Monday, 14 March 2016

Back to my First Love

If there's anyone out there reading this, it'll be pretty apparent that I haven't written anything for a while. And it'll also be pretty apparent why I haven't.

But life is good again. In fact, it's simply amazing - I just can't remember when I last felt this good and when I felt so positive about the future.

When I say I feel good of course I mean that the aches and pains I have are good aches and pains. You see I rode my bike yesterday, maybe a little too far in view of my still some-way-to-go fitness. My right knee hurts, and all of my left leg hurts. And my neck, my buttocks, and my right hand - but these are the types of pain I like to feel!

Yesterday was my first ride after returning from six weeks in Spain. I'll write about that another time because just now I want to focus on yesterday.

I set out into wind-less Spring freshness, and before I'd ridden ten metres I was overwhelmed by birdsong. I rode to Newtown where I met up with a Sky Breeze ride led ably by a lovely woman called Jackie. With two other girls (both a good deal younger than Jackie and I) we set off uphill, on a main road which on Sunday at least, is relatively free of traffic. I fought to stay on, but Jackie looked after me, riding beside me at all times. We had tea in a charming community cafe and then we set off up onto open moors toward a moorland watershed, and I place I just love. It was a simply lovely road, which I wouldn't have known about but for Jackie's willingness to take on the responsibility of leading others.

There I said goodbye to the girls, to ride home my own way. It was so beautiful in the crisp sunshine, with the cacophony of birdsong and swooping, courting skylarks, that I had to stop after a short while. I dug out my slightly crushed sandwich and ate it by the roadside.

This, as if I didn't know, is why I love cycling - my bike takes me to places that a car can only separate you from. My bike puts me in the land, without that sterilising layer of glass and metal.


I feel like the old me now, and I am back on track. Summer is just around the corner and I can't wait.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Feeling Fragile

Life throws obstacles in the way of each of us and we are all given different skills with which to handle them. In my life I've had quite a few obstacles already, and I haven't always handled them well.

Another obstacle approaches, but it may, if I handle it positively, sweep away some of my problems before it. I am being offered another chance to perhaps do some of the things I have never been able to do with the disabling bowel condition I have. This is positive, but the price I must pay is a heavy one. 

Another ostomy, this time for all time. 

I will be physically different to other people, and my mind needs to be comfortable with that. But I know I have more reason to worry about how my mind will cope than how my body will cope. If my mind can cope as well as my body, then this could be a very positive change. 

I have never felt more fragile than I do right now. 




A 1983 Selfie, there were no digital cameras or mobile phones back then so I took a shot of myself in a mirror. Spot the colostomy bag - underneath the skirt I made from a bed sheet which I died orange in a bucket! 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Light on a Bad Day

Sometimes when I write I find that I dance around issues, trying so hard to miss out the less pleasant bits of my life that I tie myself in knots. But the world is changing, particularly the world of social media. “Honesty” is clearly now acceptable, and so I am going to give it a go. Warts and all.

You see, my bowels don't work properly. I have written before about the extensive surgery I had to have 30 years ago (10 operations over five years on my lower abdomen, three more 12 years later, and two for altogether other reasons) and I have hinted at the long period of recovery I had back then. I wrote about it positively because it certainly was positive – and it fed my love of cycling, which has grown and grown ever since.

But my treatment also damaged my bowels. For a time whilst I underwent radiotherapy I had a temporary colostomy, and I was too ashamed of it even to tell some of my close friends. I kept the full “horror” of it from my parents, with whom I officially lived at the time (I was 19 years old). I was traumatised – and I just couldn't wait for the colostomy to be reversed. I was scared it never would be. When it was, probably too early, I got bowel adhesions. I couldn't eat for six weeks and I went down to 5 st 10 lb. Eventually, after accepting the inevitability of death, I somehow recovered. My body just decided to get better.

But the bowel adhesions persisted, and the radiotherapy had burned me inside, scarring me irreparably. Ever since then I have had episodes of blockage which are excruciating. I also have sickness, diarrhoea, constipation, faecal incontinence, and never, ever, a fully normal day. Each day I go to the loo between 0 and 20 times, at any hour of the clock. I get virtually no warning. In thirty years, I have probably had a “one trip to the loo and then forget about it” day maybe half a dozen times.

I had an unconnected operation five years ago, and the surgeon, in addition to doing the job he'd planned, spent 2 ½ hours dividing adhesions. He said to me afterwards that my bowels were such a jumbled mess that he was surprised I could go to the loo at all.

This condition has no name, and it's not life threatening. The doctors are not interested because nothing can be prescribed for it. And yet the fear of it affects me every minute of every day. It's cost me my job, and it regularly renders me housebound. It distresses my husband monumentally. It stops me riding my bike, and it interferes with every plan I make.

So my point – what is it? Well it's this. If you search Youtube you can watch a lovely pretty 23 year-old girl called Laura change her ostomy bag. You can see a gorgeous guy demonstrate what he does with his bag to secure it when he's surfing. You can see a model in a bikini, her ostomy bag showing above her bikini on her simply stunning body.

These people don't hide their issues, they get on with life, honestly and grasping every opportunity. I applaud the element of openness and honesty that social media has facilitated for these people and I admire each of them immensely. Social media helps people to find support amongst others who are in the same boat as them, but half a world away. The support changes opinions, and the exposure changes attitudes. There are critics, but I am not one of them.

If I'd been able to be find inspiration from these people thirty years ago, I think my attitude to my colostomy might have been much more positive. And now, on some of my worst days I find myself thinking – how might my life have been, if I'd kept that bag?




Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Silly Targets

I have just returned from a 4 week holiday in Denia, Spain, where I went intending to do some winter cycling. The trouble is that out of 27 cycling days, I managed to ride on only 12 of them. The rest of the time I was ill with a severe cold and a feverish chest infection – even on some of my 12 cycling days I was too ill to ride far. All in all, it was a fairly hopeless trip.

I wasn't alone, almost everyone in the hotel was ill to some extent. Every part of the place resounded to the sound of coughing for the whole time I was there, like a constant drone of background noise. I kept thinking I was in a hospital, but I would imagine that in a hospital hygiene would have been exemplary; in the hotel, there were opportunities for contagion everywhere, particularly in the buffet-style food hall.

I knew almost as soon as I arrived that my chances of escaping infection were slim. Of around 59 people in my cycling group, at least 50 of us were ill. Of the other guests, almost all of them elderly, illness seemed to be so common as to be acceptable; I was astonished and appalled in equal measure by the attitude of the Saga holiday representatives by the considerable efforts they made to distance themselves from any responsibility whatsoever for blame, despite the fact that many mitigating procedures could have been, but were not, introduced.

It's given me cause to think about my little targets. I was born without the competitive gene, though setting targets for myself seems to be in my blood. It's a trait which can motivate me to exercise when I don't feel like it, and that can be a good thing. But it's also a trait I can use to beat myself up when things don't go according to plan. After this holiday, during which I cycled just over a third of the miles I planned, I am struggling to find anything positive about my time away on which to base a “good” memory, though the wonderful friendship of quite a few new friends is an obvious highlight.

I will go again to Spain, after all it is not the country that I blame for my rotten holiday and it is a beautiful country. The Costa Blanca region has to be one of the best locations in Europe for winter cycling (the many professional teams that base their winter camps there bear witness to this) and the mild weather provides crystal clear light to emphasise the drama of the mountainous scenery. I just need to find a different place to stay, and a way to avoid illness.

Now that I am back in the UK, meanwhile, I need to get some miles in to prepare myself for my summer cycling calendar – too bad I will need to do this in bad weather!

Paul takes me for tea on one of my 15 non-cycling days!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Barren Land

I have been in Scotland again – a place which calls me back time and time again. Though at times I pine for the benevolent weather which a country like Spain can offer me I pine at other times for the savagery of a landscape shaped by less kind weather events than those typical of Spain. Cycling in Scotland can be a battle with those weather events.

On 27 September 2014 I rode from Altnaharra to Tain. With a serious storm raging, there was no way I would have set out on my bike if I'd been at home. But I was on a group holiday and eleven other people had no option but to ride – there was one space in the van, but why should I take it? That would have been cowardly. I couldn't show cowardice with all those people to witness me doing so, even if I'd been minded to do so.



But it was hardly safe. I weigh 8 stone and an ounce or two, and strong winds deflect me with ease. I set off from Altnaharra, which only the day before had seemed like a peaceful green oasis in a sea of hills flanked by russet-edged grass seeming to glow as though each blade was on fire. Now there was no peace, the wind battered the hollow and every tree, every fiery blade of grass was bent to the winds' will. I rode slowly uphill into the teeth of the storm; every few hundred metres ahead of me and behind was a cyclist, each of us taking our turn to be stopped dead by gusts which played tricks on our steering.

But it was beautiful. More than that, it was breathtaking. I cannot describe the intensity of the colours, or the contrast between the desolation and the exquisite beauty of the desolation. This contrast, and the epic, savage stormy weather, excited me. The landscape, and the forces which shape it; the wind which moulds it, and the rain which colours it. A sudden rainbow gave a striking representation of the feelings in my heart.

I fought the wind to descend to a greener, quieter valley, and to my accommodation for the night. I had ridden just 43 miles but I was as proud of my ride as if it had been twice that – it had been quite as hard as twice the distance would have been on a calm day. Sometimes, it's the quality that counts.



In fact, it almost always is.




Sunday, 25 May 2014

My Dad

Earlier this month I lost my Father. As a tribute to him, I have decided to reprint here some of my cycling journal entries in relation to rides I did with him.

These journal entries began after the death of my Mum in 1992 when my father was left a widower. In order to keep him company I settled into a routine of regularly walking with him, normally on the North York Moors. But cycling was my thing, although after my Mum's death, I had rather lost interest in it. So, during 1994 my father acquired a new bike from Halfords, and suggested we could ride together sometimes. Eventually we settled into his favoured pattern of riding three times per year to Hornsea along the disused railway line from Hull, where we both lived, and we explored other routes too. We also continued to walk together.


Dad on a walk with me in 1994 - scowling at the camera!

Our first ride together was to Coniston and Preston, a route on a mix of two disused railway lines and minor lanes – my father's infectious enthusiasm for exploration often took me on routes I wouldn't have thought of.

I had been off my bike for a long time, and I found it harder than he did...

16 January 1994 (Sunday)

Cycled with Dad up the Hornsea railway track to Coniston, then Preston (Withernsea railway track) down to the docks and along the foreshore. 16 miles, 15 ½ of which hurt. Every year I forget about the wonders of cycle shorts and sunglasses. Every year my bum hurts anew. Every year I vow not to leave it so long!

12 June 1994 (Sunday)
This is a typical meandering ride which turned out to be a highly cherished memory.

Cycled with Dad to Ottringham along the [Withernsea] railway line, through Sunk Island and down to an old battery on the Humber bank. Warm but overcast/hazy, little wind.

Rode along Humber bank to Stone Creek, through waist-high grass on completely overgrown path. Chickened out for a short distance, and went by the world's straightest, flattest and most featureless road to Cherry Cobb Sands. Then got back onto the levy and rode along it, over mixed surfaces to Paull and via Eastern Cemetery to home. Lovely day, 40 miles.

2 March 1997 (Sunday)
There came a day when my Dad's heart problems, which were to trouble him for the rest of his life, made their presence felt. It was a tremendously emotional day for me. Here is my account of it.

I wonder how many weeks of wind there will be, before Spring comes? Only the mad venture out on bikes in weather like this. I can't remember when we last had such a sustained period of windy weather.

Cycled to Coniston and back, in four easy stages. To Dad's (hardly pedalled) for a cup of tea; to Coniston (almost effortless) for a meal at the Blacksmiths' Arms; back to Dad's (sheer torture, see below) for more tea; and then home, head on into the near gale-force wind, for a bath.

My own health problems paled into insignificance besides Dad's. His chest pain stopped him every few yards on the way back, and most of the way back to his house, we walked. I fear it is angina, which horrifies me. I pray that his cycling days are not over.

An awful day, the only blessing (apart from the meal) being the absence of rain.

7 June 1998 (Sunday)
This is an account of the first time, after Dad's angina diagnosis, that we rode together to Hornsea. He had had a stent fitted, and he felt much better for it though from then on he needed a long rest after eating to allow time for digestion, which meant for long stays in Hornsea before our return ride. We normally spent this extra time wandering around the market.

Dad did not cycle to Hornsea at all last year due to his heart problems, and as he had set himself the challenge of doing so today, I decided to go along with him.

On the way there the heat and close humidity made us both regret our long trousers, but we were glad of them before the day was out. At Kirkham Point I almost lost my handbag when I left it in the loo, but fate smiled on me and I got it back.

After fish and chips at Sullivans we cycled up to the “far toilets”, being Dad's 12-mile mark from his house. There we watched the stormy sky build and the calm sea change, before being driven away by some birdwatchers.

Heavy rain whilst we had been eating had flooded the track, and we rode home through mud and puddles like lakes, stopping briefly whilst the worst of the thunder passed over us. Riding on in continuing thunder I felt vulnerable and more than a little scared by the truly awesome weather. With a black sky the lighting was magical, and the smells of the hedgerows and sights and sounds a delight.

By the time we reached Hull my bum had had enough, and my last two miles were into the teeth of the wind from which we had been sheltered on the track.

28 June 1998 (Sunday)
This is a very short account, which neatly summarises what Dads are there for.

Got up feeling down in the dumps, called Dad just seconds after he'd gone out and ended up reading until lunch time.

After lunch I went to Dad's, and after righting all wrongs during the afternoon we had a short ride at tea-time along the foreshore, reminiscing, and watching the river traffic near and far aided by a crystal clear atmosphere.

Dad on a foreshore ride, 1999

24 April 2000 (Monday)
This is a another short account, showing evidence of the infectious spirit of exploration which always provided me with some of the most enjoyable aspects of my rides with Dad.

Dad has been poorly with a bad cold, and didn't feel capable of cycling to Hornsea. So we decided to have a short “explore Hull” ride, taking in lunch on the way.

We made for the Humber foreshore at King George Dock, having inspected the sadly run down East Park and the scenic delights of Preston Road. Lunch was at the Minerva, always money well spent, followed by an inspection of the eastern Hull river bank between North and Drypool bridges, where they are 'doing something'.

A nice day, these short rides with Dad always teach me a lot.

29 July 2001 (Sunday)
This ride, to Hornsea, was the last ride Dad and I ever did together. He was 71 years old at the time. The public rights of way had been closed for some time due to a foot and mouth crisis, and it had curtailed a ride we had done earlier in the year on 13 April 2001, when we ended up at Ellerby instead of Hornsea.

On Friday 20 July, the Government, to the consternation of the landowners, compelled all Local Authorities to reopen most of the paths. This meant that at last, Dad and I could ride the railway line to Hornsea.

A muggy morning promised another sweltering day, so I covered up from the start. Dad has lost almost two stone in weight, and gained about 2mph in speed! We flew to Hornsea, the wind behind us, our only handicap being the new surface which the East Riding of Yorkshire Council has sneakily put on during the closure.

In Hornsea we ate at the Floral Hall, then paddled in the sea, like children. The sea felt warm, and if I'd had my swimming costume I might have taken the plunge.

Our usual trip to the market was unusual in that for once, I bought something. Like an idiot I had set out without a hat, and I couldn't contemplate riding home in the sun without the peak of a baseball hat. So I invested £1.50 in an orange hat that proved a bargain. It will stay in my saddlebag.

The ride home was more rough compared to the trip out. The wind was against us, and the gravel seemed worse. My hands and wrists ached and Dad's bottom complained. Both of us were glad to get home.

A lovely day, probably the only Hornsea ride this year. I hope Dad carries on cycling. He brought me up to love cycling, I hope it is something we will always be able to do together.








Rest in Peace, Dad.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Mucky Wet Roads

For some time now I have been doing a bit of work for a local business - just one day a week, but it gets me out of the house. The trouble is that the local business isn’t that local, it’s 17 miles away. That may seem nearby, but in my van, it’s a 34 mile round trip and that’s an expensive litre of petrol. And I earn so little that using the van to get to work is really rather uneconomic, so I have been thinking all winter that when the weather allowed, I ought to try cycling to work.  After all, it’s only 17 miles each way, how bad could it be?

Yesterday, I did it - and it turned out to be the hardest commute I have ever done! Thirty four miles plus a few extra due to choosing a different route by bike than I would by car - and during my morning journey at least, there were also a few extra hills due to a rather poor route choice. Not that it was flat on my return journey!

When I came to Bishops Castle, I was conscious that my mileage dropped. This was because hilly rides are so much harder than flattish ones and my ride to ‘work’ couldn’t have been much more hilly. Seventeen miles took me almost two hours, in an up and down, up and down, up and down sort of way. I’m a terrible hill-climber on a bike at the best of times and I had constant hills to contend with - the muddy, slippery roads didn’t help. They just made for skidding whenever I tried to put the power down.

Those mucky, wet and slippery roads look utterly grim from a car window. But from a bike, the compensations for my hard-riding came in bucket-loads. Dodging the mud and the debris made for a close involvement with the landscape, and the budding trees moved by slowly enough for their buds to be evident. Birds, whose biological clocks pay no heed to the rain, sang from every wire; the warm smell from steaming cattle in the fields drifted over to my nostrils on the breeze. The daffodils are nearly out, the snowdrops are everywhere. You need to stop the car and get out to see those, but from a bike, they bombard you at every turn.

I’m not sure whether I will ride both ways to work again, it was perhaps a bit too hard and a bit too time consuming. But I will try to find a way of incorporating my bike into at least a part of my journey because cycle commuting, as I’ve written before, is a very special way of adding quality of life to a normal working day. Once, it was just four miles each way and I did it every day - it became a part of my personality which I valued. For all its difficulty yesterday, when I got back from work, I felt I’d truly come home.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Mother Nature

It's wet, wet and it's wet. There have been 50 days of rain.  Huge swathes of the countryside are flooded - particularly those areas visited by England's longest river, the Severn.


  • The Severn - its winding and circuitous route falling only a hundred metres over hundreds of miles. 
  • The Rain - water from the sky, driven by the wild, wild wind.
  • Humans - not so immune to the weather as we might think.  No amount of science can make us master of the whims of …
  • Mother Nature - whose wet hand is raised in defiance as she reminds us:- "I am in control".


There are days when I feel like taking up canoeing. But I am a cyclist first, and Mother Nature's work is all the inspiration I need to love the life-affirming hobby I have, without following the urge to try something else!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Miracles Happen...


Not long ago (2 July 2013, to be precise) I wrote about why I felt that mountain biking was not for me.  It’s true that I’ll never be good at it, but that’s no reason not to enjoy it.  All it needs is a change of philosophy.

Somehow, just facing my inadequacies seems to have changed my philosophy.  You wouldn’t think that such a negative thing could have a positive result, but it has.  It’s almost as though by accepting that I’m rubbish I no longer care whether I am or not.  So I am free to get off and walk, free to miss bits out, and free to “dab” as often as I like. 

This weekend my husband ran another of his mountain bike weekends, and this time I found it impossible to avoid.  Not only was it to be held just 8 miles from my home, but some of my best friends were going to be there and I felt it would be positively cowardly for me to stay away.  So my poor neglected mountain bike, stored for over a year with its bars turned, was dragged into the light of day.  Just to make sure I could ride it I rode the 8 miles to the event, incorporating four climbs into my route - three climbs on tarmac and one off-road. 

Somewhere along the off-road bit I remembered something I'd realised long ago but which I'd forgotten as I'd sunk into self doubt.  This is what I remembered.

For me, mountain biking is about these four things:

Riding routes that a normal bike won’t go
Seeing views you can see no other way
Discovering places you could never reach by road, and
Getting to places by routes which are wild and traffic free.

For some people, it’s not about these things - it’s about overdosing on adrenaline on a man-made trail at a trail centre.  But these trail centres are never going to be my cup of tea.

So the next day, I joined in with the organised ride (the “slow” group, of course) and with bits of walking interspersed amongst my riding, I managed the whole ride.  And the only time I nearly fell off was at the moment when I realised I was enjoying myself.

Clearly time off the knobbly-tyred beast has been good for me.  And Adstone Hill, where my moment of clarity hit me, is a simply stunning spot I shall visit again.  When I do I shall try to remember to photograph it, for the time being though, I have taken the liberty of borrowing a simply fabulous shot from someone called Glen Wood - I hope he doesn't mind!

Picture of the ancient track on Adstone Hill (by Glen Wood)

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Change

I feel that change is coming - and change which I must try to look at positively.  I took redundancy two years ago because my delicate health had suffered and I was offered the opportunity.  And for two years I have enjoyed the privilege of not having to work because of my husband’s salary which has kept us both fed and clothed.  Now my husband’s job is ending.

During my unemployed time I have discovered a love of gardening, helped to build a sociable group of knitting cyclists, and rekindled my dormant love of painting.  But some of these activities are only possible in the right environment.  Painting, for example, needs time and space around it; it just isn’t possible to cram a painting into a spare half-hour.

As I ride around I see and feel my inspiration.  I ride amongst hills criss-crossed by field boundaries, and these images lodge in my mind and work their way onto my paper at some future time, normally weeks later.  I stop by a bridge, dismount and climb down to the riverbank. Burned into my memory is a moment of exquisite happiness which I just have to express, either by writing (I have kept a journal for more reasons than I can remember) or by painting.  Cycling feeds my painting, and painting gives a rich dimension to my cycling.

Working can bring many rewards (besides income) of course.  The company of a good and friendly team working with a common goal can be immensely rewarding.  Having a laugh with colleagues is every bit as good as having a laugh with friends.  To find work amongst people who understand the appeal of cycling would be a rare opportunity, but I will seek it nonetheless.  

But if I go back to work, I fear for my painting.  During the 28 years that I worked I only ever found time to paint on the rare occasions that I was off work sick. 

The very thought of losing my painting makes me shiver with a kind of grief.  I must see the positives; but for today at least, I am struggling to do that. 


Dolygaer - one half-hour walk, two training exercises, three trial runs and fourth time lucky with the final painting.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Purposeful Rides


Riding with a purpose is good for me.  Specifically, riding to get somewhere - a particular destination - provides me with many rewards.  A target to motivate me, an achievement to savour, new, previously undiscovered roads, and the delights of the ride: all these things enthuse me.  Mine may be small achievements but they make me feel good about myself. 

Paul musters his riders

My husband ran one of his mountain bike events this last weekend, based at Talybont on Usk, just south of Brecon in South Wales.  On similar trips in the past I discovered bit by bit that mountain biking wasn’t for me.  Time after time as I watched those around me have terrific fun on tricky descents I simultaneously came face to face with what seemed to be my inadequacies, as I saw those same descents as downright dangerous.  I allowed myself to get down about it, feeling like a failure.

But that’s not a fair reflection.  Each of us has strengths and weaknesses.  We can’t all be good at everything and we would be foolish to forget that.  For me, trying to be an effective mountain biker was never going to work and beating myself up about it is as pointless as it is self-destructive. 

Cycle touring, in even the broadest sense, is where my cycling heart lies.  To get from one place to another under my own steam feels good and it has a purpose for me which seems to fit my personal philosophy.  Two weeks cycling through Scotland, panniers loaded with all we need, is cycle touring.  But so too is a one-direction ride starting in one place and finishing somewhere else, carrying only the days’ requirements.  Riding a circuit, starting and finishing at home, doesn’t quite have that sense of purpose - though obviously it can also be great fun. 

So I rode from our home to Talybont, my husband taking a bag for me in the van before he met up with his group for a mountain bike circuit.  For the remainder of the weekend, I provided van-based support for his tour. 

My husband also does challenge rides; his recent rides have finished in Corwen and Bala.  So I have ridden to Corwen and Bala to meet him at the finishes.  His needs are met, my needs are met, we both feel we’ve accomplished something and we both finish smiling. 

Now I’m looking for every opportunity for purposeful rides.  They are challenges to fit my size and they give me a buzz I need. 

Pen y Fan

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Just back from Scotland...

I've been away in Scotland for a couple of weeks, and I'm just back. The first week consisted of my hubby and I riding the northern half of Sustrans route 7 (Lochs and Glens) from Balloch, near Glasgow, up to Inverness. The second week saw us meeting up with a CTC tour (we do quite a few CTC tours) to ride from Inverness to Durness and then back to Inverness. Over the two weeks we rode 821 km, all on our trusty tandem, Carlos.

We had a fortnight of pure spectacle. My photos don't do justice to the exquisite beauty of the place, but I'll upload some soon. I'm working on what will be a rather lengthy blog piece about the trip and I'll post it when I finish it, but for now, this photo will give a flavour.