The onset of binding muscles creeps into my brain and forces me awake. I immediately start to take inventory of the pain. At the moment it's just a dull, annoying ache, but I'm still in the prone position. I prep myself both physically and mentally for the start of the day. Heating pad-check. 800mg Ibuprofen -check. As the warmth flows into my angry muscles and nerves, I try to focus on my breathing and let the anti-inflammatory do its job. Minutes go by that could be hours. I really am not sure at this point, because for the last three weeks I have spent a majority of my time lying down.
Essentially my body is pissed from being beat on for months on end. I felt it creeping in around the end of June, four months ago. I was driving the company F350 loaded down with a summers worth of gear and bikes up to beautiful Hailey, Idaho where we would be showing folks from all over the goods that the Sun Valley area has to offer. The bench seat in the beast of a truck offered no support for my old back and the nine hour drive allowed plenty of time for the system to become aggravated. Achy back muscles tugging on the gluteus requesting help from the hamstrings. As I slid out of the front seat onto solid ground my frame was questioning this sudden change. I could feel it looming as soon as I stood up. A small jolt originating in my lower back and racing down the back of my leg reminded me of my old friend the sciatic nerve.
We were well acquainted, me and that pesky nerve. I had awakened it's angry power a few summers ago when I was running through an overgrown field to make a call from the only phone in tiny little Atlanta, Idaho. Our plane was late and I had left the group to dash a mile into town to use the only payphone. As luck would have it, as soon as I hung up with the gal from Salmon Air, I heard the drone of the planes engines pushing over the ridge top. I knew how much time I had and how irate the group was getting as I began to dash toward the grass strip. The strip was in sight and the planes were still taxiing as my left foot disappeared in a hole. I rolled with it, jumped up, and dusted myself off feeling like I had just dodged a bullet. The next day I found out the truth as a sharp lightning bolt shot down my leg. My pain was evident as we started out next trip just two days later. At lunch one of our guests came up to me and started firing questions about my condition. He assured me that it most likely was not my IT band, but sciatica. His recommendation was ibuprofen and stretching. I managed to make it through the week and somehow recovered without too much damage.
My current episode however, is far different than the minor discomfort I felt for a week or two during my initial introduction. This time it took me down for the count. I had finally asked too much from my body and it was in total rebellion mode. It all came crashing down as I tried to wheel my bags downstairs to begin our ride from Salt Lake to Vegas. I found myself unable to support any of the weight and before I knew what had happened I was crumpled in the doorway of the hotel room. My back was now done. I called my co-guide to help me bring my bags down and through tears I told him I couldn't work. I had to surrender to my body. My emotions were in a tailspin as I grappled not only with my injury, but the fact that I was leaving my already short-staffed team on day one of our trip.
After being rescued by a friend, we began one of the longest four hour drives I have ever experienced. There was not a position I could find in the car to give me any relief. After finally reaching Moab we went directly to the Urgent Care, where the doctor proceeded to tell me that I might be a bit old to be doing the amount of physical labor I was used too. His eyes widened as I broke down my day to day duties at work. It was no surprise to him that I was in my position. He prescribed a litany of products - anti-inflammatory, pain killers and muscle relaxers - as well as rest and physical therapy as soon as I was able.
In my mind I was prepared for a couple of uncomfortable weeks. I am now in week four of this heinous attack of my body upon itself. This case is obviously not like my previous incident. The beating that I have given my body for months, years even, has finally caught up with me. My sentence is six months and I am sure as hell counting the days.
There is never a convenient time to get injured and this time it happened right at the beginning of fall, my favorite time to be outside. It has been pure torture watching people head for the outdoors and hearing about the adventures. Getting out right now is a walk around the neighborhood, which usually ends up with a frantic dash for the couch with some ice bags. Walking is painful, sitting is far worse and riding is pretty much out of the question.
When I can stand to be on my feet for any amount of time, it is spent in my workshop. For some reason just being surrounded by my quiver of bicycles makes me feel a little better, and yet sometimes worse. I walk around to each bike and let them know we will be back in the game. I grip the bars, spin the wheels and try to remember what it's like. It's seems like it's been so long. An awesome season of riding brought to an abrupt halt. Believe me bikes, this is hurting me more than you.
Just a couple of months ago my buddy told me this is the fastest I've ever been, and probably the fastest I'll ever be. Those words weigh heavy on me now as I grapple with the fact of whether I will be able to get it back. Chronic pain is a terrible thing. It gets inside your head and scrambles your brain. I have been on an emotional roller-coaster for weeks. Tears fill my eyes often with pain, fear and frustration. Sometimes I just cry for no apparent reason. And then I get pissed. I cuss the pain, my body and anything I can find associated with this situation. How much can one endure.
It's no secret that suffering is part of the cycling culture that is somewhat embraced and after 27 years of pedaling I can say that I have done my share. When you ride yourself into the pain cave you know that inevitably you will come out. At this point I just want this ride to end.
Friday, January 4, 2013
Valdez delivered in great Alaska style with a sweet bike path ushering us out of town. It was a nice way to ease into the day as we had some climbing ahead of us. The stacks of snow-covered peaks gave a clue of what was to come. We were headed across Thompson Pass, a popular heli and back-country skiing hotspot, put on the map by a bunch of badass snow ninjas.
Our first hurdle of the trip came when we hit Keystone Canyon. Jason was looking forward to riding through and had me all psyched up by the time we rolled up to the road construction stop. After making no headway convincing them to let us ride through, we heaved our bikes onto the back of the flatbed pilot truck and climbed in with a skinny meth-head chick. She was quite entertaining to talk to in a creepy yet harmless kind of way. As we said our goodbyes to the shuttle gal, she piped out to Jason and asked if he thought I looked like Richard Branson. That alone gave away to a bunch of miles as we started pedaling because we were laughing our asses off. Richard Branson, seriously meth lady!
The incline of the approach to Thompson was pretty mellow and the traffic was pleasingly light. Jay motored away for a bit as I was geeking out and snapping photos. Peaks and ridges smashed up against each other as if trying to be corraled. I was definitely working up a sweat which was battling the cool wind whipping across the snowfields. There was no cheering tifosi when we hit the summit, merely a well stickered sign and a bunch of dirty snow. After a nature break and a few quick photos, we were off. It was chilly enough we didn't really want to hang around and after that long climb we were beginning to think about lunch.
Luckily the scenery as well as the weather were fantastic, so the miles clicked off rapidly. The road undulated through meadow and thick forests while skirting endless lakes. Signs of life were few on the Richardson Hwy, so when we spotted the next bit of civilization resembling a store, we stopped. Jason ran in to check it out and came back out with a bummed look on his face. In the bush it's kind of common courtesy to spend money in someone's place of business once you have darkened their doorway. I felt the same way when I stepped in, but knew we could find something to eat. The choices were few everywhere and the couple running the joint seemed out of place for Alaska folk. We guessed they were witness relocate people from Boston. Crime family, we reckoned. So we best sit our asses down and buy something from them. We chose the her "special" sandwich, which consisted of - cheap ass bread/crappy salami/crappy ham/mystery meat/cheezy american cheese- all grilled to perfection. It came with a side of chips and some "special" dip she created. Yeah, it was ranch dressing and sour cream, real freaking special all right. We ate the crappy food and got the hell out of there as soon as possible. Lucky for us, some Euros popped in and made our exit less awkward.
Now we were pedaling with gnarly food knotting up our bellies. It just increased our motivation however, because we just wanted to get as far away from that place as possible. More miles of perfect pavement a sparse vehicles lulled us along. We were breaking no records, yet still making good time. Our goal for the evening, Glenn-Allen, was around 40-50 miles out which would put us a little over 120 for the day.
At about 25-30 miles out we spotted another roadhouse. This was one J knew about and had been in so we decided to stop for a beverage. It took a us downing a couple of beers before the local bush-people warmed up to us. I could feel stares heating up the back of my neck for the first thirty minutes we were in there. Some of the folks finally broke down and started inquiring as to what the hell we were doing. Several beers went down easily as I was still trying to forget that awful sandwich. That's when Jason suggested we eat there, because camp was before the next spot, which would be breakfast. I conceded, not really hungry or feeling I needed to eat. It was Russian food, however and I was a bit intrigued. After the logger-sized plates showed up, I felt less intrigued and more overwhelmed. I did what I could and took one of the Russian-meatpockets with me in some foil.
Now piloting with a buzz and a double gut bomb, we weaved our way down the empty highway toward camp. The small, barely noticeable turn-off held an awesome camp. Just behind some pushed up dirt and downed trees high above a river, lie a perfectly level pine thicket with a nice clearing. This would be our camp tonight after some good pedaling and questionable eating.