This bike tour, far more than any other that I have done, has left me with after effects that I truly wish I could hold onto.
The Physical Afterglow
Despite eating and drinking an appalling amount of unhealthy things, I managed to lose weight just about everywhere except my legs. The upper body muscle weight that I gained from lifting weights all winter is gone. My belly, although still very much in evidence, is smaller too. Mrs. Rootchopper said that the roll of fat around my waist in the back is gone. I can tell because my pants fall off.
Of course, the upside to this physical change is my body is much, much more efficient on a bike. My pedaling goes more round and round than up and down. I am a few miles per hour faster, which is not surprising, I suppose. I can stand when I climb, something that normally tires me out, and find an extra gear in the process. I noticed near the end of the tour that walking up stairs or up a hill was a snap.
I stopped doing my daily stretching and physical therapy routines for the first time in ages during the tour. It was a complete shock to me that I was much more flexible in my tent than I have ever been.
One thing that didn’t change, and may have been worse than before, is the cramping in my legs and feet. When I was putting my sandals on in the tent, I’d have cramps in my feet. My feet felt like they were curling up, kind of like the Dr. Pepper dude in An American Werewolf in London. Sometimes when putting on shorts in my tent, I’d get a hamstring cramp.One night when my calf was swollen, I had a humongous, painful cramp in my calf muscle in the middle of the night. Ayeee! Then there was the infamous hamstring cramp in Astoria that caused me to fall off my bar stool.
I could do without the cramps but the rest of these physical changes are quite welcome. I held onto my weight loss from my Key West tour for a couple of months, until pulmonary embolisms parked me on the couch with junk food for solace. It would be great to hold onto these changes well into September so that the 50 States Ride is relatively easy. (Doing it last year with blood clots in my lungs set a low bar for “easy.”)
The Mental Afterglow
After the Key West tour, I was totally mellowed out (except for my bruised rib). This feeling went far beyond mere satisfaction from completing an arduous task over a month’s time. After this year’s tour, I had the same mental afterglow but it was much stronger and more long lasting.
I have no idea what the endocrinology or neurology of this phenomenon is. I recall reading an article about a writer who microdosed on LSD daily for a period of time. (Basically, until her supply ran dry.) She just felt happy all day long. And much more productive. I can’t say I’ve been particularly productive, but the happy part sure fits like a glove. A friend of mine once did ayahuasca and described a profound experience that she “still need[ed] to process.” I feel that same need to process this post-tour mental afterglow.
I talked about my tour with Joe, a reader in DC, at a protest I attended last week. He says he had the same thing after his tour and, to this day, he feels changed in a way that he can’t describe. Andrea, my friend from Friday Coffee Club, said something similar last Friday. She did a tour very similar to mine a few years ago.
It’s a subtle feeling. It’s similar to the feeling I get immediately after I meditate. (Ironically, I stopped my meditation practice during the tour because it was obviously superfluous.) Maybe it’s caused by a boat load of endorphins or serotonin floating around in my head. I wonder if it made me less introverted during the tour, talking with my Warmshowers hosts or the people in the park in Wenona IL or Martin or Maria and the plant nerds. I definitely noticed it when talking to Julie in the bar the last night in Astoria. I felt like I was talking to someone I had known all my life.
Regardless of the introversion angle, I feel very different. And, just like last fall, the feeling is fading.
Can I hold on?
In the interest of holding on to the physical and mental afterglow, I decided to go for a long bike ride today. The humidity was oppressive and, as the day wore on, so was the temperature. I managed to ride my Crosscheck 92 hilly miles to Poolesville MD and back.
After the ride, I was totally zonked physically. I think riding fast on an unloaded bike brings about a higher level of muscle fatigue that riding a loaded touring bike slowly. Mentally, however, I felt the same afterglow, albeit in muted form. Then I fell asleep. And the Sandman took it away.