August in Texas. Not my favorite month of the year. It has nothing to do with enduring day after day of hundred degree temperatures, although that’s no great pleasure. Rather, I dislike August for what it brings. Illness. Allergies. Asthma. As someone who enjoys going out for two or three hour bike rides, not being able to breathe because of asthma can be somewhat problematic.
August on the bike started off well. I signed up for the Blazin’ Saddles charity ride in Granbury, Texas, about an hour’s drive away. Their website boasts of it being the hardest ride in Texas. I’ve done some hard rides, we’d have to see how they stacked up.
I maintained realistic expectations about how I’d do. Although I’d been riding and training, I hadn’t been preparing for a hilly, 75 mile ride.
It should be noted about my biking abilities. Yes, I’ve been riding for over 10 years. Yes, I’m dedicated to working out and riding a bike. No, I’m not the fastest guy on the bike, nor do I care. I ride because I enjoy it. You want to pass me? Go right ahead. I’ll still have a good time.
On the day of the ride, after the requisite thanks for attending and warnings to be safe, we set off. I struggled right away. Hyperventilating. It happens from time to time. I’ve never been able to figure out the cause. I don’t know if I start off too quickly or forget to breathe in and out, but within a few minutes my heart is racing and I can’t seem to breathe. I feel like I’m blowing air out, but not taking any in. I’ve learned I have to ease off the pace and concentrate on breathing. Sometimes, I literally have to tell myself- breathe in, breath out, breathe in, breathe out- until my breathing returns to normal.
After a couple of miles, I could breathe regularly again. Time to concentrate on actual riding.
The first half of the ride, I flew. Down in the aero position, hanging over the handlebars, quick cadence of the pedals, going fast- it was a blast.
This was hard?
Then came the second half of the ride. Uphill. Uphill. Uphill. We’re not talking the French Alps or anything, but it was up and up and up. Long stretches of hills at times. Steep inclines at others. If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s fast going uphill.
At mile 70, the route reached the top of a hill. The event organizers had posted a sign indicating this was the peak of the entire route. Finally, no more going uphill. As I crested the hill, the road went straight downhill. By this time, I was beat. The last hill had taken what little energy I had left.
No energy equals slower reflexes. Going down a sharp descent, the smart thing to do would’ve been to ease off the pace. Tap the brakes. What if a car shot out of a driveway? Or a pothole appeared in the road?
Slowing down meant more time on the bike and getting to the finish line later. I was ready to be done.
I gripped the handlebars tight and hoped for the best.
I managed just fine.
Sorry, no tales of flipping over the handlebars or narrowly avoiding a car.
At the finish line, there was a tent with refreshments. Usually, there’s nothing but water, watered-down Gatorade, warm bananas, and oranges. I wanted something liquid. I grabbed a cup, willing to take whatever came out of the orange container.
It wasn’t water or Gatorade.
I stood there and downed three or four cups. Sweet tea never tasted so good.
Asthma. Tightness in the chest. Struggling to breathe. Wheezing, if it’s really bad. I’ve dealt with it my entire life. The earliest occurrence I recall took place in the fourth grade. My mom tells me I was diagnosed at the age of three. I’ll have to take her word on it.
Elementary school and junior high were the worst years. In the fourth grade, on the way to lunch, I had to go to the nurse’s office to use a nebulizer. Every day. In the fifth grade, I spent a week in the hospital. In sixth grade, my mom held me out of PE the entire year after an allergy test demonstrated I was allergic to nearly every type of weed and grass. It also showed that I was allergic to cigarette smoke, cats, and dogs, but that didn’t stop my dad or step-dad from smoking, nor did it propel my mom to give away the cat and the dog.
Eighth grade might’ve been the worst. For a few months, we lived in Phoenix. My routine went like this: Monday= school; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday= home sick; Friday= school; Saturday and Sunday= home recuperating. It was quite the life. I also received allergy shots during this time. They provided no discernible difference.
Once I went away to college, my asthma symptoms abated somewhat. It could’ve been the West Texas air. Or the lack of cigarette smoke, cats, and dogs. The only times I remember having serious asthma problems were after mowing the yard.
For the next twenty years or so, while living in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, my asthma had seemed manageable to me. Yes, I carried an inhaler with me everywhere I went and used it a couple of times a day. But, compared to when I was a kid, bed-ridden, and wheezing, I felt much better.
But there were flareups. Reminders of the stranglehold asthma held over me. One doctor put me on allergy medication. It helped some. Another tried a different allergy medication. It helped a little more. A few years later, after experiencing a flareup that lasted for a couple of weeks, another doctor had me try a preventative inhaler. Dulera. Wow. This is what normal people must breathe like. For the first time in my life, I walked around without an inhaler.
Until I’d have a flareup. Which happens in August. At least for the past four or five years. It has to do with…well, I don’t know what causes it. I only know it happens. It could be the extreme heat in Texas. The lack of air movement. Perhaps it’s ragweed? We haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact culprit.
So this August rolls around and a dread descends upon me. Will the awful asthma rear its ugly head?
This year, as soon as I noticed a discernible difference in breathing, that tightness in the chest, I called the doctor. She prescribed six days of Prednisone (Hello, headaches and insomnia!). My breathing improved while I was on it. Hooray!
As soon as I went off it, my breathing was worse than before. I spent a Friday night sitting on the couch, struggling to breathe.
Every time I have one of these flareups, I descend into a mental abyss. It’s not depression, but a worrying, woe is me mentality. It’s over. This is it. The asthma is back. The meds won’t work this time. The asthma flare up is here to stay. It’ll be just like when I was a kid. Goodbye, outside. Adios, active lifestyle. See you later, bike.
Unable to do much of anything, I read a few books. I worked on my own book (about the only positive). I did a whole lot of nothing. I ‘slept’ sitting up in bed, propped up by four or five pillows, which equates to not really sleeping.
On Monday, I called the doctor again. This time, she had me come in. No messing around this time. Antibiotics, steroid shot, and another round of methylprednisone.
By the end of the week, I felt better. Two and a half weeks I’d been down. Doing nothing. Sitting around.
As Saturday approached, my mind drifted towards the bike. Did I dare go outside? For a bike ride? Into the nasty, allergen polluted air? Should I risk it? Or take it easy?
What to do?
Yeah, I risked it. A two hour bike ride on Saturday and another on Sunday.
I waited for the inevitable asthma attack. A few days passed. It didn’t come. I might be out of the woods.
Until next August
My thoughts turned to September. Another ride was coming up. The Cowtown Classic. A 59 mile ride. Could I do it? Essentially, aside from the Blazin’ Saddles at the beginning of August, I’d sat on my rear.
I would have Labor Day weekend to get in some long rides. Would it be enough? Should I even try?
I stared at the registration page. I pondered the possibilities. I hit the submit registration button.
Of course I would ride.