Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Death Ride Aftermath

Occasionally, while training for the Death Ride, I joked with friends about the possibility of dying during the attempt. While I wasn't sure how much I was going to hurt during the ride, I assumed that if I had to stop pedaling, it would happen because my legs would lose the power to turn the cranks over, even in the lowest gears, or that I'd suffer some serious cramping.

During the ride, I had only a few minor cramps, and my legs, while tired by the time I reached the last pass, still had some life in them. What I didn't know was that my body had, perhaps hours before the end of the ride, run out of available energy stored in my muscles. Nor cold I process fast enough the food I'd eaten that was sitting in my stomach to make up the difference.

So I started eating myself.

My muscles, commanded by my brain to turn the pedals, started breaking down, sacrificing themselves to give me the fuel I needed to reach the last pass. I didn't know it, didn't feel it; I only knew that I was ever-more weary as I kept pedaling. When the ride was over, I congratulated myself on coming through the experience in far better shape than I'd predicted.

Sunday night, though, I knew something had happened beyond normal on the ride, when I noticed my urine was the color of a dark burgundy. Conferring with my friend Richard, who provided me with some links on the Web, it looked like I was experiencing at least the after effects myoglobinuria, the breakdown of muscle tissue. My kidneys were now working to flush my disintegrated muscle tissue out of my body, via my urine.

The danger with that flushing action is that it can also seal up and then kill the kidneys. I'm glad I decided to visit the doctor yesterday, as a precautionary measure, even though the burgundy color of my urine had already turned to a sort of cloudy-pink.

My doctor at first thought he'd send me to the emergency room for an IV drip, then decided to conduct a blood and urine test, which showed I hadn't suffered serious kidney damage. I did as the doctor ordered, drinking an enormous amount of water the rest of the day and until I went to sleep last night. This morning, I had a figurative sigh of relief, as my urine, which I'm not in the habit of examining, while still pink, was definitely more clear. I'm due back this afternoon with the doctor, to repeat the tests I had yesterday.

Was the Death Ride my last hurrah for epic rides? It's not that I plan to repeat the Death Ride next year. Once is probably enough. There are other rides, though, other endeavors to challenge the mind and the body and the soul. Are those events now out of my reach, because I fear the potential damage to my body?

Did my muscles cannibalize themselves because I simply failed to train well enough, long enough, before the Death Ride? Did my age mean my body can no longer work at a high enough level to bring me safely through the arduous physical challenges I was once able to surmount with impunity? Did my medications play a part. Maybe.

Will even "normal" long rides bring on myoglobinuria? There's only one way to know, and that way is to climb back on my bike. I'd planned on riding from Mono Lake, at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, up to Tioga Pass, just below 10,000 feet, in about week; after my Death Ride, I thought it would be a cakewalk.

Perhaps I'll let the date slip on that goal. Most of us do accept the vicissitudes of age and the certainty of death with grace and good humor. Some of us, though, struggle on and watch their urine turn the color of a burgundy wine. While I too may go gentle into the good night, the thought that my epic riding days might be over seems difficult, and perhaps impossible to accept.

Here are a few more photographs from Saturday's ride (click on the images to view larger versions):

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