I noticed the changes about 18 months ago. Muscle weakness, burning in my legs, imbalance, and hearing loss in my left ear. I started the BC Epic 1000 in June, 2018 thinking these annoyances could be overcome simply with a bit more grit than usual. The second afternoon of the race I was upside down in the trail, bike on top of me, and with no strength in my right arm to lift myself. Once righted, I would ride 300 feet, rest for a minute, and then ride another 300 feet. Not quite race pace. I didn’t finish.
A second episode, this time snowshoeing alone and a good distance from my car, left me dizzy and weak. Much too dizzy to drive once I had reached the car. A night in the emergency room was enough to convince me that grit wasn’t going to see me through this. Thus began a prolonged search for a smoking gun, a straw in the wind, a substantiation.
Stroke became the prime suspect. TIA to be exact — those strokes that last only a few minutes when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly blocked. Symptoms of a TIA are like other stroke symptoms, but do not last as long. Strokes leave scars in the brain but the MRI of my brain was spotless. Spotless mind of the more existential type was what I found myself wanting as I brooded about my health.
Short hikes, short bike rides, and short ski trips substituted for regular outdoor activities but these only added to my anxiety since I was then reminded how much of my strength and endurance was slipping away. I made the rounds from one medical specialist to the next — some good, some clueless — and no one could come up with a reason for all this.
But P. had a theory about the origin and it sported eight legs. Yes, ticks. Before the symptoms appeared I had two occasions when tick bites turned into ugly reactions. Could it be that I had contracted a tick-born disease, of which there are now several in Oregon?
Look up accounts of those describing a life with the chronic version of Lyme disease and there is much to fear. Years can go by with weakness, pain, and brain fog just piling on. As disheartening, is the paucity of information about these long term versions of tick born diseases and any treatments that work. A week of antibiotics taken at just the right time following a tick bite can keep Lyme disease at bay but that is a narrow window. My week of antibiotics was months after being bitten and it could have been one of a number of diseases. I didn’t have the classic bulls-eye rash of Lyme disease and neither do a majority of people who end up with it.
One puzzling aspect of my symptoms was their cyclical nature (not talking bicycles here). For five days I could live a rather normal life and then for two days the bottom would fall out and I found myself on the internet shopping for a wheelchair. The five days on didn’t give me enough time to recover from the two days off and I so my leg muscles were getting smaller. My endurance was inching downward. I hit bottom.
But then the cycles started to elongate and I began to recover some between the bad spells. And the symptoms were less severe. I gradually gained strength and endurance. Best of all, I discovered that the more I biked the more rapid my recovery.
A chance encounter with a recently-retired doctor at a party last summer provided me with some hope that there was an unifying theory surrounding my symptoms. He was a specialist in dizziness and hearing. They call him the Dizzy Doc. He offered up that a virus or bacterium had gotten a toehold, done both temporary and permanent damage, but was now on its way out the door. He offered that the hearing loss would be permanent but my legs would likely recover.
And he seems to be right. I haven’t had a bad spell since early September and my legs are recovering nicely. I’m seldom dizzy. I do need to remember to buy a hearing aid though.
I’ve been reminded (often) that hopefulness is no substitute for common sense and so I’m trying to keep my biking ambitions for spring and summer within reason. I’d sure like to do the Oregon Timber Trail and especially join those who will attempt the first ever race of the route (https://theottgd.home.blog/). Or the southeast quarter of Oregon would make a fine late spring adventure (https://bikepacking.com/routes/oregon-big-country/). But how could I pass up a race in Canada named the Lost Elephant? (https://bikepacking.com/event/lost-elephant-2018/). Which path would you take?