Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

There is no such thing as fate, so stop tempting it

I often talk about superstitions  - the ones that you can't say out loud what you fear... or it will happen. But let me just state that I firmly believe in science. (It's sad that one actually has to state that these days!) I don't believe in fate and I know that I can't tempt fate by saying something out loud - or typing it - or even thinking it.

Despite all that, I have threatened to ban people from my rides because they insist saying something silly like, "At least it's not raining." Despite all scientific evidence that this cannot possibly cause us to suddenly get soaked, it almost always does. As a result, I practically forbid ride companions from evening uttering the R-word. See what I did there: cause and effect. You talk about rain... it rains... causing me to not want to ride with you again.

So given my reputation for this weather superstition, readers must have noticed me tempting fate by vowing not to write about yet another injury/recovery. Well, here we go again... I do promise to post way more about rides and tours, but humor me now as I write about my latest adventure.

In January of 2017, I was out riding my new fat bike and let's just say that I found myself in conditions beyond my skill level.  I recognized this relatively quickly and turned back. I was inching my way back down the icy rutted track and almost within sight of the end of the dodgy part, I found myself on the ground with a busted collarbone. It wasn't too bad. I walked most of the rest of the way back to where we started. I saw a surgeon and had it repaired with a plate and was back riding within a month. Eleven months later, the plate was bothering me so much that I had it taken out. Then three weeks after that I was reaching overhead to adjust a heat vent and it re-broke in the same spot. The surgeon who took the plate out was adamant that it had healed properly and that we couldn't do anything else until the screw holes fully healed. A second opinion suggested otherwise and after more downtime than I'd prefer, I got it repaired again, this time with a bone graft from my hip. A rubbery fibrous joint had formed at the original fracture site. This was cleaned out and bone and barrow from the iliac crest were packed in to form a basis for healing. The new surgeon put in a plate across the full length of the collarbone, and now we just get to watch it heal.

I had hoped to go home the same day, but woke in so much pain that I agreed to stay the night at the hospital, just so they could give me strong pain meds. While the donor site, the iliac crest is not weight bearing, it was extremely painful and I could barely stand up. I'm sure the surgeon had warned me that it would hurt, but I didn't realize just quite how much.

In the last five years I have broken my left collarbone three times. I fractured 4 vertebrae and crushed a fifth. I also broke 6 ribs. I have been treated for breast cancer, complete with a year of infusions and a bilateral mastectomy. Then last spring the osteoarthritis in my right shoulder resulted in me having no cartilage left at all, so I had a total shoulder replacement. 

When I got the shoulder prognosis, I bought a recumbent trike to enable me to ride without any stress on the shoulder. The trike was handy because it allowed me to safely ride through my recovery. While it was fun like a go-cart, it was also very hard work and I was thrilled after a couple of months to get back on my regular bike so I could keep up with friends and ride my beloved dirt roads and trails.

Maybe it's superstition talking, but I'd just packed the trike away in the basement when I re-broke my collarbone.

Needless to say, there has a lot of pain in the last 5 years, and my pain scale has been adjusted accordingly. I've also become way too familiar with pain medication.

But the current climate is one that is unfavorable for prescription painkillers. So despite the fact that I have some amount of pain everyday, I am completely off all painkillers and anti-inflammatories. 

Shortly after my latest surgery, a friend, who is also an anesthesiologist, sent me a link to an article about the experience of American woman in Germany, who had just given birth, and was told to simply take OTC Tylenol. The thinking there is that pain should be a guide/limiter. You should rest and recover.

The problem I have is that a lot of my pain is a result of weakness and I need to do some strength training to rebuild muscle. But those activities are painful. So where is the point that I let pain stop me, versus pushing through. 

The big problem for me is guilt. I can't rest. I have to ride or walk or something, because otherwise I'm just being lazy. I'm also not a spring chicken and after so much trauma in the last 5 years, each recovery is harder and harder, and each comeback fails to bring me to the level I was before. Do I accept it or push harder?

I'm still trying to find that balance. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Festive 500 Furlongs

Since completing our first Festive 500 in 2011, riding 500km (or more) between Christmas Eve and New Years has become a yearly tradition in our household. Unfortunately, it has also become a yearly tradition for my annual Festive 500 story to be one about overcoming injury or illness. Well, loyal readers, have no fear for this post is not more of the same. Because this year's story is quite different. This year, it is about my epic failure.

It had a promising prelude. See, back in the spring, my sister-in-law phoned and asked us to sit down before she shared her news.  After 12 years, she and the fiancĂ© had finally set a wedding date.  She then asked John to walk her down the aisle on New Year's Eve. My initial reaction was disbelief!

After all, they had been engaged for as long as I can remember. I'd finally given up asking if there was ever to be an actual wedding. But New Years Eve! Really? Surely they wouldn't make us travel at that time of year. Flights are expensive, airports are crowded and weather delays are inevitable.  But, most importantly - it's Festive 500 week! I mean, really, did she not know how this would impact our Festive 500, the challenge that Rapha promotes precisely to create family disharmony at Christmastime. 

It's already hard enough on marriages when the big credit card bills show up shortly after the black parcels arrive. If you have joined the Rapha cult, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

But then the evil folks at Rapha came up with a plan to get MAMILS out of family gatherings over the holidays by offering a ... well ... a woven roundel - a truly remarkable reward for riding 500km in eight days, up and down mountains, through cold, snow, wind and rain. And if the roundel isn't enough incentive, there is also a badge on STRAVA! And for the lucky one in a million, there is a grand prize of something like a jersey. Now surely the bragging rights alone are worth abandoning children and grandparents while testing the limits of traction on icy roads, but the roundel - well it's all about the woven roundel, right?

Fortunately for our marriage, those black parcels always seem to contain items for both of us and we both look forward to the annual challenge, often logging many kilometers together. We're also quite happy to have something motivational to do over the holiday week. While others obsess about roasting turkeys or the best recipe for stuffing or shopping or gift wrapping or getting a new big screen TV, we are poring over maps, deciding which route to ride each day, and then doing laundry each evening while sorting through photos.

Living so far away from family, we've never been faced with the risk of alienating any of them by spending the week riding bikes. But now - a family wedding intruded on our unconventional holiday tradition. John quickly came up with the peace-keeping idea of heading to southern Spain for 10 days before the big event. We could actually complete our Festive 500 kilometers in mild sunny conditions. No studded tires! No need for fat bikes or moon boots or down jackets! And no risk of frostbite while taking photos! After a nice holiday in Spain, we could just stop in Ireland on our way home and attend the wedding on NYE. 

This sounded heavenly to me. I went online and ordered a case of sunscreen.

Alas, fate intervened. 

Rewind a bit. 

Last December, just before the start of the annual challenge, we bought fat bikes to help us stay sane with all the snow. We even logged some of our Festive 500 kilometers on the new fatties. 

Then in early January, while out riding in less than ideal conditions, I went flying over the bars on a icy rutted descent and landed face first on a very thin layer of snow hiding a rock that took precise aim at the middle of my collarbone. 

It wasn't a bad break, but it would be enough to keep me off a bike (and skis) for the winter.

Luckily I got a plate put in and was actually back to riding after a couple of weeks. I even managed a few days  on x-c skis near the end of the season.