It’s All Downhill From Here

My life is characterised by things that are difficult. I have a tough job, although because I enjoy it, it often seems more like play than work. I’ve been programming computers for almost forty four years. I’ve had a hectic family life, in that Jane and I once calculated that we were out ferrying kids here there and everywhere seven days/nights out of seven. And I’ve always chosen the hardest physical challenges, whether that be running up and down hills, running marathons and then some (you should try running or walking for 24 hours sometime…) and now LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma.

I was out for 9 weeks after my hernia operation, nine weeks in which I managed to put on a stone in weight. I’m rather ashamed to admit that it’s hanging around my midriff like a saggy bag. Maybe I should’ve turned my nose up to the beer while I was sat with my feet up. But the bottom line is that the time off the bike allowed me to recharge my batteries, both physically and mentally, and now that I’m starting to really believe that I’m getting back, I can finally do something about the weight and that darned 25,000 mile target.

Regular readers will know that I’m an avid fan of Windguru. If you want to know what the weather’s going to do 8 days from now, then look no further than Windguru. Guru by name; Guru by nature. It rarely screws up. So last weekend, showing more than a passing interest in this week’s weather because all of a sudden it matters again, I had a wee shufty at the forecast. And pretty dreadful it was too. I was so concerned in fact, given that I’d only been back on the bike for a week and a bit, that I posted this wee note on the LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma Facebook page:

That old adage “take each day as it comes” has never been more appropriate…

Tomorrow and Tuesday are shaping up to be immensely challenging on the weather front and I would much, much rather have faced it a few weeks down the road…

But hey, I never went into this thing expecting that it was gonna be easy so let’s just find a gear that’s gonna get me home both days….

I mention it because these last few days have been absolute hell. Monday morning was crunchy from the off, and when it’s crunchy in Stewarton, you just know you’re in for a real treat when you get out of town. I made it up the first hill okay but the second one is steeper and as soon as I attacked it, the back wheel just started skidding. There are few more worrying gigs on a bike than going uphill, clipped onto the pedals, then the back wheel slides and you end up going nowhere. The trick is to unclip before you fall over sideways. So that was me, I had to push the bike 50 yards up the second hill but thankfully I made it up the next three without further incident. However by the time I reached the A77, the road surface was glazed in fine crusted hail. Where the surface was virginal white, there was sufficient grip to be had, but where motors had been over the road and the hail was compacted, you were in trouble. That made it particularly tricky tip toeing round corners where vehicles had taken the middle line across the road. I stopped to take a couple of photos of the conditions and duly tweeted them off to my masters at the travel desk at BBC Scotland: “Look, a road that’s not been gritted”!

Well if the morning run was difficult, then the evening return leg was simply hell on earth. There was a good 30mph headwind blowing from the South East, ie into my face from my left hand side. On the lower slopes of the Ayr Road, it carried a payload of rain, but by the time I passed the Malletsheugh and headed out onto the Muir, the rain quickly turned to driving sleet. Just making forward progress was difficult enough without the added attraction of icy daggers slamming into my face. Oh, and for the record, the waterproof Sealskinz extreme winter cycling gloves that I wore for the return trip were absolutely useless. Waterproof my arse. I suspect they test these things whilst doing the school run in a 4×4 in Chelsea, because one thing these waterproof Sealskinz extreme winter gloves are not is waterproof. Unfortunately that’s what I bought them for so you can take it for granted that I feel totally ripped off.

Tuesday afforded me an easy run into work: no ice, although it was still cold courtesy of the biting wind. Isn’t pre-dawn meant to be the coldest time of the day? The fun was once again reserved for the trip home. I had a conference call scheduled with my boss in the States for half four so I was an hour later than normal leaving the factory. That hour was the hour of daylight that we gained at the weekend and I was about to lose it big style. The wind was even stronger than Monday night and had swung round to the west. With blackening skies up ahead, I knew this was no time to be caught out on the Muir so I hung a right at the Little Loch Fisheries and whilst that route is not normally favoured because it’s shorter, it does offer a degree of protection as it climbs. Unfortunately however, no sooner had I gone over the summit of the climb than the heavens opened, with winds gusting somewhere between 40 and 50 mph. The sleet of Monday night had now been replaced by a full on raging blizzard and those last five miles were basically an existence of trying to stay on the bike. It was one of the worst experiences of the winter (except this is meant to be spring).

As if all that wasn’t enough, I was awake several times on Tuesday night, listening to the hail smashing off the Velux window. The final time, I checked my watch: 4:15am. “Oh Oh, I’ve to be out there in under an hour: this is going to be fun: again”. And it was… 11 miles of white crunchy hail cum snow, interspersed with occasional black ice. Just as on Monday morning, I found it challenging but never really felt danger. You don’t until you’ve actually crashed. I did however stop to take another photo of the ungritted, untreated A77 at Floak and duly sent it off to the travel gurus. This one even merited a Favourite on receipt!

But the thing that has defined this week more than anything has been the constant screaming of pain and emptiness in my legs. I’ve conveniently erased from my memory how sore my legs get by Wednesday. Monday’s just an ache, Tuesday’s more marked but by Wednesday night my legs are really, really complaining. The mental counterbalance is “just two more days, just two more days”. So somehow I get through Thursday then Friday takes care of itself. Weekend off; repeat…. But with this being only the second week back, and the weather being particularly vicious, it’s been especially hard. And my scar’s been getting progressively sorer too. I’m writing this on Thursday and my miles for this week are already up on last week, with the prospect of 200+ if I ride tomorrow. The legs will just have to get on with it, like they always do. The only thing that will stop me is the pain from my op site, and that decision will be made when I wake up tomorrow morning, or indeed if it wakes me up in the night. I hate to let myself down, and I hate even more to let down the kids that I’m raising money for. But if I’m too sore, then I’m too sore and I’ll have to deal with it. I can hear Leona’s voice in the back of my head: something about better some this week and some next week than loads this week and none next week or the week after. “Leona, I hear you”.

The bottom line here is that I’m nowhere near full fitness, I’m more than a bit sore but I’m giving it all I’ve got in the circumstances. It’s the best I can do and at least in doing that I’m mirroring, in my own way, the effort that the kids are putting in when they fight the disease. No one is finding this easy right now, not me, not wee Eileidh, not even Gail, Eileidh’s mum. But we keep going because we have to, because there basically is no alternative. You give it all you’ve got or you give it nothing at all. And I’ll let you into a secret: I don’t do nothing at all. Never have and never will.

The best I can say right now is that because I’m over halfway, it’s all downhill from here.

If only…

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