Some of the trees still have leaves. At least in my neighborhood. I’m not an arborist, I can scarcely tell a maple from an oak. Some of the trees are red, some are yellow. The rest are brown or bare. Saturday, Eli and I drove up the mountain to go mountain biking. Is it actually mountain biking if you aren’t in the mountains? This mountain is small. Part of the Allegheny section of the Appalachians. During the drive, you never clearly drive up a mountain. No switchbacks, no long views, a couple of steep hills, but that’s all they are, hills. But the general direction is up.
In my driveway, I always run the same conversation in my head. Am I wearing enough clothes? The temperature drops ten degrees driving to the trailhead. The most rapid drop occurs on what appears to be a flat portion of roadway on the last few miles of the trip. The thermometer-display at the bottom corner of my rear-view mirror clicks down every thirty seconds. Forty-seven, forty-six, forty-five… I always wish I brought an extra layer.
Saturday’s ride was iffy. On Friday, as I drove home from work—my seven-minute commute, a mile and a quarter from the center of town to my close-in suburban neighborhood—I realized I had a headache. After dinner, the ache became deep enough that when I thought about it, I wanted to throw up. Best not to think about it; I binged a show and went to bed. Saturday morning, my headache remained.
After coffee and cereal, I returned to bed. Caffeinated, sunlight bright in my eyes through the light-filtering shade, Tommy, my brown tabby purring in my ear, I couldn’t sleep. I binged my show some more. Containment: A virus appears in downtown Atlanta, possibly of terroristic origin. The Feds react quickly, first with an electric fence, then with shipping containers stacked three high, they surround the epicenter of the outbreak. They isolate the four thousand people unlucky enough to be trapped inside the quarantine area behind a forty-foot steel wall. Possibly this isn’t the best show to watch while feeling ill during a rampant-running pandemic.
My father called. Two minutes into the conversation: “Jeff, are you OK? You don’t sound so good.” I told him about my headache. I told him this is the second time in three weekends I’ve been shut down feeling ill. He knows about my dizziness and has spent more than his share of time worrying about me. I never told him about my seizure, that might be the straw that breaks the camel, nothing to be gained from telling him that. “Jeff, you really need to go see your doctor again.”
By afternoon, I felt good enough to ride. When Eli and I got to the trailhead, just forty-three degrees cold, he noted that up in the mountains, winter had arrived. No leaves on any trees. No red or yellow or brown. They were all on the ground. I hate mountain biking in November. Southern-central Pennsylvania has got to be the rockiest, root-strewn mountain biking in the country. When the trail is clear, I need to carefully pick my line, make sure I don’t hit any rocks or roots at odd angles that might swipe my wheels out from under me. On Saturday, I couldn’t see those obstacles, they hid beneath the leaves. In truth, I could barely tell when we were on the trail. That lay hidden below the leaves as well.
After a mile of riding—typically a relaxing downhill where we travel fast enough to bounce over all of those uneven bumps, but this time a slower white-knuckle stress-fest where I expected to wipe out on a loose, hidden rock at any second—we started to climb. This is when I realized I was sick. My head pounded; my body felt as strong as a wet, limp napkin. Hyperventilating, I tried to keep up with Eli, but he kept edging farther away. Riding uphill is my strength. Riding with kids, I always know they’re going to kick my butt on the downhills—they lack the common sense to be cautious—but I always catch them on the ups. On Saturday I lost ground on the downs and even more riding up.
When we popped out onto a fire road, we had to make a choice. Ride a steep mile to the top of a ridge to hook up with a long, twisty downhill trail, or go straight back to the car on an easy, flat path that’s only satisfying after you’ve completely used yourself up with ninety minutes or so of hard riding. I apologized to Eli and opted for the easy trail back to the car.
Talking with my father, I told him about my up-coming MRI. When I saw the neurologist about the seizure, I told him about my dizziness. He thought it a good idea to look inside my head. He’ll look for misplaced masses with the MRI and disrupted brainwaves with an EEG. Maybe he’ll find something, maybe he won’t. My stretch of possibly related brain issues started in late February, and I’m really tired of it. Most of this time, I thought it was possibly Covid related; my family and I had a fever and flu symptoms in February. A couple of weeks ago, I gave blood. As part of the enticement, they give a free antibody test (the nation is really low on blood), I don’t have antibodies. I’ve never had Covid… probably… maybe.
I’m looking forward to the results of my tests. Bad news would mean that we’ve discovered something I need to know, and good news, no problems, would give me some piece of mind that the worst-case scenario isn’t unfolding right behind my eyes. Over the next couple of weeks, my neighborhood will take the final steps towards winter. The trees, without leaves will seem barren and bleak. Dusk at 4:30 will simply be depressing. But weekend days will still offer opportunities to ride bikes with my son over trails that increasingly become free of leaves, and will, not so far in the future, rejuvenate with spring.