Friday, August 13, 2010
Alzheimer's Breakthrough Ride Journal: Segment 7, Day 1
Call me Captain Blowout-- Kyle does. Seriously, I can't believe that two flat tires is any sort of record or anything. Even for the Albuquerque-to-Amarillo leg that I will be riding singlehandedly (but, for the most part, doublewheeledly). So, I would prefer to be known by the name my parents gave me: Steve Barger. I'm a researcher at the Reynold Institute on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Yes, Arkansas does indeed have a med school, believe it or not. And internal combustion engines. So riding a bicycle is a choice for me.
Riding a bicycle on this trip has turned out to be a very GOOD choice already! Among other things, the weather has been delightful! I remember when I first communicated with Bruce Lamb about participating. Because the planned route did not pass through my home state, I told him I'd be willing to ride any leg of the journey. He said that there was a paucity of riders signing up for the desert states, "understandably." I told him I would jump at the chance to get out of Arkansas's heat and humidity! One at a time is fair fight-- divide and conquer, right? But together, the ol' H-n-H is a brutal combination. It's funny to me that so many people have a fear of the weather in the desert southwest. When I told the folks back home what I was doing, the response was almost invariably, "Goodness-- New Mexico? In AUGUST? Won't that be HOT?!" They continued to say this during the week preceding my departure while Arkansas was suffering repeated days that exceeded 105 degrees F! With 80-90% humidity! For those of you who haven't experienced this particular form of anguish, it may surprise you to learn that it's easier to dehydrate in such a clime. In such humidity, perspiration doesn't evaporate. It just soaks your clothes and pours down on your bike components to corrode them like acid rain. And because it's not cooling you, your body responds in the only way it can: sweating MORE! It's not uncommon for me to finish a ride 8 lbs. lighter than I started. This after drinking almost 8 lbs. of liquids during the trip! The biggest nuisance about riding through The Land of Enchantment that I've encountered is that I have to stop for bathroom breaks. It's hard to adjust to the fact that I have so much spare liquid that it can be simply cast off as waste. So, 300 some-odd miles from Albuquerque to Amarillo...? Quite the luxury.
Bruce was at the hotel in Albuquerque this morning, along with the other riders from the preceding leg, to see me off. What with my briefing on road rules and the route by Melanie and Kyle, the company made for quite a gregarious breakfast to a guy who's accustomed to morning conversation that rarely gets beyond "snap, crackle, and pop." There was even a bleary-eyed appearance by Evan, who had the day off but nevertheless got up early out of homage to the passing of the torch. (Or the BRAIN, rather. One rider on each leg is carring a little foam brain talisman zip-tied to his/her handlebar stem. Just wouldn't be a relay without that, ya know.) It was fun to hear my predecessors tell stories from the road embellished with metaphors from the lab-- this is indeed quite a unique event. Melanie wondered aloud whether cyclists are over-represented among researchers. Conventional wisdom says that scientists are geeks, not jocks, right? Tell that to Bill Van Nostrand, Ironman triathlete and (I'm told) a top finisher in a recent open-water ocean swim off of Long Island. Bill's so hardcore that he requested that his 4-day Breakthrough leg from Amarillo to Abilene be shortened to 3 days so that he could "get a good workout"! Maybe he'll get lucky and have a 15-20 mph headwind too. I had such joy for much of today. That, combined with the 1000-ft climb to traverse the Sandia range and the inevitable delays of urban riding, made the first 15 miles out of Albuquerque a bit sluggish. But I managed to catch up with another cyclist who was out for a morning ride. When I told him about the purpose of my trip, he replied that his mother is currently suffering from Alzheimer's. We rode along together for four or five miles, talking about the progression of the disease, risk factors, and the state of current research. It was gratifying to have, so early in my leg, a personal demonstration of how our mission could affect the lives of others.
I can't close this entry without expressing my thanks to everyone involved: to Bruce for having the idea, to the Alzheimer's Association for committing to it, to the other riders for their dedication both in their labs and on their bikes, AND... to our wonderful support crew! Eric was very helpful and informative on the eve of my embarkment. And along with the nice weather, Melanie and Kyle have made the miles on the road some of the most enjoyable I've had in a long time. They are always quick with an uplifting joke for the weary, a tire pump for the flat-prone, and water-- even for a guy who thinks he needs none. (ESPECIALLY, for that guy!)
-Steven Barger, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Departments of Geriatrics, Neurobiology & Developmental Sciences, and Internal Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock. He is also a Research Health Scientist in the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.