12,000 Miles – A Christmas Song

Two weeks on from Cycling Santas, Belfast still lives large in my mind. Hardly a day goes by without me thinking of Stephen and Leona spending Christmas without Oscar. Hardly a day goes by without me thinking that for the first time in years, Northern Ireland’s first couple of Never Giving Up will be able to spend Christmas at home without having to schedule hospital appointments, visiting and generally being everywhere at the same time for lots of different reasons. I will probably think of Stephen, Leona and Izzie every day until I go back to work.

But Stephen and Leona are not alone. Theirs is a journey I became aware of less than two years ago, long after they traded a normal family life for one characterised by uncertainty, worry, stress and sleep deprivation. Closer to home, indeed less than ten miles from Stewarton, live Cheree and Steven Sharpe. Cheree and Steven are the parents of Alfie Sharpe, aged 6, who lost his battle with neuroblastoma just two weeks before wee Oscar. Neuroblastoma exists in a very harsh world, for just like Oscar, Alfie’s relapse came just weeks after he had been given the all clear.

My heart goes out to all of the families who have lost loved ones to the disease this year, for this Christmas will be like no other. And it was whilst thinking about that while I was riding home into a freezing, wet gale last night that I started mulling over 2,000 Miles, arguably the best contemporary Christmas song of modern times, and how it reflects where LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma is at right now. This time last year, I was  indeed sat on 2,000 miles, but twelve months is a long time in this game.

When I did a bit of research into the song, I found conflicting opinions. Wikipedia, that organ of believe what you may at your peril, states “While most people believe 2,000 miles is the distance between two long distance lovers who miss each other over the holidays, it is actually meant to be for James Honeyman-Scott, the group’s original guitar player, who died the year before the song was released”. And that just serves to make it even more poignant in the context of this epic bike ride: a song apparently written as a tribute to someone much loved but sadly missed at Christmas. And if it hadn’t been for a hospital appointment on Christmas Eve, LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma would have been on 12,000 (exactly) on Christmas Day. But alas that milestone now awaits on the first day back after the holiday, the 61st of the so called 100 Days of Hell.

I wrote in last week’s blog that in order to achieve 12,000 miles before Christmas, I needed to average 48 miles on each of the 8 remaining days. 380 miles in 8 days was the challenge: I accepted it, knowing full well on day one that it wasn’t on because of an additional appointment that the hospital decided to chuck in my direction, but safe in the knowledge that if I gave it 100%, then it would instead happen on the first working day of 2015. It feels like the silver medal, the consolation prize if you like, but I fully understand and appreciate the reasons for it…

I reported last week that I’m awaiting surgery to repair a hernia. It’s been bothering me since July, 4,500 miles ago, but I kind of ignore it as best I can and just keep piling on the miles. Because the pain is considerably worse when I’m standing and walking about than it is when I’m sitting down, being on the bike is really not a problem, relatively speaking. But it won’t always be that way hence the reason for my being in the Consultant’s room last Monday morning. He asked me to describe the pain. I replied “it feels like I’ve been kicked in the nuts, all the time”.

After I’d had my lie in till half six, the way I saw it I had three options:

  1. Car to Crosshouse then drive into work. Total lost working time: 3 hours. Lost miles: 44
  2. Bus to Crosshouse then bus into work. Total lost working time: 4 hours. Lost miles: 44
  3. Bike to Crosshouse then bike into work. Total lost time 4.5 hours. Lost miles: 0.

So that was a no brainer. I left the house at half seven for a 9:15 appointment five miles away. That bagged me 16 miles by a circuitous route that included both Irvine and Springside. I emerged from my appointment at the back of ten into a deluge of driving rain and hail. Deep joy! Now I assumed, given that it was nearer 11am by the time I reached the Eaglesham Moor Road end on the A77, that my beloved cycle lane would be clear of the ice and snow that had plagued it during the latter days of last week. I was wrong; spectacularly wrong. If I may paint a picture of the scene, the cycle lane is what used to be the inside lane of the highway headed north. It’s wide, it’s a decent surface, and it’s separated away from the main carriageway by a kerb. That means the gritter can never reach it. As I approached the long left hander, with a camber than runs from right to left, I knew straightaway that I was in trouble. I couldn’t steer the bike. All I could do was allow myself to drift left, still upright, towards the verge. I didn’t make it. The front wheel went one way, the back wheel went the other way and I hit the deck. Hard. Unfortunately (I’ll explain why in a moment) I’d had the good sense to unclip my left leg, thinking that I’d be stepping down on that side. Wrong again. As I went down on my right elbow, my left leg shot up into the air in a kind of reflex action. Ouch! That was my groin. Yup, on the same side as my hernia, I now had a groin tear that was eating away at me as I remounted and rode on. It was worse, much worse, on Tuesday, and I nearly didn’t ride at all, but I thought of the kids and I wanted the miles. Basically I just ignored the pain and walked about the office like I was missing a horse. Ultrasound (always ultrasound!) kept the pain under control so I could see out the week and basically I just got on with it.

Noting my discomfort, Michael Fish did his utmost this week with some truly horrible conditions. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The confidence you gain, knowing that you’ve beaten the winter once, is immeasurable and no amount of icy cold wind and lashing rain is going to keep me off my bike. Okay, if it’s gonna blow at 60mph I might reconsider, but anything below 50 and I’m happy to give it a go.

Cue this morning…

I knew before I went out that this was going to be horrific. Billed as 3C at 5am with an icy cold 30mph north westerly making it feel like -3C, I couldn’t feel my fingers from the off. I kid you not, when I got to work, I actually had to stand outside for five minutes to let the wind chill subside before I ventured inside: my fingers were just too sore to heat up quickly. Agony. But that was fine in reality because going into work, the wind was mainly favourable. However on the return journey five hours later, when I really needed the miles to make 12,000 first day back a distinct possibility, I needed to bag almost 40 miles, nearly all of them uphill and into the wind. Two pairs of socks, shorts and tights, three layers under a winter jacket, two pairs of gloves, a balaclava and a wooly hat under my helmet, I was the modern day Michelin Man. And it worked. I stopped off briefly in Irvine when Ross passed me in his motor, and I called in at his place to hoover up the biscuits and grab a coffee, but by the time I got home, I’d added another 39 to the pre-dawn 23 and a Holy Grail had been born. But not any old Holy Grail: a record breaker. 62 miles today, book ending a 61 from Monday, set the seal on 252 miles Monday to Friday, a new LifeCycle record.

I honestly don’t know how this happens sometimes…

I wrote back in November after I bagged the Holy Grail for the first time “I’d be lying if I said that meeting Vanessa didn’t inspire me. It did. Well I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that having a FEARLESS #OscarKnox wristband on my arm gives me magical powers. Today’s 62 miles was about getting the job done against all the odds, in dreadful conditions, in a manner that would have befitted the wee man perfectly. His spirit lives on in LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma.

It may be Christmastime, and wee Oscar may not be here to celebrate it, but in his memory, I give you 12,000 miles…

He’s gone 12,000 miles

It’s very far

The snow is falling down

Gets colder day by day

I miss you

The children will sing

He’ll be back at Christmastime

In these frozen and silent nights

Sometimes in a dream you appear

Outside under the purple sky

Diamonds in the snow sparkle

Our hearts were singing

It felt like Christmastime

12,000 miles

Is very far through the snow

I’ll think of you

Wherever you go

He’s gone 12,000 miles

It’s very far

The snow is falling down

Gets colder day by day

I miss you

I can hear people singing

It must be Christmastime

I hear people singing

It must be Christmastime

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