The common cold. The most highly advanced entity on this planet. A tiny little fraction of wrapped DNA that causes so much suffering the world over. But that’s the thing; this smart little critter causes just the right amount of discomfort to its unwitting host. I got up and went about my day today as if I didn’t have this little hitchhiker filling my entire sensory system, it caused me no debilitation whatsoever. At least, that is, if you don’t count not tasting my coffee this morning as a significant handicap. I feel like absolute shit, but that’s the amazing thing about a cold – its just virulent enough to successfully attack your mucous membranes and pervade the faces of your nearest and dearest, but its not dangerous enough for anyone to make a concerted effort to get rid of it. No drug company is going to empty its R+D coffers into finding a cure for the common cold, when most people – if they’re like me anyway – will just trudge on through their daily life feeling under the weather, and not bothering to do much about it. My medicine of choice is not exactly high tech or patent worthy anyway; squeeze lemon into mug, fill with boiling water, top with a spoonful of honey and hold in both hands in the stereotypical “if I let go of this mug the world might end” pose.
So, here I am in the middle of June with a cold. It was 34 (metric) degrees last week, and I rode my heart out to take in the good weather. I stayed up late speaking to Christa on the phone as she is racing in Wisconsin at the moment. I cooked some really good food and ate some new dishes to make the most of living in Tirol. I really lived for the last couple of weeks. My adventuring was going fine, and I thought I was doing well on the resting side of things too, but alas not. Its the times when your normal cyclist defences are down that these things attack. I was standing up all morning, working, busy, not thinking about the normal things my mind fixates on: drinking water all the time, having my feet up. It these time when it attacks.
Suddenly a small rasp in the back of your throat becomes a little more, and the knowledge enters your mind that things aren’t quite right. At first it’s ok; its just a dry throat – just an accidental mouthful of smoky air when walking down the street. But it lasts, it stays with you on the way home and makes your evening meal a little less enjoyable. By this point its too late. You know it’s coming, and those knee-jerk responses are entirely pathetic. Reach for the Orange Juice, the paracetemol, the lemon and honey, the extra water. But this thing is already inside of you, already replicating to critical mass and waiting to burst out and make life hell. So you go to bed resigned to the fact that waking up will be difficult. You breathe your last easy breathe for a week, and swallow repeatedly as your throat becomes drier and drier.
And there is it, it hit you. Morning, always in the morning. Maybe it’s the gap in consciousness that really brings it home how bad you’re feeling. Breakfast is endured in a bubble of disorientation, as your blocked sinuses make sounds like an emptying bathtub. Your ears are blocked – your head feels like a small pixie spent the entire night forcefully ramming cotton wool into the space where your brain used to reside. But you’re fine. You look fine, save for being a bit sleepy. Your voice is nasal and hoarse as you struggle to intonate through your swollen mouth. But life has to go on, after all, no-one has ever died from a cold.
If you’re lucky it progresses quickly – just a day in each phase. From the first scratch in your throat, through the swimming-underwater feeling, to the progressing cough that slowly begins to move everything up and out of your system. Day three and you’re a walking mess of tissues and red noses as the cold now decides it has made the most of your hospitality, and your own immune system finally kicks into gear to do the clearing up.
And then there’s the conundrum – do I go ride my bike? I’ve spent a day or two moping about miserably. Trying my best to avoid complaining to anyone who may hear – after all complaining about a cold is one of those first world problems; up there with ‘I got a scratch on my really expensive bike’. So I’ve waited my three days and I can hear again, speak normally and taste my food. I get on my bike and trepidatiously pedal out of town, looking around for signs of people before unleashing the fury of my snot into the closest hedgerow. Its biblical proportions of phlegm that no one wants to hear about, but we all know it happens. You clear yourself out. The top of the first climb and finally you’re breathing free, wheezing through the last stubborn remnants of cold. But You survived. This advanced free thinking, self-aware and analytic machine we call our own body, managed to survive the cold virus, and it feels great.