Its has been a while since I gave an update, and that is because this was a hard one to write, for numerous reasons.  

Flying home for the holidays and giving the political situation in Peru time to cool off for a few weeks seemed like a good idea.  In retrospect, it ended up not working out so well.  Had I just stayed in the South and continued,  the holidays brought calm to Peru, and I would’ve been able to cruise down to Chile almost without any obstacles.  Instead, going home for a few weeks brought new hardships and a few harsh realities with it.  

The pandemic is over for most people, and I am happy for that.  Like everyone else, I am tired of masks and social distancing.   However, for those of us with compromised immune systems and underlying lung diseases, it will never be over.  Covid, or just a respiratory infection or virus can take us down hard.  You have to always be on your guard.

I guess I have just let my guard down too much and have become over-confident.  I didn’t wear a mask most of the time on the plane or in the airport.  Why?  I guess I didn’t want to be that one person without a mask.  I didn’t want to be the outlier.  The same reason I have resisted using oxygen for so long.  Simple pride and vanity.  That was a mistake on my part.  Somewhere along the way I caught a respiratory flu, Parainfluenza 1 to be exact, and it landed me in the hospital on Christmas eve and for a few days after that.   

When you have any kind of chronic disease or illness, as anybody who has had can testify, you become hyper-aware of changes to your body.  In my case, after I got home on December 20th,  I noticed that I was feeling extremely fatigued during the day and that I was getting more short of breath than usual doing just simple tasks… getting dressed had me huffing and puffing as if I had just been out sprinting.  I also noticed that my oxygen saturation levels at rest were falling, down to the high 80s.  Usually my baseline at rest was mid-90s.  I knew none of these were good signs, but I was a bit in denial, thinking it was maybe just a bad day or two, and I let it continue for a few more days.  Finally, after my oxygen levels continued to fall, my wife took me to the Emergency Room on Christmas eve, where they checked me out and decided to admit me to the hospital due to my rapidly declining oxygen saturations.  

After 3 days in the hospital, and numerous tests, over Christmas they decided I was ok to go home, but that I had to be on oxygen full-time at home until I had recovered enough to maintain my levels in the 90s at rest.   

While at home I planned my return to the Last Big Ride anxiously.  I waited patiently for my levels to return,  but I was still extremely fatigued and out of breath, and I felt very weak.  Just getting dressed and doing daily tasks took all my energy and left me spent.   One, two, three weeks went by with very slow improvement.  I was discouraged.  I wanted to get back to South America and finish my ride.  I was looking forward to seeing Patagonia, and I had goals, after all. 

After a few weeks without much improvement, I talked to my Pulmonologist again and he was very concerned about my return to South America.  Previously he had been very supportive, but now he was worried that the respiratory flu I contracted had triggered a permanent decline, as they sometimes do, leaving me with even less lung capacity than before.  His worry was that if I were to be in a more remote area of South America, which you often are once you get down to Patagonia, and I were to contract another infection or virus, I would need immediate care but I would be too far from that care.   

My concerns went deeper than that.  I was very weak and I knew it.  When doing adventure motorcycle trips, especially solo, you need to be self-sufficient.  Not only do you need to pick up your bike when you drop it (and you always drop it at some point) but you need to be able to get yourself out of sand, mud, mechanical failures, and any number of situations which are common and to be expected when doing that kind of trip.   You only call for help (ie hit the SOS button on your Garmin Inreach) in a dire and unexpected situation, such as a crash where you are hurt badly.   You don’t call the calvary in because you are stuck in mud or drop your bike and can’t pick it up.   In my case, I knew I could probably complete the ride if nothing went wrong, but in adventure riding, that is rarely the case.   And I knew I didn’t have the strength and stamina any longer to deal with things going wrong by myself.  I knew it would not be wise, or fair to anyone else, to put myself in a situation where I could not self-rescue.    

It took me a few days, but I finally came to the conclusion that, while I had the desire, I did not have the physical strength so complete the Last Big Ride to Ushuaia.  It was a big blow to me, because I had not expected to decline as fast as I had.  My doctor was already talking about sending me for a lung transplant evaluation, which I had figured was a few more years down the road, at the least.  Now, my life was changing once again and not for the better.  It was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.   Still, I had made it 6000 miles to Panama, alone, and I had raised over $15000 for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation through my fundraiser.  I guess I could still hold my head up and know that, while I had not made my goal of Ushuaia, I had done well nonetheless.   And, as far as I can tell, I am the first person with Pulmonary Fibrosis to ever ride a motorcycle from the US to Panama.  So there is that.  

I don’t let life and setbacks keep me down for long, so I looked for a bright side and I decided that this would not be the end, but rather an indefinite pause in my trip.   If/when I got a lung transplant I would be the first transplant recipient to ride to the tip of South America, and maybe I would not stop there.  Maybe I could go round-the-world.  In the meantime, though, I would keep riding locally and keep raising money for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.  At least by riding locally I could call a friend or my wife to come help me if I needed it.   

Logistically, I needed to figure out how to get Bella back home.   When I made my decision to pause the ride, Bella was in the middle of being shipped from Panama City to Lima, Peru.  I had given the go ahead to ship her, thinking I would be returning soon, so I needed to get on that before she went out.  When I called Alejandro, the owner of Overland Embassy in Panama, who were handling the shipping, he informed me that Bella had already been put on a plane just the night before.   Thankfully, the bike was going to Lima by way of the DHL hub in Miami, and we found out that Bella was currently in Miami, due to be shipped to Lima that night.  I explained the situation to Alejandro and he got on it immediately.   He was not sure if he could have the shipment stopped but he was going to give it his all.   A few hours later I got a text from him that he was successful, and that Bella would be staying in Miami.  All I had to do was to get down there to pick her up.  

I considered flying down to Miami and riding her home, but it was the middle of winter and I was still feeling physically weak.   I also have no desire to get on any airplanes or be in any airports unless absolutely necessary, because I just can’t afford to get sick again.  I made the decision to drive down and trailer her home.  

I drove down to Miami, U-haul traile in tow.  All I knew was that Bella was at a DHL facility at the Miami airport, but where was anybody’s guess.   Once I was in Miami, I discovered that DHL is basically one big dumpster fire, and that there are five or six different divisions, like DHL domestic, DHL latin America, DHL air cargo, etc, and that it seems one does not talk to the other.   So I just went door to door, with my  cargo airbill, to the various DHL divisions at the airport cargo facility until I finally found someone who could tell me where she was.  

Once I found out where she was being held, I needed to go over to U.S. Customs and get a piece of paper that said she could be released to me.  I figured that would be a total cluster, but it ended up taking only about 20 minutes.  The Customs agents took pity on me when I explained how Bella had ended up in Miami even though the airbill showed the final destination as Lima.  Never underestimate the “sympathy” factor you get when you are carrying an oxygen generator and wearing a nasal cannula! 

That done, I went back to DHL and, after paying an additional $69 fee for something or the other, I backed the trailer up to the loading dock and awaited Bella to be delivered to me.  They brought her out on her pallet and I got to work getting her off the Pallet and on to the trailer.  It was hot that day and it was not long before I was breathing hard and sweating, but at least the Oxygen helped get me through it.  Once all loaded, I set off that day for the 2-day drive home.   

Of course, it’s not an adventure if nothing goes wrong, and, true to form, the next day became an adventure when the trailer had a flat tire.  U-haul does not provide a spare tire on the trailer, so I had to wait 4 hours for someone from U-haul to bring a spare.  Once that was done I headed North once again and it was not long before I was back in my home state of Virginia.  As I drove along Interstate 81 through the higher elevations it started snowing and I was thankful that I had not tried to ride Bella home.  A few short hours later, I pulled into my driveway and got Bella back in the shop with her other 2-wheeled companions, happy to have her home, but also a bit sad that the Last Big Ride was over for a while. 

Life is full of complications and setbacks.  It can be cruel at times.  But it can also be beautiful, and if it was not for the hard times, we would not appreciate the good times as much.   My life, going forward, with this disease, will not be easy, but I will appreciate every last second I have on this earth, and I will continue to ride as long as I can, while I wait to see what my fate is.  I hope to get that transplant one day and to continue The Last Big Ride, but if I don’t, I know that I have had a good life and that I have lived it to the best of my ability.  I hope that I have shown others that when you get thrown a curveball, you need to keep swinging and not give up.   If you don’t keep swinging you will miss 100% of the time and have no chance of hitting that home run.  I like to think that I won’t die from this disease, so much as I will live my life as hard as I can until it is all used up.