I’ve always quite liked the “clean slate” feeling of a new calendar.
It represents possibilities and potential: there’s all that empty room for plans and dreams that haven’t yet been squeezed out by the passage of time.
When I was a young backpacker I remember getting the same buzz of excitement as I stood, starry-eyed, in Paris’s Gare du Nord. Rather than the humdrum names of Slough, Daventry, Swindon or Barnstaple, the Departure Board was crammed full of new adventures: Barcelona and Brussels; St Petersburg or Bucharest; Budapest and Vienna.
It was as if all boundaries had been removed.
I know that there are textbooks that’ll tell you that January 1st is but “a Western construct” – representing nothing more than a arbitrary line in the sand (why wasn’t the line drawn at midnight on the shortest day to tally with the spinning of the planets and stars?) – but I quite like it the way it is. What couldn’t be done last year, becomes possible again. Things can be rectified; or re-built again.
Over Yuletide, my recovery from Lemtrada treatment was moving in the right direction. Bouts of vertigo ceased being daily. Some force deep inside me, my internal engine, began to give off little sparks again – trying to catch alight. I slept 9 hours a night and slowly turned pedals on my bike. There were a couple of unwanted moments when my balance disappeared – in a waiting room; in a restaurant; on a plane – but these were the exceptions, not the rule.
Since New Year, I’ve found myself glancing at lists of cycling events – like exotic destinations on that departure board: the Alps and Snowdonia; audaxes and day-tours.
At the moment though, these have to remain as mere sparks: they are always immediately followed by a reflection of my ongoing physical weaknesses and tiredness of fight.
Of course, it is the element of surprise that makes a curve ball such a good weapon:
Last Sunday, I donned my winter jacket, waterproof gloves, winter leggings and snood and headed out for my first long(ish) ride since my treatment.
I wondered what my body held in store for me.
A couple of hours later, as I rode on the A36, an on-coming motorist, who cannot have seen me, accelerated furiously into my lane as he overtook at (I’d guess) 50mph+ in wet conditions.
There was simply no room on the road for both me and him – I was forced into the tall roadside kerb, which I momentarily scraped along before toppling over.
I wasn’t hurt, apart from a slightly sprained wrist and the indignity of a scratch of dirt up my left hand side but I’d suffered not only a front wheel blow-out, but a 2 inch slit in the tyre itself.
I tried, as best I could, to use the ripped inner tube to fashion an “emergency tyre patch” which would get me to the nearest bike shop (early on a Sunday morning).
As a footnote, it’s almost exactly a year since the last time I was hit, head-on, by a motorist as she drove up the wrong side of the road in Bristol. I still await any compensation for my injuries and all the damage that was done. Pleading guilty in the subsequent court case, the driver was fined £120 and given a suspended ban from driving.
As a further footnote, last year a speed camera captured me, very early in the morning, driving at 37mph along a deserted (straight and dry) Welsh road, designated as a 30, For this, I, too, was fined £120 and had 3 penalty points added to my license.
I only just finished my ride. No endurance. No stamina.
But my struggle was not with MS – it was with poor conditioning and an absence of training.
Hard work. But if it wasn’t? Well…. everybody would be doing it wouldn’t they?
My first building block of 2016 – albeit a slightly wobbly one.