bonking is used among cyclists and in any type of endurance sport where your muscles have depleted their store of glycogen, the stored energy in your muscles to help them perform. It’s when you hit a wall and you feel everything from weakness to headaches to nausea to a rapid heartbeat and more. It’s not great. The technical term is
hypoglycemia but people call it
bonking because it’s obviously a bit more fun to say.
I sort of knew what the term meant and have some experience with low blood sugar to know I don’t like it, but I’d never experienced it while exercising until a couple of months ago.
I didn’t eat well that day and I had to get to Pac Heights for a parent-teacher meeting after work. I’d never ridden in that direction so I consulted my bike-friendly map routes and left work with an extra half-hour to spare in case I got lost.
As a new cyclist I’m always looking for new challenges in the city. I’ve climbed some okay hills but going from SOMA to Pac Heights meant I’d have to go up McAllister to Steiner which wasn’t a route I’d ever taken. I didn’t really know how much of a climb that would be.
And then, after leaving the meeting, I’d be going to the Outer Richmond, which would mean another hill to go up and over Clay St.
I usually ride about 10 miles a day so this was adding a few more miles plus a few more hills.
While starting up McAllister someone also traveling in that direction noticed my bike (it’s kind of rare to have one right now in SF) and so we got to talking about bikes and bike shops in the city. I like talking about bikes so this was a nice way to pass the time as we climbed.
Before I knew it we were passing Divisadero which is a couple blocks past where I needed to be. I said bye and turned around to Steiner, which took me up into Pac Heights.
After the meeting I was feeling a little tired, but not more than usual after a long day. I got on my bike and headed home.
About halfway there I started feeling sluggish. My brain ached and I felt a little nauseated. At first I thought I was just thirsty but as it continued I immediately recognized it for what it was. I was hypoglycemic and still had about 20 blocks to go.
At that point I got off my bike and started walking it along the sidewalk. After a few minutes I was able to get back on, but riding much slower than before. It’s actually kind of dangerous to ride when you’re hypoglycemic because your judgement is a little off and you might not be paying attention to cars and doors being opened.
When I got home I didn’t have the energy to put my stuff away. I leaned my bike against a wall (usually I lock it up in the back), dropped my stuff by the door, and headed for the kitchen.
I was in a bad state. I just felt bad. Everything felt bad. I felt like throwing up. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, but I was glad I was home where I could get some water and sugar.
From the very small bits of info I knew about hypoglycemia, most people cure it by carrying food, candies, or little shots of what I’m guessing are sugared, Gatorade-like drinks in their bags and consume them when they feel it coming on. I think I’d even seen a story where someone won a cycling race and at the finish line ignored the well-wishers while he stuffed handfuls of gummy bears into his mouth.
It was this memory I had in my head and I walked over to the pantry. I knew we had a bag of candies left over from Halloween that my son thinks we don’t know he raids every weekend before we wake up. I had moved it recently so I knew there was something in there. I vaguely remembered seeing some jelly beans.
I reached up and took the bag off the shelf and just as I had remembered there were jelly beans, more specifically, little Jelly Bellys in a plastic bag.
I was saved!
I did not wait. I scooped up a handful and put them in my mouth. I put my hand back in the bag and scooped more to be ready when there was room in my mouth again. I was saved.
As I chewed I started to notice all the flavors. What were all these flavors I was noticing? There was a lot there, for sure. Sweet of course, but also sour, and savory. And something…grass?
“Oh crap,” I thought. As my brain and body started to come back from the wall as the sugar made its way into my blood, I thought, “Oh crap. Oh crap.”
“Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans” are indeed made by the Jelly Belly company, but they were originally a fictional candy from the world of Harry Potter. In the first book, as Harry is introduced to the world of magic, he discovers there are mirror-world foods like Jelly Bellys that have prank flavors such as: “Sardine, Black Pepper, Grass, Horseradish, Vomit, Booger, Earwax, Dirt, Earthworm, Spaghetti, Spinach, Soap, Sausage, Pickle, Bacon, and Rotten Egg.”
These were all in my mouth. These are the candies my son did not eat, which is why they were still in the bag untouched.
My bonking salvation was in my mouth and I was not sure if I should continue to swallow or spit them out.
(You did see “vomit” was in that list, yes?)
I did keep chewing and I did keep swallowing. And I felt better after a few minutes.
I relaxed with a quick shower and then sat on the couch, opened Amazon.com, and ordered a half-pound bag of Haribo gummy bears.