If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that fate plays a big part in LCFN, especially since I never know from one day to the next where this adventure is going to lead me. Things happen that I can’t explain, so I just sit back and wonder how this can possibly be. Today has been one of those days, and this tale is one of those stories. I had no notion of this before I hit the road this morning.
I want to take you back to 1962 when I was nine years old: that’s roughly speaking how old Vanessa was when she started out on her interminable journey through the hell of neuroblastoma. It was the year that Bob Dylan released his second album Freewheelin’. It’s ironic that such an iconic release should bear a title so tuned into cycling because whilst my mates on the Highland March like to rattle my cage about taking a breather on the long downhills, they fail to see the significance of scaling the top of the hill in the first place. It’s most certainly not lost on me: another 12,600ft of climbing this week alone and 1.25 million feet of ascent since August 2013.
Anyway, back to Dylan…
The Freewheelin’ album presents Dylan at his most challenging of the establishment, and I want to pick over the bones of his work to compare where society was back them compared to where it is today.
Side one opens with the iconic Blowin’ In The Wind featuring the classic line “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man”? That was a hook into asking how much does someone have to do in order to have their basic human rights. Roll the story forward fifty years: I read recently that Cancer Research UK spend less than 2% of their entire budget on children’s cancer. The hint is in the title: Research. Children are our future, and they have a basic right to as much, if not more, of the research budget than people of my age who’ve actually had a life and maybe even influenced our outcomes through lifestyle choices. Kids don’t have that luxury. And when Dylan went on to ask “How many seas must a white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand”, he’s really asking how long will it be before people find peace and safety. “How many times must the cannonballs fire, before they are forever banned”? I cannot but ask myself the obvious question: if we stopped bombing other nations and poured that money into the health of our children, how much better would the world be for everyone, both now and in the future?
Track two, side one brings me to the point of this blog: it’s both the hook that caught my attention and the glue that holds the whole thing together. “Girl from the north country” could be about any girl in any situation, and speculation was rife at the time as to which girl Dylan was referring: but make no mistake, if you needed proof that Dylan was a man ahead of his time, then that girl is Eileidh Paterson. The song’s an adaptation of Scarborough Fair, which itself is derived from a traditional song about a supernatural character who is able to perform impossible tasks. Once again, that wee person is Eileidh Paterson.
Then we arrive at track four “Down the highway” which Dylan described thus: “What made the real blues singers so great is that they were able to state all the problems they had; but at the same time, they were standing outside of them and could look at them. And in that way, they had them beat”. I stand outside of the problems that Eileidh faces in very much the same way each of you reading this stands aloof from the issues that I face when I go out on the road for two hours every day. But I am not foolish enough to equate my challenges with hers. However I can still look up to the fact that she has beaten the odds once, and that gives me hope that she will do it a second time. Eileidh is extraordinary.
“Don’t think twice, it’s alright” is regarded by many as a Dylan masterpiece. It was written as a bittersweet love song after his girlfriend elected to live in Italy: but in the context of LCFN, it’s about Eileidh facing and defeating neuroblastoma for a second time.
And so to what in my opinion is the masterpiece of the album. When I messaged Gail this morning to let her know what I thinking in terms of this blog, which was never, ever going to be an easy one to write, this was the centrepiece. My own kids used to dread this song coming on in the car when they were wee, because it goes on for ages, and doesn’t ever join up: which is the whole point…
When Dylan penned “A hard rain’s gonna fall”, he had fifty songs in his head but no time to write them all: so instead he took the opening line of each and knitted them into a single song. It’s a contender for my favourite Dylan track of all time, simply because it’s genius, but when we relate the deeper meaning to Eileidh and where she is right now, then I’m happy to believe that Bob Dylan wrote the song just for her.
Eileidh is ill: very ill. This Wednesday, she will start chemotherapy for the second time. Gail’s been here before. Cerys has been here before. Callum has been here before. Ian, Eileidh’s papa, has been here before. I feel for the whole family, but I feel especially for the kids.
“A hard rain’s gonna fall” is from around the time of the Cuban missile crisis and people kinda believed that that’s what he was writing about. He denies it but from where I’m sitting right now, it doesn’t matter. The hard rain that Eileidh is going to live through in these coming weeks is going to show the world that she is one in a million. See those million feet of climbing that I spoke of earlier? Every single one is dedicated to Eileidh Paterson in the coming weeks. And if Eileidh needs more, then the whole LCFN team will do more. This is a team game: we will hurt to make her pain more bearable…
I don’t think I have ever put in as many miles of climbing in a seven day week as I have this week. Almost thirteen thousand. 219 miles at almost fifteen miles an hour. Epic. My hernia scar from 18 months ago is nagging because of the effort. My thumb from February’s crash is still sore and awaiting physio. But there is no giving up. There is no slackening of the effort. And there is most certainly no thought of LCFN ending in 327 miles time.
I created the LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma club on Strava back in May for a reason and I’m actively recruiting cyclists to chuck miles into the LCFN pot. A month ago, it was just Stevie McLuskey et moi. Now we are eight strong, and we have our first international member in Andy O’Rourke in Australia. When people ask our guys “what’s this Neuroblastoma thing you’re in on Strava”, the answer is simple: “together, we’re raising awareness about an aggressive childhood cancer, and by just getting out on my bike, I’m contributing something to the team effort”…
See this week: the team racked up 703.8 miles. Vinny was top dog, just shy of 300 (the man’s a beast on wheels, by the way, but then you’d need to be to be a mate of Mouldy’s).
The Strava LCFN team is the future of the adventure. Together, we’re now up to 1,569 miles in pursuit of our initial target of 100,000. And if you think we’re not going to make a million, think again…
My own personal endgame is slap bang in front of me. On Sunday 3rd July, everyone and anyone is invited to be on a bike in Millport at 10:30am for a ceremonial ride round the island. I’m told it’s flat but I’ve never been so I guess I’ll find out. Ten miles a circuit and I’m reckoning on an ice cream each lap. But it’s no longer going to make the actual 25,000th mile. That’s because the Frank Loves Joan CD “About A Girl” (which is Eileidh by the way), is being released on the 1st. Ever since I discovered that, I’ve been racking up extra miles so that Amelie (who is FLJ) and I can contemplate Eileidh’s fight in unison. It will be one very, very special day.
So, to appease my Highland March mates one last time, I have fifteen cycling days to go (with a business trip to Liverpool to fit in the middle) and whereas I’ve been banging in really stressful miles these last couple of weeks, the rest of the journey is basically