The Princess And The Magic Garden

Two hours after I got off the bike, I’m still thawing out. Feet: cold; fingers: cold; body: just a wee bit shivery. That was brutal. The whole week’s been brutal. LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma just met Brutal head on: and survived. I was tempted to say win, but there are no winners in this game. The term they use with the families is no evidence of disease, so I’ll just settle for no evidence of frostbite or falling off. It’s been that kind of week.

People have been asking me “how do you do this”? Two years down the road, I can rephrase that slightly “how can you keep doing this”? The difference is the experience that comes with living with this hell for the third time. It’s about knowing that you’ve been here before, survived it, and come back for more. Isn’t that exactly what the kids go through when it’s round after round of adult chemo at age three?

This is what I wrote in December 2013:

I may have mentioned this in a previous blog but I’ll risk repeating myself by slapping a fiver on Windguru @2/5 to get the forecast right. Last weekend Windguru predicted a family of wee Bawbags in the week just past and it certainly did not disappoint. I’ll be straight up and say that I lost count of the number of times I got drenched (on the outside) but of course that wasn’t the issue: it was the wind.

To be honest you could have thrown Wednesday, Thursday and Friday into a bag and just labelled it Groundhog Day. Hey, the Fenwick Muir can be a desolate and unforgiving place at times. You see the problem isn’t the 3 miles up the hill into the wind from Giffnock to Newton Mearns, that’s just the support act. The fun doesn’t start until you come round the corner past the Malletsheugh, over the motorway and onward into the unlit night sky past J5 of the M77. When it’s blowing from the South, the West or the South West (well, that’ll be 95% of the time then) then the 10 miles from there to Fenwick are the personification of mind over matter. For one, it’s unlit; for two, it’s horribly exposed; for three, if a heavy goods goes past on the adjacent northbound carriageway (I’m on a dedicated bike lane thank goodness) you get the full works.

Yet those ten miles on the homeward leg define the LifeCycle project better than even getting up at 5:15am. Quite simply, they are hellish on days like Groundhog Day. Imagine going downhill and pedalling hard to manage, wait for it… 6 miles an hour. Yup, been there, done that: Wednesday.  Imagine thinking “I’ve been here and felt like this before”. Yup, been there, done that: Thursday. Imagine going (ever so slightly) uphill and having to drop into the wee ring just to maintain forward progress. Yup, been there, done that: Friday. And soaked all three times.

My mind is so focussed on those three days that I can’t fully appreciate how difficult Monday and Tuesday were, except on Tuesday I remember getting in, getting showered and going straight back out to do the fitness work at Joe’s football team. Those boys are lucky because it doesn’t really matter how bad the weather is: if I’m just off the bike in bad weather, they get to work extra hard, just because I know they’ll appreciate it in those conditions. Mind games, eh?

On top of all that, someone will need to remind me which day it was that I left the house in the morning to lashing hailstones and a completely white road. Indeed, it was white all the way to the top of the Mearns when the road eventually turned black (ironically, that’s the complete opposite of Bonus Miles week back in November when the Mearns was the start of the Road To Hell.

That was this week: again. Except I was lucky because Monday morning was so horrible that I got up early when the rain was smashing off the window at the back of 4am and bagged 32 miles with the wind. The only issue was being able to control the bike at max miles per hour when I wasn’t even pedalling. The return leg, you’ve guessed it, was back into that wind, although it had relaxed slightly to maybe only 30 against. But you get by: you always get by. 58 miles on a truly awful day was a result, believe me.

And so it carried on: driving rain, strong winds, freezing cold, this week had the full package.

But see that experience I talked about: this same week two years ago, when I was only three months into LCFN, I clocked 162. And I thought that was good. It was good because it stood at number three on the most miles at that time. Never knock where you’ve come from: it’s all experience at the end of the day, and one day you just might need to fall back on it. Now roll the clock forward twelve months and we’re talking 219 miles this time last year. That was number 15 on the all-time list of miles a year ago. Then we come to this week, a dreadful week weatherwise, and probably much worse than either of those two because the weather didn’t feature prominently in either blog…

258 miles: quinque on the 2015 all time list and a seismic shift away from where LCFN was twelve months ago. My goodness this bike has evolved a life of its own: first week of November 2014: first 250 mile week. Roll it forward a year and we’re talking four in a row.

And so to tomorrow.

A year (and a bit ago) Vanessa Riddle and I walked out at Celtic Park with the LCFN flag. Vanessa is a bit of a hero of mine because she beat neuroblastoma. Only 50% of kids do that. Then it came back and she beat it again. That doesn’t happen: normally. But Vanessa is no normal person. Vanessa is special. She’s a survivor. And while we were walking out onto the pitch at that game against Inverness, she told me that she wants to be a nurse when she grows up. Vanessa, you are still my hero.

That occasion marked 10,000 LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma miles: and now, a year on, I’m staring at 20,000. It will happen on Tuesday. As things stand, I’m 74 shy but 50 on Monday will set up an emotional ride into work on Tuesday morning.

A year ago, I didn’t know Princess Puddles.

A year ago, I didn’t know Mouldy.

I still fondly remember that Tuesday early in December when Mouldy phoned me (we’d never met at this point, y’understand) and he just came on the phone and blurted out “they’ve cancelled Belfast. That’s the whole reason I’m doing this, to go to Belfast. I want to do Belfast. If I go, will you do it with me”. And in that moment (Mouldy probably still doesn’t realise it to this day), a lifelong friendship was forged. Mouldy is a Team Oscar legend on a bike. You cannot fathom the respect I have for that man.

Which brings us nicely to tomorrow…

I decided a while back that I wasn’t going to miss the mark with 20,000 miles. For a start it falls at a horrible time of the year. And at the beginning of the year, as I was about to go under the surgeon’s knife, it was the one target I set myself for 2015: 20K by my mother’s 90th: it’s still two weeks away.

The original LCFN flag is in Australia. I have its twin brother. And tomorrow the twin is going on a wee adventure. I’ll be up at daft o’clock for a Saturday morning and jumping on a train. Then I’m meeting up with Mouldy and the pair of us are jumping on another train. Then another. And when we get off that one, we’re going to a magic garden to meet a Princess… Puddles.

The 20,000 mile photoshoot will be of wee Eileidh with the LCFN flag. I profess that I don’t understand how these things work, but wee Eileidh, then aged just two and a bit, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma the day after Oscar Knox gained his angel wings. Oscar got me started on this adventure, and to this day I still believe that he’s out there with his bellows and his super soaker, giving it “try this big man”. I never had the opportunity to meet Oscar: but Mouldy did, and the stories he tells are truly inspiring. Oscar was Mouldy’s living legend: Eileidh is mine.

It’s not often that you achieve something in your life that you can look back on and say “y’know what, I’m really pleased I went for that, but 20,000 miles on a push bike for kids with cancer is one of mine”. It won’t feature in the annals of charity fundraising because a single minded bloke with a passion is not corporate news. But Vanessa Riddle, Oscar Knox, Mackenzie Furniss and Eileidh Paterson are my heroes. I might be suffering out there right now but that‘s insignificant against where you guys have been. We are in this together.

I’m excited. Actually I’m very excited. I can’t wait for tomorrow…

I’m off to see the Princess in the magic garden.