For almost 20 years, one thing has been a constant in my life.
My love of getting places on my bike.
This all started when I was working in London – wending my way to work through alleys and backstreets, over cobbles and footbridges. Firstly, down to Blackfriars and, then latterly, Canary Wharf. Since then, I’ve taken my bike (and its taken me) to some of my favourite places in the world: I have mountain-biked across Iceland and ridden Lands End to John O’Groats; toured the Rhone and the Rhine; and cycled the width of France and the length of the Pyrenees.
When we first met, my (now) wife and I mountain biked around South Wales together; cycling became how I met new friends and part of my identity – representing both what I had done in life and what I still wanted to do. Whenever I find myself somewhere new, the first thing I have to do is to explore by bike – only then can I feel comfortable with where I am in the world.
I have never been a bike racer – but through various cycling clubs I’ve entered (rather slow) time trial events, hill climbs, endurance races and sportives. I’ve ridden in audaxes, mountain bike marathons, triathlons, charity events and Sunday Club rides… the wheels always turning… always wanting to see around that next corner (always one more)… I used to ride over 5,000 miles a year; this became 6 then 7. In 2013 I cycled over 10,000; last year the figure was over 12,000 miles.
2015 started like any other year. I tried to lift the gloom of winter by making exciting plans for when the days would grow longer and the sun would come out again. I had long read about the world famous Paris-Brest-Paris cycling event – run in August this year – so targeted this as the year’s ambition. A friend of mine was also keen so, together, a whole series of qualifying events were booked, logistics organised and aspirations set. I was really excited by the prospect and couldn’t wait for summer.
Then, on 18th February 2015, I was hit head-on by a car as I cycled to work. It hurt. My bike was obliterated, but I was lucky. I had been knocked unconscious and needed 44 stitches in various facial wounds – but the only things I broke were a tooth and an index finger. Life would go on. But my recovery proved stuttering. I was convinced that I must have damaged my back as I was getting odd sensory distortions down my legs and unremitting pins and needles in my feet. I was sleeping 14 hours a night – and still needing a nap in the day. I was beset by an exhaustion and lethargy that I felt was out of keeping with the injuries I had sustained. Ultimately my GP advised me to report to A&E.
48 hours later the neurologist at Southmeads Hospital was explaining to me that that I was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. A game changer.