I raced down the hill trying to stay close to Jo’s back wheel. He’s fast, far faster than me but also kind enough to drop back and help me slipstream him to join the others because he knew that I was struggling. We lean in to the soft right hand curve and I feel the rear wheel start to slide out. I shift my weight to compensate but then the front wheel goes in the opposite direction via a tree root. I stand on the pedals fighting for a line but it’s too late. The brake levers clip a tree trunk and I’m airborne, over the handlebars and falling forward.
Apparently when someone falls from their bike they tend to go one of two ways, either they are vocal and chattery, pick themselves up and get back on. Or they go quiet, subdued and shocked.
I was quiet. Riding clipped in meant that my bike had followed me through my fall, complicating my landing. I could feel a throbbing in my finger (later found to be fractured) and I had done something to my knee.
The next morning, back in the UK I gave in and went to the hospital. So began the tests and exams which confirmed cartilage damage and the need for surgery.
At the time I was also waiting for psychotherapy. In fact the knee operation would come before I could start therapy – so much for “parity of esteem”
Due to the fall I was robbed of one of the things which helped my mental health – good physical exercise. I wasn’t allowed to ride any more than gentle spins on the turbo trainer or errands to town. I couldn’t walk terribly far and because I can only swim breaststroke I was stranded. Even as the knee healed (unfortunately I won’t regain full function) I couldn’t find much enthusiasm for being on the bike. I would go out and ride some miles but would invariably feel the knee tighten so played safe. Also, as I went deeper in to therapy it became apparent that being out on the bike was a way to escape from my problems rather than confront them and examine their intensity and impact on me. There was a feeling that I needed to be still and be “with” my thoughts.
A couple of months ago a good friend of mine, Olly, turned 40. His party was to be a bike weekend in the Peak District. It had been in the diary for ages, looming large every time I spoke with friends. It was something they were all looking forward to. Me? I was dreading it. Out with the same group that I had been riding with at the time of the accident, all the attendant questions that would bring. I also didn’t have the right bike for the terrain, my cyclocross bike is pretty versatile but I would need the gearing and tyres of a mountain bike – something I didn’t own. With a week to go I still didn’t have one. I talked about my dilemma in therapy and it was clear that I needed to honour Olly (he’s been incredibly kind throughout this period) and that whatever else I was going to attend. I called another friend and managed to get a bike. It came in a box and the Friday afternoon saw Jo and I building it before setting off for the Peak District. I hadn’t even ridden it and on the way Jo and I talked about what was holding me back and my fears about falling out of love with cycling.
The next day dawned bright and clear, we did last tweaks to the bike and set off. Now I’m used to being the slowest amongst this (universally kind and patient) group, it comprises bike tour guides, bike skills instructors, bike journalists and 24 hour enduro racers. Worse than that though was the fact I hadn’t ridden off road since the accident. I was very very scared. As we started to go uphill I slipped farther and farther back, slowly plodding along through the mud. I was painfully aware of holding the group back. We came to the first major descent, a really tricky rock chute about half a mile long. I let everyone else go first so as not to slow them up but Jo hung back. He discussed the best line, how he thought I should approach it and then told me he would follow me down. I made my way down tentatively, heavy on the brakes, balance all askew, constantly over correcting. The big tyres seeming to find some grip and traction no matter what I did. I was panting, trying to remember Jo’s advice “look where you want the bike to go, lift the front wheel and let it flow over the rocks”.
As you can guess, I made it safely to the bottom and then safely over the next hill and through more descents, more trails and chutes until the day was done. I didn’t ride the next day – I could feel the knee protesting so I took it easy. On the journey back I spoke with Jo about my experience both on the bike and in therapy. The pictures you see in this blog are his artwork and they reflect that conversation and also how he has experienced me in the last few years. At times towing that huge dark cloud behind me but when on the bike somehow stronger. Admittedly slow but determined to keep going. Using my strength to drive me forward.
Therapy hasn’t been easy and it ends in a few weeks. I’ve certainly not resolved all that is going on for me. A year of therapy sounds like a lot but in actual fact it equates to about 38-40 hours – a working week. My therapist is painfully aware that we have barely scratched the surface but there isn’t any more provision for me. Ironically we are just starting to make headway but I will have to wait for a review in 6 months time to see if I can have more. This week was a troubling session and so it was a timely reminder to get Jo’s pictures in the post. Showing me the differences he has seen and also where I show up well in the world – on a bike, slowly turning those gears over.
I’m still not back up to speed either mentally or on my bike. In two months I’m meant to be riding 100 miles for Mind (please sponsor me) and right now I’m not sure I’ll make it. I can only do about 50 miles before the knee gives up. I haven’t even tried much in the way of hill training. It has seemed pointless – but then so did therapy when I started and slowly but surely it has started to pay off. Bit by bit, mile by mile I’m gaining traction……