A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Archive for the tag “tandem”

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!

 

 

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

When the Wind Blows

Fresh air has been in short supply recently. This has been caused by a combination of exhaustion, rain, a recurrence of Pete’s Knee and more rain.

The tandem is sitting forlornly under its covering and the archery field is probably a quagmire (I admit, I’ve not been able to get near it in the last couple of weeks). The nearest I get to nature is peering anxiously over my imperceptibly growing spring bulbs.

hopeful signs of spring

hopeful signs of spring

So, any dose of fresh air has consisted of the few yards from house to car on the way to work or, more acceptably, to meet up with a friend in a cafe. Mind you, today those few yards were quite exciting enough! The gusts of wind and slaps of rain were definitely refreshing!

At least the wild weather has coincided with a bout of enforced rest. Not that you really care when you’re too tired to move; when the walk to the kitchen to make a cup of tea is a walk too far and the top of the stairs feels like the top of a mountain.

The trickier bit I find, though, is when you’re starting to feel that little bit better, and you start being tempted to do some mild activity. My downfall was to think that baking some buns was a good idea. It wasn’t. Back to bed!

the hibernating tandem

the hibernating tandem

So I am watching the rain batter the windows whilst sitting safely behind them, and listening to the wind howl round the house whilst pulling my cosy cardigan round me and huddling up close to the fire. I do not wish to be walking on the moors, no not at all.

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

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

After Sun

Hmmm … it looks like I’ve been getting a bit over enthusiastic with the tandem. The temptingly flat French cycle paths have come back to bite me. I’ve been feeling in need of a holiday ever since I got back from my holiday!

We have been out on a pleasant five-mile-jaunt along the Rochdale canal but after a couple of miles I was saying that I couldIMG_0829 do with a stop shortly, quickly followed by a request that we stop right now! Oooph! It was still a lovely afternoon out, and very peaceful; we didn’t see many people all the way to Sowerby Bridge. It’s a very green and wooded stretch, partly following the river Calder. The route is less IMG_0825scenic where it follows the railway, but at least we got to cycle over a railway bridge, and, more scenically, the river.

However, that ride and more general exhaustion mean that I have had to reluctantly admit that I might have been overdoing it. Not enough rest periods in between being more active. But who wants to be sensible on holiday?! So, not having been sensible on holiday, I’m having to be sensible now I’m back home. Otherwise known as leading a very dull life – for much longer than I really think is a fair price to have to pay.

So, it’s back to little drives out to wooded cafes and sitting on the doorstep, catching any last moments of summer sun. Could be worse, I suppose! IMG_0833

La Piste Cyclable d’Annecy

Lake Annecy from Bout du Lac

Lake Annecy from Bout du Lac

We’ve just got back from our holidays by Lake Annecy in the French Alps. We seem to keep gravitating towards hills! The thing about Lake Annecy, though, is that there is a wonderful cycle path that runs the entire length of the lake along an old railway line.

We hired a tandem – it’s become a holiday essential now! Due to cost (it seems to be much more expensive there than other places we’ve been) and to manage fatigue, we hired one twice for a couple of days at a time. We went to Coup de Pompe ( http://www.coup-de-pompe.fr/) which is also a cafe (a plus!) and sits right on the cycle path, at Bredannaz.

 Coup de Pompe cafe and cycle hire

Coup de Pompe cafe and cycle hire

I immediately noticed the difference using the hired tandem compared with our own, with Pete’s wonderful adjustments. I really appreciated them all the more when they weren’t there! Suddenly my legs were going round in full circles instead of mini ones without the adjusted crank shaft – much more tiring! Also, an unexpected difficulty was that my foot kept slipping off the pedal and I struggled to get it back on. Fortunately, the simple addition of a string loop on the pedal kept my foot in place – magic!

More string was also useful for keeping my stick secure on the bike, and a last piece was used to tie our bag to the seat post. Have string, will travel! Very chic we looked!

the stick holder

the stick holder

We were based at the southern, quieter, end of the lake,  where both lake and valley fatten out. Sailing boats cut across the water, whilst dots of paragliders sweep the sky. You can head north up the lake, or south into the alpine valley and its peaceful hamlets.

essential siesta

essential siesta

There are plenty of villages if you head north so you can do a few kilometres, stop and admire the view, watch the world go by from a cafe, then head on or back as you wish. Even in the heat (and it did get a bit extreme for a few days) there’s a breeze from your own movement – better than walking!

cycle tunnel at Duignt

cycle tunnel at Duignt

You go through a tunnel near Duignt – and it really is impossible to pass through it without making train noises! If you travel north along it in the early evening just after sunset you can even cycle through the hillside back into the warmth, where the sun has yet to set.

rock climbers by the tunnel

rock climbers by the tunnel

The north side of the tunnel makes an excellent stopping point for a number of reasons: there’s a lovely view of the lake through pretty rooftops, it has a water pump and, best of all, a rock climbing wall, so you can watch other people doing crazy things whilst you rest.

cycle path at Duignt

cycle path at Duignt

All manner of people use the cycle path, from those who look like they are looking for the Tour de France with their aerodynamic gear, to those enjoying a gentle ride along a beautiful path (like us); there were roller bladers, recumbent cyclists, a wheelchair user, lots of families with a variety of contraptions for carrying their children, and we counted four other tandems in one day!

If you search for cycle information of this area it brings up many steep climbs up lots of exciting cols. Ignore them! What you need is a gentle cycle ride along the lake shore!IMG_0658

The Tandem Goes West

Whilst Chris Froome was powering up the last mountains of the French Alps en route to victory in the Tour de France, we were in the middle of our own epic adventure … 13 miles along the Rochdale canal. Now, let me quickly add, that was the longest trip we’d ever undertaken by tandem!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was relieved that the temperature dropped for us, as I’d not even been able to leave the house the previous day due to the heat! There was a fresh breeze, perfect for cycling, and we made good progress along the tow path.

We really appreciated the electric motor for all the sudden inclines around each lock (and there were quite a few!) Otherwise, the terrain was varied; occasionally smooth, often bumpy, sometimes bone rattling as we crossed the many overflow chutes that looked very quaint and cobbled but, ouch! They really hurt!

the highest broad lock in England

the highest broad lock in England

I even managed a summit! I haven’t got to the summit of anything for quite a while, and wasn’t really expecting to do so that day either. Well, we reached and crossed the Highest Broad Lock in England, no less!

The route was peaceful, and the surrounding countryside was wild and empty. The odd barge gently glided by and we passed a few walkers, a couple of fisherman and several other cyclists – even another tandem! It was great to be just another cyclist (obviously much better to be on a tandem though!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We did encounter a few challenges towards the end of the journey, west of the Highest Broad Lock in England. Suddenly, we were expected to negotiate very narrow “gates” to continue on our way. Other cyclists could either just about wriggle through the tiny gap or hoick their bikes above their heads and walk through. That wasn’t so easy with a tandem, especially one with a weighty battery on the back!

the tandem-unfriendly gap

the tandem-unfriendly gap

We managed to jiggle and haul the bike through a couple of them. Then we were met by the third: this one had the added twist of being at right angles to the path, which wasn’t very wide. We managed, but it was a struggle. The irony was that there were gates on either side of these narrow gaps … which were securely padlocked! A notice stated that you could unlock them with a RADAR key but who would think to take one there, even if they had one?!

Ah well, with these obstacles safely overcome we were soon at journey’s end: Hollingworth lake – and a cafe! I was then able to hop on a train back to the start, and pick up the car which I’d left at the station. Meanwhile, Pete rode home along the road – he didn’t fancy tackling the squeeze-through gaps on his own … or the long flight of steps we’d had to descend along that section of the route.

cricketers by the canal

cricketers by the canal

The following day, I was distinctly aware of the efforts I’d made as I was aching in quite a few places! But, mainly, I was feeling very pleased with my achievement!

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

Thinking Differently

I’d been living with MS since 2004 and was feeling the increasing frustration of not being able to get out into the countryside with my husband, as my legs were no longer prepared to carry me any distance.

Pete, clearly not prepared to let this be a permanent problem, hit on a solution whilst we were on holiday in France, where everyone was enjoying travelling to the beach by bike. He arrived back at our tent one day, having hired a tandem for us to try! I have to say, I was sceptical at first; I hadn’t been on a bike for many a year and now I was expected to ride on the back of something when I couldn’t see where I was going and wasn’t in control of the brakes.

However, after a few anxious squeaks (by me, not the bike), I had to admit that it was fun, cycling along special cycle lanes the few odd miles to the beach in the sun. I mastered the art of letting my legs move round on the pedals without actually putting any weight down and so minimising my effort. I could see that I was successful when Pete looked more tired than me as we dismounted.

First steps, west coast of France

First steps, west coast of France

We didn’t initially consider getting a tandem ourselves. After all, we live in the Yorkshire Pennines; there are lots of hills there. It would be a silly idea. So for a couple of years we just hired a tandem for a sunny two weeks. At least it was something, and I looked like everyone else as I pedalled away; no stick, no wheelchair.

Taking it easy near Lake Annecy

Taking it easy near Lake Annecy

In the meantime, not to be thwarted by our home geography, Pete kept thinking and came up with the notion of canoeing. Again, the Pennines are not known as great canoeing territory. The solution was to get an inflatable canoe and escape to the Lake District when we could. We discovered that it is feasible to travel there and back in a day, and still have a lovely few hours out on a lake. My parents also live up that way so we can even claim a bed for the night. We’ve had memorable days on Coniston, Windermere and Ullswater … and there are many more to try yet. It’s becoming something of a challenge to “bag” them all.

One great day out was to canoe about half-way down Ullswater with the wind behind us to Howtown, pack up the canoe into its, not exactly portable, but manageable, bag, and wait for the steamer to take us back up to our car at Glenridding.

Ullswater, near Howtown

Ullswater, near Howtown

An important trick that I’ve learnt in order to minimise fatigue is to only paddle when I feel like it, generally when other boats are nearby, so that it looks like I’m pulling my weight, but otherwise just dipping in a blade now and again, to “help out”. Fortunately, Pete is great at doing all the hard work, which also includes getting the canoe inflated and deflated.

It then occurred to us that maybe it would be feasible to use a tandem round where we live if we used the car a little, either with me driving to the start of a flatter route and Pete cycling solo there, or putting it on a bike rack. After all, I’m never going to give Bradley Wiggins a run for his money; I’m just tootling short distances of about five miles. So, we took the plunge and bought a mountain tandem (yes, they do exist!) a few months ago.  They come with lovely fat tyres which absorb a lot of the bumps. To make it as suitable as possible for me we fitted a crank-shortener to the back pedals which makes it much less tiring (since my back pedals still have to go round in time with the front ones). In order to minimise any complaints about my sore backside, we also got a very wide springy seat and a seat post with a spring shock absorber which is very helpful over all the bumpy paths.

Moors near Widdop

Moors near Widdop

So far we’ve made several trips in the local woods, had a bit of an epic trip following a reservoir road amongst the moors and a cycle along a canal towpath. The railway follows the same route at that point and we left the car at a station so that I could travel back by train but, after a good rest and refuelling stop at our destination, I was really chuffed when I made it back again too.

We have plenty of stops to admire the scenery and rest, and cafés are always popular, or flasks of tea. I stagger off the bike feeling utterly exhausted but extremely happy. I am out in the countryside again, smelling the earth and feeling the fresh air in my eyes. I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain and, whilst part of the tiredness is fatigue, that speciality of MS, most of it is the same as that old feeling of happy tiredness from having been outside on the fells all day.

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