Pre-ride. On the brink of something…. I just hope it’s not a precipice (or extinction…)


A bug starts

Sunday, a week ago, a bug hit my family. One by one, we succumbed to a 24 hour ailment – grumpy, pale faces and hours in bed. At the back of my mind I was a bit concerned about the potential impact on my planned holiday to the French Alps – but I had a week to recover, so there was an element of relief as well.

But by Tuesday things were looking a bit bleaker. I’m afraid the progression was all too familiar to me – a minor bug slowly escalating into more and more MS symptoms. The pins and needles were worsening – and the upper body exhaustion was kicking in. Come Wednesday, I was spending a third day in bed; on Thursday, I called in sick to work again and could barely lift my head off my pillow. A walk downstairs to the kitchen left me pale and exhausted, lying on the lino floor – my muscles were furiously buzzing and I had no strength. A dread was growing – my holiday getting closer…. I called my friend who was to meet me in Geneva. I was still desperately keen to get on that plane – but it wasn’t looking good. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal for 5 days because of nausea – so it wasn’t surprising that I was feeling weak.

The planned holiday was to cycle the “Route des Grandes Alpes” – a famous cycling route from Geneva to Nice, taking in some of the world’s most famous, and toughest, climbs. Over 500 miles in 5 days; with more than 50,000 feet of vertical climbing. I looked at the route and contemplated contingency plans… railway shortcuts… car hire… avoiding certain summits… 

The holiday had been wholly booked (and paid for) – so I called my travel insurers. I’d need a doctor’s note if I didn’t travel so, on Friday, I dragged myself to the doctors and sat with head in my hands in the waiting room, with cold sweats and shakes. My doctor said I’d be crazy to travel and wrote me a note for 2 weeks off work. I called my friend again and, on balance, he decided to cancel.

Oh this burnt away so badly at me…. those precious days off work getting closer…

I talked (and talked) to my wife about the possible options. On balance, I remained determined to at least get myself to Geneva – my worst case: I could hole up by the lake for 5 days and drink coffee. All I had to do was to get myself to the airport on Saturday morning.

On the flight, I slept like a zombie from runway to runway. And then for the whole 3 hours of the next train journey. I still couldn’t stomach a proper meal – but felt a bit better after all that shut-eye.


When I arrived in Geneva, first step was to get myself the 20 miles to my hotel. It was raining and dark. My front light had been damaged during the journey and wasn’t working <<just get to hotel. (bite sized progress)>>. But it was a slow ride despite being entirely flat. Eerie (not to say a bit dangerous) in the dark and feeling weak with tiredness, I arrived late (even later than I’d planned). The hotel was dark – the only light a glowing-blue goldfish bowl in reception.

I ate a bread roll for dinner; took a steroid; and then a gabapentine. I had diarhorea (which I’ve never been able to spell….) but didn’t know if that was caused by drugs or illness.

Sunday morning was meant to be Day 1 of the ride – if I was going to attempt it. When I woke up I could hear rain pattering on the shutters. The early morning view of the street was one covered with puddles.

I rolled out, feeling somewhat empty, into the dark.

50 metres later I stopped in the warmth of a “boulangerie” for a croissant.

500 metres later I pulled off the road again to put on my full rainproof gear – feet already wet through. If I was going to go for this, it was going to be one long day.

I tried as best I could to assess how I felt…. I wasn’t sure…. but thought that maybe I’d be ok.

The start

Cycling into Geneva in the dawn was an other-worldly experience. Rain sprinkled down on the lake, and the cobbled streets, criss-crossed with tram-tracks, glistened in the streetlights. I do love cycling through city centres as the sun comes up. A dreamlike quietness pervades – the empty lakeside bars with overturned chairs still looking hungover from the previous night out.

I hadn’t well-planned this early part of my route: I went back and forth down sidestreets and over footbridges. At one point, I had to walk down a long staircase, across a footbridge, then back up more steps on the other side. The sound of my cleated bike shoes echoed in the emptiness.

Eventually I arrived at Geneva Central Train Station. The start.

Decision time. If I was going to abort, this was where it would make the most sense.

I bought a banana and drank some water. I was definitely improved from yesterday. Even more definitely compared to the day before. I figured on another 48 hours of feeling weak. If I could just tolerate that, I’d have the rest of the holiday to enjoy. What to do?

I contemplated my options for fully 5 minutes. Making my mind up one way…. then immediately the other.

Ultimately I turned my wheels south and starting slowly pedaling towards Annecy.

Fuck you, MS, I’m going on holiday.


My family may recognise the below…

“Come to the edge, he said.

We are afraid, they said.

Come to the edge, he said.

They came to the edge, He pushed them….

and they flew.”

(Christopher Logue)


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