I am working on a post about neuroplasticity (I know Charles will be keen on this one) so look for that one in a day or two.
Here's my first column.
If it weren't for having MS, I wouldn't be a cyclist. Ken kindly asked me to write about my experiences with cycling and having MS, so until the bike tour I'll be writing a regular column about this illness, my journeys with my bikes, and how I've become a recreational biker.
In January 1998 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. For the past 10 years I have been extremely lucky to have had little effect from this disease and hopefully it will continue to just remain fairly benign.
Since my diagnosis I have been a volunteer with the MS Society Atlantic Division in many capacities, mostly as a speaker or MC at events like the Super Cities Walk. Last year, though, I participated in the Rona MS Bike Tour, biking 100 k over two days. Considering that I had been a couch potato until the year before that, it was a great accomplishment. I also managed to raise over $15,000 for the MS Society in the process.
My quest to ride began when my boyfriend, John, decided to ride in the 2006 bike tour. I said I would train with him so I hit the gym for two months before even getting on a bicycle. I have never been exercise-friendly; even going for a walk was difficult as I would easily be distracted by bugs, rocks, plants, and anything of that sort, stopping to inspect anything of interest to my nature-loving mind.
Two months at the gym and it was time to get a bike. A Canadian Tire Supercycle seemed like a good place to start (after all, I had those as a kid) so I got one - a mountain bike. I soon discovered that biking was my sport. We hit the trails around HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality)and pretty soon it was nothing for me to do 20k rides. And I was beginning to think that a 100 k ride for me was feasible.
John did the bike tour in 2006 and I signed up to do the one in 2007. We biked after the tour including a trek to Jack's Lake in Bedford where I had my first fall off the bike. I was so proud of my "battle scars" that I got more a couple of days later doing the Whopper Dropper in Bayer's Lake.
The physical activity was proving to be a good thing for me and my MS. I was getting in shape. Riding in the woods or on trails was a mind clearing activity. And I was addicted to riding. Going down rock strewn hills at top speed was a little disconcerting to the boyfriend, mind you. He had visions of having to explain to my parents why I was in hospital with broken bones.
MS can play havoc with your internal temperature gauge. I would over heat quite easily and that would zonk me out too fast so I began searching for something to help keep me cool (besides the tons of water I was drinking). I had a neck bandana that I put in cold water before a ride. The gel beads in the bandana would swell and retain the water, so that helped. But there was nothing out there I could put in my helmet to keep my head cool. If my head is cool, the rest of my body follows that lead. Then I discovered the inserts road crews wear under their helmets. One of those would work! I found a company that sold them, but only in cases of 12. A great guy (Stan) at K and D Pratt managed to get me a sample from the company that makes them. What a great invention!
As you all know, riding a mountain bike on pavement is tough going. So I decided to continue to train with it but was going to get myself a touring bike, too, for the actual Bike Tour. Christmas came and I got myself a Specialized touring bike from Cyclesmith. I also got a trainer so I could keep cycling until the weather cleared a little bit.
I also had to undertake fundraising. A friend I ran into one day donated $5,000! He had been looking for something for a tax break and my timing was impeccable. I harrassed my friends, neighbours and co-workers for another 5 grand.
The weather improved and pretty soon I was taking the bike out after work and on the weekends John and I would do 20-30 k rides on the trails. And we would bike with teammates from our team, the Cycledelics.
A few days before the tour, my generous friend called me to ask if I wanted another $5,000. Of course! Suddenly I had $15,000 for the Bike Tour. I was walking on air, my excitement level was almost unbearable. I was going to do this. I was going to bike 100k!
Two nights before the tour I had an "almost" panic attack. What if the heat got to me? What if I couldn't bike those hills? What if, what if, what if....I think the adrenaline rush I had experienced for an extended period of time just overwhelmed me. I calmed myself down by saying, "I'm just going for another bike ride" and pretty soon it was the morning of July 28th. I had decided to head out right away on the route as it was going to be very hot and I wanted to take advantage of the early morning coolness. Good thing, too, as the temps were at 30 by 11 in the morning.
I left Windsor at 8:10 after registration and arrived at Acadia at 12:15. I had been worried about Mount Denson, but that wasn't a tough hill. It was the last hill from the Gaspereau to the top of Ridge Road that almost did me in. I ended up walking the last 100 metres to the top and cruised down the last little bit into Acadia. I did it! It took me 4 hours and more than 3 litres of water but I did it. The next morning I would do it in reverse. In the pouring rain. Glorious, cool, wet rain that soaked me completely and kept my body at a very comfortable temperature. I had a tire flatten as I was pulling into the rest stop in Hantsport, but after it was fixed, I set out again. The return was a little slower for me and some of my teammates caught up with me, so a bunch of us were able to cross the finish line together. I did it! Former couch potato and person with MS. An athlete!
I am signed up again for this year's tour so I'm on a quest to fundraise. If you'd like to contribute to my quest, click on the link for fundraising. If you'd like to join the bike tour visit www.mssociety.caS.