March 1, 2018 - Adventure Cycling Tour Leader Wade Otey kindly submitted this post to our guest blog. Thanks!
Even with the challenges of sleep apnea, bicycle touring can be accomplished with the assistance of medical technology. My post offers solutions for cyclists that desire to ride the open range, but think their medical condition may inhibit their efforts.
Sleep apnea is a common, chronic respiratory disease involving one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in people who are overweight, but it can affect anyone. For example, those with endocrine disorders or small children with enlarged tonsil tissues in their throats may have obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea requires long-term management. Lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery, and breathing devices can successfully treat sleep apnea in many people.
In January of 2000, while traveling on business, I was hospitalized with a heart arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. When I got home to Charlotte, North Carolina, I saw my cardiologist and he casually asked if I snored. While replying, “No,” my wife, with me in the exam room, vigorously nodded her head.
The doctor suggested a sleep study, a diagnostic test I was very familiar with having sold diagnostic equipment to the first sleep study clinic in Charlotte, and the results were alarming to say the least. During the course of one hour of the deepest sleep phase, I stopped breathing and partially awoke 47 times, almost once per minute. The atrial fibrillation was a symptom of my heart not getting enough rest at night.
The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine they prescribed for me, saved my life. I have slept with this device every night since the diagnosis. The larger CPAP machine I use at home includes a heated humidification system to prevent drying of the nasal and breathing passages. The portable Adaptive Positive Airway Pressure (APAP) machine that I travel with does not have humidification.
With my overall goal of a cross-country bicycle tour in the summer of 2016, I participated in Adventure Cycling’s self-contained, guided tour, Great Parks North, to judge if I could be successful on a self-contained tour. Could I ride, eat, and camp day after day with a battery-powered APAP machine? With the prohibitive expense of an “all motel” trans-America tour I knew I had to rely on camping as my accommodations for a cross-country trip. This test was mostly to see how to maintain sleep apnea support on a nightly basis, using my portable APAP machine. Electricity to charge the battery was my lifeline, so to speak.
To begin learning how to power the APAP with a battery, I worked with the technical support personnel at Human Design Medical to determine the power consumption of the Z1-Auto APAP machine that I use, and determined the battery power needed to run the unit for at least 6.5 hours.
That power requirement led me to Voltaic Power Systems. Working with their technical support, I found my way to a 17-watt, solar, battery-charging panel, that I planned to mount to the top of my BOB trailer, and the V72 lithium ion battery and its 16-volt DC output to run my Z1-Auto.
For the Great Parks North Tour in 2016, I used the BOB trailer and connected the solar panel to the battery every day for recharging, but soon learned that I needed to “top off” the battery at camp every day, both upon arrival and in the morning when I awoke. The panel just wasn’t fully charging the battery. The indicators would show a full charge, but the battery would run out, and the APAP would stop working about 3:30 AM. When the APAP stops working, you know it immediately because all of a sudden there is no air moving in or out — Big Red Flag.
Starting on my Northern Tier, cross-country tour in June 2017, I again planned to pull my BOB with the same setup as before. However, the Cascade Mountains made me realize that I had to make a drastic change in the weight I was carrying. In Sandpoint, Idaho, I cut BOB from the team, shipped him home, and redistributed my gear among four panniers with extra gear bungeed to the top of the rear rack. It was not a great arrangement. Plus, the solar panel became difficult to accommodate. In Michigan, I decided to mail the panel home and depend on morning and evening line charging only.
After completion of the Northern Tier in September, I quickly joined Adventure Cycling’s October Texas Hill Country self-contained tour. For this ride, I decided to try something that I think works better, although it does make my panniers a little heavier: I bought a second battery. I use one while charging the other, then swap them the next night. This is probably how I will tour, in a self-contained format, from now on.
Riding on self-contained tours with sleep apnea is not impossible when technology exists to assist the cycling tourist and help them achieve their goals. Read more about sleep apnea at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. There’s also great information at the American Sleep Apnea Association.
Photos by Wade Otey
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