike if I’m not up to it for a day.

One part of my decision is clear. I will not do any part of the 2017 tour by unicycle. Unlike the summer of 2013, for the tour in 2017 I have no intention of doing part of it by unicycle. Living with ABI means I will have enough challenges to respond to and manage that I don’t need to create any artificial challenges. I will welcome the support I received in 2013, but this time for very different reasons.

A view from the other side

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Two and a half years ago I participated in 1400 km of the Sea to Sea bike ride. In drumming up personal sponsorship, I had focused on developing awareness for people who live in poverty due to hidden disabilities.

Little did I realize that 18 months later I would be counted among those with a ‘hidden’ disability. A year ago I was involved in a motor vehicle accident that left me disabled. A disability that was later diagnosed as mTBI (mild traumatic brain injury) leaving me unable to perform my work duties as an elementary school principal.

Being that is was an acquired injury, I did not realize to what extent it was and would affect my work. During the first several weeks my symptoms continued to worsen. After struggling to work part time for a few weeks I was persuaded that I needed to stop working.

The disability has changed my life style dramatically.

I would normally go to bed because I was sleepy, not because I was tired. Now I often experience fatigue throughout a significant part of the day.

Headaches for me was a very rare occurrence. Now I’ve gotten used to it being there almost on a daily basis.

Two years ago I had the endurance to cycle 135 km in a day, doing 50 km on a unicycle. Now I feel good if I manage 5 to 10 km at a moderate pace.

Each year on Labour Day weekend I would join my family at the Shelter Valley Folk Festival for 3 days of music. Now I can’t listen to live music longer than 30 minutes without having my brain shut down.

It’s an injury that is hard to measure. In one area the specialist gave me a general indicator. After completing a battery of assessments one of the things that was determined is that my memory is now function at about 50% of what I was capable of pre-accident.

The injury continues to affect me physically, behaviourally and cognitively. If I attempt an activity that leaves me cognitively challenged, it takes me from 1 to 4 days to recover. During the recovery time I experience a wide range of physical challenges. It’s amazing how the brain and the rest of the body are so closely connected.

If you see me in town on a good day, you can’t tell that I’m dealing with a disability. A colleague told me recently that I seem to function normally. She was right. When there are no demands and pressures a day can seem quite normal. However, that is not how a day normally goes, whether one is at home or at work.

What has been very clear in my experience is the incredible level of support and understanding I have received from my community; that is my church community, my school community and my family. Jane, my wife has been incredibly patient, understanding and supportive, day in and day out. I can’t begin to list all the extra duties she has willingly taken on.

In response to the support I am experiencing, I would like to explain what the personal challenges are. The problem is I lack the ability to explain it, because I don’t really understand it myself. It’s just how it is. It’s not headaches that happen – it’s the underlying issue that partly shows up as a headache, among other symptoms. The headaches are a gauge. But it’s like a gauge that hasn’t been labelled or even calibrated.

My initial goal following the accident was to still go ahead with my plan to cycle from Jasper Albert to Montana in July of 2015. I realized after a few months that I would have to abandon that plan. I couldn’t even manage a 2 hour ride in the car. How could I even get to Alberta? My goal at this time is to cycle all or part of the 2017 Sea to Sea. That’s a year and a half from now.

While recovery seems to move at less than a snail’s pace, the encouraging thing is that there is improvement. While this experience has made me empathetic to other’s with brain injury, I don’t think I am anywhere near being able to understand how people fare when dealing with a severe brain injury. What I have experienced is that an understanding and supportive community goes a long way in managing one’s disability.

 

What’s a Regular Cycling Day Look Like

Cycling this Sea to Sea tour has reduced life to some very basic needs. Wake up, pack up tent and personal goods, eat, make a lunch, cycle, set up tent, eat, sleep and do it all again the next day.

In the middle of keeping life simple and focussed, there are amazing things to observe. Each morning, before it is even light there is a buzz of activity. Breakfast is laid out by 6:00 am with cyclists busy doing what they need to do to get on the road. 

If one were to step back and observe the area at about 6:30 one would see what most closely resembles and ant hill. People are purposefully moving all over the grounds. Between the gear trailer, the tenting area, the shower area, the kitchen area it looks like a frantic, chaotic scene. No one is giving orders, no one seems To be in charge, yet in short order the grounds are cleared, the trucks are loaded and all the cyclists have miraculously disappeared.

They’ve all mysteriously disappeared only to surface at some other location some 100 or 120 km away.

What at first glance might appear chaotic is all very purposeful and orderly. It is clear that each person knows what needs to be done and has a role.

It is very apparent that there is some quality leadership and planning with this tour. Good leadership is evident in the results.