Posted on June 27, 2018
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Help Keep Me On the Road
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When I suffered an ischemic stroke twenty-six months ago just about every aspect of my life flashed through my mind. That happened in the first five minutes as I woke in the middle of the night to a half-paralyzed body faced with the challenge of getting help in a third world country. It amazes me how much self-evaluation can take place in such a short time. You can read about that experience here. With all of the things going through my mind at the time one thing I didn’t think about was riding a bicycle.
The thought of learning to eat with chopsticks using my left hand and creative ways I was going to have to come up with to control my camera kept my mind occupied as I dragged myself across my apartment floor with one functioning leg and arm.
For the moment my future consisted not of years, but minutes. While lying on the floor I could only wonder what my stroke recovery prognosis would be. What would I be able to do after a stroke? Or more importantly what wouldn’t I be able to do after a stroke?
I spent most of my life working in hospitals as a respiratory therapist. The vast majority of my patients improved and went on to live their lives. Some of them did not. My patients ranged in age from extremely premature newborns to more than one-hundred years old. Whether temporarily sick or dying each person and their families had an impact on me. Some of those moments stay with me to this day.
I learned quickly that each day I woke up put me one day closer to the day I will die. It doesn’t matter how long we last on this earth – we all start with a ticking clock that doesn’t go in reverse. That could be one week, one year or one decade in the future. Being made aware that our lives can change in an instant was something that I dealt with every day I went to work. And I never wanted that knowledge to be wasted.
Two times in my life I fell back on one of my joys in life – bicycling. In 1990 I crossed the United States (Rochester, NY to Seattle) and in 2003 I conquered the east coast from Rochester to Disney World. Each time gave me the freedom to see America in a way that most people don’t have the opportunity to experience. Both times I combined the adventures with fund raising for the children’s hospital where I was working.
When I moved to Cambodia I had no idea how long my stay would last. I was going to make that decision at the point in my life when that decision had to be made. Bicycles are a way of life for the people of Cambodia and coming to Cambodia after ten years in Hawaii I still found the heat stifling. It is hot here. Insert your favorite swear word before ‘hot’. And it is humid as hell. How could, or why would, anyone want to ride a bicycle here? I sweat every time I blink.
I believe three culprits played a hand in my stroke. Hypertension, too much sugar and not enough exercise. My sugar levels have always been okay but my sugar intake needed some adjustment. The inflammation caused by all of the Cokes I drank can’t be underestimated. My exercise in Hawaii may have kept me just barely on the safe side of the life/death line but my safety net was gone. And I paid the price.
Gone are the mountain trails I enjoyed so much. The area of Cambodia I live in is as flat as a pancake. Significant number of land mines limits some of the ability to explore randomly. I knew I had to change my exercise plan from nonexistent to substantial. It looked like bicycling would be my best option. Not a hard pill to swallow for someone that has a lifelong passion for bicycling.
It only took a couple of rides before I knew I was in trouble. One of the biggest obstacles in life that gets in the way of the ‘fun things’ is a job. It can be difficult to get significant time off work to go on a lengthy adventure. We usually accept that fact and when we get a couple weeks off a year we plan our fun around those short lived escapes from reality.
That obstacle doesn’t exist at this point in my life. No plans, no job and the wonderful ability to do what I want. My bicycle rides though the Cambodian countryside convinced me that I had to get out on the road and keep going. How far those thoughts would take me increased the more I thought about it. Cambodia? Easy. Southeast Asia? Better. Asia? Even better.
The more the idea churned in my head I decided why not bicycle around the world? After having a stroke and surviving a stroke what could be better than exercising almost every day? I have ridden a few longer rides since my stroke – up to a thousand miles each – which has only increased my desire for more.
That brings me to today. I am about to embark on a bicycle ride of a lifetime. If I didn’t have that little wakeup call in the form of a stroke who knows if I would have had the motivation to make this choice. It is one of those things that has always been in the back of my mind just waiting to creep out and turn into reality.
Because of my years working in hospitals I have seen my share of people who suffered strokes and I have seem outcomes from the very best to the very worst. Although it is hard not to know how fortunate I am to be one that came out of that experience unscathed I’m not going to sit still and wait for the next stroke. Every once in a while a swift kick in the ass helps put someone on a straighter path when their deviations from common sense and logic necessitate adjustment. Let’s hope it’s not too late for me.
What better way to spend some time as I slowly spin into my official retirement years than to tour around the world on a bicycle. So in a few days I am off to cycle the world. My current plans will take me through 50+ countries and more than fifty thousand miles. Probably a lot more. I will go as long as I am healthy, don’t go broke, and preserve the desire to continue.
An ambition goal to be sure. I can’t deny that I am excited to see how far I can go.
And I might even take a picture or two along the way.