Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bad News

Well, it's bad news I'm afraid - I'm too injured to carry on so here's the story...

After the last bulletin and the day off in Tavistock - I needed very little excuse to hang around with mates I hadn't seen in years - I set off for Okehampton, Tiverton and Taunton. Despite avoiding the frankly ludicrous route straight across the moors to Moretonhampstead, I did find myself going a long way uphill past Mary Tavy until I was somewhere near the top of Dartmoor.

The scenery was amazing and I shall put the relative ease of the climb down to the 4 pints of Kronenbourg I drank with John and Mark Hillier the night before. A few extra calories always help. On the moor I was greeted with an anachronistic sight; a helicpoter flying below me. Quite impressive I can tell you.

I made it to the Okehampton turn off but there was another surprise in store for me; one of the drop bars on the pannier rack broke - I've no idea how. This called for a level head and some of the by now famous Venner ingenuity. I panicked. 20 minutes later I grabbed hold of myself enough to realise that the bungee cords I'd bought in Penzance were perfect for the job. It was ugly but I simply stuck the panniers to the top of the rack as tightly as possible. The added advantage here was that I punctured one of the energy drinks I'd bought in Tavistock and could leave the smelly mess to soak through all my newly-cleaned clothes.

Back in the saddle once again, my left pedal almost immediately fell off. It remained cleated to my foot however so I just slotted it back in place and rode on. Fields of red earth greeted me through Tiverton and although the climbs weren't as bad as before there were still more than a few of them which kept my average speed low. I followed the path of a stream towards Taunton and I'd probably call this the most pleasant day of all in terms of cycling. Open fields full of grazing cows vied with tranquil glades for my attention and just as I was thinking how much some of the properties along the road would cost, an obviously well-off chappie in a classic white, open-topped sports car drove past me on the other side of the road. It was Michael Caine. Or Eddy Murphy - I get them mixed up all the time.

Taunton arrived just in the nick of time. 80 miles and I was spent. The pain in the leg had been bad but by essentially admitting to myself that it was useless I was able to concentrate on pedalling with the left leg and leaving the right to spin. I guess I was hoping it would get better.

Unfortunately, once I got off the bike and my legs cooled, I was to understand just what a painful condition I had. Again the pain was right down the leg and even rolling the limb from side to side on the bed proved too much. I'd worried I wouldn't find a B&B, get a room for the right price, and finally, that I wouldn't be able to carry on. I tucked myself in and watched Runaway Bride on ITV1. It soon sent me to sleep.

The next day I crammed in a full breakfast of the English variety, refused the landlady's pears (they looked lovely and full of vitamins but I just didn't have room for them) and waved goodbye as I set off for Bristol and thence to Stroud. The leg hurt but I was buoyed up by a very strong wind at my back thanks to Hurricane Gordon in the Azores. I made cracking time until I got lost in Bristol and topped things off nicely with a puncture. From there on up to Stroud I was almost exclusively on cycle tracks on the side of the A38 and they kept trucks and crap motorists at a safe distance at last. Traffic had been getting way too close up till then so this was a welcome relief.

The hardest part of the day had been reserved for last though. Up a very long steep hill out of Uley to Stroud where the views were as incredible as they were fleetingly looked at by a shaking cyclist whose body had run out of food some time before. I was feeling rough, and my left Achilles tendon was starting to throb disconcertingly. At nearly 7pm I pulled in to the Bartlett family residence for much needed company and food. I'd covered 90 miles in a single day on my own and with luggage.

The route I was on seemed to follow a cycle of its own; main road one day, countryside the next, main road again etc... Thursday was a glorious but ever more painful ride through the cotswalds into Shropshire and up to Ironbridge. No panniers this time as crazy Lord Piers, my old matey from Thailand was back in the country and in charge of a rental car. Great views were enjoyed again along with an even stronger breeze at my back, and Piers even had the decency to pay for a twin room for us in Ironbridge.

That evening, my legs so painful I had to climb the stairs under the power of my upper body alone, we enjoyed a well-deserved meal of ribs and steak pie and a final couple of pints outside as the night was warm and balmy. A deranged local even stood behind me making threatening gestures and noises after I'd asked if Piers and I could slip on the end of his table. This, apparently, was asking too much.

Beating a hasty retreat we retired to bed at 10:30... and I was promptly wakened at 2am by the noise of Piers vomiting in the bathroom. He'd somehow developed a migraine, a condition I was unaware he suffered from and yet suffer he did. It was heart-wrenching hearing him chuck and not be able to do a thing about it. He really was in a bad way. The entire room soon smelled of his gastric jiuces and bile and still he was sick. By the time breakfast came round I could harldy eat. I was exhausted from cycling, pain and lack of sleep and worried about both Piers and myself. He had to get the car back to Heathrow and I had to carry on north.

We parted company in Ironbridge and I began the day with another hill and a dual carriageway. I was getting disorientated. The roads were difficult to follow not to mention downright dangerous. I was cold so I put on a jumper but completely forgot to close the pannier and began depositing my posessions all over the carriageway before I realised and turned back to collect them.

With the help of a local cyclist I made it out of Telford and took the country road to Warrington but by now I was beginning to fear the worst. I could only do around half my average speed due to my bad Achilles tendon and right knee. I enjoyed the countryside as much as I could but, on finally finding a country doctor's practice I hobbled in and begged for an appointment. A very obliging and sympathetic doctor soon looked at me but I was worried that he was taking almost too much of an interest in the sponsored aspect of the cycle ride. It looked as though he was trying to glean from me some snippet of information which would allow him to give me some bad news.

"Look," he finally said, "you ruptured your right iliotibial band (down the outside of the legs going into the knee) back in Cornwall and then you overloaded your left Achilles as a result and now that's torn."

"So is there any way you could patch me up?" I asked, a lump in my throat.

"I'm really sorry but you have to stop cycling or you will do yourself an even worse injury".

He could see how much the ride meant to me. He gave me the news in the kindest way possible, offering me water and asking if I had any accomodation where I could rest before heading home. I couldn't listen. What was I going to tell my friends and family? The people who had sponsored me? The families of the victims of the Dahab bombings? John and Mark who had been so very encouraging and a whole host of others who had wished me good luck along the way?

Training had been hard. Organising sponsorship, travel, accomodation, bloody everything in fact had been a nightmare and it all ended here with a rupture in one leg and a tear in the other.

An hour later I was hugging Steph. We'd arranged to meet up for the weekend and she was running bang on schedule as usual. I'd continued cycling until our routes coincided. Her very being there helped to soften the blow. I'd done over 400 miles on my own, it was beginning to piss it down with rain and I couldn't walk. If I'd been a horse they'd have f*cking shot me. It was time to go home. I sat in the car, watching the rain barely able to speak in case I just broke down.

Guy Home 23.9.06

PS. I'm going to give it a couple of days until I'm on my feet again and then publish a thank you note for all those who made this trip possible. Okay it wasn't to be, but I will do it one day soon and there won't be any stopping me.


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