I’m On A Train / London Calling

The first double “A” side in quite a while…

“I’m on a train”!

Remember the old days (about ten years ago) when some super slick salesman would be sat across from you, sealing a deal and making the whole carriage aware of it? Well that’s me just now, except I’m not a salesman, I’m not on the phone and I’m not sealing a deal. I’m just having some fun, enjoying a beer and blogging my way to London to play Ellie the Elephant at the NCCA’s annual Fun Day on Saturday.

The invitation came in early June when it was suggested that I might like to park my bike and do the 15,000th mile at the gig in Richmond Park. However as I was just two days away from 15K at the time and I really didn’t fancy six weeks on the sidelines, I countered that suggestion with one of my own: how about we make it the 16,000th?


Then we went on holiday for two weeks so by the time I got back on the bike, I still needed 711 miles in order to arrive in Richmond on 15,999. Even by the ridiculous standards of this adventure, that was a tall order. However 259 two weeks ago broke the back of it, and following that up with 231 last week left only 221 for this week. It should have been an absolute breeze but unfortunately the long term impact of 2,500 miles in just ten weeks has left my hamstrings tendons, particularly the right one, in a very argumentative state. They’re the gristly bits behind your knees, and their job is to join the hamstring muscles at the back of your thighs to the top of your lower limbs. When they’re sore, big gears are a problem and so are hills, and that in itself is a problem because whilst I can choose a lower gear, I cannot escape the climbs: 1100ft is on the menu every twelve hours. The workaround has been to use lower gears and pedal away furiously like Froome chasing Quintana up an Alpine climb. It’s a tactic that has got me through the week.

Saturday will further cement images in my brain of children in various states of wellness, unwellness and recovery. It’s the nature of neuroblastoma that the treatment is as aggressive as the disease itself. Twelve months realistically buys you a chance to have a chance. It’s a bit like buying a raffle ticket where the top prize is a lottery ticket.

As an aside, can I take a moment to share my own basic understanding of the disease. It’s hugely more complex than I’m describing it here but basically neuroblasts are embryonic cells from which the ends of the nervous system are formed. In neuroblastoma (where the oma suffix defines cancerous tissue), the nerve endings randomly form solid tissue in the form of a tumour instead of the healthy nerve cells that would otherwise be the case. I say randomly but in reality the early tumours typically grow in common places, making diagnosis more certain at stage 4. But because neuroblasts grow throughout the body in an infant, the malfunction of the process is progressively more serious as it develops. That, in a nutshell, is the challenge of diagnosing, treating and managing neuroblastoma.

And so to matters of the miles…

It’s always fun whenever I cross a thousand mile boundary, to look back at the workload in terms of effort and calories. And this one is no different:

Miles: 16,000

Average speed: 12.5mph

Hours on the bike: 1,280

Calories recycled: 768,000

Pints of Stella burnt off: 3,072

I’m not suggesting for a minute that I’ve actually downed three thousand Stellas in the last two years (I probably wouldn’t be here to tell the tale if I had, because it works out at eight for every day that I’ve been on the bike) but it does equate to about three grand’s worth of fuel, and that’s not to be sniffed at.

When I went through fifteen thousand miles, I remember being really, really enthused at finally having less than ten thousand miles to go. It was the biggest fillip I’d had in ages. But that feeling has long gone. I’m not sure how it’s been in the rest of the country, but certainly in the West of Scotland, this has been the worst summer in living memory. There’s been precious little warm sunshine, plenty of rain, and loads of unseasonal prevailing wind. In short, it’s like autumn arrived three months early, albeit with the caveat that daylight has remained exactly where it should be. It’s becoming a nagging issue simply because sunrise is now fast approaching the time I head out the door in the morning and I feel like I never got to enjoy the summer of 2015. Instead I’m already starting to dread what’s waiting around the corner…

I suspect that I survived the winter of two years ago because (a) I was new to this game, and (b) we only had one or two days of sharp frost and hee haw snow. Last winter was a completely different kettle of fish and even though I can quote verbatim that I lost nine weeks because of a hernia op, in reality I would have lost at least five of them in any case because my normal commuting route was simply too dangerous to ride on. That’s the image that’s implanted in my brain as the autumn that was supposed to be summer morphs into the autumn that actually is autumn. I feel completely torn between “I need these miles to get this winter over and done with” and “to hell with it, just back off the miles, get through the winter and pick up the tempo again in the spring”. The reality is, nothing that I can do over the next six months is going to change the fact that October to February is going to be nothing short of hellish. Last winter I termed it the hundred days of hell and I see no reason to change that view just now. So I suspect the tactic once the nights really start drawing in is to let the weather have its way, but turn up and get by without busting a gut: with a wee target in mind of course (more of that in a moment).

Another reason for taking that approach came to me from a most unlikely source this week. I was pointed in the direction of Ronny Allan’s blog by Jackie Barreau in Australia. I don’t actually know where in the world Ronny lives, although I suspect it’s the UK. All I know is that he has a remarkable blog about living with a rare but incurable neuroendocrine cancer. This week Ronny published a piece entitled “Sorry, I’m Not In Service” with a photo of a bus on the front cover: the fact that the bus is a blue Stagecoach number is a bit of a giveaway on the residence front. In it, he muses about being irreplaceable at work, and how, ultimately, that feeling is a characteristic of Ronny being Ronny rather than any perception of the business feeling that he has to be at work. It’s a modern day trait where you feel enslaved to the job. What Ronny discovered at the end of the day is that the only paymaster you must report to is the one inside your own body: ie listen to your body and do only those things that it says that you are capable of and able to perform.

My problem is that I feel like I have three jobs: one is actively spending four hours a day in the saddle; another is marketing LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma to satisfy who in particular? Is it me or the people who think I should be doing more to market me? And then there’s the actual job that I get paid for. That’s three conflicting demands that each require brain power, will power, motivational power and at the end of the day, just get through it power. The first three can be very, very draining but the last one is the backstop that says “thou shalt not pass”.

So what’s to do? A year ago this week, I was sat on 7711 miles: today the clock reads 15999 which includes nine weeks out, plus holidays. In a blog that I put out there at the end of August 2014, I predicted 17,000 would be done and dusted by the two year anniversary on 19th August. I won’t actually make that but hell, I’ll be close enough to make no difference. 17K will be up by the end of the month, followed by 18K before September is out. 19K will be happen in October and the next big target on the horizon is to make 20,000 miles before my mother turns 90 on the 1st December. I made 15K before Jane’s birthday in June so 20K is entirely feasible by the end of November. It’s 44 miles a day: 26 in and 18 back and coming off the back of 48 these past three months, it’s a relative rest. The split is important because the prevailing wind is predominantly behind on the way into work, which allows for a defensive mindset on the way home.

So back to where I came in: two years ago, I knew no one and nothing on the neuroblastoma landscape. But a Facebook group with almost six hundred followers that has evolved into a hub of research papers on all forms of cancer, plus a few other bits and pieces from me, suggest that maybe I have become that salesman after all: but I’ll never be super and most definitely never slick.

“I’m on a train”.

Because London’s Calling….

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