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