Friday, September 26, 2014

Skull Valley: Double Entendre

Thirteen months ago, mid-August, 2013, I drove from Tucson to Prescott, about 250 miles, to ride the Skull Valley Loop with my cycling friend, Dan Fallon. Ours was not an organized invitational, just a Dan and me ride.

It’s an amazing 54 miles through the Prescott National Forest at an elevation ranging from a mile high to 6,100’; the roads are pristine, almost glimmer glass; traffic is minimal, a sweet descent on Ironwood Springs into Kirkland Junction, a 10 mile climb replete with switch backs, and rolling hills up the White Spars, AZ 84, and back down into Prescott. 

I never anticipated that The Valley Of The Skull would return with with me to Tucson and  take up residence in my skull for the rest of my life. But that’s exactly what happened. 

Two weeks after riding the Skull with Dan, I had my first-ever seizure; I have had, on average, at least one seizure a month since then, and I have not driven a car since driving to Prescott 13 months ago.

This summer, 2014, with temperatures consistently in the triple digits in Tucson and Phoenix, the call of cooler climes for Prescott’s Skull Valley Loop Challenge in mid September, sounded delicious. But Prescott is 250 miles from Tucson and I can’t drive.

One of the many things I have learned this past year living with epilepsy is that some of the spontaneity of my previous life must be moderated because to say “yes” to something often means asking someone else to say “yes” too.

And so, Kirk and I would spend a couple of days in Sedona (not a hard thing for either of us to say “yes” to) and he would drop me off in Prescott which was sort of, but really, on his way home to Tucson. Another recumbent friend, David Brake, who lives in Phoenix, would also be riding the Skull Valley Loop Challenge (SVLC). David would drive me from Prescott to Phoenix after the ride and I would ride my bike from Phoenix to Tucson (128 miles) following the Randonneur’s Permanent Route which would give me credit for my September 200k (125 miles). (One of my riding goals is to ride at least one 200k route approved by the Randonneur USA organization each month for 12 consecutive months.) 

There are racers and riders at the Skull Valley Loop Challenge (SVLC) who tow the start line with a range of hopes and expectations. Being less than a month away from turning 69, I had a strong desire to punch out a great time. But, another thing I have learned living with epilepsy is that I never really know who will show up each day, who I will be each day. I can plan, but I can’t plan the outcome.

Anti-seizure medications are central nervous system depressants replete with many side effects including depression and absence of energy. If I’ve had a break through seizure, even though I’m medicated, I can expect at least 12-36 hours of post-seizure energy depletion and struggle to function with any kind of normalcy. 

I really, really hoped I would tow the start line with a full tank of energy, no medication side effects, and be seizure-free when the Court House Clock gonged 7:30 for the start of the SVLC on Sunday, September 21st. But, if someone else showed up to ride my bike, well, that’s who would ride it that day. Weather or mechanicals can reek havoc with personal goals for all racers and riders; those are equal opportunity adversaries. Epilepsy, however, is my personal travel companion whose narcissistic needs will always pre-empt my own. 

As it turned out, a healthy me showed up Sunday morning ready to race. Rode from Dan’s house to Starbucks for a pre-race grande, medium-dry soy cappuccino. Life is good.

There were 204 racer/riders; I finished 99th with a time of 3:22 for 53.9 miles and about 4,000’ of climbing, depending upon whose GPS tracking device you use. 

But, life would have been good, too, if those numbers had been different, or even if I hadn’t been able to put my wheel on the line. If there is not joy, and gratitude, and community in the process of getting to the start line, well, the numbers are pretty meaningless. Life is, indeed, good.