It’s been 5 days since my failed journey across the United States by bike. My consolation prize that I thought of this week is biking from Philadelphia to Montreal: only a ~600 mile journey, just a bit longer than Delaware to Pittsburgh (as far as I made it across the country). And, learning a lesson from my cross country attempt, I planned on only biking around 60 miles per day to make it more enjoyable.
I’m not a doctor, but…
While deliberating about the next exploration, I realized that the numbness/tingling in my fingers has not subsided. Last night I utilized my imaginary medical degree to research what was wrong with my fingers. It appears that I have contracted Cyclist’s Palsy, a condition caused by compression of the Ulnar nerve. I’m not going to lie, I did not know what the Ulnar nerve was, or that it even existed. Now I know exactly what the Ulnar nerve is and why not to ride too long or too hard: you can damage your nerves. I’ve never experienced Cyclist’s Palsy to this degree. I suppose this is poetic justice for my overly-ambitious distance goals. As soon as I noticed the numbness, I should have either taken a break or corrected my ride (either through better gloves, grips, or hand positioning). The Cyclist’s Palsy link even states “this is even intensified when riding on rough terrain”. Wow! Brilliant that I biked 335 miles on bumpy trails for 3 1/2 days at the beginning of the trip. According to the article, it may take several weeks to heal. During my ride, I realized my fingers were numb after 2 days of riding, but I continued on for over 300 miles. I rode today for the first time since the trip for 20 miles and tried to keep the pressure low on my hands, but my fingers felt more numb and tingly after I got home.
Knowing that the nerves in my hands may take over a month to completely heal, I have decided to take a complete break from cycling. Until I regain full feeling in my fingers, I am not going to cycle AT ALL. If I have to forgo an exciting bike journey to Montreal, it’s okay. There are plenty of other things to explore.
Listen to your body
I like to live my life (healthwise) with a simple saying: “listen to your body”. Americans seem like a bunch of hypochondriacs to me. Before the medical advancements of the 20th century, we had to make a lot of our health decisions with only the information we have at hand. Outside of hypochondriasis remedies (leaches, snake oil and such), people went on living their lives under the assumption that they were in good health. If an illness reared its ugly head, you would deal with it then. I’m basically in that boat. If I feel sluggish, maybe I should eat healthier until I feel better. Maybe I should not drink alcohol for a week or so. Maybe I need to take a vitamin, or exercise today. Luckily, if I do come across a serious illness, I do have the modern medical technology to fix a lot of things that would have killed or severely impaired me 100 years ago.
I think there’s some room in your health for tinkering. But if there is something more serious (like your fingers are numb), maybe you should see a doctor. Another way to listen to your body, is to ask yourself a question: “if I told someone close to me that my body is doing this thing, would they be concerned?” If the answer is yes, then you may need to try something other than adjusting your diet or exercise. Some health issues are preventable. But your health is tricky, because it throws wild cards in there all the time.
I say all this because we can always press on. Some people have unbelievable willpower. Some people are extreme. Some people will finish a 20 mile hike when they sprained their ankle on mile 7. But willpower will only get you so far. We all have limitations. We can briefly overcome these limitations by willing ourselves across a short-term finish line. This is the equivalent of burning the midnight oil, or cramming for the final exam. Consistently, this is not effective. I can’t imagine what my fingers would feel like now (if I could even feel them at all) if I continued to will myself pedaling centuries everyday. Not only would they feel worse, I could have permanently damaged my nerves. I could have no feeling in my hands for the rest of my life. There is only so much your body can take. Other than numbness in my hands, my body was feeling pretty good. I could totally continue to pedal insane numbers of miles everyday with 80+ pounds of bike and gear. There were a lot of things I did wrong with my bike trip (carrying too much weight, being on a time constraint, doing the trip solo), but my health is something I did not anticipate factoring in to the equation. When it gets to the point where you are sacrificing your health, I would argue that it is rarely worth it. Even if you are feeling good, if you know your body has some sort of limitation you should step back and question your decision-making. Maybe if I was wrapping up my trip and already in California, I could have willed myself to the Pacific. But so early on, my body was already telling me something, and I made the wise decision to listen.