A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Archive for the tag “EMpowered people”

Hibernation

I’ve decided to place my blog into hibernation. I started it as I wanted to share the difference in outlook that our tandem had brought to my life, now that MS is part of it. I hope that I’ve been able to get across how it’s helped me, not only to get outside again, but to actively try to be out in as many different ways as possible. And not just to be outside but to be immersed in the countryside once more, to get muddy and rained on and to smell the grass in sheep-nibbled fields again.

enjoying a summer evening

enjoying a summer evening

I don’t want to become repetitive so I thought I’d take a break. I shall only be taking a break from writing the blog though – definitely not from having adventures! We shall continue to cycle, bumping along uneven paths, to track down more bird-watching haunts and to splash about in the canoe. I might even try something new again if something catches my eye. I know it would be worth my while.

by Hebden Water

by Hebden Water

In the meantime, I’ve loved hearing from other people who have tried out new ways of adventuring, be it by adapted cycle, tramper or horse riding.

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

We have a weekend away coming up with EMpowered people which I’m looking forward to. It will be good to mix with others who have similar tales to tell again, and to swap our experiences. There are many more Lakeland tarns to glide across and the wheelchair is getting used to being pushed along unlikely paths.

muddy Pennine paths

muddy Pennine paths

Then there’s the Paralympics coming up soon, and when I start to feel a little bit inadequate in the face of their superhuman efforts, I can remind myself of just what I am achieving. Just as the Olympics inspire people to try something out, the Paralympics remind me that I have adapted my life to get out there and do something – there will be no hibernating for me!

tandem happy amongst the sheep

tandem happy amongst the sheep

Exploring the Monsal Trail

The tandem has just taken us on a new adventure: we’ve been on the Monsal Trail cycle route in the Derbyshire Peak District, which runs from near Buxton to just outside Bakewell. This is an eight-and-a-half mile trail along paths only useable by bikes, horses, walkers and wheelchairs, and which follows an old railway line along spectacular high-level viaducts.

River Wye at Blackwell Mill

River Wye at Blackwell Mill

Empowered people had organised the day and, importantly for us, took the tandem by trailer to the Peak District. It meant we were able to have a day’s cycling with a dozen or so other people who also really appreciated being there, especially in the beautiful sunshine we had that day (unlike on our last outing!).

There was the usual mix of electric bikes and ordinary bikes, as well as a hand cycle and a recumbent bike attached to another bike. And, of course, the tandem!

at the start of the Monsal Trail

at the start of the Monsal Trail

It really was a glorious day. Initially the route took us through woods and beside a stream. Soon there was a steep climb up on to the track – I had to dismount and hold on to the tandem for balance – it had the advantage of looking like I was actually helping pushing it uphill – I emphatically was not! That was the trickiest bit for our group but we were soon up on to the flat track and away!

room for everyone

room for everyone

The route is very wooded and peaceful. You really feel that nature has taken the land back. As it was so early in the season, we could see through the branches to the pale green fields beyond. Each time we went over a viaduct we stopped to peer down and across at the mellow views.

steep drop below

steep drop below

We passed families with small children on their multi-coloured bikes, walkers who used the route before crossing on to other footpaths, dog walkers, and many cyclists – it was too good a day not to be outdoors! At one point we even passed a group of schoolchildren abseiling from one of the high bridges!

abseilers

abseilers

And there were tunnels! Many of them! These were great fun except it was distinctly colder inside them than outdoors – the sun was very welcome each time we broke out again! Also, despite the lighting provided, it was quite dark and cyclists did appear out of nowhere quite close at hand once or twice!

approaching our first tunnel

approaching our first tunnel

inside the tunnel

inside the tunnel

It was wonderful to see these great feats of engineering still being used. There had been such a huge amount of effort put into building them, from the blasting through rocks to create the route, to the brickwork built to secure the cuttings and tunnels. It was strange to think that all those involved in building the railways could not have conceived of this use … not even of the bikes themselves!

Cressbrook Mill

Cressbrook Mill

Eventually we arrived at Monsal Head Viaduct itself – what a view! You could peer down into Monsal Dale (such a long way down!) and watch the tiny people below enjoying a stroll by the river.

Monsal Dale

Monsal Dale

We lunched at Hassop, a disused station, now providing welcome snacks on a terrace bathed in spring sunshine … bliss! Many cups of tea were required before I wanted to move!

It wasn’t far from there to the end of the line just outside Bakewell. I made it to the end then decided that stopping off back at Hassop was the end of the journey for me. I had cycled 10 miles, which was significantly more than I had managed for some time – and I could feel it! Pete headed back to the start with the rest and I got a lift back with one of the support team.

the end of the line

the end of the line

It was wonderful to explore a new cycle route and it was particularly good to be back in the Peak District as it’s part of our old stomping ground from when we were students, when we would spend Sundays getting away from the campus and into the hills. Now we were back – but doing something new, not trying to recreate something from the past. I think we’ll be back again!

back to the river Wye

back to the river Wye

A Sociable Ride

The weather was as wet as the forecast had predicted. It was no day for a bike ride. Unfortunately, we were committed to one!

We had agreed to join the EMpowered People group on a ride that was passing close to our home. So we could hardly back out! We found every piece of waterproof clothing we possessed and waited for the call to inform us that they were on their way so that we could join them.

signs of EMpowered riders!

signs of EMpowered riders!

Unfortunately, there was a slight breakdown in communication so that we could only catch up with the other riders at the cafe stop in our local woods. We tried our best to catch up before then but they were just too fast!

The rain was very sharp and cold against our cheeks. We were soon very much awake! Once in the woods, we were slightly sheltered by the trees and bounded along at a good pace. Before we knew it, we were descending to the stream as it flowed past the mill cafe.

Rachmi loving the hand cycle

Rachmi loving the hand cycle

We knew they were inside from the wide variety of bikes parked outside. It was good to see people again. There were about six EMpowered riders and a good number of support riders. Everyone seemed to be enjoying being out and no one complained about the weather – except to say they were looking forward to a warm shower when they got home!

ready for the return journey

ready for the return journey

It was great to cycle back with the others, being part of a group of riders. It made it all seem livelier and more sociable. In fact, it was all over far too quickly and we had to say goodbye as they continued on their way.

Their total ride was about 15 miles, and we cycled about 5 of them. I have to confess though that I realised that that was quite enough when I got home – I flopped for most of the rest of the day. But it was generally a happy flop (apart from the frustration to not being able to do anything else all day) and we certainly wouldn’t have had our adventure if we hadn’t agreed to go as part of the group. So the commitment definitely paid off!

our tandem is well guarded!

our tandem is well guarded!

EMpowerment

You may remember that last year I took part in a cycle event round Anglesey, organised by a charity called EMpowered people. One of the things they do in order to help people with disabilities to cycle is to arrange Taster Days where you can come along and try out different types of bike and see which is most suitable.

One of these days took place locally at the weekend and I got myself along. Unfortunately, Pete’s (other) knee has been playing up so I went on my own and without the tandem.

spoilt for choice!

spoilt for choice!

It was great to see Simon, who set up the charity, and some of the volunteers who had come along with a couple of vanloads of bikes, as well as some possible new recruits for the next Anglesey trip in May.

There were hand cycles, trikes and even a four-person bike, as well as a bicycle for two where you sat side by side (a bit like a pedalo!). It was also explained to me that one of the hand cycles could be partially dismantled and reattached to another bike so that power and support could be supplied by a second rider. There was some very good kit on display, as well as some lovely helpful people to assist.

... and more!

… and more!

If anyone found a particular bike suitable, they could take it for a turn in the park then out for a little tootle, supported by someone from EMpowered People. Some people simply used an electric bike, or had toe clips fitted to stop their feet from falling off the pedal – that is distinctly a problem I have without a clip.

I spent most of the time chatting! I caught up with people I’d met on last year’s trip and a local chap who is aiming to come this year, having recently obtained a hand cycle through the charity. Look forward to seeing you there, Chris! He loves the bike but is very aware of the extra effort to pedal using his arm muscles rather than his legs.

I had a go on Chris’s bike and struggled even to steer it! I didn’t get chance to appreciate the extra effort needed as I could barely control it. Fortunately for all concerned, I was tightly supervised and, indeed, barely actually steered it since I would have cashed it several times if Richard hadn’t simply moved the steering column for me! There is clearly a knack to riding such a bike, something akin to learning to drive a car using hand controls.

side-by-side cycling

side-by-side cycling

I decided that it was much simpler to sit on the back of the tandem and let Pete and the electric motor do all the hard work! Though, I hasten to add, my legs do go round and round and provide me with quite enough exercise anyway!

It was lovely to be in touch with everyone involved in the charity again and it sounds like there will be at least double the number of EMpowered riders in Anglesey this time. In fact, we are completely taking over the hotel! I can’t wait … I may even have to do some training!

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!

 

 

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