Getting back on…

I recently broke my collarbone, had surgery to put some metal and screws in and then had a period off the bike. More about some of those things another time.

Executive summary; it wasn’t that bad and actually glad it happened. I learnt a lot and gave me a great deal of perspective.

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Getting back on my bike was something I’d really looked forward to. It wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be. It wasn’t soul crushing and the space was good. I did really want to swing a leg over a bike again though. Fortunately this was sooner than hoped but after five weeks of inactivity and reacquainting myself with spending evenings in the Camden Head the lycra was always going to be a bit tighter. I was meant to be off the bike for 3 months but fortunately was able to get back sooner. I remember being given the news on the Tuesday I think and then cycling to work again on the next morning. Magic. I was so excited when I found out I could ride again. Genuinely moved by it. Fuck yeah.

The first time back on the bike was horrific and not what I had hoped or longed for. I had quite a bit of muscle wastage in my left arm, a real lack of strength in my shoulder, still too sore to wear a backpack and generally feeling very very nervous. I took the fixed and just took it easy even having someone ride with me the first few times. The feeling of invincibility had long since departed. Everything felt slightly threatening, intense and somewhat overwhelming. I hadn’t actually hated getting the train to work and even felt like ditching the bike and sticking with the train and a pleasant walk. This wasn’t what I remembered or wanted.

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Sure enough it got a bit easier. I used a different rucksack. I took it easy. I got used to it all again.

About the same time other Andy Matthews had also broken his collar bone although in a much more painful and complicated way. He also had surgery and we ended up being allowed to ride again at about the same time. We arranged to meet up and go on a gentle ride.

Where’s safe on a Sat morning? Well sadly Richmond Park was about all I could face at first. I avoid it like the plague at weekends usually saving it for summer evening spins but there’s no way I could face a trip to Kent. We met up in Brixton and Matt also joined us, headed out to Richmond and got on with it.

Whilst still nervous and tentative it was a real treat to ride a decent bike (the fast one with carbon round things) and put that new jersey on I’d been looking at sat on the hanger for 6 weeks. I bought it just before the off and had sat there since.

I knew I would have lost a lot of fitness but was totally unprepared by just how much had gone. Getting out of the saddle for a hill… nope. Nothing. Tank empty. Even the slightest inclines that wouldn’t have phased me before became a struggle. None of this really mattered though as I was on a bike again, rolling with two great people and outside in the fresh air again.

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Matt took this picture of Andy and I riding and it brings a smile to my face every time I see it. It wasn’t until my physio saw it that she noted about us both having slightly bent elbows. Having lost this strength the body over compensates. I’ve straightened up again now I think but shows just how weak that side had become. Anyway, both of us out. Both smiling. Both riding bikes again. Life is good (even in Richmond Park).

I think we only did 45km that day but that was quite enough. For some reason I wanted to ride on the Sunday too and felt an overwhelming desire to prove something to myself. Like I still had a bit of fight in me and that this fitness thing wasn’t as bad as it had been. In hindsight what I did next was unbelievably stupid.

One of the aims I had for getting back on was to have a bit more fun. Riding had all got a bit serious and even monotonous. Same, same, same. If I was honest I had started to become a bit bored of it all. How to add more fun? Go out of your comfort zone, go to different places, do different things.

So my idea for a first proper ride back… Get a train to Bath, ride along the Kennet & Avon canal to Reading and then get another train to London. I had grown up around Bath and also commuted along bits of the canal to Bradford-On-Avon previously and thought the idea of extending this further seemed like a good idea. Safer, no cars, a bit off-roady and some nice scenery.

No trains to Bath sadly. The nearest was the train to Penzance which would drop me off at Westbury adding another 35km to my route which was already looking a bit much. Ahh well, what else am I going to do. I booked some tickets, tried to convince others to come and then told Emma they were coming. I ended up riding on my own and just keeping quiet about it. I was nervous yet also kind of pleased that I would be out there just on my own doing my own thing at my own pace. Especially with my newly reduced fitness and expanded waistline.

Bike choice? Well, not the fast one. Cross bike looks ideal. Shame it’s in bits. Ok then the winter / audax / mile muncher it is. 28s will have to do.

One of the nice things about going from Westbury to Bath was that I got a chance to plan a route through some bits of countryside I’d not ridden before. Of course I ended up on some gravelly farm track thanks to ridewithGPS. A muddy end to that one and then back onto some beautiful lanes before heading to my intended target… The Two Tunnels round the back of Bath. Formerly rail tunnels bored out of the rock and shut by Dr Beeching yet recently re-opened by Sustrans. I’d wanted to ride them for a while but not had a route or reason to head that way.

Holy shit they’re good. They’re dark. Not overlit like some H+S conscious public works project but just subtle enough so that your eyes adapt to the darkness and feel it’s intenseness. Warm air, cold air and then some sounds and different lights. Some areas have little art installations in the recesses created for the workers to avoid passing trains and then dodge the locals without lights. It’s still going on and can’t quite see the end. A retina burning trip into the bright light again and then straight into the second shorter version.

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After that it was into Bath. Have a quick sandwich and a coffee and then head out onto the canal. I’d forgotten the best way to get onto it and had lost my bearings slightly. I found myself day dreaming and scuffed my front wheel on a kerb almost sending me off the bike. A quick word with myself and then got to the canal. It was lovely shifting along at a nice pace towards Bradford on Avon. A really nice surface, lots of greenery and few cheery folk around and lots and lots of dogs. I stopped briefly to admire the aqueduct as I looped around at Avoncliff. It really is an impressive structure.

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I had a glug of water and pushed on. I sat down briefly the other side of Bradford on Avon an a couple congratulated me on my bright pink chevron socks. Brought a smile to my face and made me glad to be out and about. I had in the back of my mind that I was starting to feel a little tired but really did want to finish this.

More familiar landmarks passed including the amazing Caen Hill Locks new Devises. It was great seeing these again as again such an incredible feat of engineering.

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This was still lovely smooth gravel and I’d started to think I could probably do this. I just needed to keep tapping it out, keep moving, don’t stop too long etc. Just as I thought this the surface really started to deteriorate and I wished for the CX bike to magically appear with it’s super comfy 40mm tyres. No such luck and we had to push on.

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The weather had been warm so the ground was super firm. I found myself on ridged section which seemed to activate the wobbly bits in my arms, bingo wings etc. This was amusing at first but soon wore off after my shoulders started to ache. Just as I thought it couldn’t get any worse I ended up riding through eye height grass. I could barely see the actual path. This really wasn’t funny now and was really testing my patience.

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I looked at the map for a suitable bail point and I really was in the middle of nowhere. No option to continue and just hope that the path was in a better state soon. It can’t be like this all the way to Reading surely?

On a more positive note one of the nicest things about the route was the amount of wildlife I saw. I saw plenty of Herons, Rabbits, Swans, Moorhens, Ducks and even a vole or two as well as hundreds of lovely dogs and even two cats sat adjacent to their respective canal boats. It was also incredibly green and picturesque.

Time was pressing on. I wasn’t stopping much but I had said “I’ll be back by about four”. There was still 60km to go and it was 3pm.

One of my favourite parts was getting to this beautiful brick arched bridge with a view over the Vale of Pewsey.

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This felt pretty remote as I hadn’t seen anyone for a while and had been fighting through the long grass.

Another favourite moment was helping a father and son in a boat who weren’t going to make it under one of the swing bridges. I had great fun releasing the bolt and swinging it open for them. Again more incredible engineering that one person can move a bridge wide enough to drive a car over and back again.

Things that didn’t go so well? Clipping a low branch with my left shoulder (the previously broken one) and also falling off my bike trying to slow down for some pedestrians, neatly falling on the opposite side and still clipped in. These things kind of shook me up and made me grab a hold of myself and get on with it. I threw a couple of Ibuprofen down to deal with the shoulder pain and decided to try and be less of an idiot for the rest of the journey.

I really did want to complete this little challenge. I’d set myself this stupid ride and really wanted to prove to myself I wasn’t weak and a terrible cyclist again. There’s some kind of weird pain thing going on here but like going riding hung over I felt some kind of punishment was due for being such a slack ass. Fuzzy logic applied liberally.

The time thing was starting to play on my mind as I sent my first apologetic text in response to the “How are you getting on” message from Emma. Again, I really wanted this done.

As I got to Newbury I thought about bailing. There’s a station there but then the path had improved and I was making better progress. I was already too late for dinner and pushed on to Reading.

I got to the station with the light fading, got a ticket and went straight to Starbucks for as much food as I could carry. Then went back again.

As I hadn’t booked I technically wasn’t allowed on the train but the guard kindly let me on having seen how dejected I looked. I may have hammed this up slightly but I was cold, damp from a little shower that I’d got caught in and really wanted to get home. Even though it was full she let me on and I thanked her profusely.

It wasn’t until I sat down on the train I realised how much I stank. Putrid, damp and face and jersey covered in salt marks. I managed to get in to the flat at 9.30pm, eat and drank some more and then passed out.

To say I was a little sore the next day was an understatement. However much it hurt I was so so glad to be back on a bike again. I ended up doing 153km, about 120 of which was off road. I spent seven hours riding and another hour or so stopped which is a good average as I usually end up spending much more time faffing. I’d had a proper sit down in Bath so most of the time on the canal was spent moving.

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Maybe not the best gentle introduction to riding again but god damn I enjoyed it.