Hill reps and an everesting

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I’m making some big cycling plans for later this summer – some serious undertakings for adventure. I’m planning to do what I love doing: getting out on my bike; travelling to new places, on new roads, through new landscapes.

I hope that my blog will soon see a steady drip-feed of happy ride reports as the season unfurls, so more on this to follow…. I hope.

However, I know that I can’t just pursue these dreams on a whim. Preparation will be ‘all’: logistics; equipment and, of course, body. ‘Preparation’… then very much keeping my fingers crossed that my MS remains locked in its box.

Of course, in many ways, cycle-touring is what I’ve already spent years gearing up for: as I’ve commuted by bike and entered events which have dangled goals just beyond my easy reach. And I’ve long sought to explore new roads and find new hills, be it on my own, or out with clubs or friends. But the time is now nigh to train specifically for this summer’s miles, uncertain weathers and rugged terrains; and to get ready to ride with the inevitability of the unexpected. So, to this end, I’ve been doing some “hill reps” – i.e. finding some hills then riding up them on my bike.

As any cyclist will attest, it can be a tough medicine. But I’m of the opinion that every such obstacle surmounted now, can only stand me in better stead for the future.

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On the 23rd June, I started early on my bike. It was the summer solstice. Even at 5am, it was already uncommonly hot – the previous, truncated night I’d spent tossing and turning beside the biggest fan I could find.

Because I wasn’t planning to venture far from home, my bike was as light as it could be: race wheels; new tyres; and even a cleaned cassette. I was in shorts and a T-shirt. If I was to be climbing hills, I couldn’t have done it any lighter.

So I sought out a local climb…. and rode up it. I rode up it, paused for breath, then turned around and descended back to the start again.

The pain I’d been having with my right foot had gone. I had only the merest hint of MS pins and needles.

I felt good.

 

Repeated ascents then began to tick past. The first became 4, then 5. Slowly I began to lose count amongst all my water breaks, and stops for food.

I did, however, notice the temperature slowly rising. And rising. It hit 20 degrees when it was still early morning.

I tried to drink as much as I could – but I soon realised that dehydration would become my biggest impediment. The drip-drip of my sweat soon became a flow, and salt began to sting my eyes. My pauses at the summits became longer, and my recovery breathing deeper.

I knew I wasn’t drinking enough – but couldn’t manage to get more liquid down.

The thermometer reached 33 degrees.

 Tiredness began to creep in. Firstly my calves, then twinges of cramp in my thigh. The pressure points on the balls of my feet and palms of my hands began to hurt in the heat. I was beginning to get a dehydration headache.  But I chose to carry on. Today I’d decided to ride until I had got nothing left to give, for no reason other than to see what I could do.

Another ascent to the same summit. Back to the same starting point again. The Grand Old Duke of York.

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 I recalled a memory from my childhood when my mother would read me a book of fairy tales (” fairy tales and fantastic stories”). I always found them unduly spooky, and a bit unsettling before bed. But I couldn’t help but be enticed by the sensation of eeriness.

As I started another climb, I remembered tale of a goblin, tempting a young girl to the magical “goblin city”:

“Short or long to Goblin City?
The straight way’s short
But the long way’s pretty…”

I found the image of the goblin unnerving, as was the beat of this repeated rhyme.

As it turned out, the girl was so beset by indecision over this choice that the tale ended abruptly with her invite removed

I turned back down the hill again.

Back to the start.

The long way round

I mulled over that I would have chosen the long, pretty way. Unless I was late for something important I guess.

A straight line through life would feel no more than a race to the end. Without the hill reps

I was getting more and more tired as I climbed my bike back up again.

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I had known when I started that the heat of the day would be my biggest impediment, but I just couldn’t do enough to counter it.

I was beginning to feel seriously dehydrated – I began to wonder if I was dangerously so. I had drunk ~8 litres of water – and hadn’t gone to the loo once. It wasn’t enough. My ride began to feel as though it was almost done

I was low on energy, but stopped being able to get food down. I tried sucking on some boiled sweets as I rode but had to spit them out as my body refused. I began to feel pretty sick

What was this all about?…. Setting the bar for the summer; putting down a building block; seeing where I was, and where I could go.

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Eventually I stopped my bike for the final time that day. My right hand was starting to cramp up on the brake levers.

Tired.

I had done 8,950 metres of climbing.

Slightly more than the height of Mount Everest

When I got home, I lay down, both my legs pulsing with cramp. But nothing was going to stop me drifting off into the deepest sleep.

 

The long way round indeed. And, like life, certainly not straight.

I’m really happy for that to be my choice.

 

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Remittance

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Two years ago my MS felt out of control.

New symptoms were appearing every few weeks and, by late 2015, my neurological consultant had accelerated me onto a course of “Campath” chemotherapy.

I had a second dose in October 2016.

It had become difficult to separate the side-effects of the drug from further MS activity but, in summary, it’d be fair to say that my health had been patchy over the intervening 12 months.

 

When first diagnosed, of course the hope was that my variant of the condition would be towards the less aggressive end of the scale. This basically translates into a “relapsing-remitting” type (i.e. one that dissipates (or remits) between bouts (or relapses)), right at the benign end of the spectrum.

The very best possible scenario would be that my MS actually remits entirely. There have been cases where patients diagnosed with MS have gone on to live long and healthy lives with no further interference from the condition at all, but the fact that I had already suffered so many relapses, and had so many visible ‘lesions’ on my brain and spine to show for them, makes this less likely.

The law of averages dictates that 85% of newly diagnosed patient in their 30s (i.e. me) will have one of those relapsing-remitting types, likely to appear, then diminish, over a period of years. And I’m afraid that the most likely overall trajectory is one of deterioration: 65% of patients become “secondary progressive” within 15 years of diagnosis – this basically translates as a “sustained build up of disability” with little or no recovery between relapses.

My relationship with my MS is now one of seeking to avoid this mathematical probability; to avoid the occurrence of relapses; and to rejoice as much as possible in the fact that I’m not there yet. And, of course, fingers crossed, might never be.

 

I don’t know the exact reason why, but, June 2017, I’m certainly feeling much, much “better”. My MS symptoms feel like no more than murmurs, and I’m recovering from the minor bugs of everyday life within normal timeframes, rather suffering from them for weeks at a time.

Statistically, this is probably no more than where I should be: a period of remittance in between relapses. But I can’t help but be more optimistic than that: I’ve now got 2 bouts of chemotherapy under my belt; and have now been adhering to a much healthier regimes of MS-Diet and careful sleep patterns for 30 months. Although I remain mindful to the false dawns of ‘hope’, I can’t deny myself the excitement of feeling so very improved:

I would judge that I have been as healthy as I can remember for perhaps 8 or 9 years.

I am pushing niggles to the side – and I’ve been out cycling; working full-time; painting garden fences; and mowing the lawn. All things I have stopped taking for granted.

I’m lining up big cycling plans for the summer and have been getting myself ready, body and bike, for adventures to come.

 

I gritted my teeth when a stress fracture in my right foot took 6 weeks to heal; and I continue to do so now with an issue with my right knee. Frustratingly the pain there is being caused by a titanium pin inserted there many years ago- the surgeon is reluctant to do anything whilst my post-chemo immune system remains low: my latest blood results still show my ‘lymphocytes’ (read: infection killers) struggling at 0.5 against a ‘normal’ minimum of 2.

So I ignore my arthritis, cope with my grumbling optical neuritis and aim my bike at the horizon. As fast as I can.

 

65%. 15 years.

 

I chase more time. I chase life, perhaps always thinking that I might find it at the top of the next hill.

I feel pretty tired today but I’m planning a quick spin at lunch.

Despite the drizzling rain, I don’t want to risk missing it.

 

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