I Am A Little Concussed

This is something of a test. I haven’t written more than text messages and short emails since the concussion eight days ago. Since then, I’ve had some curious social encounters, been overwhelmed at times, but mostly have just been compelled to take long naps of completely empty time. Paraphrasing the words spoken by Johnny Knoxville when he was brutally knocked out by Eric “Butterbean” Esch, “I was a little concussed.”

Early on June 4th, 2016, I rushed down to Denver City Park to the start of the 50+ Cat 4 40 minute criterium around the park. Two parts of the course were tricky involving sharp left hand hairpin turns. Everything else was reasonably wide open. I showed up late and rolled up to the starting line minutes before race time. In fact, I missed the instructions and announcements. The instructions are always the same. I wasn’t worried.

The USA Cycling Race Predictor had me picked for 4th among the pre-registered riders. Of course, the winners always seem to register on race day. Still, I felt like I had a chance at the podium if not first place even though I was coming off a big week of workouts. I wasn’t rested but I was riding well going into the race and this was my first criterium with my new Mavic Carbone 40 wheels which had done wonders for my most recent time trial performance.

The race started out a little funky. The 60+ group started a couple minutes after us and caught the 50+ group. This was problematic because we weren’t allowed to work together so for a while, we were a big messy group being yelled at by the officials. After a couple laps of that nonsense, the 50+ group put the hammer down and dropped the older guys. I almost felt bad for them but I’ve been in the 50+ group when we were with the 40+ guys. They would do the same thing to us so perhaps this was the universe attempting to restore some sort of karmic balance.

I was warming up still and hanging back, chatting with people I knew and waiting for someone to do something crazy. About fifteen minutes in, there was a little break off the front that caused the pace to ramp up. We picked up the flyer (dude that went off the front). Riding faster felt good to me and I was feeling punchy so I moved up and tried to animate the race a little and keep the pace up. At about 30 minutes into the race (10 minutes to go), I decided to take a couple laps of recovery. Along the northeast side of the loop in a big sweeping curve to the left around the pond, I pulled to the right and let almost the entire field pass me on the inside. I slipped back into the peloton in front of maybe five people.

After this, I have only pieces of my memory to work with. Being in the back so close to the end of a race like this is dangerous for a couple reasons. For one, crashes anywhere in the peloton affect everyone behind them so being the in back means that I could be collateral damage should someone in front of me go down. In addition, if there was an attack, I would be caught behind most of the field and unable to respond aggressively. I would have to keep tight on the wheels in front of me and essentially race 10 riders ahead of my position. Especially around turns, to mitigate the accordion effect where the front riders get a lift coming out of the corner, I knew that I would have to take the corners hot and accelerate efficiently or I could have a problem.

The first corner we came to was the first hairpin left. I was pretty sure I knew what happened before watching the video Lloyd Jones took of the race but the video confirmed that I was mostly correct. As I rode through the corner, I started pedaling a split second too soon. My left shoe clipped the ground lifting my rear wheel off the tarmac. When the wheel came back down, it was six inches or so to the right. It caught rather than slid (I might have had a chance with a little skidding) forcing my weight to shift suddenly to the right.

The last thing I remember of the race was my front wheel violently being pulled to the right and then left. In the video, my weight shifts to the right, the front wheel jerks, and then I am in the air above my bike. I came crashing down on my right side with my hip leading followed by my shoulder and then head. I never let go of the handlebars which is good, of course, but my head does do a double tap on the ground:

http://i.imgur.com/5GIsOjp.gifv#embed

In this entire experience, I’ve tried to be grateful and there are so many things and people to be grateful for. My wife Jane and Jeremy, my son, came down to get me. A race volunteer wouldn’t leave my side until I was delivered to the EMTs. The EMTs who were very nice to me. So many of the guys I race with came over to see how I was doing. When I got home, my neighbor Chris came over with DHA for my head. My boss and other office folks were super understanding. And, of course, back to Jane who has been my brain for the past week.

I am so grateful to all those people who were nice to me but two experiences also have been very interesting. First, after I came to or woke up or whatever, I was standing on the grass in Denver City Park on a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun was making the leaves of the trees glow. The grass was an over-saturated green. The day was warm but not hot with a perfect gentle breeze. It was the perfect version of City Park. If City Park exists in heaven, this was how it would look and feel.

To my right, a pleasant voice was speaking over the radio saying that I was OK and indeed, I felt OK. Nothing really hurt at all. The voice remained “The Voice” because I remember nothing of what the person looked like. The Voice asked if I was OK and I said I was fine but then tried to figure out what I was doing there, where there was, what had I been doing, and if I was wearing pants. See, it felt like waking up in a dream and after decades of having the “I forgot to wear pants to school/work/church/mall/etc.” I have apparently conditioned myself to quickly figure out what sort of dream I am having. Is this an inappropriately naked dream, a no-gravity dream, a drowning dream, a Ronald Reagan as my over-domineering great aunt dream, … Don’t judge me; your subconscious is a mess as well.

After saying I was fine and then contemplating the what, where, why questions and coming up with nothing, I said, “I seem to be having some memory issues.” The Voice directed me to walk across the grass to the EMTs and then went back to giving my status over the radio to the authorities, whoever they were. I remember interrupting one more time to say that I was still having some memory issues but this probably means that I repeated myself dozens of times.

The walk took just a minute it seemed but upon review of the course map, it was probably more like 10 minutes or more. The time with the EMTs was a blur as well. The male EMT took my Road-Id and called Jane. The female EMT kept me sitting down which in retrospect I apparently was not interested in doing. They bandaged up my right middle and ring fingers which were a little scraped up. The guy tried to convince me that I was winning until the crash and had me pretty convinced for a little while but then memory of the race started coming back and we had a laugh. A few of my fellow racers came over include Randy from Old School Industries, Philippe “Pippo” Capraro who I think is a doctor, and a couple others who are just blurring together now. Everyone wanted me to go to the hospital but Pippo was very insistent that I go directly. He and his wife gave me water. I like water.

Jane and Jeremy showed up and the EMTs let me go with them. Jeremy drove my car and I drove with Jane. I navigated which is why Jeremy got to the hospital long before we did. Jane called ahead so they were expecting me (we went to the hospital where she works).

The ED experience was less exciting than most of mine. I got out of my Swift Cycling racing skin suit that was nicely ripped up on the hip and shoulder. I am going to have the big rip on the hip repaired because showing up at races with a shredded kit speaks ominous volumes.

They gave me an elephant’s dose of morphine I think to shut me up more than anything. It was very nice; like falling gently into a pile of puppies. Then they CAT scanned my head and shot an x-ray of my hip. I had no apparent bleeding and the pelvis wasn’t busted but they did say that pelvic hairline fractures don’t always show up clearly right after they occur.

Everything gets pretty blurry after that partly because of the morphine and partly because of the concussion. I think Jeremy took me to Chipotle and I think it was awesome. I believe I took a shower which is when I discovered three small road-rash patches on the side of my right knee, elbow, and shoulder. In terms of things to be grateful for, there was blessedly little road-rash.

I was told to stay away from ‘screens’ like TVs, computers, and phones, not to read or write, and generally just to let my brain rest. I was banned from driving, riding, running, being around people, brightness, screens, reading, writing, and other intense stimuli. Pretty much that wraps up most things that I do. So, I was a little bored and decided I needed to cheat and turned on cartoons on the TV. I decided that I could watch TV as long as the plot didn’t make me think.

At some point, Chris from down the street showed up and gave me a big bottle of DHA because I had a brain injury. I remember just enough of the conversation to know that I have no idea what I said to him or how weird it may have been. I felt fine except for what felt like a heaviness in my head. It was sort of like a headache was trying to break through but never did.

That afternoon was my first experience with another thing I am super grateful for which I call the “hallucination nap”. For what felt like minutes but was actually hours, I laid on my back thinking I was about to fall asleep but instead just hovered at that twilight point between consciousness and sleep where reality is entirely in my head. Entire alternative realities and life stories would emerge in my head and for a while, I would be a completely different person. I would tug on the storyline and it would unravel just enough so that I would cross the conscious/unconscious line back to consciousness and the alternate reality would disappear. Over and over it happened and was strangely enjoyable.

For a couple days, at least part of my afternoon was spent having a hallucination nap but then they stopped and were replaced by black-out-missing-time nap experiences. These were actually a little scary because I wouldn’t take the nap; the nap would take me. I stayed home from work Monday and followed up with my primary care doctor who wanted me to essentially remain very still for a very long time. We agreed no driving for a couple more days after I essentially failed every balance test he gave me.

As my head was improving, my hip was getting worse with impressive swelling, bruising, and pain. Since the treatment of a broken pelvis is to rest and since I was going to rest until things felt better, we decided not to repeat the x-ray. I also know that the x-ray machine at the doctor’s office is crap and wouldn’t show a hairline fracture anyway.

I drove to the office on Wednesday and did some errands like dropping off my bike at the shop to get checked out. I was most concerned about the new wheels getting knocked out of true. At the office, I spent too much time talking to people and it was exhausting. I rushed home that evening and took another black-out nap. The next morning I emailed the office types and said I was out until Monday.

Bored to tears with cartoons and still having trouble reading even graphic novels, I decided to try gardening. I leaned into the gardening which seemed to be enough movement to keep my hip limber without over-stressing it. I would putter in the garden in the morning and black-out nap in the afternoon. Excitingly boring.

On Sunday, I tried going to church, listened to a sermon, read a little Greek, did lunch with some people, spun on a stationary bike, swam a kilometer, and then started writing this blog entry. It went well but truth be told what I wrote that Sunday ended about 1,000 words ago. My writing was interrupted by another black-out nap albeit a shorter one. The day before, Jane and I had done some shopping errands. When we got home, I felt scary tired and when I finally let my head hit the pillow, the lights went out immediately and I stayed down and out for almost three missing hours.

On Monday, I went back to work and started the day by writing an email warning people about the black-out naps and asking them not to freak if I was out cold. I made a point of mentioning that I am not the sort of person that appreciates practical jokes. I am more of the kind of person that responds to a Sharpie doodle on the face with a Keyser Söze style response of vengeance, revenge, and destruction.

I saw the doctor to report that I was able to crank my heart rate up on the stationary bike without any affect in my head. He was unimpressed. We agreed I would do more stationary cycling before getting back on the open road or track but that swimming was fine.

Over lunch, I swam 1.5km in the pool and my hip got angry. The hematoma that was causing bruising all over that area expanded to be about six inches round and ballooned out a couple inches. Five days later, it is still there. I have to wear my old ‘fat’ pants and I am thinking about perhaps cross dressing for a while because dresses and skirts sound really comfortable right now.

It has been exactly two weeks. My hip isn’t looking good but me head seems fine. My Smith Overtake helmet with MIPS did a nice job of keeping a bad situation from being worse. I am planning on riding in New Mexico next weekend. My concern is less that my head will be able to handle the ride than if my hip will play nice and that I haven’t lost too much not doing any significant training in what will be three weeks.

Again, I am trying to focus on gratitude. Gratitude isn’t just a healthy practice but redirects from a selfish perspective outward to others and even to the Divine. Indeed, the miracle of my own brain even when it is damaged is glorious. That in spite of banging my noggin on the ground, I can have two of what the hippies would call a consciousness expanding experiences is amazing to me. Is it designed for this? A happy accident? I don’t care really. I can point to my Creator and say that I am simply grateful for the experiences, for the equipment (head, brain, etc.), and for the opportunity to push my body, well, too far.

Too far? Maybe but I am grateful for the grace to go a little over the edge and bounce instead of break.

From Dad Bod to Mature Grandeur

I work out all the time. Every single day involves a certain amount of planning around work, weather, upcoming races, family responsibilities, keeping the house from collapsing, and how I am going to burn at least 1,000 calories, lift, swim, cycle, run, all, or other. If it rains all day and I don’t have access to the gym, I start to twitch.

One solution is the “Dad Bod”. This is a new(ish) trend launched by some Hollywood male stars that are getting old and, well, chubby. At the drop of a hat they could be back in form but between gigs, they are enjoying the life. According to the MSN article that was the top Google match which I didn’t actually read all the way through, there is this McKenzie person who wrote a blog post that started the thing in which she said:

… Mackenzie describes the Dad Bod as “a nice balance between a beer gut and working out”. She continues: “The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’ It’s not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs, either.”

Yeah, it is the new normal. The weekend warrior that is an inflated shadow of the college man he was. He hasn’t gone ‘full-accountant’ or neck-beard, but he won’t win the 10k race this weekend. It actually looks more like a conscious decision to back away from competition rather than the ‘lost control around every cheesecake ever’ look.

I’m not one of those that thinks North American men need to be euro-trash spindly because that is unattractive in its own awful way. Yes, that is a good look racing in the Tour de France while simultaneously being the worst look possible in a Speedo. OK, yes, I can think of a worse look but I choose not to think of such things.

To me, the Dad Bod looks like giving up. It looks like a sub-conscious decision was made to not take the time, not make the effort, and not care anymore. They’ve married the girl, spawned some kids, taken all the good pictures they need, and now it is time to put the body into a glide path and just chill out. It is an extension of frat boy culture that breeds selfishly off the status quo: all anyone has to do is look or act or be just slightly better than average to be a winner.

I find it strange then that I need to defend the Dad Bod. There are chapters in a man’s life and there is a long chapter where the family needs to come first. It just isn’t possible for all of us to be successful in our careers, be good husbands, pour love and time into raising children, keep the house from collapsing, and still compete to win in our age group in six or seven triathlons a year. Something has to give and backing away from four hours of exercise a day is simply the right thing to do.

I did, sort of. I have to work out an awful lot to stay lean and mean. I’ve never been sedentary, but I sure wasn’t as viciously dedicated as I am these days and my new low-teens body fat percentage is new and fun.

During the years the boys were growing up, I wasn’t this way. There was a time when running was my sport of choice because it was the biggest burn for the time. Then I played hockey over lunch and late in the evenings. Truth be told, I would have been a much better hockey player if I had been in better shape but I played hockey to “stay” in shape.

Perhaps we should eat better and less. Perhaps we should be less stupidly dedicated to our pathetic dead end careers. Maybe we should spend more active time with our kids. Maybe we can be fit as well. Maybe, but I doubt it.

For the men out there that aren’t at their fighting weight, can’t compete like they used to, can’t hang in the pack, or had to change to lifting kilograms from pounds to force themselves not to compare against what they once were, you are doing the right thing. It is only temporary but during this chapter, you absolutely must be a man and a man serves his family. When you are older, you will have the luxury of working on yourself but now, you need to be a real man and a real man doesn’t look like one of those guys in 300.

That said, if you are being a tool, stop it. I get it that you want/need to ride the Leadville 100 but if you have a couple kids, demanding job, and wife you love, just don’t do it. Let the kids grow up, let the career settle down, and maybe let your wife get sick of you being around the house so much. Don’t be that guy that has to get a notch in his belt for completing some stupid stunt–climb that mountain, run that trail, ride that nightmare, sail that ocean, whatever–at the expense of his family. Don’t be that guy that needs to accomplish some insanely time-consuming and expensive adventure to feel complete, whole, or superior. Just don’t. Not just because of your family and marriage but because you make us all look bad. Just stop it, grow up, be responsible, and do your job.

Then, when you have the time, get back on the bike and ride. Drop the pounds and instead of having a midlife crisis where you buy a fast car, buy a couple bikes and a metric ton of awesome gear. Chisel yourself into a middle age piece of stone. Work yourself like iron. Become the body your wife remembers from when you started dating. Make your grown children proud. Be ‘that guy’ in the office who looks half his age.

I hate the Dad Bod because I need to kill my Dad Bod and get busy building my Mature Grandeur: Mat Grand. It is easy to look good in your late teens and early twenties. Slow down the metabolism and it is harder to keep that weight off. A little less testosterone will make building muscle tricky. All that damage to my back over the years will make working out trickier. My arthritis makes this a challenge as well.

If you want to be a hero, be in the best shape of your life at 50. If you want to command respect, be that guy that competes at that age. Anyone can kick ass at 22 but doing it at 52, 62, and 72 is a challenge. Anyone can compete in their 20s and 30s but a real man is a good father and husband when the family needs him most. Do the Dad Bod then and when the time comes, come out and play with us old guys. We’ll wait.

Water: From Failure to Success — Part 1

There might not be a Part 2 to this blog post. It seemed that a telling of the tale to this point was appropriate before it drifted into the abyss of my mind.

In September of 2013, I had a success moment racing in the aquabike category of the Inverness Triathlon. An “aquabike” is the first two disciplines of a regular swim-bike-run triathlon which allows those of us that can’t run anymore to compete without risk of further injury. My injury is arthritis in my right great toe that has caused all manner of nasty in my right knee, hip, and back.

The Inverness Triathlon was very short (sprint, as it is commonly called) involving a pool swim. I killed on the bike getting the third fastest bike leg of everyone competing (even the full triathletes). My swim wasn’t bad but my transitions cost me dearly. Still, I was pretty jazzed about the experience and immediately signed up for the very next aquabike opportunity which was a week away. Unfortunately, it was an open water swim and would require a wet suit. So, I bought a wet suit online but the Colorado floods happened and FedEx stopped delivering. I didn’t receive the wet suit in time and didn’t even start the race.

Surgery took me out of competition last spring followed by much travel and other obligations in June. The first race opportunity in 2014 was in late August at Aurora Reservoir called My Way or The Tri Way which allows everyone to choose their disciplines and the order of attack. I decided to do swim-bike-swim where the first swim would be with a wet suit and the second not so much. I had a solution for my transition issues a year before. I was also feeling very strong in the water and my fitness on the bike was more geared toward laying down significant heat for shorter distances (< 20 miles). I was even feeling good about the open water because of some positive experiences in Mexico where I had some good long swims.

There was much talk at the starting line about how everyone was looking forward to the bike or run legs because apparently no one feels strong in the water. I've learned that this is what all triathletes say. At the start, everyone that was starting with the swim jogged down to the water's edge adjusting goggles along the way. I had been in the water already doing a little warmup. That did plenty to ease my nerves. The course was a big 'U' shaped thing with giant orange buoys on the way out and back and equally giant yellow ones at the right turn points. They were glorious and huge.

Things went just fabulously for the first, let's say 100 yards or so. Then I decided that I needed to be sure of my course because I was feeling people around me. What if I was swimming off course? So, I looked up using forward breathing as we had practiced in the pool. There was nothing familiar in front of me. No buoys visible or boats or land or anything besides green water. There were people around me but I could not tell what direction they were swimming. There was a raft in front of me to my right so I figured that this was a course marshall or life guard or something. I corrected my course to the left to give the raft a wide berth.

Head down in the water I swam on only a little confident that I was going the right direction. I popped back up after 10 strokes to discover that I still didn't know where I was but that the raft was still to my right but behind me now. Head back down, I swam on. Hands on my legs confused me. Though it was comforting knowing I wasn't alone, I felt like I might be in the way. I tried a couple strokes of forward breathing and took a mouthful of water. No problem. I do this all the time in the pool.

I choked a little and missed a good breath. The wet suit was tight. I measured myself carefully when I bought it almost a year ago. Since then, I had changed my lifting routine to heavier weight and lower repetitions. The result was good upper body muscle growth that probably made the wet suit too small and a lower body fat percentage. Shirts fit better and I was so dense that I could easily sink to the bottom of the pool by merely exhaling.

The tightness of the wet suit made the missed breath seem more crucial. The nerves of the race had me swimming hard and fast. My normal distance stroke of 3/4 catch-up hadn't really materialized and I was windmilling. I tried to slow down. I can sink to the bottom of a pool if I exhale. I wonder where I would sink to if I exhaled entirely? The water was green even through my red goggles. It was completely black under me. Nothing there at all. Red + green – light = black. An abyss and I was wearing a black wet suit.

I decided I should be sure I knew where I was going so I went vertical and treaded water. I was more than 45 degrees off course. The happy buoys of life were well to my right and I was so far off course that I was drifting behind the entire field. The raft behind me was being pulled by a swimmer and the passenger was a smiling child. They were also off course.

Course corrected I started again but couldn't breathe. The wet suit seemed to force the air out of my lungs. I tried to swim by the numbers counting strokes and kicks. I couldn't maintain the rhythm because I needed more air. I felt like I was gasping for breath.

I checked course again to discover that I was again well off course. I wasn't alone but I was out of answers. I couldn't breathe and I couldn't stay on course. I looked back at the shore and was surprised how far away it was. The first orange buoy looked far away and small but the beach did as well. I felt like was barely staying afloat in the water. If I exhale entirely, I will sink like a stone. I cannot get air, so…

"Breaststroke," I thought. Breaststroke is my strongest stroke though I can free faster. It didn't work. I still couldn't breathe.

I've never been good in any body of water besides a pool. One time while snorkeling, I was in the water and thinking I need to be back on the boat. Near me was a little girl with her family and she was having a complete melt-down. There was crying, screaming, panic, and all manner of attempts by parents to calm her. I quietly swam back to the boat. Who were the people on the boat concerned about? Me or the child having the freak-out? Me. Something in my eyes said I was at the point of panic if I didn't get out of the water.

I couldn't get pulled out of the water. Even if I didn't finish this thing, getting pulled out of the water was a level of failure that I was not prepared for in any shape or form. I figured that if I did get out to the kayaks and the police boat circling at the yellow buoys, they would undoubtedly see the panic in my eyes even if I didn't fully feel it and force me out.

I turned back to shore and swam slowly back. It surprised me how fast I got out there and how long it took me to get back. The official on the shore was nice enough saying that complete and total freakout meltdowns happen all the time (why was I alone, I wondered to myself). Another person was very insistent that I answer in an affirmative complete sentence that I was OK. I assured her (a nice older woman) that I was. The next wave ran past me in to the water as I worked my way back to the transition area. The nice folks offered to let me do the bike leg but I declined. My heart was racing and I still couldn't seem to breath. I was over halfway home in the car when my heart rate returned to something like normal.

I love challenges and I really love it when I find things to learn and conquer. I don't have to win–it actually doesn't make me happy when I do–but I love playing the game at a high level. This defeat could not stand. I was in a foul mood the rest of the day and after much introspection, I decided that I could conquer this. It was a matter of acquiring a skill and attacking my fear.

The following Tuesday, I was awake at 5 AM and in a wet suit at Boulder Reservoir shortly after six. I've been in the company of the Boulder psychos far too often. From cyclists to triathletes to runners to climbers to freaking 9th level yoga masters, Boulder has no shortage of people that take their sport and themselves far and away too seriously. The people in wet suits that gather at the Res before dawn, well, I was honored just to have seen these nut-cases in their natural habitat. The next level ones rode their bikes out.

On Tuesday, I just swam the shore line twice and received some simple awesome instruction from the leader, Jane, and a very helpful person in a kayak. Red goggles before dawn are bad, flip flops are good, and I pull to the left in the water even more than I do politically. I celebrated not freaking out Tuesday morning with a donut on the way to work.

On Thursday, I was back again even earlier. The goal was simple: the short loop. There are three courses set up: the shoreline, a short loop and a long loop. I think the short is 650 yards and the long is over 1200. Clear goggles helped see the buoys significantly better and some adjustment to the wetsuit helped with the tightness around the chest. I wore a pink cap and the kayaks knew to look out for me which they did. There was no panic but I did have a ferociously difficult time keeping on course. I can breathe ambidextrously but favor to the left meaning that my right arm got better pull merely due to rotation. Swimming in a pool with narrow lanes has given me a sprint racer's stroke with arms that go directly over head and not out in a 'Y'.

I was pausing every 8th or 10th stroke for a course correction breaststroke stroke. That was OK but I wondered if I could switch to three stroke alternate breathing. This seemed to work to keep me moving on target and forced me to relax into the swim. The nice people in the kayaks followed me but didn't seem to think that I looked like I was having a panic meltdown. As I got close to the last buoy, I realized that I was actually swimming faster. There was a crowd standing in the water preparing to head out so I switched to breaststroke so that I could keep my eyes up and avoid uncomfortable collisions.

I had successful swam a 650 yard open water course in a wet suit starting before dawn and I hadn't run into anyone or got in anyone's way. I had to suppress coming out of the water punching the sky in victory. Jane even pointed out that my breaststroke looked really good. 🙂

Thursday's donut had sprinkles.

I have more practice to do but the unknown is conquered. I might not be good in the swim part of a race, but I am confident I will finish next time. Unfortunately, the Res closes on Labor day and even through Boulder Aquatic Masters say that they will be doing the open water thing on Tuesday and Thursday of the first week in September, no one was sure that it was really going to happen. If it does, Tuesday will be two laps of the short course and Thursday will be a single long course lap.

There is at least partial success here and I think I needed to write about that and celebrate it a little. I need to see what happens next before I can claim that this dragon is slain. Time to sign up for another race, I think.

Mountain Unicycling as a Hernia Diagnostic Tool

Mountain unicycling is simply awesome. It is really tricky but not very dangerous. Extremely low impact until it isn’t, of course. Uses piles of muscles and requires balance. As it would turn out, it is also an excellent way to discover you have a hernia.

I don’t know the science of what happened. I’m not a scientist per se. Nor am I doctor per se. By “per se” I mean, yeah, I know what I’m talking about and you may as well listen to me as much as any medical professional that wasted a huge amount of time and money going to a diploma factory. Oooo, fancy, fancy. Are we all not experts in the human condition? Is not the human condition one governed by science? Is not science the basis of medicine? Are not doctors just people like the rest of us? So, yeah, just call me El Doctor.

What seems to have happened over the Moab Mountain Unicycle Festival weekend was that the nagging curious sensation I was feeling to the left “down there” was aggravated. My innards decided that they would rather be outtards and the rest of my body disagreed. I suspect that two aspects of unicycling or unicycling as I do it which is bad and awful and makes children cry and is so horrible it is easier to watch puppies be eaten by a snake than watch the abomination that is me on a unicycle caused my hernia to become oh so very obvious that weekend:

  1. I hold my breath when I mount the unicycle. I heard you gasp. Screw you; this isn’t easy. Part of my “process” is that I hold my breath (I can feel you rolling your eyes) when I mount the unicycle. As I lay on the table while Rosemary the one armed ultrasound technician told me to flex, I realized that flexing so that the insides want to be on the outside is the opposite of how I usually flex. i usually flex to suck in my gut not the opposite. I am generally disinclined to do the opposite for fear of a) looking fat or b) farting or worse. However, as I worked on my technique I realized that holding my breath helped.
  2. Back to the insides wanting to be on the outside, if something was pushing rather directly and aggressively on, say, one part of my body in a way that was for lack of a better word, rearranging the insides, that could possibly cause pressure on weak areas of the overall vessel. I suspect that the saddle of the unicycle was delightfully the exact sort of Medieval torture device one would seek to produce exactly this reaction.

Holding my breath pressurized my body cavity and then when the additional pressure of the saddle was applied to the–again for the lack of a better word–undercarriage, the result is that my insides make an escape attempt. This is just my theory but as implied above, science is so much more of an art really. What I’m saying is that I’m stating facts here.

Surgery is scheduled for the 9th of April. The hernia is small and the pain rarely occurs and when it does, it is almost always tolerable (except when unicycling). With only minor changes to my lifestyle (no unicycling, for instance) I could go years if not decades without treatment. Such a trade-off did cross my mind except that there seems to be a nerve or two involved that are misfiring creating strange sensations like heat among others that are indescribable but usually not painful. As I discussed this case with other “doctors”, we decided that this could become a serious complication if the nerves continue to misfire. The risk is that could become chronic pain based on nerve damage and not an actual mechanical failure.

“<giggle>, he said ‘chronic’.”

My mother isn’t going to get that joke.

A picture of me doing the thing.

Moab Mountain Unicycle Festival 2014 — Day 3

It was a beautiful day in Moab. The sun was out and though it wasn’t very warm, at 5000 ft. a little sun goes a long way.

After packing up the campsite, I went foraging for food like my ancestors would have. The Moab Diner is closed on Sunday so I was forced to eat at the heathen Pancake Haus across the street and it was atrocious. Truly the good and righteous make better breakfast.

The plan for riding was to meet some folks back out at the Bar M Loop and instead of doing the loop, riding over to the Rusty Spur and hitting it and Sidewinder a couple times. I wanted to get some video and few pictures. I actually took this picture of the Bar M area from the Chuckwagon the night before during the “golden hour”:

BarMLoopArea

It is a big mesa on the north side of the Moab valley. I was meeting some people whose names I have embarrassingly mostly forgotten. Our leader was a local named Jason who brought out his wife and two kids. They were on bikes and immediately ditched us. A nice family of five (all unicyclists) of which the son’s name was Tristan. They are a very nice family with some skills on the wheel. The youngest daughter when she got moving would spin like a hummingbird. Amazing. Also, some Canadians I met the night before joined us. The older guy ran and the young man from Edmonton rolled. Awesome, happy, friendly, nice and generally superior people.

At the Rusty Spur turnoff.

At the Rusty Spur turnoff.

Almost immediately after we started rolling, I realized something was wrong. I’ve been having some on and off lower abdominal pain for a couple months but when I was in saddle, it hurt way worse than ever before. Something about the pressure of the saddle “down there” was very not cool. It was as if the pressure on the undercarriage was causing extreme pressure on the front of my abdomen.

The first stretch isn’t technical but it is a long slog along a gravel road. I just suffered through it hoping that whatever was wrong would abate. My back loosened up nicely and my legs even started playing nice but the lower abdominal pain just got worse. I found if I pushed down on the saddle handle with my right hand, I could rock back a little and relieve the pressure. That was at best a short term solution.

A couple of us turned off onto the first entrance to the Rusty Spur and hit the red single track:

20140323_104638

At a rise in the trail, I pulled out my Drift cameras and set them up at a couple locations and then took a little “proof” video of myself doing the thing:

The day was beautiful and I was unicycling well (for me) but the pain was getting very intense. I was becoming nauseous which is one of those signs that should be heeded. At the southernmost point, we regrouped and I announced my intention to get back to the car the with the most direct route possible. From that point, we overlooked the Sidewinder trail below us. Perfect single track paralleled the cliff edge and called to me to take the risk.

I did not take the risk. Instead, I bid farewell to the other and took the straight and boring gravel road back to the car. It was a stunningly rare moment of good judgement on my part. On the way back, I had to stop and walk for couple minutes because of the pain.

It is Monday in Boulder and the doctor can’t conclusively say whether it is a hernia or not. I will have a battery of awful tests that hopefully will turn up something treatable. The term “sports hernia” was mentioned but it was also mentioned that not everyone believes that those are even a real thing. It hurts which I would say makes whatever we call it very much real to me.

I did decide over this weekend that I need to carefully keep unicycling in the category of “things I do for fun”. It isn’t something I should do to stay in shape or for fitness or even consider it a sport. I should absolutely not compete. It is fun and it is a whole lot more fun when I don’t take it too seriously. It is meditative, beautiful, calming, and takes me into nature in a way hiking probably does for most people. Since I can’t really hike anymore, this should be my replacement.

 

Moab Mountain Unicycle Festival 2014 — Day 2

I don’t camp well. The usual problem is too much or not enough stuff or clothes. Of course, I always seem to have the wrong stuff and I can’t find anything even if I remembered to bring it. I find also that around about 4 AM, I wake up freezing cold even if I was way overdressed when I got in the bag.

Imagine my surprise to wake up at 4 AM and not be cold. That was nice though being up at four was annoying and I believe caused by the chickens next door. I like the idea of free range happy chickens but I do not support the range being anywhere near me. They are noisy, smelly, and inconsiderate animals with no sense of time or boundaries.

I found breakfast food at the Moab Diner after being told by a local that the Pancake Haus was to be avoided. The idea of a diner tickled me. I was hoping for pancakes and someone to make me feel uncomfortable by calling me “hun” way too often. Success was achieved on both goals.

The Munifest gang met at Slickrock for a group picture. We split up after the shoot. The options included Porcupine Rim, Slickrock, and Bar M which was the easiest of the three. I probably had the fitness for Slickrock or Pork Rim, but not the skill. A couple dozen of us took the Bar M option and headed seven miles north of town to the trailhead.

It was in the low 40s at ride start (10 AM ish) and blowing out of the north. The roll started with a long mostly flat or slightly uphill section for over a mile. It was a good warm up and we regrouped before the trail got interesting. We had the option of doing the Rusty Spur loop which forked off at the regroup place. It looked like mellow single track so I figured it would be fun. Apparently I alone thought it would be fun. The rest of the group was feeling nervous about just doing the route as planned and folks were already looking for ways to cut it short. There are many ways to cut it short as it turns out.

The Rusty Spur was pure awesomeness. Bright red dirt cuts a single track through sage and buffalo grass. Most of it was ridable by even a hack like myself. At the southernmost point, the trail turns back along a cliff overlooking the northernmost edge of the Moab valley. As I started back north, a fellow unicyclist and retired 3 star general from Durango caught up with me by cutting the corner. I like to think that Donny saw my adventurous nature and felt drawn to a kindred spirit but I have no idea why the 63 year disabled veteran was thinking. Donny is the nicest person and seemed to be having too much fun. We rolled back to the main trail and Donny headed back confirming that the better part of valor is living to fight another day. I continued on the Bar M but decided that unless someone has a great idea, I am coming back to the Rusty Spur with camera(s) Sunday morning.

The eastern edge of the Bar M affords an unobstructed view of Arches. It is miles away but the spires and arches are visible as well as the nagging feeling that one can’t get there from here. Something unseen like a canyon or 10 seemed to be in the way.

The Bar M loop trail is a jeep trail and pretty easy. A couple climbs had me off the uni but there were few obstacles that threw me. After a couple miles, I started catching and passing the back of the pack. First were three teen boys of varying abilities. Then I caught the father of one of the boys wondering where they were. Next was a boy riding a Qu-Ax unicycle like mine. He and I had talked earlier about how our unicycles are the heaviest out there but since they are built by Germans we aren’t allowed to complain. He was having a rough time but wasn’t giving up. I caught his parents (dad riding, mother walking) around the next corner. They are from San Francisco area but no, they don’t work for one of those companies.

They took a shortcut back to the trailhead and I stupidly kept going. Near the northern edge, I took the “Cliff Option” which put me on only partially ridable trail next to a nice little cliff into a notch canyon. It was very good and on the horizon one could see a band of copper in the side of a mesa. I thought I had lost the trail but thanks to some mountain bikers who also thought they were lost, we puzzled out where we were.

On the way back south, the sun came out and I stopped briefly to take the sleeves off my jacket. Then I got confused and ended up going the right way but on the North 40 trail which I could not roll after being out there for so long. Maybe if I was fresh I could have put up a fight but being so tired, it was mostly just hike-a-uni.

I had to really focus at the car to decide how hungry I was. I thought maybe food before shower would have to happen. I brought Fig Newtons with me and was absolutely delighted by them on the ride back into the town. I decided to leverage that calorie intake to take advantage of the empty campground and low demand for the showers. It was amazing how stiff I became just driving seven miles back to camp. Staying warm was also trickier than it should have been on a 63 degree sunny day.

Shower accomplished, I headed to Moab Brewery to see if I could get the table with the outlet near it. And beer. Or the other way around. Whatever, both things are important. Bar food and beer made me happy. I drifted back to camp and accidentally sat in my comfy chair. When I woe up, it was time to go to dinner back at the Bar M Chuckwagon with the Munifest folks.

Dinner was rustic but nice and during the slideshow I was surprised to see a couple excellent pictures of myself.

Thus ends day two. There was no impact damage today but some of the dismounts were fairly jarring. My back was angry earlier but seems to have mellowed for the time being. I am walking with a limp because my right foot is very not good but even with that nonsense, I am feeling pretty good.

Moab Mountain Unicycle Festival 2014 — Day 1

I pretend I can mountain unicycle. This sport or activity or totally waste of time involves riding a beefy unicycle on mountain bike trails. I have a beefy unicycle and can sort of ride on flat perfect surfaces. On mountain bike trails, I am mostly out of control and I am a veritable fount of profanity.

The Moab Munifest was a thing about five years ago. We did it twice and it is an excellent excuse to go to Moab, UT at a time of the year when it isn’t kiln hot. After five years off, it is happening again. About a 110 unicyclists have descended on the town.

I drove to Moab this morning from Erie, CO and it was totally smooth sailing. After checking in at registration and setting up camp (I’m camping! I’m a camper! Tent and everything!), I headed over to the legendary Slickrock trail. The slickness of the rock is actually only a problem when it rains. When it is dry, the rock is actually awesomely sticky and grips tires lovingly.

I’ve only ever done the 3 mile (or whatever) practice loop before and that was the plan for today. I just wanted to do one lap to reacquaint myself with the sport. Years ago I was doing muni rides all the time. This winter I worked in a handful. I look and feel really uncomfortable on the wheel. I hear Yoda’s voice saying “the suck is strong in this one” whenever I ride.

The number of unplanned dismounts was countless but there was only one close encounter with the planet. The unicycle popped out in front of me on a steep descent and somehow the left pedal whipped around and punched my left calf as I slid down into the ravine. I had an audience and everything. Hours later, I still have a charlie horse.

The good news is that this was the only scary moment from today. I painted the rocks with profanity, chickened out many times, and had many very ungraceful moments. In the midst of that, there were some victories. A couple times I failed a section, walked back up, and then rolled it. Other times, I gambled on a section and won. And I wasn’t the weakest unicyclist on the trail which was nice.

The damage report from day one:

  • Calf charlie horse. No bruise and because I was wearing all of my safety gear, no blood loss.
  • My arthritic toe is screaming at me. Too much walking.
  • Curious amount of back spasm action going on. We’ll see how sleeping the ground works out.

There is no power at the camp, so I was FORCED to go to the Moab Brewery and fight some nice women for the one table with access to the the outlet. Yes, there is a craft brewery in Utah. The stout is not awful but it is only 4%.