First tumble

Well I suppose it had to happen sooner or later but this was not how I imagined it would be or indeed this soon. But then I only have myself to blame…

I’ve been quite a keen cyclist for the past seven years. I’m not what you would call a racing or mountain bike enthusiast, just an evenings and weekends fair weather cyclist. You know, the typical office worker trying to keep the weight down and the circulation up. And I guess that is why I got into it originally – as a way to try and keep fit and to combat the effects that a fairly sedentary lifestyle can bring. The ominous spectre of middle age was looming…

But what started out as something that I felt sort of compelled to do gradually over time turned into something that I really enjoyed and would look forward to. At one point I bought a little trip computer so I could see how many miles I was clocking up each week, trip etc. In the first summer I had it I managed to clock up just over a thousand miles! Back then I seemed to be out on my bike just about every day. In the evenings after work I would change into shorts and T-shirt and play ‘beat the clock’. I used to have a 12 mile circuit that would take me around the housing estate and out into the countryside past Manydown farm to the neighbouring village of Oakley. I would constantly try to shave a few seconds off each time until it got to the point where I felt fit to collapse when I arrived home. On the occasions that I wasn’t trying to beat my own record I would adopt a more leisurely pace. There is a riding school out by Oakley and whenever I cycled through the village I would pull over and stop just past the old traditional stone church and lean over the gate to the field where the horses grazed and wait for them to walk over and say hello. Well sometimes I would be there for ages. You know what it’s like yourself; once you get chatting to a horse you just can’t get away, they just have to tell you their life story. That or complain about the ever rising price of hay :-).

At the weekends I would set off with a full bottle of water and head off towards one of the nearby towns such as Alton, Alresford or Andover. We don’t have any mountains here in Hampshire but we have plenty of hills and although it might look fairly flat on a contour map I can assure you that when you are on a bike you know about it! Each year I would try and stretch myself that much further by increasing the number of miles cycled in a day. I eventually ‘maxed out’ at 70 miles which was a full day’s cycling and left me completely exhausted by the time I crawled home that hot summer’s day. It had been the only time when my energy levels had completely collapsed at one point and I had to take a long rest before carrying on. And boy did I sleep well that night!

More recently I tended to do it purely for the pleasure of being out in the fresh air and the joy of passing through charming little villages full of thatched cottages, duck ponds and stone bridges. What a wonderful stress-free way to spend a day in relative peace and quiet away from the traffic congested ‘A’ roads. And on a summer’s day there is nothing better then to be out cycling down the country lanes with the sun on my back, wind in my hair and a big silly grin on my face as I hurtle down the hills!

So here we are in May and fast approaching June. With driving becoming a distant memory and walking rather limiting in range I was starting to get the itch to get back in the saddle. I hadn’t been cycling since last summer and I was curious to see if I could still do it. I felt fairly confident because walking wasn’t really presenting any problems and if I could start cycling then it might provide indicators of how the disease is progressing – in fact very much like I do with my walking. The indicators that I would look at most would be how my legs were performing; whether I felt weak or whether I felt that they were about to stop working altogether, my overall stamina level and also how I was breathing; whether I was struggling to breath cycling up steep inclines, or whether I just felt extremely tired at the end of a ride. So I would carefully keep a watchful eye for these early indicators so that if anything did start to develop I would be able to alert my GP.

Another reason for wanting to push myself physically is that I believe it is good to keep the limbs moving to help combat the stiffness that can set in. Sure it’s tiring but better that then have muscle tissue that has grown so stiff that moving the limb even with help becomes either difficult or painful. And hopefully by trying to keep the muscle tissue supple I will be able to keep the cramp at bay. And I suppose another very real reason for doing it is because one day I may not be able to so and I want to make the most of the here and now as some day all I’ll have will be these memories of mobility to feed off.

So a week ago today after first struggling to get the garage door open (not easy when you cannot raise your arms very high), I dusted down the frame and pumped the tyres up on my trusty Saracen Traverse. I clipped the trip computer to its cradle on the handlebars and set off. With a clear blue sky, the sun shining and a gentle breeze blowing it felt good to be back in the saddle on such a wonderful day and without a care in the world. I started singing ‘two wheels on my wagon, and I’m still rolling along…’

To be on the safe side I decided that until I felt confident and safe enough I would stay off the roads and just stick to the cycle paths that thread their way through the housing estate. All was going well until I approached the field (not far from my home) which is on a steep incline and I made a fatal mistake but one which had become intuitive to me since I started cycling. I stood up to gain extra leverage and as I did so I leaned forward to remain in an upright vertical position – BIG mistake! My centre of gravity shifted and suddenly my arms bore the full weight of my body. Immediately my arms collapsed under the load and the bike and I parted company as gravity took over. I hit the ground hard but cannot remember exactly how because it all happened so fast. The first thing I was aware of was a pain in my chest and struggling for a few seconds to breath. I had hit my chin against the pathway too and in those first few seconds I just lay there trying to collect my thoughts as all sorts of horrible scenarios flashed through my mind. Had I broken any ribs, had I punctured a lung, had I lost any teeth? I nervously ran my tongue over my teeth – everything seemed okay, nothing missing and no taste of blood. I ran my hands across my ribs but there were no sudden pains and nothing felt abnormal. I looked around for evidence of blood but there was none. So nothing immediately visible except for some grazing on both knees, hands, chin and left cheek although I still had some pain in my chest from hitting the deck so hard. Phew!

So that brought my first cycle ride of the year to a very abrupt halt. All the walking I’d been doing lately had lulled me into a false sense of security. And although it hurt quite a bit at the time I had been fortunate that I had suffered no major damage. I had managed to walk away with superficial grazing and some bruising which is now slowly fading. I had some slight pain in my chest for a couple of days perhaps from some pulled muscles but everything is gradually getting back to normal – whatever that is these days. One thing’s for certain, it sure hurts hitting the ground! As children we seem to be forever taking tumbles and yet we just seem to bounce right back as if made of rubber. But the older we get the more ‘rigid’ and frail we become. Ouch! Wouldn’t want to repeat that again! Naughty arms!

So I took a tumble and no doubt it won’t be the last. With muscle wastage comes unpredictability: hands can suddenly loose their grip, arms can fail to remain in an upright position, feet can drop causing a person to trip, and legs can suddenly fail to support, leaving a person crumbled on the floor. I think when my legs start to show signs of failing I’ll have to go round the house and bubble-wrap all the hard edges :-).

Apart from the physical hurt I’m feeling a bit down because I really had hoped that the bike would allow me to extend my travel radius and get out into the countryside a bit more, at least long enough to be able to enjoy some of the summer. I was so looking forward to it but it doesn’t look very likely now as the risks involved are too high should my weight shift suddenly in a way that I cannot compensate for quickly enough such as going down a steep hill with all my weight leaning forward. If my arms collapsed then…well it doesn’t bear thinking about. At least this time I had the sense to keep to the cycle paths. I suppose I could fit extended reach stabilisers like some bizarre form of land-based catamaran :-).

And just think, had everything gone smoothly then in a month or two I would have been publishing a blog entry called ‘saddle up!’ instead of this one. Oh well such is life…

So it looks like I’ll live to fight another day or as James Bond said in one of the recent movies ‘Die Another Day’ ;-).

Mark

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