Jonny Volk is volunteer EMT-B for the Rescue Riders (http://www.rescueriders.org/) and an MSF Ridercoach for Motorcycle Riding's Cool (http://www.motorcyclelearning.com) in downtown Chicago. This article deals with a very valuable lesson in staying hydrated, even in COLD weather!
Lessons learned from an EMT
When I got on my first motorcycle 7 years ago at age 35, the one thing I knew for certain was that I would have a hard time getting off of it. For whatever reason, some primal urge instinctively kicked in and all I wanted to do was ride, ride and ride some more.
As a result, I knew that someday, somehow, IBA Membership was my destiny. Having a few 800-1000 mile days under my belt already, I decided it was time to make it official. The timing with the BMW Rally in Redmond Oregon provided a particularly irresistible opportunity to do so. I was fairly confident that I knew what to expect based on my, um, "experience". With a brief run through of the words of wisdom provided by my fellow IBA members, I decided to head to my start point in Miles City, Montana from Yellowstone, taking in Beartooth Pass along the way.
Combining what I learned with my training as an EMT-B as well as that of an MSF Rider Coach, my confidence in my ability to handle my very first official SaddleSore 1000 was high. After all, things like not overriding my headlight, turning my head, stretching to avoid clots, taking frequent rest stops and recognizing the symptoms of hypo/hyperthermia, heatstroke and dehydration would be second nature to me, right? In retrospect I can safely say my confidence was a bit misplaced.
The ride started out on a chilly note, with the temps in the 50's. Although I was wearing nothing but my vented jacket (an Olympia Bushwacker) and a long sleeved tee, I knew it would warm up, being the middle of July, right?
Wrong. By 10 am, the temperature had barely risen and if anything, it may have dropped due to the altitude, which I did not take into account. In fact, rather than layer up, I found it easier just to throw on my Gerbings and use a low heat setting. I don't think I turned them off at all for much more than a half hour around 4pm, other than that they were on the whole time, nearly at 100%. Having ridden in 10 degree weather, the fact that I needed to keep my Gerbings on, let alone turned up, in 50 degree weather should have told me something.
My next mistake occurred shortly after the 700 mile mark of the Redmond 1000 from Miles City to Redmond, Oregon. I remember it like it was 5 minutes ago; I was seated on the bike with one eye on the clock and the other on a relatively unremarkable sunset, wary about spending an extra 3-5 minutes refilling my Camelbak® which had dried up about a hundred miles earlier. At that point, I was definitely thirsty but by the time I reached this particular stop, my thirst was gone. Plus, the gas station was part of a little diner that, for some unfathomable reason, my brain deemed a little shady (it wasn't) and perhaps would best be avoided.
I pulled in to the MOA Rally somewhere around 11:15 pm local time, wrapping up my SaddleSore about 17 hours after I began, almost totally wired, but not even remotely thirsty. After all, it was 35 degrees out, so it's not like I needed to worry about water anymore, especially because my ride was over, right?
After a brief problem in trying to gain entry that late at night and finding the proper place to camp, I soon realized that the 50 degree sleeping bag was not going to cut it in 35 degree weather. I decided to ride to the Wal-Mart I had just passed on the way in and pick up the needed gear; it was only a few miles back. Plus, if I was going to be in any shape to teach an ERC (Experienced Rider Course) the next day, getting some sleep was far higher on the list of priorities than getting hydrated. Besides, I wasn't even thirsty.
About 5 hours later, I awoke in time to get to my ERC class, but not without forgetting my Camelbak®. That's OK, they had some bottled water there I could chug between exercises, though it wasn't even until halfway through that I finally began to get thirsty.
How many rookie mistakes have you caught so far? Ok, so I'm focusing more on the 5-6 things I did wrong rather than all the things I did right, but the reason I'm sitting here in the Redmond airport, NOT riding my bike home is as follows.......
That night, after relocating my camp to the proper location, as I was beginning to get organized, I got the MOTHER of all leg cramps. I did all the standard stuff...stretching massaging but nothing helped. I figured I might be dehydrated, so I also began guzzling what water I had on my way over to the medical aid station (where I was volunteering not 2 hours before), but in fact I never made it. Out of nowhere, the pain became so intense there was absolutely no way I could bear any weight, let alone "walk it off." Fortunately, I was within eye & earshot of the medical leads so they brought a golf cart over to me and brought me back to the aid station. I drank 100 oz of water in about 15 minutes, and just kept trying to relax and massage it away. Although it didn't get any worse, it didn't get any better so we called the Paramedics.
The paramedics arrived and, being an EMT-B (meaning I have about 10% of the training they do), I told them how embarrassed I was to call them for a cramp, but they went ahead and started an IV in the hopes that the more direct route of hydration would fix the problem. Nearly an hour and a bag and a half of fluids later, the pain would not subside so it was time to go to the ER to rule out a blood clot.
Fortunately, the ultrasound confirmed that there was no blood clot, but a CT scan revealed a large hematoma, 11x5 cm in size, partially caused by a condition known as rhabdomyolysis, which the doctors told me they almost always see in elderly patients. Thus, an orthopedic surgeon was called in for a consult on the diagnosis and whether or not to drain it surgically.
Although the surgeon said that surgery was not necessary and that I was cleared to ride my bike the 2,200 miles home on the condition I didn't take any opiate based pain killers, I ultimately decided that it would be best if I found some alternate way to ship my bike and self home. The rhabdomyolysis turned out to be mild at worst, but I can tell you there's a really sexy bruise along my leg where I had the cramp. This will undoubtedly keep me in long pants for the remainder of Chicago's short summer and on my way to a doctor's office as soon as I'm home.
So what did I learn from this that I'd like to pass on?
1. Know thy enemy; medically speaking, the moment you feel thirsty, you are already in the early stages of dehydration.
a. Do not ignore your thirst. It's your body's way of politely saying "I need water now"
b. If your thirst subsides before you rehydrate, that's your body's way of saying, "Never mind, I'll find it myself." That means taking it from less vital systems and moving to more vital systems...without your permission!
2. Change your thinking about dehydration by staying ahead of it. It can be one of those things that can sneak up and sideline you, perhaps permanently, when you least expect it.
3. If you're a diabetic like me, one of those "less vital" systems mentioned above includes your endocrine system, which means we need to stay more ahead of the dehydration curve than others.
4. If you think for one moment that planting your butt on a seat and twisting your wrist for 18 hours doesn't require above average physical conditioning, you are absolutely 100% mistaken. The muscles you use are ones you don't even know you're using, and you're using them for 18 hours straight, which is why conditioning and health are so important.
5. We tend to worry more about dehydration when it's 90 degrees out. Dehydration in cold weather is every bit as dangerous as it is in warm weather, if not more so because one of the ways your body tells you that you need to replenish your fluids (excessive sweating) is gone.
Learn from my mistakes as I have. Had I not been treated when and where I had, there is a good chance that I could be headed back home in cargo, rather than the main cabin, all because I wasn't even thirsty.