Thursday, May 22, 2008

Red Bull Does Not Give You Wings

I kept telling Jenny all week that I was feeling sick. I had a sore throat. It started the first day I left and was making it difficult to sleep at night. I thought I had a cold, but the sore throat did not go away. It got worse everyday. I was sucking on throat lozenges while I rode the bike and that made it workable. I was trying to ignore being sick and not letting it affect the experience. I didn’t want to get anyone else sick so I suggested to Les and William that they not pick up my beer by accident because they didn’t want what I had. I was getting worried about it because I’d never had a sore throat that lasted this long. It had been eight days since I first started feeling it and it had gotten progressively worse. The warning on the packet of Halls cough drops that I had in my pocket said if a sore throat lasted longer than two days I should see a physician IMMEDIATELY because it could be SERIOUS.

Don’t worry guys; you are safe. You can’t catch dehydration or stupidity.

I wasn’t paying attention to my water intake. Normally, not a big deal, but riding a motorcycle is very dehydrating. The wind blowing through my riding jacket, pants and helmet, through all the vents made for this purpose, was sucking the water right out of me. Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico have some dry air. I must have been losing pints of water every day to make my throat hurt as bad as it did. When I stopped for the day, I was hydrating primarily with beer and wine.

I left the morning after we delivered Leigh to Lake Number One. It was Saturday May 17th. I wasn’t feeling well and my throat was really hurting. I passed by the water section at the mini-mart in Raton and loaded up on throat lozenges. I also made sure I had plenty of Red Bull because it was going to be a long ride. I’d decided to drive back to Redding non-stop. The trip is 1500 miles and if I only stopped for gas and to stretch then I figured I could make it home by the following morning. In hind sight (what I call no-shit-sherlock vision), I would have had to average seventy miles an hour for twenty four hours straight without stopping, even for gas. This was, of course, more total stupidity. The dehydration must have been already working it’s magic on my brain.

I made it to Flagstaff by around 5PM. I had to stop for gas two or three times, load up on more Red Bull and lozenges, and stay moving. Right around the time the sun was setting, I started across the desert. We’ve been having a heat wave out West. The air temperature gauge on my bike was showing over one hundred degrees as I crossed into California sometime after mid-night.

I didn’t feel well when I rode past the Welcome to California sign. I figured that was because I'd been rattling down the road for sixteen hours.

At around 1:30AM, I turned onto Highway 58, which would take me over the Tehachapi Mountains and then down into Bakersfield. On my way up the pass, I was met by the cool air rushing down and tumbling with the hot air rising up from the desert. I wasn’t riding well and the wind was overpowering the bike. A few times, it blew me completely out of my lane. I was tense, bent low over the bike and concentrating hard. At some point, the wind died down. I don’t know how long I was driving like that, after the wind died down, but I was startled by a semi-truck passing me on the left. I glanced down to look at my speed and was surprised to find I was only going 30mph. While I was looking down at my speedometer, I noticed that the handlebars of the bike were moving father away from me. I looked up from the speedometer, but could still see the bars, with my hands on them, move farther and rise higher and higher and start to come closer and closer together until my hands were almost touching above my head. I was having a hard time driving the bike with the handlebars like this. It occurred to me then that I was having a problem and I was in big trouble. I had tunnel vision and I felt myself getting faint. There was no place to pull off the highway and I could not see very well. I had to stay focused and find a way to pull off the highway. After what seemed like forever, an exit came up and I took it.

I knew I could not balance the bike when I stopped so I put my feet down while I drove off the highway and dragged them down the off-ramp. When I got to the bottom, I let the bike keep rolling, through a stop sign, to a large dirt area just across from the off-ramp. I was holding the brakes hard because I was too confused to tell if I was pointed up hill or down hill. I just knew I was going to drop the bike out here in the middle of nowhere and not be able to get it up. I eased off the brakes to see which way the bike would roll but it didn’t go anywhere. Level ground. I then tried to get the kickstand down but couldn’t balance the bike on my right foot and kick the stand down with my left. I took me a long time to get the stand down. I then tried to shut off the bike but could not remember how to do it. I started turning, flipping and pressing buttons and the bike shut down. I stumbled off.

I was really woozy. There was a street lamp nearby and I could see that I’d pulled off in a semi-truck turn-around where they could change directions on the highway. It was a large dirt circle with grass and trees on the edge of it and about fifty yards behind me was an underpass for the trucks to go under the highway to get to the other side. I squatted next to the bike and started to feel sick. I considered lying down on the ground but this thought filled me with fear. I stood up, feeling that lying down right now would be end of me. I tried walking around the bike and shaking my hands and feet. I managed to get the hard case open on the back of the bike and found a can of V8 juice to drink. I also started drinking some water. Then I heard the animals in the grass and in the trees. There were so many of them. I saw movement in the grass and heard tropical birds and some low grunting noises. Mountain Lions. From behind me, coming from under the highway, I heard voices. I turned quickly and I could hear shuffling around as people were crawling from their cardboard boxes and talking. I could not make out what they were saying but I had to turn around and watch the grass line for the animals that surely were starting to make their way towards me. When I turned around, I saw three cartoony lion heads pop up quickly from the grass and then duck back down. I knew I was hallucinating. But I was really scared and the feeling of being stalked from all sides was very real. I thought that I should get the gun. I tried to remember where it was in the bags but I knew in my stomach that this was a bad idea. The rational part of me knew that getting the gun was going to turn out bad. I would end up shooting at noises or possibly being shot by the highway patrol if they happened to see me pulled off the highway looking around with a gun in my hand. I knew that there couldn’t be so many lions in the grass and people under the freeway discussing how if I kept my back to them long eoungh they would be able to reach me. I kept turning around and around looking for all the things that were surely coming to get me. I pulled out my knife, opened the blade, and held it in my hand.

Someone in a beat up truck pulled off the highway, drove past me, and stopped about a hundred yards away in the dark. I could see their brake lights. I had to get the gun. I moved quickly and pulled it free from one of the saddlebags. The truck started to back up towards me. I set the gun in the opened top case and freed the bullets where I had them in the zipper pouch in my camera bag. I fumbled the gun open and tried loading it but kept dropped the bullets. The truck backed up past me, then turned under the freeway and got back on going the other way. I think he must have been checking his map.

I was so confused and feeling very sick. I knew I had to calm down and get myself out of this situation. I was on top of the Tehachapi Pass at almost 3AM and there was nobody around. I couldn’t lie down, I couldn’t start shooting at phantom sounds and I had to work this out. I drank more water, walked around the bike, hopped up and down and stretched. I made myself walk over to the edges of the grass to prove there were no lions. I knew I could not get back on the bike if I was hallucinating.

I’m not sure how long I stayed there, but I started to feel a little less faint. I got the bike started up again and tried driving in circles in the truck turn around. No problems. I decided to get back on the highway. I paid special attention to the handlebars and told myself that if I could not keep my speed up or the handlebars started to drift that I needed to get right back off. It took me about an hour to get down to Bakersfield.

I was still very confused. It’s hard to know, when you are confused, how confused you are. On the way down, I started trying to go over my symptoms and figure out what was happening to me. I was a medic in the army and had some training in recognizing and treating heat related injuries. I spent several weeks each summer supporting tank crews in the Mojave Desert on field exercises. I drove an armored personnel carrier tracked ambulance and followed tankers around treating mostly heat exhaustion and hydration problems. Cold sweats, confusion, hallucinations, nausea … these were signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Oh yea, and a dry, sore throat. What a dummy. I needed water.

In Bakersfield, I stopped at a gas station that was clearly closed. I shutdown and got off the bike. I wondered why I just pulled into a closed station. This was not helping. I then drove a while longer and found central Bakersfield and pulled off at an open station. I filled up with gas and went in and purchased three bottles of water. The guy working the station was looking at me like I had a problem. I drank a bottle of the water and nearly threw up. I looked at myself in the side view mirrors on the bike and my face was flush, sweaty and my eyes were sunken. No wonder he was staring at me. He continued to stare at me from the store because I was sort of pacing around the bike for a while. There was a Best Western Hotel next the gas station. I was trying to figure out if I should go there. I could not decide if I should keep going or if I should try to get inside and cool off and rest. I got on the bike, started it up, and without deciding, just sort of drove over to the hotel, parked and went inside. I think maybe my body decided. By 4:30AM, I was in the shower running cool water over myself.

I left four hours later. I didn’t sleep because I was really wired from all the Red Bull and feeling really crappy. I heard the people next door talking and I decided that I must have woken them up when I came in and they were mad at me. I didn’t want to face them so I decided to leave a little after 8AM before they got up. I realize now that I was still acting very strangely and very confused. Why would I think the people next to me where angry? I'm not even sure I really heard them talking.

By 10AM, I was on Interstate 5, heading North. The sun was climbing higher as were the temperatures. Once it got above ninety degrees, I started to feel really bad again. Just like a few hours before up on the pass. I'd been drinking water and Gatorade and thought the worst was behind me. It seemed to help at first, but I started to get woozy in the heat. I drove for as long as I could but my riding started to deteriorate and I pulled off at an exit. There were no services on this exit and there had been no services for many miles and there were no signs of any coming up. But I needed to rest for a moment.

I could not have chosen a worse exit. I needed to get out of the sun and find some shade. It was over a hundred degrees by now and I was losing my grip on the bike and the situation. There was no shade except for a little postage stamp of a shadow from a small tree I'd passed a few minutes before. I kept driving father and father away from the freeway, into some farm lands. It all seemed very desolate. I decided I would go back and take that small amount of shade I'd passed by. It seemed inadequate, but it was apparently my only option. I had to pull off the road into the drainage ditch next it. My bike would not fit in the shade but I was able to sit down and pour water on my head and try to pull it together. Every now and then a car would pass me. I considered laying down but I thought I would pass out for sure and be in the direct sun light in no time. A highway patrol office, probably tipped off by a passing driver, pulled up. I was relieved to see him, but I could not believe what my mouth told him. He asked if I was “doing ok buddy?” I told him I was just taking a break from the heat. He told me I found the only shade for miles around. He said “you don’t have too far to go do you?” I had a sinking feeling and I told him I actually did have a ways to go. He asked me if I needed help… I said no. Watching him drive away, I thought about what a total fucking stupid person I was and wondered why I can never ask for help. Apparently, I’d rather die.

My efforts to cool myself were not working. My feet, hands and tongue started to tingle. I decided I had to make a run for it, from this shade, and make it to someplace with air conditioning. I swore to myself I would stay there and not get back out in this heat if I could only make it. I was scared for my life at this point and done being a moron.

I took a big drink of water, dumped some on my head, shirt, arms, back and chest and got on the bike. Not feeling stable or completely alert, I got back on the freeway. I pulled off at every exit and dumped more water on myself. I drove like that for about twenty more miles and came up on Patterson California which is essentially a truck stop. There was a hotel there and I parked out front, went inside and was able to get a room. I felt sure I would pass out right at the front desk but managed to be polite and patient and smile. I probably looked like a nutjob.

In the room, I filled the tub with cool water and got in it. My whole body felt like it was radiating heat, I was queasy and not able to stay standing very well. I got into bed and put some wet towels on my head and chest. I continued to feel worse. I’d drank water that day, but I felt like it wasn’t doing any good. I called Jenny and left a message to tell her everything was OK but that I’d stopped to rest. I called my parents, hoping to give the same impression, but as soon as I heard my Mom’s voice, I broke down. I’d scared myself, was feeling completely drained and completely ill. I cried and told her how bad I’d fucked up. My Father was ready to come and get me but I asked them to wait. I wasn’t sure what I should do. I felt at this point I should call for medical attention. I was worried that I’d dehydrated myself and overheated to the point that I was not going to be able to fix this myself. I called the front desk and asked them if they could go to the store and buy me some Gatorade or something similar. I thought I better try to get sugar and salt in me along with the water. I called my Mom back and asked her to find Jenny and tell her to come to Patterson to help me. I felt really shitty about this. Patterson was a six hour drive from home. I felt like I created a problem and now I was dragging other people into it. I wanted to do this myself, but was too spent to not ask for help. I also wanted to be able to complete my journey on my own and this felt like a failure.

Four hours later, I was still not able to cool down and I still felt horrible. Jenny was on her way. Jenny asked someone at the hotel to bring me food. When the person from the front desk brought me something to eat, she suggested that I didn’t look well and maybe I should call for medical assistance. She offered to call the local fire department and that they could assess me. I agreed and within a few minutes the fire men were in my room and then some paramedics came. My vitals were fine. The paramedics explained to me that I was certainly dehydrated and they could put an IV in me and take me to the hospital but felt that what I needed most was to eat. They said that without eating, the water I was drinking would not be absorbed into my body. They asked me to eat something, keep drinking water and electrolytes and try to sleep. They also told me I was going to feel badly for a few days.

They were right about eating. I forced myself to eat and within an hour started to feel a little better. Jenny showed up, I ate some more, drank some more and slept. The next day I got back on the bike to try and get it home and Jenny followed me in her car. I made it about an hour but started to get dizzy and was feeling nauseous again. Jenny told me that I was having problems riding straight and keeping up right on the bike. I had to agree with her. She suggested that we take the bike to my aunts house, which was a about twenty minutes away, and then I should get in her car and go home. So that’s what we did.

It’s now five days since that happened and I’m starting to feel better. Yesterday, my hands were too weak to type much but today I’m feeling stronger. I rode Jenny’s motorcycle a short distance today and had some trouble working the clutch and my balance was not one hundred percent right.

So, this is why I was slow to report that we made it to Number One Lake and why I haven’t mentioned my return trip until now. I've had to take a few days off from being me so I could recover.


1 comment:

Matt Foley said...

Robert, I thank you for all that. I stumbled upon your blog while googling "jesus hates graffiti" that I thought I created. I read a paragraph and stayed up half the night with the rest. First blog I've ever read or wanted to.

Ironically, years ago I was working on a screenplay of a guy who wanted his ashes taken to Santa Monica, but I shelved it and now can't finish it without stealing half your mind, thanks dood!

Godspeed, Mike

Yes, I know this was written in '08, blame the internet.