“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

JANUARY 1, 2013 – A PERSONAL JOURNEY

Personal development is a journey that requires an individual to make a change and push beyond one’s “comfort zone” and accept new challenges.

I recently indicated that I would be embarking on a 4,063 mile expedition to bike and walk across the United States along the TransAmerica Trail, or what is often referred to as the TAT! This journey is a life-long dream. Health issues, money, time and a variety of other roadblocks have gotten in the way of making this dream a reality, so I’ve decided the next best thing was to “go virtual”. Mileage totals from workout sessions will be calculated and plotted along the TransAmerica Trail. To keep this travelogue from becoming a blow-by-blow account of my exercise log, I will be writing about local attractions and the scenery along the trail, too.

WHY DO THIS?

First and foremost, I am doing this for me. I am 55 years old and a recent heart attack survivor. In addition to cardiovascular disease, I am also diabetic. I have chronic back pain, hypothyroid disease and high cholesterol. Since heart surgery I have lost 50 pounds and, subsequently, gained back 20 pounds. I am determined to lose the rest of this weight and manage my health. I will ride to the ends of the earth and back if I must. You see, I understand the complications associated with diabetes and the impact any extra weight has on my heart. I am riding for my health and well-being. Perhaps, as an added bonus, I will be able to encourage others, through example, to exercise regularly.

Besides doing this for me, I am also riding in tribute of my dad, who passed away at the age of 45 due to a pulmonary embolism after vein grafting bypass surgery in his legs.

I am traveling across the U.S. in memory of three of my grandparents who died early from cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, I never got to meet them. I am also walking for my grandmother who lived into her mid 70’s. Prior to her death she’d had numerous TIAs and several major strokes.

The excursions and side trips I will partake in along the trail will be for my mom. She passed away five years ago due to diabetic and coronary complications. Despite worsening eye sight due to retinapathy and poor circulation due to heart failure, my mom never let anything get in her way of having a good time. If there was fun to be had, she was first in line. One of my fondest memories is seeing my mom’s packed luggage sitting in her entryway two to three weeks before any outing. She used to always say, “You’ve got to live a little.” She will always be my number one inspiration to carry on, even when the going gets tough!

I am riding for my brother’s wife who died unexpectedly at the age of 48, due to mitral valve prolapse. I recently learned the percentage of fatalities from mitral valve prolapse is only about 3 percent. Being thin, eating well and exercising regularly doesn’t necessarily mean your heart is healthy. Unfortunately, outward appearances don’t necessarily speak truthfully about what is happening inside our bodies. Sometimes there are simply no warning signs.

I am traveling across the U.S. for my sister’s first husband, Jason, who was exposed to chemicals from a crop duster while he was plowing his fields. These chemicals damaged his lungs and, eventually, his heart. Jason passed away at the age of 34 after an unsuccessful heart and lung transplant. Jason’s life journey was cut way too short. Jason was a 6’5″ dairy farmer and the corn he grew was some of the tallest I believe I have ever seen! My sister has a photo of him reaching high above his head trying to touch the tassels. Jason never gave up and farmed until the day before his transplant surgery. His circulation was so bad, due to his weakened heart, he literally fell from his tractor after a day’s work because he was unable to feel the ground beneath him. I plan on planting a few “seeds” of personal growth, vitality, tenacity and strength along the way in Jason’s memory.

As you can see, I have experienced the emotional heartache and the ravaging physical effects heart disease and diabetes have had on my family and my extended family. I want to break the cycle. I hope to encourage others to exercise regularly to prevent heart disease and diabetes so they will be around for their family.

TRAVELING WITH ME

I will be joined by my sister, Cheryl, age 59, who will be jogging and walking the trail. Cheryl ran her first 5K this past fall and took third in the 40-60 year-old division. Rock on, sis! Cheryl is thin, eats well and looks to be the picture of health, but she is on cholesterol medication, high blood pressure medications and is pre-diabetic. It’s genetic…what can I say!

My husband Ron, age 59, is tagging along and he will be biking and walking and giving Cheryl and I a hard time during the trip. He loves to tease and I am sure we will be the brunt of at least a few jokes and one-liners. By traveling with us he will be aiming at fending off the inevitable knee replacement and controlling his diabetes.

I will be walking, using a recumbent exercise bike, and riding my recumbent trike outdoors as the weather permits.

Each of us will be using different modes of exercise and will most likely find ourselves at different points along the route. That’s okay. I figure if we can experience the scenery and the local flavor virtually, we can also virtually transport ourselves to whatever location we want to meet for lunch, shopping, sight-seeing and simply enjoying each other’s company before returning to the path. Besides, if Mom were here, she would say “It sounds like a plan!”

A BIT ABOUT THE TRAIL
The TransAmerica Trail was established for Adventure Cycling’s celebration of the U.S. bicentennial in 1976. At that time, the organization was called Bikecentennial, a name many old-timers still associate with the TransAm Trail. This is still the greatest and most used route crossing America. This classic trail offers everything you would expect from a transcontinental crossing. Along the way we will be encountering a variety of scenery and terrain, including ocean coastline, lush forests, high desert, mountain passes, snow-capped peaks, sweeping vistas, expansive plains, fertile farmlands, rolling hills, and wide rivers.

The first leg of the TransAmerica Trail begins in Yorktown, Virginia, which many would call the birthplace of our nation. In 1781, the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War took place in Yorktown. The American forces, led by George Washington, defeated the British troops under Lord Cornwallis which eventually led to our country’s independence.

The trailhead begins at the base of the Victory monument which sits atop a hill overlooking the city’s waterfront. The monument is located in the Colonial National Historic Park in Yorktown. Installed in 1884, the monument commemorates the U.S. victory in the American Revolutionary War against the British. Personally, I couldn’t think of a better place to begin a journey across the U.S. than by a monument celebrating victory. You see, I figure I have already won by being a heart attack survivor. Of course, heart disease and diabetes isn’t cured when it’s diagnosed and discovered. Living with heart disease and diabetes requires constant vigilance and an understanding that a life-long commitment must be made to prevent or postpone additional medical complications. And so, the journey begins….

01/01-01/05 cycling: 20.4 walking: 4.6 total: 25.4 miles

Day 1 – Ron and I head to the local gym and put in an hour work out. I log 7.1 miles. After almost a year and a half of exercise, I would think this would become easier. It just hasn’t happened. My initial goal was to do five miles a day and I am proud to have reached it today. I am tired.

January 8, 2013 – I am in the Phase III program at my local hospital’s cardiac rehab facility. Phase III is an exercise and health maintenance program for heart patients. It’s been a week and I decide to casually mention my trip across the U.S. to a couple of people at cardiac rehab. I receive encouraging words from some and sarcastic humor from others – i.e. “have you made it out of Michigan yet?” Still others seem to think the idea is a bit silly. No one says what’s on their mind but the sardonic smiles speak volumes. That’s OK, it’s my dream and I don’t need anyone’s approval. This trip is important to me and that is all that really matters. If I can promote and encourage others to exercise and engage in heart-healthy behaviors, I will have done what I have set out to do. If I can prevent one family from losing a loved one at an early age, I will have succeeded. Continue on I will!

01/06-01/12 cycling: 24.0 walking: 6.8 total: 30.8 miles

01/13-01/19 cycling: 24.8 walking: 5.0 total: 29.8 miles

I am plugging along – Virginia sure is LONG, especially when the trail is not a direct east to west path across the state! I feel like I’m not moving at all.

01/20-01/26 cycling: 39.0 walking: 3.5 total: 42.5 miles
I am trying to extend my weekly miles – my goal is 50 miles a week.

01/22 – My sister calls to tell me my brother, Mark, hasn’t been feeling well and has been hospitalized. He passed out in the shower and has been feeling nauseated, weak and dizzy since the beginning of the month. The hospital kept him overnight for observation. He was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer, acid reflux and an esophageal ulcer. He was sent home after spending the night in the hallway because “there were no rooms at the inn.” Seems the hospital was more concerned about getting rid of the overflow in the hallways than making sure they were thorough. My brother tells me he was taking a bunch of aspirin to deal with chest, neck and shoulder pain for the last month. I asked him whether they did a stress test while he was hospitalized and he said “no, but they did an EKG and it was fine”. He nonchalantly mentioned that his doctor scheduled a stress test mid-February at his office. Concerned and insistent, I tell him to go back to ER, tell them the chest pain is no better and demand a stress test. Under no circumstances do I want him to wait three weeks for a stress test!

01/24 – My brother’s sister-in-law, Jackie, gets my brother in early for a stress test at St. John’s Hospital in Detroit. She is a nurse in the cardiac cath lab at St. John’s hospital in Detroit. I find out later in the day that he failed the stress test miserably and they immediately hospitalize him for a cardiac cath on Friday. This can’t be happening! Not another family member!

01/25 – My niece, Allison, calls to tell me the doctors found blockage in three of my brother’s main arteries. His left main artery is one percent away from getting abruptly and completely occluded and two of his other arteries are blocked 98 percent and 97 percent. Had total blockage of the left main artery occurred, it would have caused a massive heart attack that most likely would have led to sudden death. I learn that both carotid arteries have cholesterol build up as well, but Mark’s current heart condition needs immediate attention. A triple bypass is scheduled for Saturday morning.

My niece is very upset. She and her sister, Lauren, just lost their mom a few years ago due to mitral valve prolapse and now she is afraid of losing her dad, too. I am on my way to Detroit to be with my nieces. Lauren is flying home from California this afternoon. The drive to Detroit is horrible! It is raining and sleeting and my windshield washer hose on the driver’s side is plugged. I can’t see, my back is killing me and I just want to get there.

I finally arrive and everyone is visibly shaken. Having been there and done that, I try to offer reassurance. My brother is asking me what it is going to be like – how’s the pain? What can I say? He has never had surgery so he has no idea what to expect. I don’t want to paint a picture that might be different from what he might experience, so I tell him everyone experiences pain differently but, whatever he feels, it will be doable. The staff will help with his pain management and it will get better. Nothing lasts forever.

01/26 – It’s the day of surgery. Allison, Lauren and I are heading to the hospital. It’s 4 a.m. and surgery is scheduled for 6 a.m. We arrive in Mark’s room and we are only there five minutes before we are asked to leave while they prep him for surgery. We are invited back in before he is taken for surgery and everyone hugs, and exchanges well-wishes and “I love you’s”. Now for the long and anxious wait in the surgical lounge. Ugh!

Sitting is hard for me, so I pace the hospital’s long hallway between the surgical lounge and I.C.U while waiting. I am not sure how many miles I walk, probably at least two, but I record one mile of exercise for today. Finally, the nurse comes to tell us he is in recovery and we can see him. Oh, my God, there are tubes and life support machines everywhere! It’s a bit overwhelming and frightening and then I look over at my nieces’ faces and see the fear in their eyes. Trying to calm myself, I watch his chest rise and fall and I smile. I hold his hand and I immediately think about how I used to shag fly balls for him and his buddies when I was a kid. We played baseball together for hours. I was the ultimate tomboy. I was always so happy when he asked me to come along. I would trudge through quicksand for the sheer joy of catching the fly that was deemed by everyone as being uncatchable.

Many years later, at Mark’s wedding, he wanted me to head out to the parking lot to pitch him some fast balls so he could show off his sister’s arm to his buddies. I was 20-something, all dressed up and wanting someone to ask me to dance, not play ball. I was mortified. What I failed to see that day was how proud he was of me. My thoughts return to the hospital room and the reality of the here and now. I speak softly to my brother, “It’s the first inning and you are up 1-0. Way to go, bro’. I am so proud of you!”

01/27-02/02 cycling: 19.0, walking: 3.5 total: 22.5 miles

01/27 – Mark is finally off the ventilator and breathing on his own. He is anxious, breathing rapidly, moaning and he tells us he is “very emotional” and he doesn’t want to see my sister or me. He looks distressed and panicky. Later we find out it was the pain medicine doing the talking. Mark told me a week later that he thought he had to go back in for more surgery and he didn’t want to see us.

I head home late in the afternoon once I know Mark is stable. No exercise today, I am whipped! The weekend has been emotionally exhausting but the good news is my brother has made it through open-heart surgery. He has been given another chance at life and that is quite a gift! I think I may have found another exercise partner…

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Be sure to check with your physician to insure you are physically fit before starting an exercise program.