To quote Bugs Bunny: “Mmmmm… It’s a possibility.”
I swore I would never do it again. Too tough. Brutal. Too many mosquitos. Too many hills. Too much rain, too much mud.
But I look back at it with longing and desire. I WANT to be on that lonesome road. I want to be in the wild, camping by myself. Hell, I want to see if I can do it again. (Of course once you start that ride, you’re pretty much committed to doing it again.) I want to see if I can do better.
I mean, I’m always telling people: “When you repeat a ride, it’s easier the second time, because you’ve learned from the experience.”
So I think back and the mosquito stings don’t seem so bad. The hills simply need another, lower, gear. The mud just needs wider tires. I can carry more food. And my PD, well, let’s just ignore that.
It’s become “number two fun.” (Read the blog!) And I like a challenge. Now I understand why sports players have such a hard time retiring,why they keep coming back. “I can run faster.” “I can throw better.” “The wolves ignored me the first time, surely they will again.”
How do you describe a body part? My left foot is a rumba dancer: wiggling, twisting, curling to its own syncopated beat. It is a rebel. While its right partner happily spins away pedaling a bike, the left refuses to be caught in the boring trap of spinning round and round.
Instead it twists out of the pedal clip trying, one might think, to bring me down; make me fall.
It is strong-willed. I can almost hear it say “No stinking medicine is going to stop me!” And so as if to prove the point it flexes up and down at its ankle, refusing to be still.
It is a trouble maker. Sometimes I catch it encouraging other body parts to join the revolution: “Twist brothers and sisters! Twist Away! Jump, thrash about! Break the chains of tyranny and join the revolution! You do not have to be controlled by the brain!”
The neck and shoulders seem most inclined to follow the call. Sometimes they follow and beginning thrashing. My neck jerks my head down, while the shoulders move up and down like a teeter-totter. Then the neck flops side to side, throwing the head about as if trying to shake it off. My abdomen tries to resist the call, but even for it the lure of freedom can be too great and it begins doing crunches, as if it were back in some hellish high-school gym class.
The right foot is my greatest ally. When riding, while the lazy left twists out of the pedal, the right bravely soldiers on, doing double duty. The brave and magnificent right pulls up on the pedal to compensate for its lazy brother. The right foot is my hero, my buddy, my stalwart supporter, the friend I can always trust.
I do not begrudge the left foot. It’s simply a rebel. I try to bring it in line, and it tries to break away.
It’s our dance of life.
Next week Alissa and I are going to ride the Rockies (RTR) on our bicycles. RTR is 450 miles of tough riding: Up five passes, climbing over 25,000 feet, and following one of the higher roads in the U.S. We’ll stay at a hotel for two out of the six nights of the ride. Alissa has never attempted a ride of such magnitude, and I have never ridden with 2,000 people before.
Oh, yes. I have Parkinson’s disease. It’s going to be tough and RTR has become the focal point of our daily lives.
The plan is to fly to Denver on June 6th, rent a car, and drive to Steamboat. Steamboat has two attractions: Altitude and friends. With an elevation of 7,000 feet we are hoping to become acclimated by the time the ride actually starts on June 10. And our friends, Richard and Anita, have invited us to stay at their condo.
Everything is planned with regard to the RTR event. Go out to dinner tonight? Either do it early or do it late because we have to get ready (in other words workout) for the Rockies. Go for a bike ride tonight? Gotta do at least three major hills for the Rockies. Mow the lawn? No time, gotta get ready for the Rockies. Do we have everything planned down most minute detail? Tent? Check. Bring two spare tubes? But there’s going to be a sag wagon. Food. What should I carry and what should I buy along the way? Am I going to have to fight 2,000 other guys for that last hamburger? And Alissa is a vegetarian and I worry about her diet. Am I going to carry this or that, or am I going to put it on the truck following us? Are all the various hotel reservations made? Bikes packed and shipped? So many details to consider. It was easier to plan my solo trips because I knew I could only count on myself. Having a sag wagon just complicates matters for me.
Thinking about our training rides I realize Alissa is probably physically stronger than I am, but I’m a tough old bird. Or so I like to think. I hope we are ready; we’ll find out in a little more than a week.
When I was in my late teens, my father was diagnosed with psoriasis. I worried about him all the time; imagined becoming a doctor so I could help. I read everything I could about the disease. I felt helpless and frustrated. So I think I have some insight as to how my son worries about me.
A few days ago we were talking about my health and PD. At some point I told him I was lucky to have PD. He did a double take. ”Lucky?! How could that possibly be lucky?!”
“Well Jim, look at it this way: PD has done a lot for me. It has made me known to a lot of people. I’ve been interviewed on the radio numerous times. Newspapers and magazines have written articles about me. It has enabled me to help others with the disease. It has given me strength. Because of PD, I rode my bicycle across the US and Alaska. I have made new friends and strengthen bonds with old friends.
Yes, it is a bad disease. Yes, it has taken away many things Yes, in the end it will win. But I battle it everyday and I’m not doing too bad. I’ve raised a lot of money to fight it. And it makes me appreciate life and being healthy. No one knows what life holds for us. We think we do, we try to control it. But life gives and takes what it will. That’s all there is to it.”
Finally, to quote Michael J. Fox: “It doesn’t hurt.”
Yes, I wish I didn’t spaz and weave all around. But Parkinson’s is my gift from God and I make the best of it that I can. And frankly, I don’t think I do too bad. I am a lucky man.
I am not sure that I have conveyed how tired, beat, miserable, cold, and wet I was on last years ride from Prudhoe. It was a miracle that I pulled it off. Sometimes when I think about that ride, I just shake my head in disbelief.
When you lay down to nap in the dirt next to a road, a mosquito’s feast and you don’t care, that is tired.
When you sit in the mud under a tree, rain poring down and you fall asleep, that is exhausted.
When you drape a piece of plastic over yourself, huddling from the rain and cold, feeling triumphant that you beat the rain, that you “out smarted it”, that is desperation.
When you ride for hour after miserable hour in the dark, in the cold rain, barely able to balance the bike, legs burning with every stroke of the pedals, praying for an end to this torture, that is tough.
When you pull into the middle of the lane, purposely cutting off an 18 wheel truck, refusing to budge from its blaring, angry horn, that is madness.
When you wake up in your tent, rain still coming down, 700 miles of Alaskan wilderness to go, and you are half paralyzed from Parkinsons, that is reality.
When you stand alone on a mountain top, happily eating peanut butter and candy, washing it down with water, that is hunger.
When you say to yourself: “I am too tired to ride, too tired to walk.” But you shuffle forward, not willing to stop, dragging yourself, dragging your bike up the next hill, that is determination.
When you ride against the wind for day after day, convinced that it must stop blowing in your face sooner or latter, that is hope.
When you do all of this for Parkinsons, that is Doug’s Wild Ride.
I wish I was stronger.
I wish I had more self-confidence.
I wish I never made mistakes.
I wish I was perfect to all.
I wish life was simple. Not just my life, but all lives. And not just simple, but still exciting, beautiful and fun.
I wish I could sit on a throne and have my mignons do my bidding. That I could be wise, foresee the consequences to my actions; that I was hard-working and was understood by all. That I could improve the world, make others smart and concerned about the same issues that bother me. That everyone respected each other, that all understood the immensity of the universe around us. That as people we were not hamstrung by religion, jealousy or envy. That I had learned, comprehended and remembered everything I was taught in school. That due to my selfish desires I never unintentionally hurt someone.
On the other hand, I look at that type of thinking as simplistic and child-like. But it was on my mind an I wanted to off load it.
Rode 27 miles last night and averaged 14.2 mph. Not bad considering that included two climbs up out of the valley: once up Berkshire and once up Old Mill. A lot of people have asked me if my PD is getting worse. In short the answer is yes: for example last night my left foot kept twisting out of the pedal. It is largely manageable but it just one of the ways I measure the disease progression. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I consider myself to be lucky. I almost think I am lucky (but not quite) to have PD. More about that later.
I stopped writing the blog last year because I became discouraged. I’ll give a fast run down of what followed:
After Atigun pass I rode another 20 miles and made it to a rock quarry. Along the way I met a guy about my age, maybe a little older, who told me how he rode from Ohio to Texas to raise money for an orphanage. At one point I thought he was going to give me a donation, but instead he offered me a sandwich. I demurred.
After the night at the quarry, I made it to Coldfoot. I was so exhausted I could barely stand. The last 20 miles or so were tough: I was just so weak. I went up to the registration desk. Barb had told them I was coming and they let me stay the night for free. It was so nice to sleep in a bed! The next day I was still exhausted. “No problem.” said the manager. That night was on the house too. Normally they charge $200/night so I really appreciated it.
To be continued…