Friday, February 7, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Conditioning Continued

"What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life."
- Emil Brunner

Analyzing that quote made me realize that this trip means a great deal to my life at the moment and I hope I will have conditioned properly to see it through without incident.  I figured I would have a week of riding to acclimatize before hitting any substantial elevations.  Since I've been working on my daily routes and itineraries, it occurred to me that I'll be above 17,900 feet on my second riding day.  If I'm to avoid an epic third world failure, I need to stick to my original plan and vigorously prepare for 18,000 feet while I'm home at 531 feet.

Bane Has Entered the Cabin
I wrote in a previous entry about a training device I acquired in hope that it would help prepare me physically for navigating the high altitude Nepalese and Tibetan terrain.  I've been using the mask now for a few weeks on my rower and on my elliptical and I can tell you that it most definitely adds substantial strain and effort to my workouts.  In fact, when I started wearing it, I couldn't last five minutes before doffing it, gasping for air.  Now, three weeks later and after consistent workouts every day, I can climb three miles and row three miles in thirty minutes each without losing the mask or consciousness (added bonus).  While this is encouraging, there is a caveat.  I have been using the mask with minimal restriction.  Even so, my blood oxygen saturation level typically drops to 88%, which is getting in the range of where I need to be capable of confidently riding at altitude.  Baby steps.

Just for grins, I decided to configure the mask for maximum restriction and see how long I could go and how low it would drop my O2 saturation.  Just like three weeks ago, I flung the mask off in about five minutes, but this time, I had severe tunnel vision, was literally seeing stars, and my pulse Ox meter measured 84%.  After the room stopped spinning and I had a chance to collect and reflect, I was simultaneously encouraged and alarmed.  I know I need to be able to clearly function at 85%.  The alarming part is that at only 1% below that and after only five minutes, I was dizzy, had blurred tunnel vision, a throbbing headache, and I wanted to barf.  The encouraging part is that I still have 85 days to get there by staying my course and gradually increasing the breathing restriction in the mask to steadily lower my O2 saturation.

Reflecting back on my Outback trip, I know that I would have had to been airlifted out of the bush when I got hurt on day three had I not been properly conditioned.  That memory motivates me to drive myself to be physically ready for this adventure.  Now I know what it takes and now that I have a taste of what not measuring up feels like, I know I'll be ready.