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Is bike touring making me sick?

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Is bike touring making me sick?

Old 10-07-14, 10:52 AM
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tarwheel 
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Is bike touring making me sick?

I have gotten sick immediately after finishing my last three bike tours. Most recently, I got a sore throat the day that I ended a week long, 500 mile tour -- which has now morphed into a cold. Same thing happened on the final day of a week long, 400 mile tour in early summer. Last summer, I developed a case a shingles the day after finishing a week of touring with my brother. It's starting to make me wary of riding tours.

Two of these tours included a mix of hard, fast riding with easier days interspersed. One of them involved very long days at a moderate pace although carrying a load.

I am generally very healthy and rarely get sick. Sometimes I'll go several years without even catching a cold.
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Old 10-07-14, 11:16 AM
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Touring physically stresses the body more often than normal life. Were you worn down before the tours began?

How does your touring diet compare to your at home one?

Or you just encountered a germ or virus while in a weakened condition later near the end a tour.

Or you can use my universal excuse or explanation: Age
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Old 10-07-14, 11:23 AM
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Sounds like you are holding in a lot of stress during the tour and let it go once it is done.
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Old 10-07-14, 11:48 AM
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Shingles is caused by the Herpes Zostra virus, which is what causes chicken pox. Chciken pox goes away, but the virus remains in your body. From what I have read, what causes it to "reactivate" later in life is not well understdood.

Did you change your environment in the other two instances? Many years ago I went from cool/cold, moist home to ride in mostly warm, dry Spain. Exercising in dry conditions dried out my nasal passage and I developed s sinus infection. It has happened other times. Another possibility are allergies. Fall pollen around here has been bad recently. Did you go to somewhere with foreign plant life that affected you in a way that morphed into a cold. You don't have to go far. When I moved from Philly to Pittsburgh for school I got smacked by the unfamiliar pollen basically overnight. The craziest was Cycle Oregon in '07. On the last day we crossed back to the east side of the Cascades at Sisters. I was fine when we started out from there and had no problems anywhere else, but by the time we got back a week later something was releasing its pollen. I could not stop sneezing, and nose was erupting like Old Faithful. People were actually looking at me with concern. As soon as we left the area on the bus back toi Portland I was fine.
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Old 10-07-14, 12:05 PM
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Is Your house downwind of some place emitting Ugly stuff in the air/water?
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Old 10-07-14, 12:22 PM
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I would posit that touring is not the issue -
But the post-tour letdown.

Many of us have posted about the "blahs" that hit when a big tour is over.
Even for shorter tours, you are engaged, you are out there, you've been looking forward to it.
Then you get back to 9-to-5 and the traffic on I-40.

So I would put on the table the idea that it is post touring letdown.
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Old 10-07-14, 12:36 PM
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Coincidence. Get back out there, grasshopper.
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Old 10-07-14, 12:45 PM
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The shingles episode may be related to physical stress. The virus sits in previously infected nerve cells and makes occasional efforts to re-emerge that are mostly beaten back asymptomatically by your immune system, but if you are a bit immuno-suppressed, then the virus may cause a case of shingles.

The other sickneses seem more likely to be due to hygiene lapses while on tour. You're using public restrooms more often when touring, you may be using some public transit like bus, train or plane at one end or the other. You're eating out and grocery shopping more, both of which invite you to touch potentially germ-laden items and then use those same hands to eat with. Add in the fact that you are encountering a larger community of people than your norm (even in low-population locales, you are increasing your circle of contacts), and you thus increase the odds of getting introduced to a virus or bacterium that you haven't encountered before. Most of these bugs have incubation times of three to seven days from inoculation to symptoms, so if you get sick just after arriving home you likely go the bug while riding.
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Old 10-07-14, 01:17 PM
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The colds I attribute to being around a lot of other people and perhaps unhygienic conditions. The last tour was a cross-state ride with 1200 other cyclists, camping in gyms much of the time. The one in June was riding the GAP-C&O Canal trails, where it was difficult not drinking out of dirty water bottles. Not sure about the shingles, but on all of the tours my body was physically stressed due to riding long distances day after day.

However, I am well accustomed to riding long distances. I commute 30+ miles 3-4 days a week and usually ride longer distances on weekends.
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Old 10-07-14, 02:28 PM
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My guess is that you aren't maintaining your fitness levels between tours, and that the unaccustomed high mileages on tour are crashing your immune system. Sound plausible?
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Old 10-07-14, 02:36 PM
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Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post
My guess is that you aren't maintaining your fitness levels between tours, and that the unaccustomed high mileages on tour are crashing your immune system. Sound plausible?
My mileages are certainly much higher on tours, but I typically ride 150-200+ miles a week commuting and weekend rides. So I don't think it's a lack of fitness, but it definitely could be related to the stress of riding extra miles. About half of my cycling is bike commuting, where I am carrying moderately heavy loads, and my annual total mileage has topped 8,000 the past five years.
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Old 10-07-14, 02:49 PM
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Originally Posted by tarwheel View Post
My mileages are certainly much higher on tours, but I typically ride 150-200+ miles a week commuting and weekend rides. So I don't think it's a lack of fitness, but it definitely could be related to the stress of riding extra miles. About half of my cycling is bike commuting, where I am carrying moderately heavy loads, and my annual total mileage has topped 8,000 the past five years.
OK, then i have no suggestions to offer. If you're riding 8000 miles a year I can't see that a 500 mile tour is going to stress you. So I'm joining the "coincidence" faction.
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Old 10-07-14, 03:00 PM
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A higher likelihood of minor illness while traveling (or shortly thereafter if the length of travel is less than the typical incubation period) is more/less accepted, both due to the extra stress and greater exposure. I'd address this by better hygiene while traveling (basically wash your hands a lot) and making the trip less stressful, both physically and mentally. I also need several nights of 10+ hour sleeps for me to feel normal again after a trip - if you have a tough job, I would allow for a decompression period of a few days after the trip to catch up and rest.

- Mark
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Old 10-07-14, 03:13 PM
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Originally Posted by tarwheel View Post
My mileages are certainly much higher on tours, but I typically ride 150-200+ miles a week commuting and weekend rides. So I don't think it's a lack of fitness, but it definitely could be related to the stress of riding extra miles. About half of my cycling is bike commuting, where I am carrying moderately heavy loads, and my annual total mileage has topped 8,000 the past five years.
You're still riding about twice as much on tour, and if you're riding loaded, that's probably 3-4 times the stress you get through daily commuting. My guess would be stress-induced immunosuppression, and the "prescription" would involve getting lots of sleep. Difficult in some of the mass rides; perhaps it's time for eye shades and ear plugs?
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Old 10-07-14, 03:25 PM
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I find that attitude is at least 25% of getting/being sick. My buddy has a girlfriend who hates camping. When we go camping and she's very sick right after we get back, I have a feeling that her sickness is very real, but that it's exaggerated by her mental state. Camping is "dirty" and she "caught something."

So, I would say, don't let the thought brood into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Chalk it up to bad luck, eat more grapefruits and oranges while on tour, and stay healthy!
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Old 10-07-14, 04:29 PM
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Lack of sleep could definitely be a factor. Hard to sleep on the ground for a week with people snoring the roof off. I kept my iPod or earplugs on most of the time but they don't screen out all of the noise.
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Old 10-07-14, 04:55 PM
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I have noticed I have a greater likelihood of getting sick after a stressful time.

For example, in university, I will be fine all the way through the last research papers and the final exams, but almost the moment I put my pen down at the end of the last final exam, I become quite sick.

I also noticed it when I was heavily involved in randonneuring. I would make it through the SR series leading up to the big event, I'd be out doing centuries just about every weekend. I'd ride the 1200K randonnee, and I would do a tour after ... and then I'd get sick.

It's like the stress and intensity holds off the viruses, and the moment I relax ... there they are.


I can recommend a few things with might help ...

-- ramp up your distance gradually toward the tour
-- but take a few days before the tour starts to rest ... get lots of sleep, relax, eat well, drink lots of water
-- plan for a few days after the tour to rest as well
-- eat lots of fresh fruit and veg
-- take vitamins and minerals
-- make your tours more comfortable ... get a better mattress and pillow, use ear plugs, and you might even use melatonin or something similar to help you sleep
-- avoid people (especially sick people) in the 2-3 weeks leading up to the tour
-- if your tours are with crowds of people, increase your hygiene ... you might consider carrying and using a little bottle of hand sanitizer if there aren't a lot of places to wash up
-- do some short weekend tours in addition to these longer tours throughout the year. These short weekend tours could be solo ... just you and nature ... or maybe with your brother or a friend. They can get you into a touring mindset before the tour ... and can help ward off the post-tour depression after the tour.
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Old 10-07-14, 05:23 PM
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A few more questions ... how do you get to the start of these tours? Do you fly? Take the train? Drive?

Are you dealing with different time zones? Different climates? Different allergens?
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Old 10-07-14, 05:38 PM
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The two tours I did this year were both within 3-5 hrs driving distance. However, the second one had a bus shuttle to the starting point and home from the ending point, another opportunity for exposure to germs.The tour I took last year when I got the shingles involved a very long drive before and afterwards -- basically a 16-hour straight shot on interstates -- and in a different time zone. I don't think allergies were a factor in any of the rides. I came down with classic cold symptoms -- sore throat, congestion and cough. Shingles, of course, is a whole other issue, and is supposed to be related to stress.
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Old 10-07-14, 05:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
I have noticed I have a greater likelihood of getting sick after a stressful time...It's like the stress and intensity holds off the viruses, and the moment I relax ... there they are..
Ditto this. I've also gotten sick after long periods of study, work, and even vacation! In my case, though, it usually takes a few months and to date it hasn't happened after bike tour. I've been on some very long distance wilderness hikes, for up to five months, and if I get sick afterwards I blame it on increased exposure to pathogens in the city--door knobs, bus seats, shaking hands, etc.

And as Machka also says, focus on hand washing, eat well, rest well.
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Old 10-08-14, 01:08 PM
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Did you travel to and from the tour by plane? Some planes are full of cold viruses.

The shingles is related to age, I'm assuming you at least in your sixties. Anger and emotional outbursts can trigger it also.
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Old 10-08-14, 01:24 PM
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Originally Posted by ironwood View Post
Did you travel to and from the tour by plane? Some planes are full of cold viruses.

The shingles is related to age, I'm assuming you at least in your sixties. Anger and emotional outbursts can trigger it also.
More likely at older ages but NOT exclusively. I had a case of shingles in my 40's. It occurred days after being exposed to my secretary who was recovering from shingles. Very strange coincidence since every medical professional swears shingles is NOT contagious (it is actually quite contagious as chicken-pox only).
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Old 10-10-14, 08:53 PM
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I very rarely get sick off tour but on tour I find I get sick rather easily as well. It's usually my own fault too, I tend to not take rest days often enough I've been laid up twice in the past 2 months while on tour this year due to a Boil infection on my butt and armpits. 3 weeks and finally recovered, long down time. Likely caused by a lack of sleep and a 2000 km stretch with no rest days

Does this stop me from touring? Heck no. Enjoy the down time, stay in shape and look forward to the next part of the trip
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