The Year I Became an Old Man - "Vibes" - CycleBlaze

From "Vibes"

By Jeff Lee

The Year I Became an Old Man

Warning: The following contains the boring health complaints of an aging male bicyclist. I recommend skipping it.

Last year (2023) started off great for me. I was still in good shape from my 24-day tour in September and October of 2022, one of the most enjoyable bike trips I'd done in years, and I was able to summon the motivation to ride 500+ miles (all outside - I abandoned "riding" on a bike trainer years ago) in January. I felt pretty good about this, since the January weather here in Western Kentucky is cold, wet, dreary, and windy most days.

I was even able to do a double metric century on the 28th:

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A few days later, though, I caught COVID, for the first - and so far, only - time. The only symptom I had was fatigue, but it was the worst, most debilitating fatigue I've ever experienced. I tested positive every day for the next three weeks. I didn't leave the house, staying isolated and away from my wife, who, fortunately, never caught it.

When I finally tested negative, I ventured outside to walk for a few minutes, and found that my fitness level had plummeted drastically.

I eventually felt like riding the bike again, but I was now shockingly slower. 

By June I thought I felt well enough to try another tour. I rode out of my driveway and headed to Arkansas. Although there were some enjoyable moments on this tour, I was never able to get in the right mindset - mostly because I was anxious about work-related matters - and quit after only seven days.

Back home I did some day rides, but without much enthusiasm. I was still plagued with fatigue. Once, on a visit to my old hometown, I attempted a small group ride with some old cycling friends but I was unceremoniously dropped by them. I decided that was probably the end of fast(ish) group rides for me, something which - I rationalized - I'd never really enjoyed much anyway.

By mid-September I'd had a nagging cold for weeks, but I still wanted to do some sort of semi-ambitious bike tour, so that 2023 wouldn't feel like a complete waste. I did my usual minimal planning, and then headed out on the morning of the 15th.

My original plan was to cross the Ohio River into Indiana at Hawesville, but I never made it. About fifty miles into the ride, coughing, wheezing, and wobbling as I slowly rode up very minor hills, I realized I was in no condition to do a bike tour. I eventually reached a county park, where I lay on a picnic table and called Joy to come get me. Surely this was my most ignominious end to an attempted bike tour ever.

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After that, I saw my doctor, who told me I likely had "atypical pneumonia." In a week or so I started to feel a little better, and was able to do some short day rides.

But not longer after that I herniated a disc in my lower back, which was the most excruciatingly painful experience of my life so far, even including the time I had kidney stones.

The herniated disc failed to heal on its own, so I underwent a discectomy on November 14th.

I had a long list of things I was not allowed to do for three months after the surgery, bicycling most definitely included. These months were a difficult time, with some very low points when I continued to have occasional twinges of pain, and feared that the surgery hadn't worked. I determined during this period that if I recovered, I would do a significant bike tour in 2024. I hadn't done a coast-to-coast tour since 2008. I wasn't sure if still had the physical and mental stamina to do such a thing, but I decided that was my goal.

By mid-February the surgery appeared to be a success, and I was riding again, albeit very slowly after three months off the bike.

As I write this, on March 10, 2024, I've done several short rides, and two 100-mile rides on my light, unloaded road bike. I was very slow each time, but I appear to be regaining some stamina.

So maybe I can do a big tour in three months or so.

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Comment on this entry Comment 11
Bill ShaneyfeltAt age 78, and seemingly constant new health issues, I can well relate!

All I can say is, --->NEVER QUIT
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4 months ago
Karen PoretJeff.. THANK YOU for your honest “health” comments! I am “only” 12 days after a lumpectomy and am really upset I feel and can move “fine”, except it is “too soon” to resume “normal activities”, as in biking, hiking, exercising in MY ways..yet. Your 3 + months gives me pause..I will get there..and by mid May, I will be like you—on a bicycle, touring!
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4 months ago
Jeff LeeTo Karen PoretHi Karen,

Good luck with your recovery! I think it's especially hard for active people like us to have to follow "doctor's orders" after a surgery or other significant medical treatment.

Jeff
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4 months ago
Jeff LeeTo Bill ShaneyfeltThanks, Bill! I will try to take your advice. And I hope to take some photos of flora and fauna for you to identify during the tour ;)
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4 months ago
Gregory GarceauI never thought the day would come, but I became an old man last year too. I reached the age where my health insurance company told me I had to start using Medicare for my primary health care provider.

I've had a few setbacks in the past and overcame them. I'm confident you are young enough to overcome them, and with a cross-country tour in the works, I think YOU are confident that you can overcome them too.
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4 months ago
George HallThanks for being honest and discussing your health challenges. Nobody can truly know what another person has had to deal with, but still I suspect that many of us in the "not so young and strong anymore" category can relate to your health issues. I developed a herniated disc in late 2021 - you described it very well - it took close to a year to get over it without surgery and it still occasionally reminds me of it's presence. You are young and strong and I know from experience that you will recover from these afflictions and roll on to more great cycling adventures. I'll be following along on your upcoming adventure.
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4 months ago
Jeff LeeTo Gregory GarceauThanks, Greg. I guess I became an old man prematurely, because it will be a while before I can actually qualify for Medicare... But it's not *too* far in the distant future :(
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4 months ago
Jeff LeeTo George HallThanks, George! I feel a little sheepish writing about last year's maladies, when things could have been a lot worse, of course.

I've enjoyed reading about your recent tours, and hope you can do another one in 2024.
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4 months ago
John PickettHi Jeff
Herniated disc? Been there, done that. Unbelievably painful. Couldn't stand for ten seconds without blinding pain. My discectomy worked wonders. I hope you have the same experience. (Ten years with absolutely no back issues whatsoever.)

Now it's 30 years on and I have lumbar spinal stenosis. I've had it for at least eight years. In that time I've ridden about 80,000 miles including over 10,000 miles of loaded touring.

At 68 I have all kinds of other aches and pains but I'm going to start a tour from DC to Tulsa on Monday. Knock wood.

Good luck.
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2 months ago
Jeff LeeTo John PickettThanks, John. It's been six months since my discectomy, and so far so good.

I'm looking forward to reading about your tour. Any chance you'll be coming through my area of Kentucky?
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2 months ago
Mark BinghamSorry, pal, I think you lost your "old man" cred on May 19th after your SEVENTH 100-mile ride of the year. :-)
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1 month ago