I love all the ideas and stories that poured in from friends when I asked for your thoughts on taking self-care on the road. Such a variety of needs and so many good “life hacks” to meet them.
My favorite (or not) story came from my sister, who travels often for business and has to bring ice packs to use at night. Hotel freezers are usually just a shallow compartment good for one tray of ice cubes. Kathy needs more space to freeze her ice packs. She checks them at the hotel desk and they often only put them in the refrigerator, not the freezer, even though she’s very clear that they need to be frozen. When she goes to the desk to get them, sometimes she has to wait such a long time that they say they’ll send them up to her room, and when they arrive, they expect a tip for delivering her own ice packs!
I had a great chat with artist Heather Thompson about standing in lines. People accept this as part of life, but some of us simply can’t do it. Heather has gotten assertive about asking for a wheelchair when she needs one. My problem is a bit different—I manage to do long-distance solo bicycle touring with my issues, but standing in a long line to check in for the train will do me in so it shortens my range on the bike. It’s hard to ask for special treatment while wearing bike clothing, when very elderly people aren’t complaining.
Heather also said it’s important to understand what modes of transportation work best for you. Like me, she favors the train because it’s less confining, there’s more freedom to move about if you want to and a better seat to sit in if you don’t. Easy bathroom access is also key. Her number one point was my hardest one: you have to let go of the judgment of people around you and ask for what you need. When your issues are not visible to others, this is so hard to do! Why do we fear the eye-roll so?
Another friend recently attended a conference out of town and she got in the best possible physical condition to go. She got an acupuncture session ahead of time, which helps her condition, and she brought everything she needed to be comfortable—necessary foods, comfortable clothing, sleeping accoutrements. I have to travel with a knee pillow (I have an inflatable one with a soft fuzzy coating) and a brace for my reattached right hand—my wrist tends to bend too far in my sleep and I wake up with no feeling at all unless I stabilize it. My sister packs along an air mattress and brings a back support to put in whatever chair she’s forced to sit in.
Speaking of chairs, I made a discovery just last week when I attended 3 concerts in 6 days. All the shows were in small venues where people sat in stacking chairs. Stacking chairs are usually made so the front rises a little higher than the back; this is comfortable for the average man. For a woman of average height (that’s me), I have trouble placing my feet flat on the floor, and the front of the chair bites in to the backs of my legs. By the end of the third concert, I had full-blown sciatica going and I was wishing for the show to end, which is a shame because it was some of the best folk music being played in North America.
At a charity garage sale on Sunday, I found a patio chair pad that is nice and flat, and not too long, so I can elevate my bum to be slightly higher than the front of the chair. There’s a second matching cushion that I can fold in half and rest my feet on so they’re not hanging from the chair. I can’t wait to try this out! I don’t care how it looks; usually when I whip out something like that, people admire it openly.
I have a cane that folds into a 3-legged stool and I carry that when I go to Seattle on business. I won’t drive in the city, that’s nuts, and people won’t give up a seat on the bus for me because I don’t look disabled. The cane brings out the best in others, and when I need a sit-down break, I just fold it out and straddle it. Once, at a bus stop in the rain, a very old woman stood uncomplaining. I folded out my cane and couldn’t sit in front of her—I offered her the seat. She had tears in her eyes as she thanked me.
My bike trips are a study in careful planning. I need a suitable bed every night on the road. I can do a hostel bed maybe 2 nights in a row before I need a proper hotel bed or a guest bed in a friend’s home. I have to call the hostel ahead of time and verify that I’m getting a bottom bunk (you can do that!). One of my favorite nights out ever was spent sleeping in a friend’s boat in her driveway. For these camp-ish beds to work out, I need my inflatable knee pillow and my wrist brace.
Shoes are heavy and take up pack space, but if I only used my cycling shoes, which are Keen sport sandals with recessed cleats, I would tear up my knees walking around in stiffened soles. I bring a second pair of ultra-lightweight water tennies (Land’s End makes great ones). They have a tennis shoe sole but can be worn in the water and even on short hikes. Bike touring is physically strenuous and a nap midday is critical for me. I plan for naps on the road. Usually it’s just a snooze before dinner after I’ve reached my destination for the day, but I’ve slept on ferries, buses, park benches (with inflatable pillows) and even at a restaurant table (that one was unplanned). Fortunately, I’m in an invisible demographic—the fiftyish white woman—so no one feels threatened by my presence. I recognize that not everyone is able to nap as casually in public as I can (sleeping people of any kind are not a threat, y’all!).
I’m not in the condition I normally am for this time of year—usually I’d be taking long daily training rides to get ready for my summer of bike touring. Following my knee injury (smacking it on the edge of a broken walkway), I’m just getting able to ride downtown again to grab a book from the library. It’s going to take a lot of planning to make my big trip this year. I’ll use buses to bypass the most challenging sections of the ride, and only go as far on the bike as I’m comfortable doing each day. Another touring hack I’ve discovered—every ferry terminal has a killer hill when you get off the boat. And almost every ferry has a bus with a bike rack available to take you to higher ground. There’s no shame in bypassing a 600-foot climb so you can enjoy the rest of the ride. My friends will see the same triumphant Facebook posts this summer that they do every year. Only the closest ones, and you, will know the story behind the selfie.
The bottom line is, whatever barriers you have to travel, there is probably a hack that can help you get around it. Think creatively, learn what’s out there—if you wish for something, Google it to see if it exists. If it doesn’t, call on your inner MacGyver and improvise; just get back out in the world.