The Project

The Short Version

I'm a cyclist, technology professional, brain injury survivor. Cycling the western part of Route 66 is a project to find healing and a path forward after injury. Ultimately I hope to get to the point where TBI is not impacting my daily life. There is hope but no guarantee... Welcome to my journey of ongoing healing!

In April 2012 I am cycling Route 66 (Western Half) from Santa Monica, California to Amarillo, Texas. Leaving home April 9th, I'll tour the 400 miles south to Santa Monica on my own. The good folks at PAC Tour, experienced cycle tourists, are providing structure and support from Santa Monica on April 14th to Amarillo on May 3rd. Total distance: ~1600 miles in 21 riding days.

For me, exercise clears the fog of TBI and helps with focus. To attempt something new, I also need a real training goal with support and structure. The feeling of freedom and self-determination on a bike motivates me like nothing else!

For others with TBI, know that there are things you can do to help yourself recover. More research is coming every day on activities that are beneficial for brain health. And there is external help from places like Services for Brain Injury (SBI), where folks are trained in helping you regain brain function. I hope you can advocate for yourself and find motivation to get better.

For family members and friends, by reading this blog you can hopefully gain some insight into what someone in your life with TBI is going through.

The Longer Version

The question why this project? began with a different question: Now what? After my accident, the neurologist could do very little. It was a closed-head brain injury; I had a ferocious nosebleed but the skull remained intact. There was no visible wound to treat. He diagnosed mild post-traumatic encephalopathy. Exercise and aspirin (for memory gaps) were suggested. But after a few visits there was no point in coming back.

With mild TBI, doctors do not write prescriptions for medications that make you better. Nor is there the equivalent of chemotherapy for cancer. The recovery period is long and each person's trajectory is different. The medical community seems to believe that the brain will magically heal itself.

What I noticed and what others confirm, is that in dealing with its own injury the brain gets very, very tired. It wants to rest. Repeatedly. Its desire for rest is profound and it is running the show! It wants to stay home all day. It wants to watch TV. You need mental capital to invest in recovery, but the process of recovery itself is bankrupting your reserves. How do you manage the downward spiral?

In my case I noticed that after a long, hard bike ride, I simply felt better. The mental fog was gone for a few days. I could remember things and engage in what was going on around me. It felt like the pre-TBI me. It gave me hope that I would actually recover. This was no small thing.

On the other hand, after missing sleep or quality food, driving around a strange city looking for a business meeting under time pressure, not so much! It turns out that balance and structure are key. Stretch enough to get better, but not so much that you are engulfed in failure.

Now what? is exactly what organizations like SBI try to answer. SBI provides resources for cognitive rehabilitation so that TBI patients can work to recover brain function. Three years ago, when I left the doctor's office there was no referral to SBI and no recovery checklist. Through trial and error, I had to figure out a program for myself.

The good news is, lots of research is being done right now on brain health. A sampling:
  • Keep a regular schedule and get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat light, high-protein meals, especially fish and vegetables. A little alcohol, not too much.
  • Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain and helps manage stress.
  • Learn a language. Language is a bootcamp for your brain.
  • Engage in long, strenuous exercise. Longer harder endurance exercise stimulates the brain's stem cells to generate new brain cells. That's right, new brain cells!
Cycling is something I did before the accident and have been able to pick up again. As treatment:
  • It gives me joy. 
  • The repetitive action of turning over the pedals lets my brain rest. 
  • The aerobic work helps increase blood flow to my brain in the short term. In the long term it helps my brain rewire itself.
  • The physical patterning helps my memory. In general, tangible experiences stick better for me.
  • The real world setting counters the instinct to retreat. It gives me a reason to be out into the world, interacting with people.
So this Route 66 trip is my cognitive rehabilitation goal for the first half of 2012. It gives me a reason to train and stay on track for recovery. During the trip itself I'll be doing a familiar activity, with support, in a completely unfamiliar setting. Each day is designed to be a good ride, but not a grueling one. The organizers expect people to explore and have fun! I'm looking forward to it....