Author Topic: TAT and mental health  (Read 805 times)

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Offline Tom66

TAT and mental health
« on: January 25, 2022, 04:58:50 am »
Hi all, 34 y.o. UK cyclist here, at  joined recently to help gain some helpful info regarding a trip I am planning west-east starting early/mid July.
Despite being well above average fitness, a lover of adventure and extreme sports, and a lifelong cyclist, I suffer with bipolar 2 disorder and most notably chronic, often severe insomnia. The last few years have been havoc as a result and had almost torn my life down completely.

A big part of me wanting to do such a trip (solo) is to prove to myself I can still accomplish a lot and I am, in fact, an able person, even if 90% of the time my self-esteem is non-existent.
I would also like to raise money for the local cycling charity that I work for.

My question now is:
Am I naive to think I could actually complete such a huge journey alone in the space of 3 months? My self-doubt is like a roller coaster and it’s so hard to gauge. With adequate sleep i am certain I would be able. However this is not always possible for me, even with meds etc.
Half the people I know say “great, amazing, good for you” etc, the other half “Tom, I really don’t think you should be doing this”.
Currently, I’m a bit lost and overwhelmed. I dream of completing adventures like this. I want to prove it to myself but I am so full of doubt currently and feel like an idiot for even contemplating it for the last 3–4 months.


Apologies for probably sounding like a basket case!

TIA :)

Offline jwrushman

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2022, 08:34:04 am »
Regardless of your medical condition, many factors are present that could make insomnia worse.

   - Travelling in a foreign country.

   - Being on an epic physically and mentally demanding adventure.

   - Expectations from the local charity.

   - Having a fixed time-table to complete your trip

   - Crazy times (socially and politically) in the U.S.

   - Doing this in the time of a pandemic!!!


I don't have bipolar.  I'm not usually prone to insomnia.  There were not infrequent nights I'd be tossing and turning in my sleep, thinking about the upcoming day(s), how ill-prepared I am, and on, and on....
« Last Edit: January 25, 2022, 08:48:04 am by jwrushman »

Offline jwrushman

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2022, 08:46:48 am »
And doing the trip solo would raise additional issues.

   - No one to bounce ideas off.  "Should I take this shortcut?"  "Is the weather going to get worse?"  Should I stop for the day or ride another 15 miles and hope to get to the campsite before it gets dark?"

   - No one to monitor how you are doing, physically and mentally.


I used to hike solo, but not so much anymore.  Having a hiking buddy is good for the conversation and camaraderie, but more important, it (usually) prevents me from doing something stupid!

Offline Tom66

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2022, 08:56:37 am »
I love to hike solo in the mountains of Scotland and Ireland, as I tend to find it boosts my self confidence, given I can only rely on myself and the decisions *I* have to make. After a while, I thrive.

This is one of the things that makes me want to do this trip.

I want to challenge myself and inspire others.

But I am afraid that some people I know are correct, and it’s too big a challenge.
I’m overwhelmed.

Offline staehpj1

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2022, 09:41:46 am »
It is hard to say how a long tour will affect any particular person.  Daily routine, just riding every day, knowing what you will do, what you will wear, and so on can be great for some of us.  Over the long haul the routine can be reassuring.  That may not be the case for everyone though.

Sleeping...  Some complain about lack of comfort, truck or other traffic noise, nearby train noise, or worries about this and that.  Some sleep great regardless of all that when on the road.  Personally I generally sleep great when on touring, backpacking, canoe camping, or whatever.  Usually much better than at home where sleep isn't always great.

Only you can say how it will be for you and likely even you will only know by trying.  Having the a positive attitude going in is probably the biggest factor that will stack the odds in your favor.  IMO it is even more important than any planning and preparation beyond a required minimum amount.  Going totally unprepared probably wouldn't work, but you can adjust as you go if you make errors or ommissions in your planning.

BTW, while short shakedown cruises can probably be useful and many folks do them, I doubt that they simulate a long trip well at all.  Personally I have not done them (my first tour was the Trans America).  In general I don't like short trips very well and would prefer to just do day rides or day hikes rhather than do a two or three day tour, but maybe I am weird that way.  If you are an experienced backpacker you can probably rely on that experience to know how to pack and how to be self sufficient.  The biggest difference being that you can buy food daily pretty much all of the time on the TA and don't need to carry much.

I'd advise is to giving  it a go and listening to your body and mind and their needs.  Sleep when you can and need to and ride when you are able.  Don't push yourself harder than the sleep you are getting allows.  I personally try to ride mileage that means that I never need a full rest day.  I do take easy "half days" here and there.  I also might rarely take an active day off somewhere special to hike, go whitewater rafting, or something, but not because I have run myself down to the point of being exhausted.

« Last Edit: January 25, 2022, 09:45:58 am by staehpj1 »

Offline Tom66

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2022, 10:27:57 am »
Thank you for the great advice. I'm doing my best to absorb it all.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2022, 10:44:20 am »
Tom,
I am proud of you to consider doing travels like this.  Honestly, and I don't mean this (or anything else I write) in the least bit negative way, I know very little about your conditions so what I say may not apply at all. 

First, I would seek other people in your condition who have done similar things, i.e. has anyone similar doe John o'Groats to Lands End?  Talk with them.  What about hiking the Appalachian Trail or its equivalent in your area?  Perhaps ask this on a forum for people with your conditions.  I would think those that have the conditions would give a much clearer answer than those without.  Sort of like asking those who actually lost 100 pounds how they did it instead of asking a guy who is trying to lose 100 pounds.

Here are my thoughts.  Riding solo on the TA is no big deal.  Lots of people have done it for decades.  I personally have crossed the USA 6 times solo.  You must know how to keep your self from getting lonely.  I talk to the locals, read books, write letters (who does that anymore!), send postcards (if I can find them), etc. Over the years it is a bit harder though as after 45+ years of touring, the excitement is not the same as in the early days. Again, solo is quite doable.

As far as the insomnia goes, can you be productive during that time you are awake because you can't sleep?  By this I mean, are you just super tired and can't do anything really.  Or would you be able to say start riding again at 4am and then if tired at 11am, take a nap in a park?  If the latter, perhaps you could ride (with breaks as needed) and just setup, cook, etc. as your schedule permits.  I would guess so but again, I am clueless of what the details of insomnia entails other than hard to sleep/stay asleep. 

Based that you are into extreme sports, are well above average fitness, and life-long cyclist, I totally think you are able bodied.

I don't think some of the usual negatives like being in a foreign english-speaking country (other than riding on the wrong side of the road  ;) ), crazy times (you are not a US citizen so can't relate), or the pandemic (who hasn't had to deal with it so nothing new) will stress you that much since you are into extreme things, i.e. the usual stuff may not bother you.  I get a sense you are just concerned if YOU can do it.  I would suggest a couple of things. 

1) Don't do a fund raiser. This trip is about you.  There definitely might be a stress about dealing with the fundraising aspects that is not needed.  If you want to do a fundraiser, change the criteria to miles ridden, i.e. pay "x' pence per mile ridden, number states ridden in, etc. The goal is in the doing, not the finish.
2) Take as many or as few days off for "rebuilding" as you need while on tour, going solo greatly allows you to do that.
3) Change the focus of the trip from I want to cross the country to I want to start on this route and see how far I can get, regardless of the distance.  If I get across the country, great.  If I to a point where the enjoyment stops, I can rent a car, hop a bus or train (not like they are in Europe!), and see other parts of America.  This removes the stress of having to "complete" the trip and just have a journey or a wander.
4) Try to not have a fixed return date or if you must, definitely consider #3.  You may only get to Kansas but then you could always come back another time and continue from Kansas.

You say you have doubts but you don't really say what those doubts are.  Most people doing any 3+ month adventure have doubts if they are honest. The doubts are just different for everybody.

I totally think you are physically capable of doing it.  The 3 months will pass fairly quickly.  After all probably 100k people have done this over the decades.  I just don't how bi-polar with insomnia factors in because I don't know how this affects you and the ride. 

If you decide not to do it, that is not a sign of a failure but perhaps one of wisdom since you chose not to go knowing conditions might make things overly difficult for you. For instance, I am immuno-suppressed due to a liver transplant.  Therefore, while I would love to tour in certain parts of the world.  While I COULD tour in say India or the 'Stans, the risk of getting extremely sick or dying makes the those locations not worthwhile to me.  Doesn't mean I am a failure but just something I probably shouldn't do.

Tailwinds, John

Offline HobbesOnTour

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2022, 11:09:12 am »
Edit: John Nettles' advice above is excellent

Hi Tom,
You're certainly not the first to have doubts, nor won't be the last. "Doubts", I believe, are the one thing that holds more people back than any other. The "best" bike, the "best" gear, the "best" route count for very little if the head isn't right.

Unfortunately, only you can guage the doubts.

Similarly, only you know the people who are chiming in with their comments as to how much weight you should give them. Some may be very wrong, but some may have some semblence of truth.

Sleep is the big issue that you have highlighted. It also seems to be somewhat outside of your control.
Do you plan to camp or use motels? How do you normally sleep in those circumstances? What do you do (or plan to do) after a run of sleepleess nights? How does that translate to being on the road?

I'll leave a discussion on route, direction and timing to others better qualified but I do want to pick out a couple of things.

Presuming you're travelling on an ESTA visa waiver that gives you 90 days to cross the country. That's a big ticking clock over your head. How is that likely to affect you? Especially if overtired? A plane ticket can be changed but not an ESTA.

You mention a charity ride. Presumably with regular updates via social media? How will that feel after a tough day, or a few nights without sleep?
I've read of others finding it very difficult to manage social media and the expectations on a long tour.
Perhaps proving to yourself that you can do this *and* raising money is a lot on the one plate? Then again, perhaps you're the type to thrive on that type of challenge?

You talk of a "roller coaster" , of being "lost and overwhelmed" and "feel like an idiot" and of poor self esteem. That's a whole lot of negative language that if carried over to a real tour could be problematic.
My suggestion to you would be to work on that as a first step. Easier said, I know, than done.
Try to even out the roller coaster.
Ask yourself where "lost" and "overwhelmed" are coming from and what can be done to minimise them.
Try to stop feeling like an idiot :-). Lots of people have done what you want to do. They're not all idiots!
The people who express doubts to you.....ask them to elaborate. You may not like it but is what they say applicable or not?

You mention cycling, but not touring. To me touring is different to cycling. Perhaps the trick is to get some short tours under your belt if you haven't done it before? Build up confidence to stop the roller coaster crashing.

Other practical tips to consider:
Look for a cycling buddy to share the adventure, or part of it (although you seem focused on solo)
Give yourself enough time to prepare properly
Consider a more local route
Choose a route that is less about crossing a continent and more about visiting places you want to see.
Is it possible to arrange visits from friends or family en route?

I would have one big fear based on what you have written and that is the effect of not completing the tour successfully may have on you.
I'm not trying to be negative, just realistic.
You talk of the last couple of years being especially difficult. A successful tour could be the start of leaving all that behind. The trick, I think, may rest on the definition of "success".

The very best of luck to you

Offline staehpj1

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2022, 11:14:10 am »
2) Take as many or as few days off for "rebuilding" as you need while on tour, going solo greatly allows you to do that.
Your comments are generally spot on as usual.  This one made me want to comment on my own recommendation regarding rest days.  My opinion is that for most riders taking days off is fine, but riding hard enough and long enough that you need to because you are physically exhausted from riding means you made an error in riding too far/hard.  I think many do themselves a disservice by pushing a bit too hard and kind of crashing for a down day.  That said. Tom66 may have special reasons for needing a day off (lack of sleep or other).

I am a firm believer in active recovery.  Riding some easy miles on a recovery day always seems to help me bounce back a little quicker.  If I am feeling beat up by a series of long hard days an easy 30 mile day does more for me than laying around in camp all day.  Even if I am really beat up getting on for just a few miles helps.  I am talking physically, but for me it is true mentally as well.  I don't know that it will or won't be the same for someone with bipolar disorder.  Based on the limited experience that I have with people in my life affected with it, I am guessing there isn't a clear across the board answer.


Offline John Nettles

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Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2022, 11:20:47 am »
Pete, I agree with you in that everyone needs to take "days off" that works for them.  I am more in tune with what you do, i.e., no true days off except for possibly sight seeing days in a large metro area. 

I rarely have a true non-riding day outside of sight seeing just because I am tired.  My shortest riding day I think is less than 5 miles but even then I may ride a few extra just to keep the legs loose but usually more like 20-30 miles to the next campground. 

For Tom, I was thinking more along the lines of mental and/or sleep days off.  I know that if I had to ride for 5 days with say 3-4 hours of "sleep" per night, I would be totally spent.  I can only imagine what Tom goes through, especially after riding all day. 

Basically, my point to Tom is take as much time as he needs, whether that is an hour or a week.

Offline Tom66

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2022, 11:54:01 am »
I can’t thank you guys enough for the comments and advice. Especially John Nettles, I will be rereading these replies more than once. It is a tough question I know.
I am writing a list of ‘for and against’ items, and both hold legitimate weight.
What I will say, is that I have done admittedly smaller tours and I am no stranger to solo hiking either, both of which (after a few days of routine) really settle my mind and I often find myself thriving and becoming a better version of myself. For example, I am much more likely to be social and interact with strangers, my mind slows its pace and I become more at ease with life with simplicity.
The longest I have toured alone is 3 weeks, and based on this, I had hoped that 3 months would offer the same positives over a longer period with a richer and more varied experience.
I have long been in awe of the US’ amazingly diverse landscapes and I can’t think of a more efficient way to experience it than by bicycle.

I had not necessarily planned on booking a flight home until I had more accurate expectations of my time and experience in the US.

Thanks again for the advice guys, I really appreciate it. 👍🏼

Offline zzzz

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2022, 10:23:13 am »
Hi Tom:

I'll add 2 things.

Im not sure how bad your insomnia is, but I don't sleep well on the road at all. If I get 4 hours a night I consider myself lucky. Somehow....it doesn't affect me while I'm on tour. It's possible this is unique to me and I certainly pay the price when I get home. Being a guy "of a certain age" a middle of the night trip to the bathroom is a requirement and for the first 2 weeks that I'm back at home I'm so disoriented when I get up (presumably from weeks of short sleep) that I am completely disoriented in my own house. I've walked into walls, into doors, I actually keep a gate across my steps for fear of falling down them. But as long as I'm on the road, I'm fine.

I've always suspected that my ability to be unaffected on the road while way down on sleep reflects peoples innate ability to rise to what they need to do. This has also come into play w physical issues. I woke up one morning and got terrible back spasms in a very remote area on the Alaska Hywy (Summit Lake). For several minutes it was hard to breathe. But there was nothing to do but get on the bike and slowly/gently peddle and over the course of the morning it went away. People can be really resilient when there's little choice.

The other thing I'd add is what's the worst that's going to happen here? After 6 major road tours I decided to try my luck w the Great Divide which is a MTB ride. And it did not work out. Two weeks and 800 miles into the trip I came to the unmistakable conclusion that this was not good fit for me and I got off at the next big town. I was disappointed and a little embarrassed but that was it.

If the same happens to you, there is still the option of renting a car and seeing the places you intended to see. And you will be disappointed and a little embarrassed like I was. But you'll still have a great experience.

Pete

Offline HikeBikeCook

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Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #12 on: January 26, 2022, 10:49:27 am »
I think the most important thing for any undertaking like this, regardless of health issues, is to understand why you want to do it and what your true goal is. Once you have realistically done that then avoid getting sucked into unnecessary demands, commitments, or side goals that do not fit into your original agenda because someone else deems it necessary. Fulfill your goal and your needs. This is possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity and you need to be very selfish about it. If you are only halfway into your planned schedule, but feel you have satisfied your needs, then it is okay to stop there and call it a win. Only you can judge success here. 
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Offline staehpj1

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #13 on: January 26, 2022, 10:51:59 am »
The other thing I'd add is what's the worst that's going to happen here? After 6 major road tours I decided to try my luck w the Great Divide which is a MTB ride. And it did not work out. Two weeks and 800 miles into the trip I came to the unmistakable conclusion that this was not good fit for me and I got off at the next big town. I was disappointed and a little embarrassed but that was it.

If the same happens to you, there is still the option of renting a car and seeing the places you intended to see. And you will be disappointed and a little embarrassed like I was. But you'll still have a great experience.
Starting out with the idea of bailing in your mind may make quitting more likely so I'd avoid starting out with that on your mind, but yeah, bailing on a trip isn't the end of the world.  You can always salvage something from the trip.  Hop in a car or on a train or bus and hit some other points of interest.  Do some hiking.  See some cities, whatever.

I did worse.  I hurt my knee immediately before a trip, decided it was okay.  Drove well over 2000 miles to the start of my tour and realized the knee wasn't up to the trip and never rode the first day.  It wound up being a scenic car tour across the country rather than a back country off road bikepacking trip.  I wound up driving 5000 miles and not riding at all.  I felt like an idiot, but it wasn't the end of the world and I even enjoyed the trip.

I also have cut a couple long tours short due to timing of family events.  Never felt bad about or regretted it at all though.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2022, 10:54:05 am by staehpj1 »

Offline Tom66

Re: TAT and mental health
« Reply #14 on: January 26, 2022, 11:27:18 am »
Re the advice about cutting the trip short:
I have reframed this trip as “see how far I can get in under 90 days” rather than having the added pressure of “I must get coast to coast in that time”. When time is a constraint it can often trigger insomnia.
In my planner I am compiling contingency options, ie hitch hiking, greyhound (?), reaching nearest airport etc etc. All designed to ease the pressure on myself.

However, as a kind person above said, it is remarkable how resilient a person can be. I know this myself, I HAVE achieved pretty great things in the past without much sleep. Just not for 3 months haha.