How to cope with being sick when bicycle touring around the world. What would you do if this was the best toilet on offer?
What do you do when ill on a bike tour?
It's not pleasant, no one wants it to happen, but it does.
At home, everyone has their own ways of coping when they are ill, and this is quite often done in comfortable surroundings with perhaps family or friends nearby. A little moral support and someone to bring a hot drink when needed is a great thing to have, but a solo touring cyclist in the middle of nowhere doesn't have this luxury.
You have to rely and look after yourself when you are out in the wilds, or even a foreign city for that matter, and a lot of it comes down to mental attitude. Of all my bicycle touring tips, you might find this useful.
Coping strategies for being sick
How you cope with being sick when bicycle touring around the world will be very similar to how you deal with any other problems or situations that might occur out on the road. Analyse the facts to hand, work out your best options, and make a decision from there.
You might be feeling sorry for yourself, but at some point you will need to just get on with it no matter how crap you feel. Listed below are the most common illnesses that will befall a cyclist on their long distance tour, and my own personal coping strategy for them.
(Note – This covers illnesses as opposed to injuries, diseases or long term afflictions. They are a different matter, and I will eventually cover these in separate blog posts).
Surviving Diarrhoea when cycling
Every cyclist will experience this at some point or another on a long distance bicycle tour, especially through foreign countries where they will not be “used to the water”. Sometimes you can feel it coming, and on other, slightly less pleasant occasions, it can take you completely by surprise.
All but the worst cases will disappear after a week or so, although if it carries on for longer than that, medical advise should be sought in case something more serious is happening.
My coping strategy – I always make sure that I have plenty of immodium to hand, and if i can feel it coming on, I dose up and head to whatever represents civilisation in the area I am cycling through, be it a campsite, hostel, or hotel.
There's very little joy to be had in cycling and having to stop every hour for an emergency call of nature, so what's the point?
I hole up for a few days until the worst is over, and then get back on the road. During this time, I make sure that i have plenty of liquids to hand, as well as salts so that I can re-hydrate myself.
Boiled eggs and black tea also seem to work for me in that they don't affect my stomach too much.
Surviving a cold when bike touring
Cycling does seem to help build up your immune system for whatever reason. (My completely unfounded theory is that the metabolism is raised and energy burned at such a rate that viruses are burnt away!). You will get a cold from time to time though despite this.
– Just get on with it. It's only a sniffling, runny nose and a sneeze or two! Keep the body fuelled by eating even if not hungry, and take plenty of hot drinks. The occasional nip of brandy probably lifts my spirits more than it helps physically, but hey, it works for me!
Surviving the Flu
Despite what the media would have you believe, both men and women suffer from the flu, so it's not just “man-flu” that you need to be worried about! At what point a cold becomes the flu seems to vary from person to person, but the most common signs are aching throughout the body, and a complete lack of energy coupled with lethargy. High temperatures are accompanied by bouts of sweating and shivering.
My coping strategy – It's pretty rare for the flu to knock me completely off my feet, and so I may choose to cycle through it, but just do less mileage per day. That said, if i am somewhere convenient to stop i will do, such as when I took a break in San Blas, Mexico over Christmas 2009 when I had it. Eating even if not hungry and taking on board hot drinks and other liquids all helps to flush it out.
Surviving toothache when travelling
Toothache is a real bastard, and can bring even the strongest people to their knees. It will most often come without any warning, and in the most inconvenient times and places. The most common cause is an infection or an abscess, although losing fillings when eating tough sweets or nuts is also a cyclists speciality!
My coping strategy – I've learned the hard way, and on longer trips now take a small emergency dental kit which includes temporary fillings. There are also gels available that can be rubbed on the gums to take the pain away.
Other ways I have of coping, depending on where I am, how bad the toothache is and what sort it is include – Using dried cloves to dissolve over the tooth (don't chew them!), running cold water over the tooth every five minutes or so, and buying a bottle of vodka and swilling a mouthful around the tooth every ten minutes or so. It doesn't cure it, but after an hour I am too pissed to notice the pain!