A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the tag “cycling”

A Wild Ride

This is a post that requires the use of imagination! There are no pictures to accompany our first outing of the New Year … it should become clear why!

It was New Year’s Day and it felt appropriate to be getting out on the tandem. The only trouble was, the weather looked pretty unappealing. The forecast was for more rain later. As there wasn’t much rain at that moment, just a blustery wind, we thought we’d better get on with it.

Braving the elements

I was about to pack my waterproof over trousers when I began to feel drops of rain. I decided that it would be more sensible to wear them! I was glad I did. Although the rain continued to be light, the wind was cold. In fact, I was glad of all my layers.

We cycled briskly along the path, not stopping at any of the tempting scenic woodland views – not the moss-covered rocks or the crooked, bare branches, or even at the usually compulsory bench stop!

A welcome break

It was a case of pedalling on till we reached the cafe, then falling off and into its warmth. Much, much later, fortified by soup and tea, we braved the elements again, mounted our lovely tandem and headed home.

Goodness, the weather was fresh! A light rain and accompanying sharp wind kept my faculties alert. I reached home feeling much more awake than I’d left. In fact, that was the curious thing about this trip. I’d been anxious about going out at all as my legs had been feeling weak recently, probably due to less use as I’d been laid low with a cold. However, my legs certainly felt no less bad for the outing and my brain felt much more alive! (I even found the energy to write up A Christmas Walk!)

Thank you to the tandem

I am bouncing with energy, well, mental energy, but that’s a good start! And all thanks to the tandem – I couldn’t have stayed outside for as long without it (or had so much fun – yes, honestly!) and I know that the little bit of exercise from turning the pedals has done me a little bit of good too!

Meanwhile, outside, the weather really did worsen as forecast. It was wild! Lashing rain and strong winds hit the windows. I felt, well, I’ll be honest, quite smug! We had been out, been blown about and got safely home, all before the wild weather really began!

And an apology

Sorry that there are no photos – I think they would have been a letdown after this description (!), even if I had been able to stop and take any. Probably the pictures in the mind are better … and, who knows, perhaps more dramatic than the reality!

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Back in the Saddle

We managed to get ourselves back on the tandem at the weekend – a long-overdue event. It’s funny how things get in the way.

However, just knowing that the tandem is there waiting for us makes all the difference – knowing that we can get out and will get out, that is half the joy of it … though obviously it’s much better to be able to actually get a ride out!IMG_1288

This weekend, we didn’t try anything too adventurous – just our little woodland route. It was beautiful! The weather still hasn’t realised it’s supposed to be thoroughly autumnal and chilly. Instead, the sunshine slanted brightly though the trees and warmed our faces when we stopped to enjoy our surroundings.

On the hillside across from us, the trees looked like softly brushed heads of hair. Vibrant reds snuggled amongst paler browns and greys where the leaves had softly departed – there have been few storms to tear them down this year.

It really did me good. I never tire of this route – it is always different and there are always other people looking equally happy to be out.IMG_1286

I’d forgotten how the sight of the tandem always brings a smile to people’s faces, as well as provoking some very poor jokes questioning whether I’m pulling my weight on the back (actually, no I’m not!). Children enjoy pointing out the strange bike with two riders and parents enjoy naming it for them. This trip we experienced a new first – the tandem had its photo taken! (I have to admit, it was looking particularly photogenic, leaning against a tree!)

The Tandem Goes to the Seaside

 

Now that the tandem is part of the family, we decided to take it with us on holiday to Scarborough. It was too heavy to manoeuvre it on to a roof rack but could be fitted on to a rack on the back of the car once the wheels had been removed. It was still a bit of a challenge but one that Pete was up for!

the tandem at South Bay, Scarborough

the tandem at South Bay, Scarborough

The bike was able to take us on trips from one end of the bay to the other; too far to have wanted to travel using the wheelchair and, of course, much more fun!  On a couple of days when we’d persuaded the teenagers to do their own thing (I’m not sure how much persuading was actually needed!) we headed to the spa at the bottom end of South Bay and found a quiet, sunny spot to enjoy the views before sauntering along to the restored Victorian cafe (or brasserie) with its spacious proportions – all high ceilings and relaxing atmosphere.

We then cycled the entire length of the bay, past the South Bay beach, with its colour and bustle, along Marine Drive (very bumpy over the cobbles!), past North Bay and its surfers, and as far as Scalby Mills. There, the heat of the sun forced me to hide inside a pub for a refreshing drink!

at Scalby Mills

at Scalby Mills

We took the high road back, stopping at Blenheim Terrace, off Castle Road, to survey the fine views. We were able to look down on the route we’d just taken and across at the splendid castle, standing firm on its ancient rock. There were plenty of helpfully placed benches to use and we sat happily on one for some time, enjoying the beautiful blue sky and glistening sea.

The journey was about four miles in all but exceedingly good value for the distance! We had hoped to do some more adventurous rides: along the old railway line outside Scarborough that goes north to Whitby, and along a bridleway in the North York Moors. However, I wasn’t up for such escapades this time (heat and fatigue, I think). They will just have to wait for another occasion … and we didn’t really miss not doing them!

above Marine Drive

above Marine Drive

Le Tour Arrives in Yorkshire

The day arrived at last! Le Tour de France was going to pass along our very own Yorkshire roads! Roads that I drive along on a regular basis – through the places I live and work – c’etait incroyable!

After many changes of mind, and much consideration of how we could get there, we decided to make our way to Côte d’Oxenhope Moor, a hill climb above the village of Oxenhope and just beyond Haworth, the place made famous by the Brontes.

helicopter hovering over Oxenhope Moor

helicopter hovering over Oxenhope Moor

Our expedition required a frighteningly early alarm call – 4.30am! This was because our daughter was a Tour Maker and we had to drop her off at her gathering point half an hour away and get safely back over the roads before they closed at 6.30am.

constructing summit race finishing point

constructing summit race finishing point

We then made the most of our early start by cycling along the unusually empty moorland road until we reached the summit itself. Men were busy building the signage showing the finish for the summit race but there was scarcely anyone else there. Still, it was still only 7am. It was hours before the race would pass by.

relaxing by the roadside

relaxing by the roadside

We set about selecting our viewing spot from pretty much anywhere we wanted to along the roadside. It was all very relaxed. We chatted to the dozen or so other early risers. One chap had cycled over from Bradford, about 15 miles away. He had been at Leeds the day before for the Grand Depart, and had also managed to catch the race again that day, in Skipton. Not content with that, he was then going down to London for the following day’s racing!

We leant our bike against the fence and put up our tent – we were very well prepared! And then we got serious: time for bacon and mugs of tea using our stove. Perfect! Getting up at a ridiculous hour was starting to have its advantages!

camping on Oxenhope Moor

camping on Oxenhope Moor

We enjoyed the early sunshine and beautiful views, marvelling at the unexpected possibility of camping out on moors that we usually simply drive through. We also took the opportunity to catch up on a little sleep!

the endless row of bikes

the endless row of bikes

Gradually people started to gather. Nearly everyone seemed to have cycled, and the line of bikes leaning against the fence grew impressively throughout the day. Some people walked up and a few made the short journey up from the temporary campsites that nearby farmers had set up. People picnicked by the roadside and chatted companionably. There was a real feeling of everyone coming for a relaxed summer’s day out.

the crowd begins to grow

the crowd begins to grow

We wandered up to the summit finish line to photograph ourselves. A friendly policeman took a photo of us together.  I tried some road graffiti but it was a total failure; I didn’t have enough chalk and I started writing “Allez!” too far to the right and ran out of road – my exclamation mark ended up on the kerb. Ah well, I tried!

at the summit of Côte d'Oxenhope Moor

at the summit of Côte d’Oxenhope Moor

Helicopters, together with motorbikes whizzing past at high speed, marked the arrival of some action. Suddenly everyone was standing up and waving flags. The caravan of advertisers’ vehicles sped past, some of them throwing out freebies (we did very poorly at catching anything!) and there was lots more enthusiastic waving and cheering. We no longer had our excellent view down the hillside – it was full of people standing in the middle of the road!

advertisers' floats

advertising float

unable to catch a freebie!

unable to catch a freebie!

There was then a lull whilst I caught another quick nap (I had to make the most of our tent!), with the odd sponsor’s car hurtling past, horn tooting.

waiting

waiting

the leader

the leader

And then … they were here! One rider was in the lead, flanked by two motorbikes, and soon after him two more cyclists pedalled furiously by in a race for the last of the two points available at the summit. I could even see one of them win. I actually saw a proper bit of racing!

the race for second place

the race for second place

Another small breakaway group followed. Then there was a small gap, followed by a screech of whistles, a flash of a motorbike in front of our faces and then the peloton was upon us, a single unit of furiously cycling legs, spread uncompromisingly across the road from kerb to kerb. I stepped back involuntarily, shocked and awed at the power of the mass of shiny crouching bodies that swept by, right in front of my nose. It took my breath away.

the peleton in pursuit

the peloton in pursuit

the peleton is upon us

the peleton is upon us

We managed to pull ourselves together sufficiently to watch the riders curl away as the road twisted its way round the edge of the moor. And then they were gone. They were followed by a long succession of team cars all adorned with a full complement of spare bikes. And that really was that! Phew!

We needed another cup of tea, so went to sit by the tent and contemplate the day whilst everyone collected their bikes and slowly made their way home. The countryside was peaceful once more.

and on they go

and on they go

The whole weekend was an amazing success! Everywhere there have been fetes and parties, the sun shone, the crowds were brilliant, Yorkshire looked beautiful and our tent made it on to the television! Everyone has been swapping tales of their own day and all the tales are happy. We all have fantastic memories of a wonderful, wonderful weekend!

Le Tour Bunting

Cragg Vale bunting

Cragg Vale bunting

Cragg Vale, in addition to being the longest continuous incline in England, has now just beaten the world record for displaying the longest string of bunting! It is 12,115 metres or 39,750 feet long and is made with 52,939 flags. Phew! Another Tour expedition was definitely required!

hanging bike

hanging bike

It was well worth the effort. The whole road, leading up from the village of Mytholmroyd, right up Cragg Vale’s steep ascent, and on up on to the open moors beyond, was bedecked, not only with home-made bunting, but also with yellow bikes, stuffed cyclists and a field with a cyclist imprinted into the grass.

field with cyclist

field with cyclist

We slowly made our way up the five-and-a-half miles of winding road, avoiding the cyclists toiling around us (cyclists are multiplying by the day!), marvelling that the bunting was still with us, all the way! As we climbed, I wondered how the bunting could reach the exposed summit. There were no handy telegraph poles up there!

more bunting

more bunting

We found out soon enough: they were simply attached to the fence posts at the edge of the moors. Somehow they looked just right, with the cotton grass waving behind them. A unique sight!

wild bunting

wild bunting

It was a beautiful evening and the sun was just beginning to lower over the empty moors, softening the beautifully desolate landscape.

lone cyclist

lone cyclist

We watched the steady trickle of cyclists coming up the road, knowing, but not quite able to believe, that this was nothing like what would be happening here and for miles around, all too soon!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Tour of Le Tour

I couldn’t resist – I just had to see how other parts of Yorkshire were preparing for Le Tour de France! (Not a sentence I expected to write a year ago!) So we hopped in the car for a drive round as much of the area as we could reasonably manage in one day. It was a bit of a zig-zag, following our own route, and crossing freely over from Day One to Day Two sections. (How wonderful that there is so much beautiful scenery to detain the riders for two days!)

Tour de France bunting

Tour de France bunting

In Horton-in-Ribblesdale, which is a little off the route, the cafe owner was unsure how he would be affected – would no-one visit that weekend because they were worried about road closures, or would there be a mad scrum for bacon butties?

polka dots in Hawes

polka dots in Hawes

In Hawes, which nestles near the foot of Buttertubs Pass (or Côte de Buttertubs as the official route describes it!), has festooned itself in bunting to welcome Le Tour. In recognition of the fact that Côte de Buttertubs is one of the categorised climbs on the route, and therefore counts towards the King of the Mountains jersey, the village has gone polka dot mad! Shops have been painted white with red spots, all the bunting is spotty and flower pots are themed red and white. It is very cheery and welcoming.

polka dot bunting

polka dot bunting

not everyone went for polka dots!

not everyone went for polka dots!

We then headed up the Buttertubs Pass ourselves – by car! There were a few brave cyclists tackling the climb, but even at the lower part of the steep ascent they were struggling, and some had to give in to pushing. It made you realise just how crazy fit the Tour riders are.

Due to a late start on our own tour, it was fairly late in the day when we arrived at the summit, and we had the place to ourselves. It was beautiful and wild, just us and a few sheep. I felt very lucky to be able to savour the views and the solitude. It was very difficult to imagine just how different the scene would be in a week’s time!

Côte de Buttertubs

Côte de Buttertubs

We munched a picnic tea (until beaten back by ferocious midges!) by the Buttertubs themselves, which are scarily deep limestone holes just metres from the road, and contemplated just how easy it would be for a rider to crash over a barrier and into one of those deep, deep holes. In fact, I have seen a programme about how the local mountain rescue team has been practising a rescue from one of those potholes (more concerned about a spectator than a cyclist, I think … but, still!)

admiring the Buttertubs

at the Buttertubs

We then wended our way backwards along the Tour route, past fields and farms and villages, with beautiful empty fells rising gloriously on either side of the limestone walls. And all along the route, our journey was punctuated by dots of yellow. Yellow bikes were perched on roofs, and yellow bunting fluttered from gates and windows.

Driving along the route, knowing that elite cyclists would be hurtling down these roads in a week’s time, made you look at them with different eyes. You really noticed how narrow some of the route is, and how twisty, and how steep are some of the hills – both up and down – and just how close are the unforgiving-looking stone walls!

Our favourite village was Bainbridge, where pale yellow bunting hung along every roof, and little t-shirts grew from one bush and mini knitted jumpers decorated one house. I didn’t get a picture as you couldn’t really capture the loveliness of the whole scene in one shot (and we were tired – it had been a long day!).

We made a final stop at Skipton, which was worth it for the church. All the grounds were full of yellow bunting and a giant t-shirt decorated the tower!

Skipton church tower

Skipton church tower

I am now full of Tour de France spirit. Allez, allez!

Le Tour is Coming to Yorkshire!

Yes, the Tour de France … in Yorkshire! The Grand Depart takes place here on 5th and 6th July. It’s a crazy idea … but fab!

book shop, Hebden Bridge

book shop, Hebden Bridge

There have been subtle signs over recent months that something is happening, such as the increasing number of cyclists to be seen climbing the steep hills round here (and, slightly disconcertingly, more of them have been wearing lycra: this is not necessary!).

As Le Tour draws near, towns are being decorated in yellow or covered in polka dots, and yellow bikes are appearing in shop windows. In Hebden Bridge, the decorations are fun and varied.

organic vegetable shop

organic vegetable shop

People have been discussing where they will be watching the peloton and, more importantly, how they will get to the point where they can watch … and what time they need to get there. (Frustratingly, this will require more thought for me with having mobility issues, but we are hoping to arrange something vaguely complicated involving the tandem … I will report back after the event!)

hairdressers

hairdressers

I was very excited recently to see Chris Froome and other members of Team Sky whizz past through Hebden Bridge as they test rode the route. Well, I think it was them – I saw four skinny blokes flash by in light blue lycra! A glimpse of what it will be like on race day I fear, though without the amazing atmosphere I’m expecting.

library

library

Earlier in the year our two local television news presenters from Look North, Harry and Amy, rode the entire route over a week on a tandem to raise money for Sport Relief. I went along to cheer them – how could I not support fellow tandem riders?! I saw them battle their way to the top of Cragg Vale (at 5.5 miles, the longest continuous gradient in England, as anyone round here will tell you!). It was an early taste of the rising excitement that the event is generating.

florists

florists

At my work next week there are various bike-related activities, including a time trial up Cragg Vale … I think I’ll be cheering people along rather than participating in that! I might be able to take part in the Wear it Yellow day. That is, if I can find something yellow to wear!

jewellers

jewellers

I’m going to see what else I can find connected to the Tour between now and next weekend. I’ve got to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime event on my doorstep. I know the riders will go past in a flash, but it’s the buzz around it that is just as exciting!

shoe shop

shoe shop

A Perilous Mile!

Who would have thought that a journey of less than a mile could be so much fun! We decided to explore a stretch of footpath along Hebden Water which had recently been levelled and so was accessible by tandem. It was still a dirt path, but was more even than it had been.

packhorse bridge

packhorse bridge

First, we had to face the challenge of getting the tandem over the packhorse bridge – the same one I have to negotiate to get to the archery field. It was quite exciting(!) and the bike slipped over the worn stones as we descended over the brow of the deceptively steep bridge, but we maintained control and turned right on to the path itself.

at 'the beach'

at ‘the beach’

We used to live close by this spot and would often use it as our ‘back garden’, spending summer afternoons by the stream, and if the weather was particularly good, would bring our portable barbecue. It was lovely to be down there again and we stopped many times. Our first stop was at ‘the beach’, where the bend in the stream creates a bank of sandy stones. I didn’t want to move! It was so long since I had been there, and I didn’t think I’d be able to get down this way again – it would have taken a lot of effort to walk along the path, and many pauses. Yet again, I was grateful to the tandem.

enjoying the riverside wild flowers

enjoying the riverside wild flowers

the remains of the  uprooted tree

the remains of the uprooted tree

Eventually we moved on, but not far. Pete told me that the way ahead had been practically inaccessible for months as a huge tree had fallen across the path during the powerful winter storms. The route had now been cleared but the remains of the uprooted trunk lay beside the path, at the ‘booming bend’. Another stop was essential. The tree trunk with its exposed roots is quite magnificent and, again, it was wonderful to see another familiar spot once more. The stream twists round here too and the water, when in full flow, ‘booms’ around the corner.

booming bend

‘booming bend’

the excellently muddy path!

the excellently muddy path!

We continued on our way, being grateful for the fat mountain-bike tyres, as the track became very muddy. I love such sections as I know that I’m properly outdoors!

We passed the bowling green, tucked away behind a rough hedge, then negotiated a little bridge to continue our journey on foot for a short section, with me using the tandem as a steadying aid. The reason we couldn’t ride was that the path cut along a narrow raised route at that point with a ditch on one side and the rather fast-flowing Hebden Water on the other, both with something of an unappealing drop if you didn’t keep a perfectly straight line!

We were now passing along a part of the path that I had totally forgotten about, and it was magical to rediscover it and to have memories from 20 years ago (eek!) stirred. There was more to come – the sound of water thundering by told me that we were at the weir. Again, totally forgotten! How could that be?!

the narrow footpath with peril on either side!

the narrow footpath with peril on either side!

We used to walk along this route when the children were little. It was varied and a good length for their small legs, and there was the promise of a teashop at journey’s end. I particularly remember snow-covered paths … (My daughter has just turned 18 (eek again!); maybe that’s what has set me off reminiscing!)

the weir

the weir

Back in the present, we were facing a possibly insurmountable obstacle. A wooden plank created a path over an old wall. The problem was that there was a right angle at either end: not great for a tandem, and with one member of the party having minimal strength and water gushing below. The wall was all that remained of an old mill that had used the weir, and was now covered in moss and was totally enveloped by the landscape.

We were contemplating Pete going back and finding another way round and meeting me a few yards further on, when we were rescued by another walker. He manhandled the bike with Pete and lifted it safely round.

a challenge too far?

a challenge too far?

We may have to do the alternative plan another time but I would definitely want to try somehow to do this route again. It had everything: peril, mud, beautiful scenery, and all beside a stream that skipped and twisted its way down to meet the river Calder. All in less than a mile!

Being EMpowered: Part Two

Aberffraw

Aberffraw, Anglesey

So … being interviewed by Tom. I shall explain! On the Saturday evening we watched a film that he’d made last year, ‘Brew, Sweat and Gears’, which told the story of how Simon had come to start EMpowered people, and of the charity’s inaugural Coast to Coast trip. It was both moving and inspiring. Television companies have shown an interest but nothing has so far come of it … so Tom’s now making another (even better!) film and was conducting interviews during the course of the weekend. I can only say that I had some Dutch courage before my interview!

spot the camera!

spot the camera!

We also found cameras lurking in unexpected places all weekend. We shall see what happens next!

the refreshment team

the refreshment team

Away from the limelight, cycling began under darker skies. Fortunately, I’d been given the inside information that the best part of the day’s ride was after the morning’s rest stop. So I jumped aboard the refreshment van for the first eight miles and enjoyed looking at the countryside, whilst keeping warm. It was also good to be able to see more of the work of the support team. They stuck arrows on lamp posts at each junction (and the final van took them off again) and when we arrived at the rest stop at Aberffraw they raced around putting out food and putting kettles on ready for the first arrivals … Martin and his support riders (of course!) – and and they weren’t far behind us.

the refreshments were very popular!

the refreshments were very popular!

Everyone looked rather cold and I hid in the van as long as I could. Frozen cyclists hopped in and out to join me and I had a quick chat with Ian, who also has Parkinson’s and is also a little mad! I understand he kept his support riders entertained (or groaning!) with his terrible jokes all weekend. I was largely spared (thankfully!).  Finally, the moment arrived when I had to leave the warmth of the van and join Pete on the tandem.

We headed off between sand dunes and along miles of empty cycles paths. It was beautiful wild countryside.

setting off through the dunes

setting off through the dunes

It was wonderful to be so out in the wilds, on open paths without even the possibility of cars. We all cycled along at our own pace, groups of us joining together then drifting apart, chatting with new people, or quietly looking at the scenery. We cycled beside a dyke and followed a river for miles. It was all very peaceful, despite the ever present threat of rain.

river Cefni

river Cefni

carrying the trike over a not accessible gate

carrying the trike over a not accessible gate

We did encounter a problem at one of the gates along the path – they were supposed to be accessible but one proved not to be so for several of our bikes, including the tandem. Our handlebars seem to stick out further than some bikes and the length of the tandem makes it not very manoeuvrable. We were very grateful that there were so many pairs of hands to help (especially me!).

Shortly afterwards, Theresa had need of one of the support vehicles – she had injured her thigh and could not go on. In fact, it was the film crew’s van that came to the rescue on that occasion! It was at moments such as those two that you really appreciated the importance of the support provided, and which made the weekend possible.

the entrance to the Dingle

the entrance to the Dingle

We regrouped at the far side of LLangefni. Before us was the Dingle. This was a beautiful woodland dell which had two paths running through it, one of which was on raised wooden slats and was wheelchair accessible. We’d been given permission to all cycle through this section. Now, you’d think this would entail a quiet meander through the trees. But no, we seemed to hurtle along at high speed, twisting and turning as the path turned sharp corners that were all boxed off, with wooden railings rising at either side. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster and had to remember all I’d said to everyone about totally trusting Pete whilst on the back of the tandem! I was also holding my hands on the centre of the handlebars as the sides seemed very close!  To cap it all, I had to keep smiling as cameras seemed to be hiding among the rocks and trees where least expected!

emerging from the woods

emerging from the woods

When we emerged at the other side I heard Pete say that he took the journey steadily – so I’m clearly easily alarmed!

I do have memories of woods carpeted in green, with bluebells peeking though with the odd glimpse of a wooden carved creature peering out at me. All gone in a flash – though I did insist on a photo stop! It was a really pretty section of the journey.

Dingle woods

Dingle woods

Simon racing out of the woods

Simon racing out of the woods

We continued cycling by the side of Cefni reservoir before stopping for lunch at the edge of woods. Once I got off the bike I could feel how wobbly my legs were and stayed sitting down on the ground for some time before staking my claim in a support van again!

As I sat contentedly in the van whilst it meandered along quiet lanes, I could feel fatigue creeping up through my body. I knew that if I was to be sensible I should stay there for the rest of the day. However, there was no way I was going to be sensible!  Miss the last few glory miles back to the hotel at the end of the trip? No way!

Ian still going strong

Ian still going strong

So I slipped out of the van again with three miles to go. I think Pete’s ‘support riders’ were pleased to have someone to support again! There was some amusement at my appearance and disappearance through the weekend. I also heard that Pete continued to use the electric motor on occasions when I wasn’t there, which I think really must be against the rules!

It was lovely to look up from the bike to see people around us whom we had got to know at least a little over the weekend. It was great, too, that we were all wearing the same kit; we were all one group cycling together, with a variety of bikes. It didn’t matter who was a support rider and who was being supported. Indeed, some support riders were using electric wheels whilst some EMpowered cyclists were not, it really wasn’t important.

Pete powering me home!

Pete powering me home!

As we each arrived back at the hotel there were many individual achievements – Alex did cycle the entire two days’ route, without use of any shortcuts; Glynnis, having cycled only a dozen or so miles at once in the past, made it round the whole route; and Theresa’s sister, there to support Theresa, cycled further than she had ever done before. As for me, I was shocked (and chuffed!) to discover that the long morning section I’d cycled was 14 miles! So, I’d cycled 17 miles that day, after 16 the previous day – definitely a record for me!

the finish!

the finish!

I have to say though that one of the best things about the weekend was being able to be outdoors for two whole days – not easy to achieve when it’s difficult to get out under your own steam! It’s also left me with a warm glow, even several days on. My head still feels very well aired!

peaceful Anglesey lane

peaceful Anglesey

MS Life 2014

Wow! My mind is still spinning with everything I experienced at the MS Life event which took place in Manchester last weekend. I’m having to refer to all the leaflets I collected to remember what I did!

Fortunately, I’d read the details of the different talks that were taking place during the day in advance. It had taken me a while to decide which of the many on offer I wanted to attend. There were five on at once that I’d have liked to listen to!

the vast venue is a former railway station

the vast venue is a former railway station

So, through the course of the day I went to three talks. The first was on research taking place into myelin repair, by Professor Robin Franklin. He made the whole subject understandable to us non-scientists and, without getting carried away and bearing in mind the timescales involved in scientific research, it sounded like progress was being made.

Later, I attended a session on memory and how to improve it. That involved an overview of an online tool that has been put together by a professor of neuropsychology and is on the MS Trust website at: http://www.stayingsmart.org.uk/.

At the end of the day, when I was wilting somewhat (!), I attended a talk on pain and its management by a specialist nurse in that area. She was engaging and informative. Some of what Donna was saying can also be found in MS Essentials booklet 17: Pain and sensory symptoms. (The MS Society has a booklet for everything!)

In between, my friend, Lynne, and I enjoyed chatting with other attendees and sharing stories.  I even met a couple of people whom I’ve previously only communicated with online. Whilst the online community is fantastic, it is always good to put faces to names and to see people in person.

wheelchair dancers

wheelchair dancers

 

As we wandered through the many varied stalls, we paused to admire a demonstration of wheelchair dancing. It looked fun and you could have a go yourself. Later, we saw a couple of very professional-looking dancers, the woman in a chair and the man not. They danced very elegantly and smoothly together.

The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) had a stand and gave helpful  tips on how to site a bird table in a way that minimises the possibility of making bird sitting targets for cats (a fear of mine as most of our neighbours have cats).

Checking my leaflets, I’ve remembered that I’ve signed up to receive information from Sportability … I’m not sure how I’ll fit any more activities into my hectic (well, severely managed through pacing!) life but I really liked the look of the quad bikes! Watch this space!

I also had a chat to a slightly mad (but in a very good way!) fundraiser, Duncan. Duncan’s wife organises a “ten in ten challenge” – 10 Lakeland Peaks in 10 hours, whilst Duncan, who has MS himself, does his own water-based challenge, one of which has been to swim 10 of the Lake District’s lakes … now, that is what I call a challenge!

demonstrating the Mountain Trike

demonstrating the Mountain Trike

There were several stalls with some form of mobility vehicle, one with a wide range of bikes, including a three-wheeled tandem! Another was all about a Mountain Trike, which looked pretty awesome and could take you over rough and hilly terrain, and even sand! I had a go and it felt really comfortable and satisfying to use, and the engineering involved looked impressive. You use levers to pull yourself forward, and the only drawback I foresaw for me (apart from the price-tag!) was that it would be quite fatiguing after a while. Great fun though and nothing like a wheelchair!

I imagine that if you asked any two people their experience of the day it would have been different, as there was so much to do. I wished I’d had time for one of the cookery demonstrations, and I would definitely have appreciated one of the massages! I will just have to come again in two years’ time!

P.S. We also received a free pack of four nail varnishes which I have since been putting to good use!

modelling three of the four nail varnishes!

modelling three of the four nail varnishes!

The Training Begins!

The training is for the Tour of Anglesey, of course. However, our first excursion was only five miles’ long and we had such a lovely ride out, that I’m not sure I can really class it as training!

Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be back on the tandem! It was the beginning of January when we were last out – in very different temperatures, which necessitated more layers of clothing and fewer stops!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In fact, on this ‘epic’ journey into our nearby woods, we managed three stops! They were not required due to me needing a rest, I hasten to add! It was because the weather was so lovely that we wanted to stay outside for as long as possible. We sat out amongst the still bare but beautiful trees both on the way out and on the way back and watched families trekking by. Here and there we spotted the odd bluebell, but mostly they seemed reluctant to appear yet.

a rare daffodil sighting

a rare daffodil sighting

The middle stop is the essential one – the cafe! It has the added bonus that we can embarrass our daughter both simply by arriving at her place of work and, additionally, for extra points, by arriving on a tandem! (I think she is actually resigned to the sight of us now and even acknowledges us when we arrive!)

I am really appreciating the various outings that I’ve been able to achieve recently, after so much time indoors. The only down side is that it’s possibly (definitely!) been too much, too soon. I’ve had to rest a good deal since, and do some extra prioritising, but, well, you have to seize the day, and I can incorporate more rest into my days to compensate. It’s definitely a worthwhile balance!

 

Promise of Spring

I’ve felt like Sleeping Beauty recently – well, at least the Sleeping part! I have slept and rested, and rested and slept. Time has passed. Brambles have not surrounded my home; instead, during the time that I’ve taken to my bed, the rain has ceased its pounding of the windows and the sun has begun to smile on my world.

I’ve taken my first tentative steps back outside. This has mainly consisted of sitting on the doorstep, but I have also gingerly stepped over the threshold of work. I am beginning to feel part of the world again.

Another reason for looking forward with optimism came as a result of a recent phone call, which awoke me from my slumbers and cheered me hugely. It came from the founder of a charity, EMpowered people (http://www.empoweredpeople.co.uk/), which aims to inspire adults with disabilities to take up cycling. A browse of the website is recommended, especially the videos! The charity promotes the use of suitable bikes, including power assisted and otherwise adapted bikes, as appropriate for each particular rider. So, something very much after my own heart.

 It just so happens that the charity’s founder, Simon, lives only a few miles from me and he also happens to have MS. We have previously met up, when he explained what the charity was about and told me of various events that the charity arranged throughout the year. One such upcoming event is a two-day cycle ride around the Isle of Anglesey. I had demurred from this, thinking that my being able to cycle a mere five to twelve miles made it beyond my capabilities.2-Bee-or-not-2-bee-23

It turns out that this is not the case. The ride is organised in such a way that I can dip in and out of the cycling, depending on how my body is feeling. The event is fully supported and there will be riders with a variety of disabilities involved. The phone call was to clarify any potential problems, and for me to be reassured and then confirm that Pete and I would go for it! So, we now have a trip to Wales in May to look forward to – and an added reason for me to be careful to pace myself to ensure that I’m fit enough to be able to go!

So the tandem continues to take us into the unknown! In the meantime, the crocuses have awoken too. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

New Year Bites

Hebden Water in Hardcastle Crags

Hebden Water in Hardcastle Crags

It wasn’t raining and it wasn’t blowing a gale … indeed, the sky was blue and tempting. It looked like I would be able to get out my new Christmas helmet and we could set off on the first expedition of the year. (Hooray!)

at Walsden

at Walshaw

We headed off for the woods of Hardcastle Crags, making good progress now that we were used to the bumps of the stony track. The sun slanted through the trees and I took full advantage of my non-steering back seat to look at the beautiful shapes made by the bare branches. Very happiness-inducing!

Fortified by soup at the cafe in the woods, we then headed up the steady incline, until we were above the trees (thanks, again, to the electric wheel!) Then we continued along a rough road, stopping in the isolated hamlet of Walshaw to enjoy the views in every direction and to peer into a barn of wintering sheep. We were rather envious of them –  stopping in this  exposed place made us realise just how cold it was, despite the sun!

towards Widdop

towards Widdop

We looked along the road as it disappeared over undulating moors to see where we might explore on another day, then turned back on ourselves. However, instead of heading back down into the woods, we kept our height and bounced along the top road. We passed a few walkers, all, like us, enjoying being able to get outside during this welcome break in the stormy Christmas weather.

peering in at the cosy sheep

peering in at the cosy sheep

As the sun lost some of its height, (too soon at this time of the year!) its light softened, creating beautiful yellowy oranges in the sky and in the fields below, whilst to the west the light was sharper and brighter, interspersed with long shadows cast by the hilltop houses. We stopped to take it all in but, despite our warm flask of coffee, (we remembered this time!) we had to hop back aboard the bike quite swiftly as the weather was definitely not getting any warmer!

The only problem with getting up on to the tops is the descent afterwards – it is quite steep and very bumpy, though I think I must be getting more used to it as I didn’t find it too bad this time. I am becoming an experienced (back-seat) rider!

looking west

looking west

Two Day Eventing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA promising weather forecast left me spoilt for choice as to how to spend the last weekend of November … a tandem ride or a spot of archery? Well, not one to shy away from the risk of overdoing it, I opted for both (not at once, I hasten to add – though that is quite an image!)

We headed for the Rochdale Canal on the Saturday for a flat cycle along the tow path. We set out around the middle of the day to maximise the chance of the low sun reaching us over the hillsides. However, we hadn’t factored in the angle of the hills, and the first part of the journey was a little chilly … not helped by someone (naming no names!) forgetting the lovely warm flask of tomato soup he had prepared (oops, might have let slip there!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll along the canal, shiny copper leaves coated the water. The day felt on the cusp between autumn and winter, which was quite apt as the month was on the turn, and the air was invigorating once we became acclimatised! We stopped at a lock to take in the view and imagine drinking the soup. Eventually, the sun found us.

The route was very peaceful; it felt a long way from the bustle of people doing their Christmas shopping. We passed various allotments, rising out of the rough scrub at the side of the path, often next to a dilapidated canal barge. The only sign from any of the barges that they weren’t abandoned was the odd curl of smoke escaping from a stove as we cycled past.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe plan was to travel along the canal to Todmorden, have a good rest (and refuel!) and return the same way. Unfortunately, as we discovered, the towpath was closed about a mile outside Todmorden, so we had to do an about turn and complete the last part of the journey along the very busy road – we had found the Christmas shoppers! It felt even busier in comparison to the canal, and wasn’t fun. We decided to return home that way though rather than messing about switching routes, and it did have the virtue of being quicker!

The next day, although I still felt a little tired, I headed off to the archery field. There, I spent a happy hour or two shooting arrows, chatting, drinking tea, watching my form deteriorate and generally enjoying being outside.

I did spend the afternoon very quietly … and the following day … !

A Grand Day Out

IMG_0909My patience has been rewarded! All those weeks of being sensible and saying no to bike rides have paid off: we had a proper off-road, hill-climbing, high-level, sun-kissed adventure at the weekend.

IMG_0908We cycled from the edge of Hardcastle Crags, near Hebden Bridge, through the wooded valley of Crimsworth Dean and up on to the open moorland above. This was truly a trip back out into the countryside. We were travelling along rutted pathways surrounded by gentle sloping hills.IMG_0891

It was a trip only really made possible through the power of the electric motor. There were steep climbs as we pedalled up on to the higher ground. I would have felt like a dead weight on the back without the motor and I don’t think Pete would have appreciated the ascent at all.

It was wonderful to be able to travel along the high-level track with open IMG_0910views all around, maintaining the height we had gained. We had several stops to fully appreciate our surroundings, and, as we had brought our own stove (the “pocket rocket”), we could have plenty of mugs of tea as we relaxed in the last rays of summer sun. When we ran out of water, there was a handy stream where we were able to top up our supply.

The mountain bike tyres and springy seat were also put through their paces – the descent was (a bit too) exciting! The bike bounced and slithered over rough stones whilst I gripped tightly on to the handlebars. I watched the ground intently and saw no countryside at this point.IMG_0905

At the bottom I gingerly dismounted and slowly uncurled my fingers from the handlebars. We had reached a bridge crossing a gently flowing stream and I flopped beside it. It was another perfect spot for a rest and we felt no need to move for quite some time.

Our journey finished with a terrifying ride down from Pecket Well to Hebden Bridge along next year’s Tour de France route. (The Yorkshire leg – honest!) Now I know just what Mark Cavendish and co will be experiencing!IMG_0915

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