Thought for the Day

Friday, November 5, 2010

Yea, though I ride through the valley of death...

Once again I'm blogging well after the event I'm blogging about. If you've been reading this blog, you've probably come to expect that.
If this is your first time here, you probably haven't been waiting for this, so it's all right with you, too.

On October 16th I rode my bicycle across Death Valley with about 350 others, all of us having made the commitment to work toward a cure for type 1 diabetes. In addition to the riders there were dozens of volunteers working at the aid stations, in the SAG (Support And Gear) vehicles, and at the start/finish. Behind every rider there were the many people who made donations that are the real, rather than simply symbolic, investment in a cure.

I want to thank everyone who contributed to my efforts to raise $3000 to cure type 1 diabetes.

However, I'm writing about the symbolic journey across the Valley of Death.
My blood sugar was 152 before breakfast at 5:30, and I didn't bolus as much as I would have if I wasn't about to go for a long ride. Knowing my blood sugar was a little high I didn't check again before the start.
I started riding with friends I had made in the Western Wisconsin Chapter of the JDRF. I was the only rider from the Desert Southwest Chapter. (something we should fix)
Riders lined up behind me
Riders lined up ahead of me
Since I had, in my registration for the ride, said that I was riding to honor the memory of Jesse Alswager, and I wanted to share a room, I bunked with Jeff Steuer, a Western Wisconsin rider who who has a 17 year old daughter with type 1 diabetes.
Jeff and me
Jeanne, one of the fantastic coaches
So when I started out, I was riding with Jeff, his sister, Nancy and brother-in-law Keith, and other cheeseheads. I was glad to be welcomed to their group, but I couldn't stay with them.
I almost never do group rides, so I'm not used to sticking to a pace line. When I was in a line, I would either be working harder than I wanted to keep up, or feeling like I was blocked by the rider in front of me and had to coast or even brake. They would go up the hills faster than I was comfortable with, then coast down the other side. Except for Jubilee Pass at the turnaround point, the road was all rolling hills, or at least seemed that way to me.
We had been told that the best plan for success was to get as far as we could while the valley was in shade, before the sun came up over the eastern mountains. We had to do that without, of course, going so hard we ended up worn out before we got to the big climb at Jubilee Pass.
I couldn't see the benefit in coasting downhill, especially in the early going. So I would go to the back of our little pack on the uphills, then keep pedaling and pass everyone on the downhills. Finally, the ups outweighed the downs, and I fell behind and couldn't catch up. But I was going my own, inconsistent pace, riding alone the way I am used to.
I caught up again at Badwater, the first rest stop and the turnaround point for those doing the 32 mile option, but they were well on their way by the time I checked my blood sugar, (126) ate some food, took a couple of pictures, waited in line, and used the restroom.
Badwater. I'll be back.
This stop verified that so far, my hydration and food plan was working well. I hit the road.
That first 16 miles had taken about an hour.
A couple of Western Wisconsin riders in Godspeed Jesse jerseys.
At the pre-ride dinner the night before, it had been announced that we would have a special feature added during this ride, which may become part of all JDRF rides from now on. One mile of the ride would be declared a "mile of silence" to honor those we have lost to diabetes. It could have been any mile, but it was declared mile 23. February 3rd, 2/3, was the day that Jesse Alswager died.
I rode in silence most of the day, but out there between Badwater and the second rest stop, Mormon Point, I rode a mile in silence to honor Jesse, and all others who have died fighting type 1 diabetes.
This stretch was more of the same rolling hills, or actually gaining and losing elevation as the road followed the curves of the mountains on the eastern edge of Death Valley.
We were mostly in the shade of the valley until about 8:30, when the sun came out and the temperature began to climb.
At Mormon Point, 31 miles, my blood sugar was 135, so I was pretty happy with how I was doing. I ate some more from the well-stocked tables, another half banana, another quarter pbj, refilled my three water bottles, and was off again.
The rolling continued for a while, then there was a long, rather steep hill before I reached the next stop, Ashford Mills, at 46 miles. Although the distance between Mormon Point and Ashford Mills was shorter than the distances between the previous two rest stops, with the climb in the heat, it was much harder, and of course, the next segment of the ride, from there to Jubilee Pass was supposed to be 6 miles that would take at least an hour.
My blood sugar at Ashford Mills was 104. There was not a lot of room there. I would have liked it to be higher. I didn't want to panic, though. It wasn't as if I had a real low blood sugar, and it wasn't as if I was really dropping rapidly. It was about 10:15, so I had dropped about 30 points in an hour.
I tried to eat more than I had at the previous stop before setting out on the six mile climb up to Jubilee Pass, about 1300 feet of elevation increase.
It had gotten seriously hot, and I say that as someone who has lived for almost a decade in the Phoenix area. People with thermometers on their bikes were seeing temperatures like 113. Someone said 118.
So I cranked away as best I could, climbing and climbing, trying to keep drinking the warm water I had in my bottles, water that had been ice cold minutes before, feeling more and more exhausted, but knowing I was getting closer to the top.
When I got to the Jubilee Pass aid station, I discovered it is actually a few yards away from the actual summit. For about two seconds I considered riding up to the summit before coming back to stop at the aid station... then I wised up and stopped. I got into the scant shade as quickly as I could, and checked my blood sugar again.
86. Hmm, a little sugar would have made that climb easier.
Bob Panisch, one of the coaches and a CDE came over and asked me how I was doing and what my blood sugar was. I told him and let him know what was going on. He made some good suggestions, but I told him I was going to do this my way.
I could see that he had good reason to be concerned about me. My bike shorts and my jersey were crusty with salt. Many riders were dropping out. I had a borderline low blood sugar.
But I assured him that I had done a lot of hard things before, and I wouldn't be stupid.

More Godspeed Jesse jerseys, with 2/3 on the sleeve.
I pigged out, refilled everything, and rode to the summit for a picture.
The kind of picture you take when you won't stand in line.
Then I started back. On the way down, one of the coaches asked how I was doing, and I said that I was glad the hard part was over.
He said, "That was tough, but the hard part is getting all the way back."
And he was right. After one large, wonderful cloud blocked the sun for maybe half an hour, the heat did not let up. I felt at times like I could feel waves of heat coming off the pavement. It was like being roasted.
Back at Ashford Mills, my blood sugar was back at 140.
When I reached Mormon Point, it was 144. All was well in that regard.
Then at Badwater it was 198. I was probably getting dehydrated. Looking back, my pace had greatly decreased in that section of the ride. But my reaction was to just not fuel up so much. I probably could have cooled off in the shade a little longer and drank more before going on.
Anyway, an additional rest stop had been set up for us, because of the conditions, about 10 miles from the finish. When I got there, about an hour after I had stopped in Badwater, my blood sugar was still 188.
Figuring that I "only" had ten miles to go, and I would be done soon, I thought it would be a good idea to give myself a small correction bolus, less than I would give if I wasn't riding.
And I didn't eat anything.
Well, those miles dragged on. It was hot. The hills were steep. My body was sore all over. Sure my muscles were sore from working, but my back was sore from being hunched over, my neck was sore from looking up from my hunched over position, my butt and my crotch were sore from hours in the saddle, my feet were sore from pushing down on them all day.
And I was feeling like my blood sugar was low.
So with less than a mile to go, with one last, short, 100 yard climb left before a long downhill into Furnace Creek Ranch, I just stopped. I considered testing my blood sugar, but instead just pulled out a Clif bar and started trying to eat it. That was a poor choice. I only ate the bar because I had been carrying it all day. Before that, I ate gels while I was riding, and replaced them with new ones from the rest stops. I felt silly about everything that I carried the whole way without using it, like my cell phone.
It turns out a Clif bar is really hard to chew and swallow when you're dehydrated.
So I was probably standing by the side of the road for a long time before I started up again. About eight other riders passed me, and of course all asked if I was OK.
I cranked up that last hill, turned the corner, and rolled the remaining half mile in.
At the medical tent (Everyone checks in at the medical tent after finishing. It's a rule at this ride.) my blood sugar was 98. It certainly must have been lower before I stopped to eat the Clif bar.
So it wasn't perfect blood sugar management for the day, two minor lows, enough to affect my energy level, but it was a magnificent experience.

105 miles ridden. 9 and a half hours. 1 mile of silence. $3000. A shot at ending type 1 diabetes.

Keith, Nancy, Jeanne, and Jeff post-ride.
Some pictures of Death Valley from Dante's View.
Furnace Creek is toward the upper right.
Badwater is down the mountain from here.
Penny smelling my sweat-salt crusted jersey after I got home.


Lindsay said...

That's so amazing! I've heard a lot about the ride at Death Valley this year from other bloggers and from the group of JDRF NW chapter riders that went. Congratulations on making it all the way to the finish! Your blood sugar management seemed to work out ok, and you certainly listened to your body when it was telling you "I need sugar!". Someday I'll go on a ride.

Anne said...

congrats Jerry! It was great to read your write-up..

By the way, you clearly have a runner's mentality! Or maybe a triathlete's mentality! :) The road cycling mentality is to work less by working together in a group; you take your turn on the front, working a little harder, and then have a chance to recover in the paceline. Therefore, coasting or easy pedaling in a paceline is totally acceptable and welcome (since you may have been working a bit harder while in the front)! You also may have to brake (ever so gently) here and there to control your speed relative to those in front of you. In the long run, you end up being able to go much faster than you would on your own.

Scully said...

This was a great post, thanks for sharing it with us! I think you did the best you could. As I was reading it I thought "that's exactly what I would have done" It's nice to know. GREAT JOB! I'd love to have that opportunity.

Wendy said...

You know what...this post totally inspired me! Thank you!

victriabetes said...

Good Job Jerry - well done!

Jen said...

Great write up Jerry! I am looking forward to conquering the Valley next year.

Michelle said...

Great post. The couple you see at Badwater with their Jesse jerseys to your back are two of the greatest people on earth - Bob and Jen Nicholson, who lost their 14 year old son just weeks after Jesse died. A fitting photo, I would say.