A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Archive for the tag “Electric bike”

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!

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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

Being EMpowered: Part One

at Four Mile Bridge

at Four Mile Bridge, Anglesey

You may be thinking that, as there have been no further posts about training for the Tour of Anglesey, I was so busy doing the training that I didn’t have time to write about them. You would be wrong! There have been no further training rides. That was due to a brief occurrence of Pete’s Ankle (not to be confused with Pete’s Knee). It came and went over precisely the same days we could possibly have cycled. Such is life!

Anglesey countryside

Anglesey countryside

To be honest, I don’t think more training would have made any difference – my concern has always been getting over-fatigued and coming home so exhausted that I’d be in back in bed for days. That was the beauty of this trip for me – I could just do parts of the route.

modelling the kit!

modelling the kit!

We were staying in Hotel Cymran, near the RAF base at Valley. Friday evening was spent getting to know some of my fellow cyclists, eating a very tasty meal and getting kitted out. Yes, we were all given our own cycling kit! Simon, the founder of EMpowered People, obviously has a winning way of getting people to help the charity!

Martin has too much energy!

Martin has too much energy!

As I looked around the table on the Friday evening, five chaps stood out as having very rosy, wind-blasted faces. Apparently, they had done a bonus day’s ride already. It turned out that, although the main event was two days’ cycling on Anglesey, one of the EMpowered people, Martin, had considered that to be insufficient challenge for him. So a Day Zero had been added, consisting of a ride through Cheshire and along the North Wales coastal route – this was 110 miles: more than Days One and Two combined!

Martin has Parkinson’s disease. He is also a demon on a bike! His support riders had trouble keeping up with him all weekend and he relished the challenge of beating them!

Whilst I wasn’t envious of them having cycled such a distance, it did make me itching to get going on our own first day’s cycling.

Amazingly, bearing in mind the dreadful weather forecast, Saturday morning dawned dry. There were even glimmers of sunshine! We gathered in the forecourt of the hotel for a photo opportunity before the day’s cycling. It was only at that point that I realised how many of us there were.

gathering before setting off

gathering before setting off

 

the team!

the team photo

Besides the EMpowered riders, there was the support team, comprising friends and family of the riders, with a strong showing of Simon’s friends who have cycled with him or motorbiked and car rallied with him over the years. In addition, there were riders from Quest 88, a company that provides therapy products including bikes, and which was instrumental in getting EMpowered people off the ground. Our numbers were swelled further that morning by the arrival of some younger folk who work and/or live on the island.

our support riders

our support riders with Glynnis on her trike

There was a mix of cycles, too, including two hand cycles, a trike, several electric bikes, our own electric tandem and a red spotted bike. As the chap who interviewed me said, it had the look of Wacky Races! (Ah yes, being interviewed … more on that whole subject later …!)

We headed roughly northwest, over Four Mile Bridge, where the sun came out, and then along the beautiful rocky shoreline round Treaddur Bay. The wind was quite strong there, whipping the waves up so that they crashed along the rocks, and blasting us with salty air.  It was a great stretch to cycle along, although those without electric wheels thought we had an unfair advantage up all the hills on that section! It was very much an up and down part of the route!

Treaddur Bay

Treaddur Bay

Soon afterwards we arrived at our morning rest point where the refreshment team were ready with welcome hot drinks and snacks. It was also a good chance to chat and swap stories. Glynnis, using her trike and with an artificial leg, was feeling good after the first section and was still keen to get round the whole route. Martin told me just how much he wants to stay active, and, whilst we may all have been aiming to achieve a personal best over the weekend, for Martin it was definitely a race – against everyone!

refreshment stop

refreshment stop

chatting to Glynnis

chatting to Glynnis

Having done what I considered to be a respectable six miles, I hopped in one of the support vehicles at this point, along with Theresa, one of the hand cyclists, and her sister. We were in the final vehicle, and followed Alex, another hand cyclist, whose aim that weekend was to do the whole route. He made a good start that morning.

Alex with support riders

Alex with support riders

the dressed windmill

the dressed windmill

We rejoined the rest of the party at lunchtime, at a cafe in a windmill, which was inland from the part of the morning’s route I’d done. The flour used in the food had been freshly milled on site, and the windmill itself was decorated in bunting as it was windmill dressing day on the island. The breeze kept the sails going at a smart pace! It was good to be back with everyone again, and the three of us who had rested were all raring to go. I’d had enough of the inside of a van – I was in need of some more fresh air!

getting ready for the afternoon cycle

getting ready for the afternoon cycle

Those with most energy did the longer afternoon route, including Martin (of course!) and Alex. I thought the 10 miles for the shorter route was quite enough! We had an enjoyable afternoon cycling through  country lanes full of bluebells and cow parsley. Our support riders were those living and working on the island and were able to give us little snippets of local information, including inside gossip on Kate and William’s time of living at the RAF base … my lips are sealed!

Teresa conquering another hill

Theresa conquering another hill

afternoon views

afternoon views

We arrived back at the hotel, after having cycled round the RAF base, and it was only when I got off the tandem that I realised just how tired I was! A pre-dinner snooze was definitely required!

wetlands near RAF Valley

wetlands near RAF Valley

Part two to follow … with an explanation of why we were being filmed all day and the revelation of my total mileage!

 

 

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 … !

Electric Wheels

An exciting moment: the inaugural trip on our newly-adapted power-assisted tandem!* The sun was shining, it was a weekend and the tandem was ready. We hopped aboard and headed for our local woods. It’s our most reliable route and, importantly, has a cafe at journey’s end.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a very strange feeling to be flying through warm air, wearing shorts and being in Yorkshire; I associate warm-weather tandeming with France! I got over the feeling very quickly and was soon enjoying seeing the trees in full leaf, hearing the birds singing and smelling the summer air.

The electric motor whirred quietly and satisfyingly when needed. It was very helpful to Pete on the uphill parts of the path. He felt that his knee would not have been up to the trip otherwise. So our bike is now adapted for both our disabilities; though hopefully Pete’s is temporary! Ultimately, the aim is to get up on to higher ground than would be possible with only one person pedalling for two. An exciting prospect!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the meantime we enjoyed a sunny cafe stop, watching the world go by – for quite a while! It was wonderful to be out of the house on a small adventure under our own steam.

As I dismounted when we arrived home, the journey (all five miles of it!) hit me rather suddenly. I realised that it was a while since I had undertaken such a trip and that for me it was the equivalent of an athlete’s training run (well, that’s what I tell myself anyway!) I don’t think an hour sitting in the sun helped either! I always forget on the first day of summer that time spent in the full heat of the sun results in hours wilting under a fan. Well, it’s at the back of my mind but I can never resist that first blast of too much heat. It’s just about worth the payback. And we are itching to be out again!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA* Details of how we added the electric wheel are on the About the Tandem page

News Round-Up

Some cheering things to report: a member of my local MS Society, having read about my tandem adventures, is looking at cycling again for himself, post MS! He’s looking into the possibility of using a three-wheeler bike to help with balance.

In other bike-related news, we heard that electric bikes are no longer limited to one-person bikes and that it’s now feasible to get an electric tandem. We did not want to have to trade in our lovely bike so, after much surfing of the internet, Pete has tracked down a motor that will fix on to our bike.*

A few hours spent making the necessary adjustments later, it is now attached and we are raring to go on our very own electric wheels! We should be able to power up the Yorkshire hills no problem now on 250 watts of (road and bridleway legal) raw power! Especially as The Knee is improving steadily and should be up to doing a spot of pedalling now.

the new electric wheel

the new electric wheel

Elsewhere, I had a chat to my MS nurse, generally bemoaning the fact that there aren’t any suitable drugs for me for my MS circumstances. However, she told me about a recent course she attended where one speaker was emphasising the importance of keeping active so far as you can, along with healthy eating, so that you can cope with any relapses and underlying myelin damage.

It was a good reminder that doing what I can is important. Well, I knew really but it’s always good to hear it again out loud, and being able to do anything that might help against this condition is welcome – even better if it’s fun as well! Better check the kitchen cupboards though as I’ve been getting a bit slack on the healthy eating front recently!

And finally, I’ve booked to go on an archery course in the autumn …

* Details of how we added the electric wheel are on the About the Tandem page

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