Running the risk of starting off with some pseudophilosophy, but I think we can agree that life has a distinct beginning and, of course, one “big end”. And whatever happens in between, you can’t really quarrel with those two points
Almost three years ago, I set out writing this blog – not really sure of where it would go, but it was meant to provide a sounding board for my own experiences of MS and to offer insights to the similarly recently diagnosed. If they happened to be cyclists, I hoped that they’d find a narrative which, whilst although inevitably different to the stories they would face, would offer them information (and inspiration?) where I had struggled to find the same.
I have now written about the period of my initial diagnosis; two chemotherapy treatments and their aftermath; and many of the highs and lows in between.
Now, in December 2017, this is certainly not the Big End, but it feels as though a story – my story – has now run something of a full arc.
Although, again this year, I suffered my annual autumnal malaise, I began to feel that I had reached a stability with my MS – and, though this may not be exactly the life I would have chosen – good health in the summer, with periods of poor health on either side – it is still a life very much worth living. In fact, this last summer, must have been one of the best of my life – which I hope came across in my write-ups of my various summertime tours.
My MS is at times saddening. Disappointing. Frustrating. And on rarer occasions, upsetting. Worrying. And, on the odd occasion, defeating.
But this year I have ridden my bike. And, at times, have felt as healthy as I’ve ever been.
I await the future, like all of us. But I am happy in the present.
Where I’ve had to give ground to MS, I like to think that it has always been a considered retreat – inch by inch – rather than a panicked capitulation.
Trying to make the most of the hand still in play.
Whilst, at one level, all bike rides must ‘start’, and then ‘finish’, it is the want of us ‘cyclists’ to impose our own arbitrary lines in the sand – to set landmarks to reach (or fail) / win or lose.
Earlier this year, I wrote about my bike ride down the Pacific Coast of America, but one slight regret I omitted: initially I had planned to ride all the way down to the Mexican border. It had been wholly within reach until a perfect storm of mechanical (cracked seat post) and electronic (broken GPS device and phone) malfunctions had slowed me down as I approached San Francisco. I was never to make up that lost time.
Of course, the ride I did was “my ride”. Rich with variety, adventure and (self-awarded) glory. But I never quite made it all the way down.
My line in the sand, had crept northwards until LA became my finish line.
I felt the glow of completion; but also the nagging regret of those last ~150 miles left unridden – to some arbitrary line in the sand that I had deemed it necessary to reach.
A refusal to capitulate. But coupled with an acknowledgement of changing circumstance and possibility.
Trying to make the most of the hand still in play.
My last touring ride this year was following the River Rhone, down from Lake Geneva, all the way to the Mediterranean.
Southern France was rusting with autumnal colours and, even down through Provence, winter’s weather was knocking at the door.
I had planned the route somewhat ad hoc, but was revelling in an anticipated sense of ‘completion’ – riding a river from source to sea.
It was only late on the second day, that my friend pointed out to me that the source of the river was actually several days ride to the North of Lake Geneva.
Like the final leg down to Mexico, this was going to have to be conquered another time. Or perhaps another lifetime.
As the river widened towards the coast, at least the saltwater goal of the Med, remained in sight.
Until we awoke on the final morning to a howling storm and 50mph winds.
We made it as far down as Arles.
My friend was blown clean off his bike.
Twice a cross wind pushed me off the road and into the verge.
I was hit by a runaway rubbish bin as it was blown towards me like a bowling ball.
One bridge proved impossible to cross. In the end I walked my bike from one side to the next, pausing behind any windbreak I could find.
So the red-line of my ride didn’t quite reach the sea.
And riding through heavy rain on the second day meant that I had a serious head cold setting in as we caught the train home.
The next day, my old MS symptoms were blazing and I spent the next few days in bed swaying with a buzzing vertigo and a pulsing muscle ache.
On that occasion, the line in the sand hadn’t been pulled back quite fast enough.
As I lay in bed, I reflected that it’s always better to have a hand in play. Even it’s not the one you would necessarily wish for.
The most arbitrary of all my cycling goals is the number of miles I cycle in each calendar year.
Luckily, web-based tracking tools do all the work for me – leaving me to ride to the next pointless milestone, which no one else but me will notice.
A few years ago, I wondered if I would ever reach 10,000 km. That became 10,000 miles. Then 12,000. Then 1,000 every month.
This year, with no long hospital stays; no chemotherapy treatments; and a summer of touring, my running total is 14,300, with 15,000 very much in my sights.
But I’m now off my bike again.
Feeling down with MS symptoms nagging away.
A line in the sand that I can almost touch. My eyes flitting between the rich pot, and the hand I’ve been dealt.
No one but me will notice.
But Disappointing. Frustrating. And, on rarer occasions, upsetting. Worrying.
I must remember to keep adjusting the lines that don’t matter – so I can still go on and reach the ones that do.
For now, LA (not Mexico); Arles (not the Med); 14 (not 15).
When I started this blog, I’d already been suffered the cumulating symptoms of MS for 5-6 years.
Whilst, when I finish this paragraph, I’ll be off into the unknown, diagnosis was never the beginning, nor is this the end.
When it asks for a mile, I may give it an inch – but I will fight it on the hills in Bristol; and on my tours to Europe and beyond. On club-rides, lunchtime socials, head-down time trials and commutes to work.
I’m lucky to be CyclingWithMS and long may that continue – MS may be a fact, but the cycling bit is still a choice.
I’ll add to this blog if there are any developments or change – but, for now, all the best, and thanks for reading.