This is a long one. I’d be very happy if you read it, but I understand if you don’t. No summary on this one, but I think it’s important.
Never say Heart
As many of you know, I’ve had a recurring heart arrhythmia that first presented itself in my early/mid 20s. Atrial fibrillation (AFib), and it’s not super rare. In fact, it’s the most common arrhythmia, and many of you probably already know someone else who has it. For me, it’s not “on” most of the time. I have episodes. I’ll go for months at a time with no problems and then, whamo, I’m in AFib and have to deal with it’s symptoms, which consist mostly of a dramatically reduced ability to exert myself. Think getting out of breath while walking to the bathroom. Not an exaggeration. The episodes of AFib might last anywhere from a few moments to a few days, but by using a variety of methods ranging from pathetically simple (wait a moment) to more complex (they zap me at the hospital), it always went away.
There are a lot of yada, yadas at this point, but let’s just fast forward to the part where nearly 30 years later, my doc says I’m a good candidate for something called cryoablation, which might well cure it completely. They put me under, threaded a catheter from my groin to my heart, and literally froze a part of my heart they believed was responsible for sending the bad signals that caused AFib
YES! I’m cured! I never have to deal with this shit again!!!!! As you’re probably guessing at this point, that’s not how the story ends. However, thinking, hoping, crossing my fingers that this problem is gone for good, I started training my fat ass off for the Great Divide. I lost 60 lbs. I was doing a century most weekends of the summer. I bought much more gear than Laury figured I could logically justify. I was all in, as the saying goes. ATo help prep, we did a shakedown cruise, as my brother put it, or a milk run, as my boss put it. It was a great ride with most of the participants of the tour (Greg S., Greg M, Dean, and me). We rode to Harper’s Ferry, used much of our tour gear, had a great time, and came back to the start point strong and happy. We were feeling very ready to start our big trip.
But then, at the very end of the milk run, as I was driving Dean back to his start point, Greg M’s house, it hit me. It hit me hard. Not AFib, but an absolute blasting case of tachycardia, a very fast, very strong heart rhythm that left me feeling like my heart was beating out of my chest. Though there are many similarities to AFib, I had never before experienced this particular arrhythmia. Something was very, very wrong, but it was a new kind of wrong. . What the hell. I was working so hard. I was ready. Why this, now. I immediately made an appointment with my heart doctor.
Laury went to the appointment with me. Lots of things were discussed, but ultimately the doc said that since it had been more than 6 months since my cryoablation, and nearly a year since my last AFib episode, he felt it was a reasonable risk for me to go on the tour. No, he never said, “you’re fine, don’t worry about it,” by as any truly smart person might do, he couched it in terms of risk, and my ability to accept it. He thought the risk was not overwhelming. I agreed. I went on the MF tour.
Day 25 started out strong. I felt great. I zoomed through the rollers, pushed up the hills with confidence, and the few bad roads we encountered didn’t even faze me. I’d seen worse. I ate ’em up at this point. I had a few load issues issues ( I do not recommend the Ortlieb Bikepacking Seat Bag), but I fixed them up and continued. I stopped for water a number of times, and after this one particular stop, something happened. I started riding again, but I felt something wasn’t right. I should mention at this point, that every time in the past I felt AFib coming on. I felt it as it was beginning. The feeling is hard to describe, but to me, it feels like a “whomp”. I know that doesn’t really make sense, but I feel the world and my perception contracting just a bit, then expanding back to normal, then I’m in the AFib or Tach. I’ve never blacked out. But this time I did. I felt the whomp starting, in my mind I thought a shortened version of “oh shit”, I waited for the whomp to finish, but instead I found myself waking up moments later in a ditch.
I had crashed, but it was very low speed. Nothing was hurt. Even most of my gear was unscathed. But I was momentarily disoriented. Why did I crash? I had to think hard about what happened. I checked my heart, and that very heart sank into my knees. My rhythm was wrong. My heart rate was way high. An arrhythmia had happened, but it happened wrong. It happened bad. What was I going to do?
I won’t lie to you, I thought about lying to you. To everyone. To my brother, to my wife, to the world. If I told the truth, my tour was over. Nearly every day on the tour I’d end up bombing down rock and dirt strewn hills at 30mph. It was super fun, a little dangerous, but totally within the realm of “adventure” reasonableness. But it would be completely fatal if I blacked out in the middle of it. You all would make me stop if I told you the truth. I don’t want to stop. I couldn’t go out like this. I wasn’t ready.
Once more with the honesty, I cried. Not just once. I knew what I had to do, but I so desperately didn’t want to do it. I was stuck. Buying new gear wouldn’t get me out of it. Better pacing or food or route choices wouldn’t get me out of it. If I was to be honest with myself, I had to stop.
I shut down. I slowed to a snails pace. I finally stopped and cooked lunch. We never cook lunch. It’s ludicrous. We get some cold food and move on. When my brother showed up and saw me cooking ramen, he knew something was wrong.
Yes, I told him the truth. I knew it had to be done. My fantasy of continuing or die trying was just that, a fantasy, like that brief thought I had of that pretty girl on TV (sorry Laury, you know I’d never). We rode slowly and eventually found an extremely nice man with a truck who took us to the nearest town. That’s it, it was official, I was done.
As I had conversations of the next 24 hours, things started to hit even harder. If I could black out at any time, my days of riding at all were over. Not just the Great Divide, but what would happen if I blacked out at 30mph on my road bike in traffic back home? Hell, what If I blacked out while driving a car near a busy crosswalk? My life was over. Subsequent to that time, I realized I had blacked out at 8500 feet elevation, where oxygen is about 25% lower than back home. And I had been exerting myself like never before for nearly a month. And I remembered that I had never blacked out before. at home. Maybe things aren’t so bad after all. I’ll talk to my heart doc.
It’s worth pointing out that though I faced a serious medical condition, mine was not even close to the most serious condition represented on the trail. Some members of our party rolled out at a serious medical disadvantage. I’ve told you my story, but I can’t tell you their’s due to their expressed desire for privacy. I know that in many ways I am very fortunate to only need to deal with the things I do. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it 🙂
I’ll post some more
There are a few more stories and pictures to share. Though my trip is over, the blog has just a bit more life in it. Stay tuned.