Adios, 2018!

I’ve been in a foul mood for the last week. 2018 has felt both supremely long and shockingly short. And while I sometimes feel that everything my husband and I have built for our lives came crashing to a halt in the last two years or so, we have managed to still have some amazing moments.

… Harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness. Energy. Block. Bad. It’s like a carousel. You put the quarter in, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and around. Circular, circle. Feel it. Go with the flow … (Happy Gilmore)

In the spirit of gratitude and reflection, here are the best moments of 2018:

January

  • I discovered others share my life mantra of Maximum Enthusiasm
  • I officially achieved my goal TSH! #thyca
  • I went fat biking – and discovered I enjoy getting fat all winter!
  • Two of my sisters and one of my nieces came to visit me. ❤
  • I adopted a senior beagle, who we named Beauregard, and my dog-mom life is basically complete.

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February

  • I demo’d a sweet Kona Big Honzo DL and questioned if I really wanted a full suspension mountain bike when I got a job
  • The Eagles won the Super Bowl!
  • My doggo had a successful surgery to remove a lump under his leg
  • I rode bikes with a guy in a velomobile

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March

  • Not one but TWO multi-day power outages! Great excuse to break out the camping gear at home. Thanks, Nor’Easters!
  • I became a Pactimo Brand Ambassador!
  • Hosted my first Trail Maintenance work day to repair a section of boardwalk that was devastatingly broken.

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April

  • I did a lot of gravel and mountain biking as the snow abated
  • One son was accepted to the university of his choice
  • My other son went mountain biking with me for the first time ❤
  • Wild green onions grew in our yard for literally no reason
  • Muddy Onion with Karen, Gail, and Matt!! (read the post – then go register for 2019)

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May

  • I celebrated 5 years of mountain biking with … more mountain biking
  • I was one of three speakers as part of REI’s Women’s Speaker Series, discussing trail construction and maintenance
  • Formally announced registration was open for The Dirty Apple Ride
  • Rode gravel in the rain with my friend Judy
  • Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder with Matt!! (go register for 2019!)
  • My in-laws and two of my nieces came to visit! ❤

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June

  • Completed my fourth Ride for Homes, benefiting Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia
  • Girls + Matt Bike Camping weekend at Kingdom Trails was literally me living my best life  #ThankYouLandOwners
  • Rode my bike to the farm for their strawberry festival
  • Friday afternoons at the brewery, sitting on the patio and watching the tractors go by
  • 3 years cancer-free
  • Another child of mine graduated from high school

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July

  • Birthday!
  • Lots of route scouting and adjusting for The Dirty Apple
  • A hawk landed in the tree behind our house and ate a snake while the sparrows of our yard screamed and darted around. That was cool.
  • Mt Riga gravel and Three State rides
  • And I got a job!! … which also means significantly less bike time.

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August

  • Started that new job, which is right off the bike path but doesn’t have showers
  • Hatch chile verde – frozen leftover from the in-law visit in May – is food of the gods
  • NEW BIKE DAY!! Santa Cruz 5010c XX1. She’s orange and her name is Jezebelle.
  • Golden Gran Fondo, courtesy of Pactimo Brand Ambassador program!! (go register for 2019!)
  • Time in Colorado with my friends and family ❤
  • My friend, who passed away suddenly back in May, visited me in a dream. It was his birthday when I woke up.

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September

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October

  • The Dirty Apple Ride was a huge success! I learned a lot about bringing a bike event to fruition and can’t wait to open registration for 2019!
  • Learned Adventure Cycling has a two-week bike tour of Denali and added that to my list of Bike Things To Do In My Lifetime
  • Took one of my sons to see Nine Inch Nails with Jesus & Mary Chain.
  • Took my second ever mountain bike skills clinic and learned exactly how much better I can be with proper technique
  • Organized a trail care morning for my office
  • Summoned for Grand Jury Duty! … but ended up dismissed
  • Our trail town committee (I’m the VP!), along with tremendous volunteers, completed a 600′ boardwalk section of a new trail we’re building

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November

  • Surgery to remove a lump in my breast (it was benign).
  • Built a bog bridge over a section of a local trail that crosses a wetland with the help of 14 fellow mountain bikers. Trail Care is a thing!
  • Not enough riding because Recovery (who knew a 5cm incision would hurt so much?)
  • My son and his girlfriend came home for a weekend! ❤
  • My sister and her girlfriend and her daughter came to visit for almost the whole week of Thanksgiving and it was glorious! ❤

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December

  • Ice Weasels Cometh with Karen! This year was at an abandoned insane asylum. It was cold. And fun. And the only bike race I will ever do.
  • ClifBar brought back Peppermint Stick to the seasonal flavor line-up. Yes, this makes me happy.
  • Finally back on the bike more consistently – if only it would stop raining! #OperationAvoidTheTrainer
  • Installed a new mailbox post and mailbox, instantly improving the curb appeal of our home
  • Went on a night gravel ride to see ERDAJT, the world’s largest outdoor holiday light display
  • Celebrated 7 years as East Coast citizens
  • Had all of my babies home for the holidays ❤

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What does 2019 hold? Hopefully a lot more fun, family, friends, and bikes.

See you in the future!

My Experience with RAI (I-131) Therapy

This post will probably be most beneficial to someone who’s recently been told they need radioactive iodine (RAI or I-131) therapy. It’s pretty dry but hopefully someone will take comfort that the process isn’t as scary as it feels.

 

The internet is riddled with horror stories (vomiting for days! disappearing taste!) and simple two-liners (“Isolation not that big of a deal! It goes quickly!”) – so it’s hard to get a sense of exactly what to expect. So I thought I’d chronicle my experience, which is probably pretty average, and hope it helps someone else who is frantically Googling what to expect and how long they have to remain isolated.

(There’s about 62,450 people diagnosed with thyroid cancer each year. Not everyone is prescribed RAI therapy and it seems like every doctor has their own method for how to approach the process as well as how long you need to remain isolated and to what degree. What I mention below is what my nuclear medicine department at the local hospital sent me home with – by all means, please follow your own doctor’s orders!)

The process itself is very straight-forward: you will receive 2 injections of Thyrogen (unless you have a reason to need to go off your thyroid hormone replacement meds for 2-4 weeks and deal with severe hypothyroidism) in the two days before receiving your RAI therapy dose. If you are a female, you will need a blood test on the first day of Thyrogen to confirm you are not pregnant. Thyrogen has its own set of potential side effects, the most common being nausea and headaches. I was fortunate enough to have a supportive work environment and was able to work from home on the two Thyrogen days. I have a 90min commute between work and home and didn’t want to have to deal with possibly trying to get home with nausea on an hour-long train ride. Fortunately I did not experience any significant side effects although I noted I was a bit on the tired side.

The day of RAI treatment I had to get another blood test to confirm my severe hypothyroid levels (this is due to the Thyrogen injections) right before heading to the nuclear medicine department at the hospital. My hospital is one that allows you to convalesce at home (i.e., it does not admit you overnight).

I had to sign a bunch of paperwork. The nurse took me back and gave me everything I would need post-therapy, including validating my parking (how nice). This included specific written instructions for isolation, a Personal Disposal Kit (i.e., a kitchen trash bag), and a card for my wallet that confirms my I-131 therapy and that I am not a radiation hazard to the public.

Another nurse came in to talk to me about isolation – the biggest being Time and Distance. The first 3 days are the biggest concern because the radiation is literally emanating from you, not just being eliminated. He answered all of my questions and then took me back to the doctor who would administer the treatment.

My doctor had a Geiger counter on the table next to us; the pill was in a lead-lined cylinder. He explained the therapy to me again as he put on hospital gloves and used a pair of thongs to remove the pill from the cylinder. He gave it to me with a cup of water. My dose was a grey pill about the size of any other average prescription capsule. The doctor advised me to not eat anything spicy or that would upset my stomach for the next few hours to allow the I-131 to absorb into my body. He had me walk to the door of the room and back to show the amount of distance I needed to keep between myself and others for the first several days – and then sent me on my way.

In the few days before doing all this, I recommend doing the following:

* securing a beach house or lake house or other accommodations that have a private kitchen and bathroom. Convalesce in style!

* If you are like me and don’t have any of those available to you, kick your SO out of the master bedroom with attached bathroom and make it your Isolation Suite. Wash and clean everything before undergoing therapy. Yes you’ll have to rewash and clean everything again – but no one likes to wallow in filth.

* Stock up on foods you like, ginger ale (with real ginger), saltines and lemon hard candies. These help you feel moderately better and you’ll actually want to eat them. You may get nauseated for the first 3 days or so – the ginger ale and saltines will help you not feel totally wrecked and you can get some extra sleep. The hard candies are to keep your saliva production up to minimize the sore/swollen salivary glands that may happen. I chose sugar snap peas for my snack and they were super delicious! I also asked for water ice, which was also delicious.

* Find a way to keep your pet at bay. Buy a baby gate if you have to. My dog couldn’t understand why I couldn’t let him kiss me or snuggle up on my lap or sleep with me at night. It was horribly sad.

* Have young kids? Send them to Grandma’s for the week. Have older kids? Get them to make you meals and keep the dog happy. My teens were the best at making me food and leaving it at my door. They kept the dog happy. And in return they got a week of unencumbered video game time because Mom Can’t Do Anything About It.

* Cover your electronics for the first 5 days or so. A plastic sandwich bag over your smartphone is fine. You can get a keyboard cover relatively inexpensively online. Staying in touch with people through the internet or texting is a great way to keep your mind off the fact that you can’t be around anyone.

* Keep the door to your room open and the blinds drawn back if possible. This allows you to feel like you are still incorporated in family life – just make sure everyone is aware of the safety limitations.

My dose was 150 millicurries. I was told I would need to enact radiation safety protocol for 10 days – but the most stringent portions were lifted within about 3-7 days. Keep in mind radioiodine will exit the body through fluids (urine, stool, perspiration, and saliva) – water dilutes the radiation.

For the first 3-5 days and nights:

* sleep completely separate from any other family member.

* have sole use of a bathroom – toilet, shower, sink. Don’t share towels.

* keep as great a distance as possible from others, minimum of 9′ (first 3 days) to 3′ (days 4-7). No hugs, kisses, snuggles, or sex.

* do not travel by plane or mass transit and do not take prolonged car trips.

* drink a minimum of 64oz of fluids each day to encourage unabsorbed radioiodine to leave your system as quickly as possible. Pee a lot.

* use a laxative or eat high-fiber foods to encourage your digestive tract to keep things moving along and minimize any GI issues.

* Use regular plates and utensils. Wash them separately in the dishwasher (2 cycles) to reduce the chance of contaminating the rest of your family for the first 3-5 days.

For the full 10 days and nights:

* Flush the toilet 2 or 3 times after use. If you’re a dude, you have to sit to pee to avoid splashback. If you do splash, wet a tissue to clean it up and then flush the tissue.

* Wash your hands with plenty of soap and water.

* Rinse the sink, shower, and tub with plenty of water to reduce the chance of others becoming contaminated that is being excreted through your bodily fluids.

* Do not exercise for the first 7 days. Radioiodine is excreted in your sweat, which means lots of stuff would be contaminated.

* Do not have any lab tests done unless it’s an emergency through Day 7, in which case have someone call the Radiation Safety Officer at the hospital. Your blood may contain radioactive material!

* Avoid prolonged contact with pregnant women, babies and children. Their thyroids are more susceptible than adults.

* Put all of your trash into the Personal Disposal Kit. You will need to hold onto this bag in your garage until the safe disposal date, which is 75 days after your treatment dose. Write that date on the bag so you don’t accidentally toss it too soon and contaminate the garbage trucks and landfill. Eat an apple? Core goes in the PDK bag.

* wash your towels, sheets, and clothing separately and run the washer on a rinse cycle twice after the final load to minimize any potential contamination.

 

On Day 10 you will most likely get a whole body scan to see where the radioiodine was absorbed. This is a baseline to see where the potential stray thyroid cells are located. The idea is that over time the radioiodine will destroy these cells and reduce the chance of cancer recurring. It also helps to see if there is any metastatic cancer.  This is basically the beginning of a lifelong monitoring of the cancer to ensure if it comes back we can act quickly. The downside is the slight increase in secondary cancers from this treatment. Something we always have to be mindful of and enjoy the time we have and treat anything that comes up as it does.

 

I’m only on Day 7 right now and looking forward to finishing out my isolation time very soon. I miss being with my family and yelling that I love them from my room as they get ready to go to bed or leave for work is kinda sad. I ate my meals in my room for the first 5 days, which is also weird and sad. But necessary! I’d rather be alone and sad for a week than put any of my children or husband or pets at risk.

I tentatively booked a bike ride for this weekend, which I am so looking forward to. Provided the weather cooperates – see you on the road!

Edit to add: My experience included mild nausea and sleepiness for the first 3-4 days. I slept around 14 hours a day! My salivary glands at the back of my jaw became tender on Day 2 so I used hard candy to keep saliva production going and gentle massage of the area. My taste has altered slightly, as things don’t taste as fully flavorful right now. My understanding is this is temporary for the next several weeks and should return. Around Day 5 I started to feel more normal and now at Day 7 I feel mostly like myself again.

The Power of the Pickle and Other Thoughts

This past weekend I put my bikes on the back of my Honda and headed for the hills. Of west-central Massachusetts, to be more precise. My friend and fellow blogger Karen lives up there and invited me to join her at the JAM Fund Grand FUNdo. The ride was top-notch: very hilly, well-stocked rest stations, full-on pig roast bbq and local craft beer at the end.

bikes + friends + countryside = awesome
bikes + friends + countryside = awesome

While there, a former pro cyclist approached me about my scar. Turns out she had a total thyroidectomy a few years ago (hers was benign) and is currently not racing due to overtraining.

She shared with me a few gems, one of which was that once your thyroid is removed your body functions differently from when you had the organ even though you are replacing the hormones. As an athlete, it’s easy to build into a certain level of fitness. How the body functions with just the hormones is slightly different. She shared a story about a training ride where she became severely hypothermic, which was her “a-ha” moment about how her body functions differently now.

(The thyroid controls a surprising number of body functions through secretion of thyroid hormones including metabolism, growth, body temperature, muscle strength, appetite, and the health of your heart, brain, kidneys, and reproductive system.)

This was welcome anecdotal evidence, as I’ve noticed my body isn’t responding the same way it used to. I get goose-bumps earlier in hot rides than I used to – which is my key to drink more fluids, dial down the intensity, and stay in the shaded areas as much as possible. The Mini FUNdo we did featured 25 miles of uphill before the glorious 15 miles of downhill – and by mile 22, my muscles weren’t crying but I was definitely Not Myself. Thankfully the rest stop had bananas and, more importantly, pickles.

finally, some downhill!
finally, some downhill!

Never underestimate the power of a pickle to revive you on a hot bike ride.

The rest of the weekend was exactly the relaxing, rejuvenating experience I needed. We biked, we laughed, we talked, and we ate. As working moms, it’s not easy for us to just take a weekend to ride bikes – but I’m so glad Karen was up for it and I was in a place where I could be as active as I wanted … even if it isn’t at my former fitness level.

let's go check out this new trail!
let’s go check out this new trail!

Another friend of mine, Dani, made an excellent observation. She asked me if I had held back my voice – because the thyroid is in the throat chakra and maybe I needed to learn how to be my own advocate more, to speak up and not be afraid of what others think or will say by voicing my concerns or opinion.While I still harbor internal concerns that vulnerability makes me a liability, the reality is I have suppressed my needs too much. It’s OK to ask for help, for down-time, and to take care of me first.

The irony certainly doesn’t escape me that I have moved to a city that never sleeps, is always pushing forward, and thrives on the dreams and ambitions of millions of people – and my body is quite literally telling me to slow down, take time to breathe and relax, and to enjoy life.

Of course, I immediately signed up for another very hilly ride locally in October. I’m hoping to get through my radioactive iodine treatment over the next 2 weeks and get back to building up my cycling strength. I don’t think I’ll see anywhere close to the same stats as last year and I’m making my peace with it. I’ll ride as much as I can and seek out my happy-place as often as possible.

riding by the lake
riding by the lake

See you on the road!

C is for Cycling … and also for Cancer

The last 10 days or so have been a doozy.

My thyroidectomy went well. After the procedure, I was in Recovery for about 6 hours – much longer than anyone else who was in the surgical unit for other procedures so I watched a lot of people come and go. A few others in Recovery weren’t pleased to see my incision and requested things to block their view of me during their recovery time. Because yeah, it did kinda look like some rando had slashed my throat and the docs had slapped surgical tape over it.

An inch or so isn’t a lot until you see it on your neck. The neck doesn’t have a lot of real estate, so it looks much bigger than you expect.

going home after surgery
going home after surgery

This past Monday was pathology results day – and when I found out that I actually had thyroid cancer.

The brain kindof freezes when you hear the C word. Of course it does. The thoughts in your brain swirl around chemo, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, the epic battle for your body and will to live. Which is why I was so thankful to hear:

“The important take-away from this conversation is that you will live a long and healthy life.”

running errands with my husband, 5 days post-op
running errands with my husband, 5 days post-op

Fun Facts:

Thyroid cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the US, with the number of cases rising each year. No one is completely sure why there is an increase in cases (better technology to identify the cancer early may be a contributing factor) but the death rate has remained low – virtually unchanged since 2002.

Risk factors include:

  • being female
  • a diet low in iodine (rare in the US)
  • exposure to radiation (radiation was used widely before the 1960s for an array of ailments; nuclear accidents; etc)
  • hereditary/genetic
  • family history (Having a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with thyroid cancer, even without a known inherited syndrome in the family, increases your risk)

There are four main types of thyroid cancer:

  • Papillary, which accounts for 70-80% of all thyroid cancers
  • Follicular/Hurthle cell, which accounts for 10-15% of thyroid cancers
  • Medullary, which accounts for 5-10% and is usually hereditary
  • Anaplastic, which accounts for less than 2% and is the most aggressive and unfortunately deadliest

Treatment for thyroid cancer includes surgery (got that out of the way!), radioactive iodine, external beam radiation, and chemotherapy. Most thyroid cancers are cured with surgery and radioactive iodine. Thyroid cancer is actually pretty great for targeted treatment such as radioactive iodine because no other cells in the body soak up iodine like the thyroid does – so the thyroid cells are killed while the rest of the body remains healthy. (pretty neat, right?)

The 5 year survival rate for anyone diagnosed with thyroid cancer today is 97% – and the 10 year survival rate for those who are younger than 45 and the cancer is localized (has not spread to other parts of the body) is 100%.

9 days post-op and got in a gentle 16 mile bike ride. it felt amazing!
9 days post-op and got in a gentle 16 mile bike ride. it felt amazing!

The good news is that I am young (under 45), relatively healthy (outside of this bump in the road), and the cancer was localized (according to my surgeon). I have my post-op follow-up in a few weeks with my surgeon and then a conversation with my new endocrinologist a few days later to discuss the appropriate next steps. I’ve started writing a list of questions for him because I tend to forget to ask while I’m at the appointment.

If I’m being totally honest, I was a bit numb after hearing my thyroid pathology came back as cancer. I immediately latched onto the positive points and rehashed those as my narrative publicly. I received a tsunami of support and messages of love from my friends and family while I tried feabily to pass it off as Not A Big Deal. The next morning though I started doing my research and started to panic. OMG this is serious, but thankfully not deadly so. I don’t even know which kind I have/had. Radioactive iodine requires an isolation period. How is that going to work? And there’s a million follow-ups while they get the dosage of levothyroxine correct plus following up to make sure the radioactive iodine worked …. what about work? We’re already swamped – I can’t be taking off time for all this!

I had to put down the internet and go busy myself with what’s really important: my family, my friends, and living life. Work is important too – I’m the primary financial contributor to our family – but I can’t work if I’m not healthy. I am incredibly thankful for the support my boss and company have given me.

Yesterday I went out for a bike ride and made some determinations:

  • Yes I have/had cancer.
  • No it doesn’t define me.
  • But it’s OK to feel like it’s a big deal – because it is. It’s a part of my life story now.

I can ask questions at my next two appointments to get more clarity on what I had and what we can do next.

I will always need to be on top of my medication and communicate with my doctors.

I will live a long and healthy life – and look forward to rebuilding my base miles and bicycling strength soon.

See you on the road!

Internet Reference Sites (in case you want to learn more!):

ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association

EndocrineWeb

American Thyroid Association

National Cancer Institute

Endocrine Diseases

American Cancer Society

Let’s play catch-up, shall we dear reader? When we last left off we were on the cusp of spring … and now we are hurtling straight into summer.

from my train ride home one evening. moment of zen
from my train ride home one evening. moment of zen

Personal Transition

We finally made the move and are now in our new home. We closed on the house just a few days after the one-year mark of when I committed to relocating with my job. After such a long and protracted transition, the entire family has settled into our new life fairly quickly. Uncertainty can take a toll on a person and strain any relationship – and we managed to pull through with relatively few emotional wounds. The house is in a lovely neighborhood about 40 miles north of the Big Apple with lots of kids. It’s not uncommon for me to get home in the evening to find my younger two kids out roaming the neighborhood with their new friends, playing until well after dark and coming home sweaty and dirty and more importantly, happy. +1 for our little family!

welcome to my backyard
welcome to my backyard

Bikey Stuff!

Having the extra time in Philly was also very nice. I was able to squeak out a few really nice rides with my friends, including an 88-mi, 5400+’ of gain ride to get lunch in St Peter’s Village that I had no business doing – but felt amazing when I finished! I haven’t felt depleted after a long, hilly ride like that in a while and it felt GREAT.  I planned to do a low-key girls-only ride to get lunch (25mi ride) but wound up with bronchitis and had to cancel all my plans for a few weekends. Then we moved ….

Andy and Ken joined me on the 88mi epic. Perfect day for a ride!
Andy and Ken joined me on the 88mi epic. Perfect day for a ride!

I rode the 5 Boro Tour again this year, this time with my friend Elizabeth. We were slotted in the first wave and what a difference that made! Yes there were still a lot of people but it was FUN. We rode the whole route together, which was surreal when I’d point out a place where the 4-lane street had been literally wall-to-wall cyclists standing around the year prior due to various levels of bicyclists trying to ride together. This year demonstrated why people do this ride year after year. I’m hoping to take my eldest son on it next year.

Elizabeth and I at the start of the 5 Boro Tour.
Elizabeth and I at the start of the 5 Boro Tour.

Up in our new area I’ve been scoping a bike route to the train station (about 12.5 miles each way; about 600′ gain to the station, 900+’ gain on the way home). I’ve seen cyclists on the roads so I know it’s possible (and Strava Global Heat Maps confirms it’s a decent route) but a few concerns that I need to work through:

1. Lots of two-lane no-shoulder roads. I’ve not been successful yet in finding alternate back-roads to use – very few roads actually connect. The roads are not terribly heavily trafficked – but there is some volume, especially at certain times. And there are a few dangerous intersections that would require I get a mirror for my glasses so I could safely navigate.

2. After about 45-60min on the bike, I have a 60 min train ride to the city. Do I feel comfortable being stinky on a train for an hour?

2a. The train station has bike lockers but refuses to rent them out. ??? So my bike would be locked to an open-air public rack. I’ve seen a few other bikes there in the morning so I know people bike to the station … but probably not as far as I’m thinking of doing.

3. Shower Situation when I get to the City. NYSC has $20 memberships and a club a few blocks from GCT; or I could check out the gym at work.

Really all just logistics – and while I am chomping at the bit to actually ride to the train station and back home, I need to work these things out before I do so. Arrive Alive!

There is a major bike path (36 miles!) with an access point fairly close to our home (a couple miles) that I can’t wait to ride and take my kids. It’s an old railroad bed so it’s fairly flat and shaded. A welcome respite from New York drivers!

Health News

I noticed a lump in my neck a few months back. I had been blowing off the feeling of swallowing behind something for a while, thinking it was a mild cold or allergies or something else. After several rounds of testing and various procedures, it turns out I have a multinodal goiter. Due to the size and number of nodules (and that it impacts my ability to swallow), I’m having a thyroidectomy in about a week. I’ve been advised to take 2 weeks to recover and at least 1 week with no exercise. So the plan is to get past surgery and recovery before throwing my leg over the top tube and getting back into the swing of things.

This past week I contracted a cold that rapidly turned into a sinus infection so I’m taking the surgical recovery period very seriously. My body is telling me I’ve been overdoing it – even though I feel like I haven’t done anything – and I need to listen if I’m going to be able to get back into running and cycling again. I have a few events planned for later in the summer that I need to begin training for – but that will wait! Even though I desperately want to just ride my bike.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon!

Ride for Homes Recap

This past Thursday morning my husband dropped me and my friend Ken off at a parking lot out in Phoenixville, PA under gray skies and a chance of more rain to come for a four-day bike ride to Gettysburg and then back to Philadelphia. We pumped our tires, loaded our bags into the truck, and set off on a new adventure with 28 other soon to be friends.

The Ride for Homes is an annual four-day cycling event coordinated by Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia to raise much needed funds to support their work in the Philadelphia region. This year they are using the funds raised for this ride to make basic repairs to six Habitat homes. Our group of 30 riders raised over $35,000 for this worthy cause.

I’ve never done a multi-day ride and was both nervous and excited about the prospect.

 

Day One: 61 mi / 3,179′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188355

The rain was tapering off as we set out on the road. We started as a rather large (17) group. The roads were lower-trafficked and some motorists weren’t as considerate when passing. At one point a woman almost caused a head-on collision as we rolled up a steep hill on a two-lane road and she tried to pass with an on-coming car directly in front of her. We let her pass before moving on at the top of the hill – no need to become road kill!

Lunch was at a tiny Joanna General Store in the middle of nowhere who made us fresh sandwiches to order. Delightful!  At this point I decided riding with my cycling waist-pack was going to be too cumbersome so I pulled out everything I needed and left it in the SAG van. It was at this point I realized I had left my RoadID at home – but had my driver’s license and insurance card on me at all times. We decided at this time to split up the group into two more manageable chunks with about 8 or 9 riders each.

Overall there were three groups – A (averaging 14+mph), B (averaging 12.5+mph), and C (averaging 11+ mph). Our group had a guy riding a single-speed mountain bike (Buckman!) who beat all of us on geared road bikes up the hills, no matter how steep or how long. We dubbed ourselves Buckman’s Brigade.

The roads got quieter after lunch as we rolled into hilly central Pennsylvania and Amish Country. The shaded roads gave way to wide open roads overlooking immense valleys of farmland. So many hills! Every other farm was selling strawberries or promising sweet corn in a few weeks.

We checked in at a Holiday Inn Express in Lititz, PA, got cleaned up, and then walked over to a local church who fed us delicious vegetarian lasagna, salad, fruit, and rolls. We heard from the local Habitat about the work they do in Lancaster County and then departed for a quiet evening back at the hotel.

Farms everywhere!
Farms everywhere!

 

Day Two: 50 mi / 2,057′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188342

Day Two was the shortest mileage day – or the longest depending on what options you chose. The base miles got you from Lititz to Hanover. The weather was sunny but mild, perfect early summer riding and not a hint of humidity. The ride was mostly uneventful – noodling along country roads until we had to cross the mighty Susquehanna River. There are only a few places to cross the river as it is – and we got to cross on the Lincoln Highway. The bridge is beautiful and the river is wide.

Once across we rolled down to York for lunch. Once we were in the town limits, the C group caught up to us so we ended up taking the lane. It’s always fun to lead a block of cyclists through city streets, two and three abreast. Unfortunately the Turkey Hill branded gas station did not have a sandwich counter and very slim pickings for lunch options. Made do with a couple subpar cheese sticks, a bag of chips, and a coke. We separated from the C group after lunch.

Continuing on back into the country and the endless rolling hills. Thankfully we were able to keep momentum on some of the hills; others were a total bear. Rolled into the Holiday Inn Express in Hanover with time to check in and get more snacks before departing on the optional Gettysburg loop.

Chris and I keeping our cadence high and spirits higher
Chris and I keeping our cadence high and spirits higher

 

Day Two: Optional Gettysburg Loop. 26.6 mi / 1,152′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188302

A small group of mostly B riders with a few A riders headed out along PA 116 to see Gettysburg National Military Park. The group quickly split into two factions. I stayed with the slower group. We were tired but pedaling felt better. Gathered at the Visitor Center before heading out on a short loop of the battlefields. We stopped to talk about the Civil War and the significance of us visiting on the anniversary of D-Day and war in general. Having missed a decent lunch and not having had dinner yet, we opted to SAG it back to Hanover where copious pizza and salad awaited us.

Gettysburg Battlefields
Gettysburg Battlefields

 

Day Three: 69 miles / 3,787′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188297

Day Three began at 70* when we rolled out at 9am. We knew this was the longest day in the saddle as well as the hottest. The word of the day was Hydration and unfortunately I failed at it spectacularly despite drinking through my water bottles. Which was very disappointing but we’ll get to that. I only made it 46 miles (and 2,710′ gain).

I wish I remembered more about the ride. The morning was fine if hot. As we rolled up to the first water stop, I hopped off my bike and instantly felt nauseated. I shoveled a banana, ClifBar, and trail mix into my mouth while refilling my water bottles with Propel-laced water. I’ve been using Propel for a couple years now, since Gatorade never sat well with my stomach, with no problems.

I’ve now learned the rules force your hand a bit on multi-day rides – you find your weak points very quickly. If your bike isn’t dialed in, your saddle hurts you, or your shorts aren’t up for the challenge … you will find out. Yes, that was me on Day Two wearing my old worn-down shorts thinking it was a low-mileage day and it wouldn’t be a big issue. It was. I’m sorry, booty.

We rolled out onto a shaded rail trail and I couldn’t shake the nausea. When we stopped for bathrooms, I shoveled more trail mix into my face thinking it was a nutrition issue since the day before we’d had a ridiculously light lunch and I’d tacked on extra miles. I sought out shade at every opportunity. Onward.

Lunch at a Subway in Red Lion was a welcome opportunity to cool off in the air conditioned restaurant and put real food in me. People started asking if I felt ok. At the time I didn’t understand why and said “yes” even though I felt hot and lightly nauseous. I even dumped water all over me after eating in an effort to cool off. It worked for a bit until we hit open roads with no shade and long, long climbs. We screamed down a monster hill (so exhilarating!) before rolling alongside the river to get back to the Lincoln Highway bridge back across the Susquehanna.

I should have been able to enjoy the river road but instead I felt horrible. It was a slog, a death march. Every pedal stroke felt like too much energy. Just get to the next water stop. Just get to the water stop.

We get to the water stop and I immediately start eating again, not thinking this was a hydration issue. Several people asked if I was ok. I finally relented and accepted a spot in the air conditioned SAG van … and noticed it didn’t feel that cooling. I decided to throw in the towel and SAG to the next hotel. I shoveled trail mix and a banana in my mouth. One of the SAG women gave me a cold washcloth for my neck, iced down my coke and told me to sip it. I obeyed.

My group rolled out for the final 23 miles and I sat there thinking what an embarrassment this was. How could everyone be feeling so good and I feel so bad? What was I doing wrong? I knew I couldn’t ride another mile so I didn’t regret the choice to SAG back to the hotel but there was a sense of loss in riding in the SAG van. I’m not comfortable with my own vulnerability.

Checked in at the Historic Strasburg hotel, got a lukewarm shower and sat with a cold washcloth on my neck in my air conditioned room. Everyone asked how I was feeling. Much better – but I didn’t want the attention. I just wanted to be treated like everyone else. But I was also thankful for the SAG team, the leadership on the ride, and also for knowing myself well enough to call it quits before causing a much bigger problem on the road.

While eating dinner at the local church that was hosting us, I was texting with my husband. Toying with the idea of going home. The coke helped but I was back on Propel water and starting to not feel as good again. My friend Coco gave me a Nuun tablet and I added it to my water. Very quickly I started to feel significantly better. I told my husband I was going to try to ride the final day and not to come pick me up. Coco gave me another tablet to drink before bed, which I did.

I say all this because I did my research and turns out Propel does not have any sodium in it. None. So I had basically ridden three long days in the sun and heat with nothing more than flavored water. NO WONDER I FELT LIKE JUNK. This is the Truth of the Bike Tour.

I borrowed a tube of Nuun from Ken for the final day and made the plan to just get to each water or lunch stop and decide what to do. Baby steps. I won’t lie – I was very nervous about riding. The forecast was for hot and similar hills/mileage. But I knew I had to push on as long as I felt good because I can’t let one bad experience influence my cycling journey. Learn from mistakes.

Evening Chores in Strasburg
Evening Chores in Strasburg

 

Day Four: 67 mi / 3,320′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188291

Very nervous starting out on open roads but we opted to leave a half-hour earlier to try to beat the heat. Pre-gamed with juice, extra salt on my eggs, and 12oz of Nuun water before we even rolled out.

Just get to the water stop.

But not so nervous as to not snap a quick selfie with a guy on the ride who also graduated from my Colorado high school. What are the odds??

This guy graduated from my high school! Lambkin Pride!
This guy graduated from my high school! Lambkin Pride!

The day ended up being so much better than I expected. My new-found attention to hydration paid off. I sipped water every two miles, swigged at every red light or regroup at the top of a big hill. We also eventually rolled onto brilliantly shaded roads by creeks and streams that were very refreshing. Our group had gelled over the past few days into a team of 10, which honestly made the miles disappear. We had a few good hills but mostly gentle rolling terrain and overall the day was delightful.

Our first water stop was at the Coatsville Habitat build site. It was incredible to see Habitat’s work in action. The homes were adorable and had unsurpassed views of the valley. I felt so honored to be supporting such an amazing organization with the help of my friends and family who donated to my campaign.

Lunch was in Chadd’s Ford at Wawa. Seriously – the best convenience store ever.

When we paused in Ridley Creek State Park, I noticed I felt nauseated again and realized I hadn’t been drinking as much when we went through the park due to the high volume of pedestrians and kids on the roughly-paved multi-use path. I started sipping again and got it under control in time for the water stop.

+1 for Laura for knowing how to solve the problem now.

The final 13 miles went by so fast. Before we knew it, we were taking the lane and rolling through Manayunk towards the finish point.

Buckman's Brigade at the finish
Buckman’s Brigade at the finish

* * * * *

Overall this was an amazing experience. The support staff was incredible. The route was incredibly beautiful and as low-trafficked as possible. The people I rode with felt like old friends by the end. I nearly cried hugging everyone goodbye before going home. I love you guys, Buckman’s Brigade!

A huge shout out to my friends: Coco for pep-talking me into signing up; Maux for her unwavering support during my most dire moments; Ken for always riding with me – and the bottle of Nuun; Chris for sharing his touring wisdom and conversation; Kristen for talking Girl Scouts with me; Laura S for her knowledge of political controversy (and being the other half of Double The Awesome); Sarah for her laid-back vibe and whimsical streamers on her helmet; Buckman for leading the charge every time; Kyler for being our most excellent mechanic.

If you have a chance to sign up for the Ride for Homes Philadelphia, I highly recommend it.

Lancaster County Beauty
Lancaster County Beauty

See you on the road!

 

Jotting down some thoughts

Today was a tough day. I pride myself on being fairly stoic about health issues. I don’t need help from anyone, although I am very supportive of others in need of assistance. I tough it out as long as I can.

I’ve put 135 fairly hilly miles down in the first two days. I felt like my nutrition was coming along and the temperatures had been really awesome. Not too hot, not too chilly. We had long stretches in the sun with no shade. I felt very lucky to be out with 29 other amazing people, raising money and awareness for such an awesome organization.

And really, all it had to do each day was ride my bike. Life doesn’t get any better than that.

Today it was hot (mid-80s). It was hilly. At some point before the first water break I noticed the shade was no longer cooling me off. So I drank more water. I chowed down on trail mix. I ate bananas and energetic bars at every rest stop. Nothing was working and I was feeling worse.

At lunch I started to feel better in the air conditioned sandwich shop as I nibbled on my hoagie and potato chips. I doused myself in water right before we left to get my body cooled down. Meanwhile, everyone’s asking if I feel ok. I tell everyone I think I am running a huge calorie deficit from the previous day.

But I’m not getting better. I start thinking I might be bonking … but my legs feel as fine as they should on day three of a bike ride. My butt doesn’t even really hurt. I just can’t seem to cool off. And even though I’m peeing regularly, why do I feel so bloated and nauseated? My usual hydration mix was failing me.

We get the last water stop at 45 miles and I had to throw in the towel. I felt nauseated even though I devoured a banana and doused myself in water again. Which didn’t help. I’m not cooling down. The support team got me into an air conditioned car with a wet washcloth on my neck and made me sip iced Coke (so glad I bought that at lunch!) while they got all the riders on their way. And then I got a ride back to the hotel.

It’s sad to admit that my first thoughts were about missing the final 23 miles of the day. I was so disappointed with myself. I wanted to be able to do the whole ride, all the miles. But today was not my day.

I took a lukewarm shower and cooled down enough, joining everyone for dinner. I was feeling better but still iffy about whether I should try to ride tomorrow until my friend have me an electrolyte tab to put in my water bottle. That and dinner out the spring back in my step, so I bummed another one and sucked that down this evening.

I know better than to mess around with heat illnesses. And I have no regrets about my decision. But I do have lingering sadness that I couldn’t just push through it. Seeing everyone at the end of the day and hearing their stories from the last miles was good … It’s just my story is different this time around.

I’ve never had to be SAG’d before. And I’m thankful to have been taken care of by the amazing support team on this ride. Truly this has been an epic adventure. I just need to get over my unfounded feelings of letting everyone down by not finishing the whole day.

When I have time I will write a proper post about the ride. It’s been amazing and I’ve loved almost every minute of it.