Sunday, December 4, 2011

Final Drive: Epilogue - A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far is a 1977 movie about a WWII offensive called Operation Market Garden, where the allies had tried to capture several bridges that spanned the Rhine River. This would have allowed a quick invasion into Germany and an end to the war. While we now know the outcome of WWII, Market Garden was in fact a failure. In my previous articles (Zen and the Art of the Motorcycle Trip, Fear and Loathing in Crescent City and The Long Ride Home) about my trip to Crescent City California this past August, I discuss the trials, tribulations and other experiences during that trip and while ruminating about it for the last couple months, I have wondered if it was like A Bridge Too Far. Did I bite off more than I should have, or was it reasonable to attempt such a long trip without having much experience in touring?

While I was successful in getting to and from my destination without a major mishap, in retrospect there were a few things I could have done differently and some things I should have given more consideration. In the past, I have given people grief about trailering their bikes to rallies. I won't give anyone grief anymore. There's something to be said for arriving at a destination refreshed and ready to ride, not to mention I could have put a lot more miles on the bike out there than I did. I could have prepared better by taking smaller trips before hand to get used to riding the bike for more than an hour at a time. There is a big difference between commuting 30-40 miles a day, the occasional joy ride and then covering over 4200 miles in nine days. Finding your limits when a few days from home is not a comfortable feeling. Another thing that would have helped was doing some physical training too, but I'll explain my reluctance forthcoming.

The one thing I should have given more consideration was a preexisting condition that I had found out about the previous April. Actually the story goes back before that, back to the previous October. I had been training for The Iowa State Games to participate in the Strong Man competition. This involves several stages of a strength contest that you can find out about here. I thought I could be a modern day George Foreman, defying what the expectations are for a then 48 year old man.  Well, my quest for the king of defying gravity had come to a halt. I thought I had impinged the brachial plexus on my left side. This is also known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The strength in my left arm had decreased to the point that I couldn't lift well (dumbell pressing movements were particularly revealing) and I had given myself almost two weeks off and went to the chiropractor. To give you an idea, I had been able to keep pace pretty much equally left to right with a hand gripper. Now with a #1 Captains of Crush, which is 140 pounds, I could do ten relatively easy reps with the right hand, but only five with the left. I had similar results with incline dumbbell presses as another example. Well, the chiropractic adjustment didn't go as well as I felt a shock down my arm when he adjusted my neck. I decided to take off three months to see if it would get better by itself as having this problem kills all upper body workouts.

The problem with my neck continued and I went to my physical therapist who said he wouldn't touch me and advised me to go to my primary doctor, who sent me for a MRI. Well, it turned out I have degenerative disc disease. I have bad disks between C4-C5 and C6-C7, stenosis and bone spurs. I had been getting headaches, pain down to under my shoulder blade and sometimes my arm, especially when I cough (and still do).  I went to a neurosurgeon to discuss the findings of the MRI and what my options are. Getting old sucks. I thought at best I would have had to wait until the following year for the Iowa Games if at all. I really wanted to do this. It was to be a last hurrah before accepting middle age. I went to another doctor, an orthopedic surgeon for a second opinion. Basically, he said I have a crappy neck for someone my age and surgery would make a sucky neck less sucky (those were his words, not mine).

So, the road leads in one direction, it's just a question of time to destination. If I do nothing, at some point I'll have very serious issues and you'll just call me hand truck man.  It's basically slowing down the process. This guy also recommended three levels of anterior fusion and decompression, but also said we'd be visiting the rest of the neck from the posterior down the road some time. So, I am done in a sense, from doing certain things, whatever that is. Mobility will be less, and I bet I will have to turn my body to see behind me instead of my neck. I will probably have four weeks home, a total of eight weeks in collar and four months until I am back to normal, whatever that is. On top of this, I also have disk issues L4/L5. I wonder if I can get a two for one deal?

Back to motorcycles. Because I was facing what I am facing, I decided to go on the motorcycle trip anyway. I felt that if I had the surgery in May like the doctor wanted, I might never ride again and certainly not until later in the year when the riding season is over anyway, which means I would have to wait until the following year. So I took the risk of not only not fixing the problem, but also taking the risk that if I had an accident that if I had no issues I would otherwise might walk away from, but I could end up like the ersatz Superman Mr Reeves. Was it foolish? May be. Hindsight is almost always 20/20. This also explains the goofy hand problems I was having on the road as well. Even now, my left arm fatigues much easier. Anyway, the end result of all of this is that I am going to get the surgery sometime next month.

So right now, my trusty steed, Hans Eric (my daughter Olivia's name for the bike) sits in the garage waiting for another day. I still have to put some Stabil® in the gas tank and put a trickle charger on the battery. This is the first time I will have to put a charger on any bike and to that end, I will have to go out, buy a charger and you'll see an upcoming article on winterizing a bike. I also promise NOT to dwell on medical issues as this is a column dedicated to owning, riding, maintaining a motorcycle and reflections on such, not an adventure into M√ľnchausen Syndrome.  One positive thing that has come out of all of this in the last few months is that I have had to let go of a lot of things. I believe that not letting go is what causes a lot of people to go through what we call the "Midlife Crisis". Life is process that includes a lot of transitions that we have to make adjustments. One of those transitions is growing older and in that process we may find we don't have the same capabilities we had at 20 years old. Another is hanging onto expectations of what success in one's life should look like. It's a lot of baggage to carry around and I am glad to get rid of a lot of it. It doesn't mean I don't have dreams and desires, just that I've cleaned house in which I've kept what is important, gotten rid of what isn't and found a couple new ones. It's made all the difference.

Hans Eric Awaits...

Thank you for reading this blog. 


Trobairitz said...

Thank you for the link. I've linked you on my blog as well.

I look forward to having a few extra minutes to look around and read your posts.

Jim L said...

Thank you for stopping by. I was out your way in August. Oregon is a beautiful state and I'll have to come back some time to see where my Grandfather lived, which is La Grande. I didn't get a chance to see it, but I liked Bend and Crater Lake.