Back in Balance
As Mark Twain once said – Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated – 15 months later I rise again. I’ve had numerous emails, private conversations and call outs from people around the world wondering of what’s been going on with my silence. For those following along – the last I wrote I found myself in the Democratic Republic of Congo suffering from Malaria for the 5th time in my life, suffering from a wrist breakdown (again), and a strange numbness in my foot. Things went downhill fast. This was so long ago now the details are fading. I’ve been trying to write this over and over in my head for months due to many false starts and find that I’m likely a bit rusty after this long break. Let’s try to get back onto the good foot.
Stuck in a small town of Matadi waiting for the Malaria symptoms to disappear I would find myself walking around the market area of town for exercise throughout the day, unable to lift my left leg much higher than a few centimeter, easier to just drag it behind me. Rapidly losing weight, delaying my departure day after day friends and family organized contact with various Embassies and business contacts in the nation with my stubbornness hoping that something would turn positive eventually. Hospitals in the area didn’t know how to deal with the situation, only going as far as doling out more drugs to keep fever down and try to squash the malaria. Daily saline injections to sort out the dehydration and the vomiting.
Enough was enough. I wasn’t going to die in the Congo and was Airlifted out of the country to Kenya, followed by a flight into Zambia. Those following along have seen me back and forth in Zambia throughout the years. It wasn’t 5 minutes into my first day in the country when I met strangers on the side of the road, soon turning into acquaintances, friends followed by near family. It was the closest place and most logical place to go and recover where I’d be surrounded by people who knew me for more than 1 day.
I arrived in Lusaka May 10th at 1:30am, 66kg and lucid, desperately needing medical attention. Enter the nightmare of Blackwater Fever. It appears when I was drinking the jungle quinine in Angola that it was only masking what was really happening in my body, causing further internal damage.
I started the path of recuperation to rid myself of the sickness, while still suffering from my leg being numb. The symptoms had evolved into a full on numbness of anything on the left side of my body lower than my back. Doctors, Massage Therapists, Chiropractors all shared the same opinion – I had damaged my back followed by concrete proof via X-rays confirmed the situation showing that I have pinched my sciatic nerve (something I have done in the past).
A refresher on the Sciatic nerve, it stretches from your neck all the way down to your big toe. I’ve had problems with it in the past (2011 in Canada) and even before I started cycling..
It seems when I damaged my wrist again, I put increased pressure on the opposing side of my back trying to keep cycling and stay stable. The spinal cord has multiple vertebrae that sort of look like little wings, that shift up and down during regular movement. In between those vertebrae are discs – sort of like a sponge to protect all the important bits. Somewhere along the line I had compressed my disc so much one of my vertebrae snuck it’s way in and got stuck on the nerve..
Parallel recovery commenced. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t walk, couldn’t even put on my socks. I had to enlist the help of someone to make sure I could move around daily. When walking, I’d randomly lose all feeling and have to grab onto something around me in order to keep from collapsing.
Come September of 2014 I was able to walk without major pain, yet maybe feeling a little too overconfident, tripping and spraining my ankle. Obviously 2014 was going to be the year of injuries. I decided to settle down and focus on my well-being as opposed to the desire to get back onto the road. Normally in Zambia you are allowed 3 months per year of staying, but I managed to pull off a full one year before having to leave the country in a flash over to nearby Malawi and hiding out for 3 weeks while I came up with a plan, having friends come together to help me get back into the country where all my possessions resided. In this time as well I violated one of my first rules – never pay a bribe. Maybe I’ll get into that one at a future date.
Flash forward to June 21, 2015 – I was back in Zambia with my bike, bags, and clothes – finding myself buying my first appliance in 7 years – A rice cooker.. When you buy appliances it’s usually to assist in your living, to save time, and to enhance your life. Remember about that person who helped me put my socks on in the morning? That day I also proposed the idea that we should get married and spend our life together. She said yes. You really get to understand and become quite fond of people’s intentions while they are going out of their way to assist you back to a healthy state.
So here I am now – Engaged to be married, 85kg in weight (the most I’ve ever weighed!) and needing to go back to my home country to sort out a few loose ends such as a Passport, Bank accounts and such. The logical solution is to go and cycle again!
Unsure if my leg and back will cooperate, or if I even have the mental sanity to put myself through long rides again, I’ve made a plan to departing from Lusaka tomorrow morning, embarking on a 3000km ride to Johannesburg, South Africa. There is a route out of Zambia that I’ve always been interested in which seems like it could be a lot of fun moderately flat and on nice tarred roads paired with a few national parks, before heading back into Namibia, Botswana, followed by South Africa.
I’m travelling the lightest I’ve ever moved, with only 2 pairs of pants, a few shirts, and minimal other gear (half the technology I usually move with, ixnay’d the first aid kit and so on), and this time I’m not going to put a timeline on arrival. Pushing myself and setting unrealistic goals that I end up over-stressing my body and mind will just put me back into a state of burnout. – I don’t want to race, I don’t want to beat my chest – I need to be perfectly sure my body is in order before I commit to purchasing a plane ticket to Canada. If I can’t cycle due to health issues, I have enough friends around this continent where I can simply hop on a bus and hang out with them for a few weeks before meeting up with my fiance and traveling back together. She’ll stay for a few weeks with me while I remain in Canada dealing with formalities.
I intend to fly back to South Africa in November and finish the year off traveling through Lesotho, Swaziland, followed by Mozambique, before returning to Zambia in the new year of 2016. Estimated distance for this all is 6000km.
I’m excited for this new stage, but frightened at the same time – perfectly healthy emotions in my mind. Let’s see how this all shakes out. I’ll get back to posting photos, journal entries, and even start tweeting a bit more.