A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall – LCFN 2017

Was it a premonition that stopped me writing this final blog of 2017 on Friday night? Or was it the fact that there was still a whole stack of drama still to unfold, that not only took this LCFN year right to the wire, but ultimately left it remembering its hero.

This is the story of 2017, but before we look back, it’s worth noting how this final week unfolded. But in order to do this bit of the story justice, we need to wind the clock back thirteen days to Monday Dec 18th. It was at five o’clock on that Monday afternoon that I got a text from Neil at Fast Rider Cycles, to say that the Gold bike was good to go again. The total mileage for the year at that point sat at 9,071, LCFN having just lost seventeen of the previous twenty six days to a combination of mechanical issues and ice.

Not only was the dream of the first 10,000 mile calendar year out of the window, second prize, in terms of bagging the most miles in an LCFN year, was also slipping away at a rate of knots. I needed to beat 9,525: 35 miles a day average for thirteen days, including Christmas Day. Show me a challenge and I’ll show you LCFN…

In my old age, I’ve adopted an unwritten rule that I won’t ride on ice because of the inherent risks. But I’ve had to kick that self imposed constraint into the long grass on a few occasions these last two weeks because of an idea that I had when I set out on the Gold bike on the 19th: what if I could match that 2014 total, then add five miles to it? As I set out on that Tuesday, I just felt re-energised: the Gold bike, which Eileidh Bear sat on before I did, and an objective in the most depressing, miserable depths of mid-winter that could ultimately lead to a lasting memory of Puddles’ short life.

But first let’s turn the clock back to some of my personal highlights: the wee things that got me through, and other moments that will stay with me forever.

From January, and the blog The Next Time

There was a slight hint from moi on the LCFN Facebook page yesterday of being a bit down. I’ll let you into a secret: I was, and JJ spotted it. A few minutes later, I got a nice message from the other side of the world asking me if I was okay. Thank you, Julian. At the end of the day, I am only human, and almost sixty four to boot. On days like yesterday, I feel it. But JJ’s message cheered me up no end, and was possibly the difference between me not going out at all (a sore leg and cold rain is a demoralising combo) and heading out the door at 8:30pm in unlit black fog.

The very next week, in It’s Now Or Never, this appeared:

My wee friend Tara, who co-ordinates the foodbanks across the north east of Glasgow, posted an image of a bloke pulling another bloke out of a hole with a snappy caption. Simple but right to the point:

“Helping one person might not change the world but it could change the world for one person”.

That’s what I was missing. I needed that line to join the stuff that’s been happening on the road to the stuff that’s been happening in Puddles’ world two hundred miles away. So let me rephrase Tara’s wee slogan:

“Helping Puddles might not change the world for all kids battling cancer but it could change the world for Puddles”.

And the final blog of January, When Tomorrow Comes, carried this line that continued to bind LCFN and Eileidh’s Journey together:

Tough weeks come, and tough weeks go, and as every tough week is cast aside onto the scrapheap of failed failures, the next trip out the door becomes the most important. Ever.

It’s taken 745 LCFN cycling days to get to this point. And every one of them has been as important as any of the 995 days since wee Princess Puddles was diagnosed. Next Wednesday, February 1s,t will be Eileidh’s 1000th day of fighting the disease. We’re both still hanging in there.

For the Princess, and for me, every single day is a bonus.

At the start of February, Jane and I went to see Trainspotting 2 and that prompted this outburst of hashtags in the blog Choose Life:

#ChooseProgrammingAt6am

#ChooseProgrammingInWaitingRooms

#ChooseProgrammingOnTrains

#ChooseProgrammingInAMedicalPractice

Little did I know back then that I would have my own virtual medical practice before the end of the year. And so to the end of February and this week gem from We Shall Overcome:

“Eileidh, you look like the bravest little girl in the world to me. I live in Italy, a place that, just in case you didn’t know, looks like a boot. It’s a beautiful place and it’s surrounded by the sea side. Well, I’m quite distant from where you are now but I’m still quite sure you are getting all the love I’m sending you. I check to see how you are doing everyday. A big bacio from Italy”.

And in that same week, as if we needed any additional proof that LCFN had become an international gig, the flag was in Fiji.

In March, JJ kicked off this story…

Eileidh’s following is international, and she has a small, loyal band of supporters in South Australia, led admirably by JJ. I’ve known Julian for most of the time that I’ve been doing LCFN, and we even caught up briefly at the back end of last year when he was over for a couple of weeks. JJ hosts a weekly show on Radio KSA in Adelaide and for over two years, he’s been punting LCFN on the airwaves.

Anyway, JJ took it upon himself to reach out to Neuroblastoma Australia, the Strayan equivalent of Solving Kids Cancer (which is a joint venture between the USA and the UK). A couple of emails went backwards and forwards before this week, one headed my way: Would I be interested in going out to Australia to do a bike ride to help promote Neuroblastoma Australia?

I said yes.

And that, of course, will be the focus of next year…

One of the key features of this LCFN year has been the fuel tank. As I’ve pushed longer in search of miles, so the fuel tank has become a pivotal feature of the bike ride. Mine holds 1825 calories or thereabouts. And one of the things that’s been interesting, experimental and educational is finding how far I can push it before the tank runs dry: today, tomorrow and maybe the day after: it becomes a cumulative thing if you’re not careful. Eighteen hundred calories at six hundred an hour (my bike burn rate) is three hours. If I time it right and scoff beforehand, then maybe I can stretch that to four. But it’s always borderline and I know it. Coming home on fumes has been a feature of the back end of the year.

The middle of the year was both inspirational and a sledgehammer. Our mam died the day after election day, then three weeks later, on July 1st, Eileidh passed away. If you’re reading this on Hogmanay, then please spare a thought for Gail’s family tomorrow. And if you’re reading it after the bells, then stop and feel for them also. The first of any month is difficult for the family: the first of the new year especially so.

But Eileidh’s passing galvanised LCFN. For a while I couldn’t find the motivation to push hard anymore, but by the end of July, after we’d been away for a short break, I went back to basics and set my stall out to celebrate the back end of the year in Eileidh’s memory. Little did I know that a week of five mile routes round Stewarton in the first week of July would be mirrored in the final stat of the year.

The numbers have been good: 29 two hundred mile weeks. The Go Gold month of September returned 1,353 miles, easily the most in a month since this gig began. Cue the I’m Not Like Everybody Else blog at the end of the second week:

Right now, I can say with some degree of certainty that I will never forget this month. September 2017 will shine forevermore as the month when I was on it. And like never before. Missing out on the first merely lit the fuse.

That fuse lit the bonfire under four consecutive three hundred mile weeks. If being away with my work on the first of the month was milking a rest, then averaging 46 a day for the remaining 29 days, on top of a full working week, was the cream.

But the Gold bike is the (permanent) feature that I will remember most from this year. It was a long time in the planning and our mam’s hard life, both as a teenager in the war years and latterly as a widow of 45 years, lives on through the Gold bike: the pennies that were left in her estate for her errant son were re-invested in the symbol of kids’ cancer awareness. There are very, very few gold bikes on the road: but this journey has one.

And so, finally this year, back to this week, and ultimately back to today. Storm Dylan dropped its payload through the early hours, and as a result, on safety grounds as much as anything else, the last run of the year was delayed until the wind had died down. It was certainly one of the coldest, wettest outings of the year. But if five LCFN winters teaches you one thing, it teaches you this: you can get through this: there’s always a way of getting through this…

I needed ten miles today to knock 2014 off top spot: my mind was made up before I even left the house: with the rain sheeting down, the wind howling and 2C registering on the mercury, just ride 7.5 miles then turn for home.

But why fifteen miles instead of ten, I hear you ask…

Because Eileidh will be #ForeverFive