A wise decision - geograph.org.uk - 1802231.jpgToday, after almost a year and a half off of my bike, after buying a new helmet a few months ago, after pumping up my tires a few weeks ago… After all that build up, I finally actually went for a ride today.

Before I left, I made sure to tell Alexis exactly where I was going.  Since this was my first time out on a ride of any length — and I only went 10 miles — I can still feel the strain on my thighs.  Of course, the short trip took me an hour.

I suppose I’m only now coming to grips with what it really means for my confidence after losing a couple of weeks of my life to a TBI sustained while riding alone one sunny fall afternoon. As I rode, I was constantly aware of any ditches to fall into.  There was the constant reminder that, yes, I’m not going to push myself to ride hard up or down hills.  I was too scared.

But, I’m very happy I went.  I’ll go again tomorrow.  And — who knows? — in a month I may even be ready to ride on longer trips.  I may even go over 10mph!

Twenty days ago, on the 7th, I headed out on that clear, beautiful day, on my road bike for a trip on my usual 24 mile trip around the country side.

From what I’ve been told of the events I cannot recall and from the route I usually take, I made a turn onto a narrow, one lane bridge.  I must have not seen the oncoming traffic, or thought I could easily go on the right side of it.

But the result was not incident-free.  A wreck resulted.  I ended in the middle of the road with my head cracked open.  Thankfully, the on-coming driver did not run over me.  At least I haven’t found any tire marks on my body.

My body went into a coma and they trucked me to the ER.  Shortly after, a police officer showed up on my doorstep and gave my wife news no spouse wants to hear.  She rushed to the Reading Hospital.  When she found me, she saw my body, with a few scratches on my face.  Other than the breathing tubes coming out of my mouth, I looked like I was asleep.

She walked up to me and said “Hi, Hex, I’m here.”  My priest, Father Gousettis, was with Alexis and he prayed over me.

Day 2:  Alexis had the neighbors help with the kids while she went to the hospital to figure out what is going on with me.  My parents were on their way to meet us in Pennsylvania from their home in Arkansas.  They arrived late in the evening.  A friend who is a hospice doctor came to visit and read to me.  He also provided invaluable medical insight and guidance to Alexis.

For the first three days after my accident, the doctors watched over my body under controlled sedation.  On the third day, they took me off sedation to watch my breathing as I fought the ET (Endotracheal) tube.

Alexis stayed with me again that night to watch over me an pray for me as I fought with the tube.  At 9:30 on the fourth morning, on doctor’s orders, the respiratory therapist removed the breathing tube.  With bated breath, everyone watched to see if I would be able to breathe on my own.  I breathed, and everyone, including my wife, let out sigh of relief.  The concern was that my bruised brain stem (which controls vital involuntary functions like breathing, heart beats, etc.) would impede my breathing.

The second hurdle had been cleared.  Now, they waited for me to wake up and talk.  Three hours after the tube came out, I opened my eyes and my wife leaned over and asked me to say her name.

“Alexis”, came my whisper and, as if exhausted, I fell back asleep.

An hour later, I woke up again and whispered to Alexis.  She waved to Maria, a nurse, to come and listen.  I whispered again.
“I am thirsty.  I want water.”

Maria asked, “Mark, who is this person next to you?”  I replied, “My wife.”

“What’s her name”

“Alexis,” I replied.

“Mark, what year is this?”

“2006” I replied.

“Mark, who is the president?”

“Obama” I replied.

Alexis tells me that after the ET tube was removed, my improvements increased exponentially. On the 11th day, I was transferred to rehab.

A whole body scan was done and that was when the pulmonary embolisms and en-flamed right lung  were discovered.  By midnight I was in desperate need of morphine.

Now I am back at the Reading Hospital Post Acute Rehabilitation.  I am under constant supervision which bugs me… and makes me want to scream “I am an AMERICAN!” sometimes.

But I’m focused on the goal: returning home and resuming full time work.  Hopefully I can reach it rapidly.

In order to avoid joining the club of wimps (some people can rationalize anything), I went out today and yesterday, the two coldest days of the week, and did 30 miles. Part of it is the 6000 mile goal I set for myself. If I slack now, I’ll have to ride doubly hard later on. Part of it was that I skipped todays this week already. I had to get the miles in to make my weekly goal of 120miles. And I did! I made 130 miles for the week. Yay, me! The other part is just the fun of telling people “Oh yeah, I rode 30 miles in the freezing cold.” Something about the surprise that it generates makes it more fun. I won’t have the opportunity to provoke such reactions in the summer. But I think 30 miles is my limit. It takes me around 2 hours to ride that far and by the time I get back home, my toes are numb — even after I put on extra socks.

(Today, I took my camera with me on my ride. 30miles at 30degrees. Click the photo for a couple more.) After flirting with Google’s Picasa for Linux for managing my photos, I’m back to using f-spot. I like the timeline and that it doesn’t ask me to give a single “folder” for all the pictures I’m importing, but, instead, creates a directory structure so that my photos are sorted by date. Interestingly enough, it is actually better than Picasa for importing. Picasa won’t automatically rotate images when importing them from the camera where f-spot will. I still use Picasa for uploading pictures to be printed out (F-spot doesn’t support uploading to Wal-Mart), and I love the online Picasa’s ability to help recognise and tag people in photographs — 7000 faces in 10,000 photos are no fun to do by themselves, but when Google picks out the faces and suggests names, it becomes a little game to see how good it gets and to see which person Google thinks looks like each of my kids. (Yeah, I’m probably helping them improve their facial recognition software and they’ll end up selling that to the TSA, but … oh well.)

Yesterday was a horrible day for riding. I thought of taking an hour at lunch on my beater bike, but I never managed to do more than think about it. This morning, though, I was up and out of the house, biking down 272 towards Lancaster at 6:00 AM. I’m falling behind on my goal. Today I should be able to catch up some.

It’s probably time for me to get some riding glasses. I can still see well enough, but I really should be wearing glasses when I ride. Things tend to be a little blurry and, at night, light from cars tends to starburst. I’m making good progress on my goal, but then, it is only the first week. I need to average 120 miles a week, but that means I have to start now. And, unless I decide to take long lunches, that means riding in the dark. Last night, I rode. I was halfway through with my ride when I felt light-headed — like my blood sugar was low. I should have stopped and gotten something to eat but I kept on. (Note to self: this is very dangerous, don’t do it again.) Last night, I spent some time scaring myself — imagining that I had passed out coming down a hill with a car behind me. As if that weren’t enough, my front light got lost. I was trying to adjust it and the whole thing fell apart on the rode. Finding a light in the dark? Good luck! Oh well, I know the road and I had enough presense of mind to watch oncoming traffic. My back light was flashing away, still, and I wear some reflective clothing so it wasn’t as if I was completely invisible. But the ride cost me a day. I am recovering from some sore muscles and thinking about riding without dizziness. (Oh, and winter cycling clothes. Others have more experience, but a balaclava, some thermal underwear and that cycling jersey are great even into the 20s.)

It has been a while since I had any kind of injury from cycling.  Today I made up for some of that lost time. Excited to have my bike back, I went out this morning for the first time to ride.  And I learned an important lesson: after you’ve been off it for a while, it is best to check your gear before expecting to ride like you were before. It rained some last night and the roads were still wet.  On the first good downhill run, I tried to put on the brakes and they didn’t respond the way I expected them to.  Down I went, sliding along the road for a good 10 feet. Apart from a bruised and swollen leg and road rash on various parts of my body, I’m alive.  The same can’t be said for my shorts which were shredded.  I took a few minutes to lay on the side of the road and recover a bit from the shock.  Then I limped back home. I’m just disappointed that I won’t be putting in any miles for a few days.

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Despite planning for it quite some time I won’t be at the last few days of RAGBRAI this year. I originally had to cancel because I thought I would be out of the country this week.  And now I’m not, but plans changed too late to re-schedule. I’m a little bummed about it since this year, I’ve really been riding — 450 miles so far this month —  and I’d like to test myself with a longer ride.  Maybe a Metric Century…

As Nathan said, I’ve been putting down a lot of miles.  Today, I rode 40 miles, bringing my total for the week to 180 miles (and, for what its worth, 9600 calories).  I’ve got just over 1000 miles on this bike, 500 miles a month. (In other news, I need to write about my work on open source soon.)

Mad CyclistAs I told my tweeps, I did 50 miles today. This brings me to a total of 140 miles for the week — closer to where I want to be, but not quite there yet. I hope to get 40 miles in tomorrow and then settle back down to 30 miles/day for the rest of the week. And, at this point, I can tell you that I probably won’t make that goal.  I know 20 miles/day is reasonable for me, but adding another 10 miles is pushing the envelope.  At least right now it is.  We’ll see how I do tomorrow. Since I’ve been riding more and talking about it, I have encouraged several other people to consider taking it up.  A friend of mine is a manager at the Panera Bread about 10 miles from here.  He has seen me in there enough times (a little more than once a week for the past couple of months) that, combined with rising gas prices, he was seriously considering getting a bike and riding. Another acquaintance (at the Thursday morning study group (I leave at 5:45 to get there for the 6:30 start) was impressed that I was riding in the city.  “Oh, you just have to have confidence and act like you belong,” I said.  “Cars are like dogs, they can sense fear.”  She seemed to be considering expanding her riding options on the half recumbent she shares with her husband. Its amazing, really, how doing something you love can affect other people.  I love to ride and, while I’m not going to convert anyone who is dead-set against getting on a bike, some more ambivalent cyclists are thinking “Hey, I could do a little bit more.”  People who are absolutely terrified of riding will begin to think about some of the statistics I cite for them.