I was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic in 1957, when I was 1½ years old. At the time, the doctors told my parents to expect me to be blind by the time I was 20, develop kidney failure soon after, and die by the age of 30.
In October of 2015, I will turn 60.
Over the past 60 years, I have overcome a lifetime of medical challenges:
Before my pancreas transplant in 1997, I had been an avid cyclist. But after the transplant, it had become next to impossible to continue. Sixteen years later, before my heart surgery, I decided I wanted and needed to start cycling again. I knew I wanted a more comfortable ride, and set my sights on a recumbent trike (a bicycle with three wheels instead of two). In an extremely generous gesture, a close friend surprised me with a gift of just that.
I started riding as soon as the doctor said I could, slowly at first, and building up to longer distances. In the first year of owning it, I put nearly 2,000 miles on the bike, and felt better than I had in many, many years. And since I started riding again in August of 2013 and until the time of this writing in May of 2015, I’ve pedaled nearly 5,000 miles – including while on chemotherapy.
I have fought and lived my life without complaining about any of the medical roadblocks that have appeared in front of me. I found out a long time ago that no matter what you might be going through, there is always something worse. I have always worked, I have been happily married for more than 30 years, and raised a son I couldn’t be more proud of.
When I read that the original Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles was now a certified bike route, I knew immediately I wanted to travel those 2,500 historic miles. I had done a couple of bike tours in the past, and I know the challenges a rider confronts on such a journey.
This ride – which will present almost constant unknowns, and difficult challenges, both physical and psychological – is a perfect analogy of my life, and parallels the medical challenges I have faced.
When I first was struck with the idea of doing this ride – really overcome/borderline obsessed with doing this ride -- I pictured it as a solo journey. When I got up the nerve to bring it up to my wife, Debbie, she was remarkably okay with it. Except for one thing. Someone had to do it with me.
Initially I objected. Sure, I’m damn close to being legally blind and I have all kinds of medical issues that sometimes seem to be in a state of flux. True, I’m a really bad mechanic (not being able to see what I’m allegedly working on doesn’t help), but do these minor issues really matter?
Maybe they do.
The day after we had this discussion I went out to the garage to ride on the rollers that turn my trike into a stationary bike. Except there was a problem with the parking brake on the trike. I started trying to fix it, and between not being able to see what I was doing, the neuropathy in my hands, and me being a hack as a mechanic, it took well over an hour to fix it. Twenty years ago, when my vision was better and the neuropathy wasn’t present, I could have fixed it in under 10 minutes.
Huh, maybe having someone with me is a good idea.
That night I told Debbie she was right, and I was going to ask my friend Jeff to join me.
I’ve known Jeff for 30 years. I met him when we started working together, and a big part of our friendship is that we both love to ride bikes.
Jeff’s retired now but we still talk and ride together regularly. He’s smart, sarcastic, and untrusting in a partially serious, partially doing-it-to-be-funny kind of way. The ratio of those two characteristics ebbs and flows depending on the person or topic.
I asked him and he said he was in!
I think it will be a fun and funny 2,500 miles on the road!