Cycling with Post Concussion Syndrome

Good Morning all, I hope you are well rested and ready for a beautiful Sunday. I have recently finished my fundraising challenge of walking 1000 miles in 100 days, at 700 miles I changed to cycling. I am finally feeling well rested. I completed it on Thursday and that evening I felt all 1000 miles hit me in one go, it was an intense tiredness.
The challenge was to raise money for a rape crisis centre in Oxford. Donations are still open so if you would like to sponsor me I will leave a link at the bottom.
Today I want to tell you about my journey with the cycling. Bike touring, as I have mentioned in a previous post, is one of the golden means of travel. Your carbon footprint is minimal, making it a super sustainable way to get from A to B.
It’s sustainability factor makes it a type of travel I really want to take up. However those of you who know me well, will know that in 2017 I acquired mild head injury, one that developed into Post Concussion Syndrome. PCS has affected my ability to do many things, one major thing is cycling. This was actually my first time really getting back on my bike since 2017, making 300 miles no easy feat.
So, brew yourself a cuppa, get comfortable and I will try and take you on my journey.

What is Post Concussion Syndrome?

Well, if I had a nickel for every time I explained this to some one.. To put it simply (most things have to be put simply with me), PCS is where you acquire a concussion but the symptoms don’t go away.

It generally lasts 3-6 months but can last years or, the part that scared me, for life. Symptoms typically include dizziness, migraines, sensitivity to light and noise, vision problems and memory loss. It can lead to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and some people find themselves to be more prone to emotional outbursts.

How has it affected me?

My symptoms were at their worst for the first six months. I dealt with everything I mentioned above.. it was lots of fun. Luckily, I did start to see progress in recovery. I found that I had to relearn a lot of things. I still remember how proud I was the first time I completed a Sudoku puzzle. I built up my ability to walk again, starting with just walking down the street, going further each time.

Three years later, I am still building up an ability to read books again. I can concentrate for as long as three pages but then the words blend together and my head starts to complain. Cycling, is something I nearly gave up on.

There was one day, 6 months after the injury, where I was cycling to work but half way there my vision was too wobbly and everything around me started spinning. I was on a road and I immediately had to pull over onto the pavement. It felt like I had just hopped of that Sticky Wall ride at the fair. I locked my bike up where I was and walked the rest of the way.

I had only cycled a few times since then, probably 4 at most and each of those times I was completely wiped out after the short distances. It was terrifying.

Why try and cycle 300 miles then?

Well, I tend not to think too much before making most of my decisions..

My walking was really affecting my energy levels. I was completely fatigued and because it took so much time to do each walk I wasn’t having any recovery time. I figured cycling would be shorter bursts of more energy giving me more time to recover.

Before my injury I was a fairly confident cyclist. In no way a pro, but I could steer a bike and that seemed to do the job. I knew that cycling would be like walking, in that I just had to relearn the skill and build up the ability again. It was like that, just a slightly more dangerous process.

How did cycling again feel?

Imagine learning to sail whilst there’s a crazy storm thrashing you about. You get dizzy, sometimes nauseous. You aren’t really in control of which direction you take. You can’t see that well because everything is moving so darn fast. The odds are not in your favour. However, on occasion, you manage to ride those waves and it is the most incredible adrenaline. Then when you get off the boat/bike you have jelly legs and get that feeling like you’re still aboard.

That is what it feels like for me when I am in a dizzy spell. I sometimes jokingly say, you can’t fight the dizziness, you have to ride it. Just watch out for those pesky cars.

Overcoming the symptoms

Although I still experience those things on my rides, I was beginning to last for longer distances. My longest ride was 44 miles and although there were some spine chilling moments towards the end, including wobbly vision and idiotic drivers, it was still a beautiful experience.

I don’t think that anyone will understand how appreciative I was of my ability to cycle like that again, unless they have experienced a similar injury.

My confidence was growing more with each day. I was on the roads with ease, gliding happily in front of cars. Going one handed around corners. Admiring the view without my balance being thrown out. It was truely beautiful. I was, I am so thankful. So, so thankful. Never take any of your abilities for granted.

Some of the beautiful moments, I hope I never forget

On my second to last day I was cycling to the Chiltern Hills. I went past Wittenham Clumps, which are two ancient and sacred hills in the countryside of Oxfordshire.

The mid morning sun was beaming down on me as I was pushing up a steep hill that went alongside the clumps. Once I reached the top, a red kite met me. With view of the chalk hills on one side and Oxfordshire on the other, I stopped pedalling and let the wheels carry me down the hill.

This red kite decided to join me. All the way down it flew right by my side. I was in awe. My eyes were shooting between the view of Oxfordshire in the morning sun and the sight of this, magnificent, bird of prey on my shoulder and the shadow it cast in front of my bike. It was one of those moments that you wish would go on forever.

On the same day, I arrived into the Chilterns, known as ‘an area of Outstanding Beauty’. I can definitely vouch for them in that. Sadly, quite often when cycling, outstanding beauty will come with a cost. It is most likely going to include some steep up hills.

The Chilterns
An area of outstanding beauty

My legs are not yet accustomed to cycling up these hills and my bike is definitely not designed for them, this stretch of my ride was definitely a sweaty one.

I am so thankful I did it though because the roads were smooth and quiet and the views were remarkable. I even enjoyed the full body work out. There were some parts that I physically couldn’t ride up. I had to jump off my bike and, before it rolled down the hill, push it up with all the muscles in my body. I pushed so hard, I felt it in my whole core. I loved it.

I hope I never forget that ride, I was so proud for pushing through even though I was definitely not in shape for it.

This Girl Can

The final memories that I will keep are the times when I was joined by my wonderful family. On one day with my older sister, we cycled 43 miles to a town called Witney. It was actually quite a terrible route, it turned out to be a 10 mile stretch along an A road. The pollution and noise from the road was horrific. Despite that, it felt like a fantastic adventure and I was so grateful to have it with my older sister.

We stopped in Witney, sat on a bench and enjoyed a picnic together, regretting our poor choice in cycle routes. At least we can laugh about it now.

The final day of my challenge I was joined by a group of my loved ones. My Dad, younger brother and sister, two cousins and my uncle. We cycled 44 miles through the countryside. Stopping in multiple times to enjoy feasts of sandwiches, strawberries, dark chocolate and nuts.

We had the typical British pub stop at The Trout on Tadpole Bridge, a place I would definitely recommend for anyone who is after a scenic beer garden. We got caught in the rain and the sun and enjoyed nearly every minute, especially the downhills.

Tadpole Bridge, Oxfordshire
The Trout at Tadpole Bridge

I was so impressed with my younger brother, aged 10, who is an avid cyclist and raced ahead setting the pace nearly the whole way without showing any sign of tiredness.

Not tired at all

There were some stunning moments in the countryside, when the roads belonged to us. Not a vehicle was in sight and we were all zooming down the hills surrounded by the tranquil beauty of the Thames Valley, cheering and beaming with joy.

At the end, when I reached my 1000 Miles they all cheered for me, we exchanged high fives and I felt all the love that was in the air.

Thank you for reading!

I’m glad I could finish on a happy note. Whilst I wanted to talk about the challenges I faced learning to cycle again, I didn’t want the difficulties to be the theme of this post. Like I said before, I am so grateful to have been able to do this and I want that to show.

I am so excited to have built up my cycling abilities so bike packing is finally looking like a real possibility in the future. Stay tuned to hear all about that journey. Let me know in the comments if you are a bike packer, I would love to hear some of your stories.

Don’t forget to subscribe with the form below so you can be notified when I post.

If you have arrived here because you suffer from PCS, I hope this gave you a glimpse of beautiful things that still lay ahead. Remember that everyone suffers differently so my experiences cycling may not be yours.
I remember in the early days of my PCS I was desperately searching online to get a better understanding of what had happened to me, doctors were utterly useless with helping in that aspect. So.. if you do want to talk to some one that has experienced it, do feel free to contact me and we can chat.
If you would like to hear more about my experiences travelling with PCS let me know in the comments.

Have a fantastic week everyone! See you next Sunday.
Elle

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1000 miles in 100 days! Sponser me here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/1000milesin100


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