I don’t think I’ve ever dedicated a blog to anyone before, although I guess I’ve come close because of circumstances and things that have happened out on the road. I actually wrote this week’s blog last night and normally, when it’s done, I just publish it. But I didn’t. I decided to sit on it for 24 hours for reasons that I can’t even explain. Maybe I wanted to add stuff from today, I don’t know: but what I do know is that at 8am this this morning, it went in the bin. Why? Something appeared on the LFN timeline at the back of seven.
Same song, just different lyrics.
This blog is for Leona Knox.
When I started LFN, I had never met anyone who suffered from the disease. I didn’t even know 1% of the people who supported people who suffered from neuroblastoma. It just felt right. I was an outsider looking in, with an interest that was about to snowball into a passion…
The first person to engage me was Wullie Broon when he asked me to write an article on LFN for The Celtic Network. That sparked interest beyond the shores of Stewarton and Inverness. That story kickstarted the blog and I just kept going. The readership was, how shall I put it, variable, always peaking around major events that featured either the Highland March/Bike, or anything to do with Celtic good causes.
It remained pretty much that way right through 2014 but I knew that despite not a lot of people reading my stuff every week, it was a goldmine in terms of documenting the journey. Angela told me more than once that in the blog, I had the material for a book: and when I’ve retired, I’ll write it and devote all of the proceeds to children with neuroblastoma.
Then something happened.
I don’t even remember which blog it was, because they all morph one into another after a while, but one Saturday morning I woke up to a tweet that went something like this “this guy gets it. He really gets it. Please read his blog”. I woke Jane up and said “look at this”, Leona likes my blog. It was a game changer. From being an old bloke on a bike with no connection to anyone who’d ever been affected by neuroblastoma, here was a person who I held in the highest esteem liking my stuff. I’ll say it again: it was a game changer.
I’ve come to realise that Stephen and Leona were typical of any couple whose life just gets turned upside down by a doctor’s verdict. Gail called it when she said recently “a year ago we were a normal family but now cancer is normal”. I can’t even start to imagine what that is like and how difficult that is to manage. How do you cope with work? How do you cope with being a family? How do you cope with the urgency of having to face this crisis now, in this instant, because if you don’t, then the consequences could be so dire. I cannot even start to contemplate how you cope with that. But what I do know is what it’s like to hear the alarm go off at 4:54am, listen to the rain lashing off the Velux window and think “here we go again”…. That is my life, my world and my statement to the families who so desperately need help in their hour of need.
So now I knew that Leona was reading my stuff and it gave me strength. Mental strength. It remained pretty much that way until someone at the NCCA suggested that I might like to do Cycling Santas in December. Aye, riding 50 miles into sleet and hail sounds right up my street so I signed up. And that’s where I happened upon Mouldy. I love Mouldy like a brother. It’s taken only a couple of gigs for me to realise that this guy is the real deal when it comes to fundraising for a passion and I have so much to learn from him: like breaking Twitter for a start.
So Mouldy and I went to Belfast at 7am on a wicked December morning on a boat that was bobbing like a cork on a wild sea because of Stephen and Leona Knox. And Oscar. It was another game changer. I really, really, really like the Knoxes. From about two hours in Stephen’s company, I’m guessing that he’s a bit of a lad, and a funny one at that. And from the same two hours in Leona’s company, no, better knock off an hour off that because Stephen took us to the pub after work, Leona is the analytical thinker. Precise and to the point…
All of which brings me to this morning.
I’ll just steal the words because it appeared on the LFN timeline as an image:
“It’s impossible” said pride.
“It’s risky” said experience.
“It’s pointless” said reason.
“Give it a try” whispered the HEART.
If I read it once, I read it twenty times. All in no time at all.
This was Leona saying back to me “I get this. I really, really get this”. You can’t even start to imagine how proud and humble I felt knowing that Leona Knox felt the need to say that on my timeline. All of the wind, all of the rain, all of the storms of the past week just melted away…. which is just as well because ten days ago we almost came to literary blows (I exaggerate a tad for editorial licence). Last week’s blog “Take It To The Limit” saw me in a bad place. I’d just pushed my old body for a thousand miles in four weeks, something that hitherto I’d considered impossible and out of reach…. “It’s impossible” said pride. Leona latched onto that blog and within minutes I found myself ordered to Slow Down! And then Angela piled in to say that I never listened anyway. It’s just as well she was right…
But Caley Thistle lifted the Scottish Cup at the weekend on one of the most fabulous weekends of my entire life and it lifted my spirits.
So cue Monday and the start of June…
The forecast was grim for both Monday and Tuesday and despite this being Scottish Summer Time, I knew that it was basically going to be winter conditions in broad daylight. I’ve got to say at this point, because it’s exceedingly relevant, that I love my new road bike so much that I don’t know where I would be without it: a hundred miles back down the road, that’s for sure. It weighs in at a mere 21lb so when you stick it on the Fenwick Muir with a 30mph tailwind, it goes like feck. That was Monday morning: And Tuesday, except that Tuesday also carried a payload of lashing rain. Oh how I love putting wet stuff back on at the end of the day. Faced with a choice of going into work 20 minutes early or racking up extra miles, it was a total no brainer, I’ll have the miles please, and that’s how the Holy Grail of Holy Grail weeks got started. The trip home on both Monday and Tuesday was grim. No frills, shortest route, granny gears and head down: just do it. Mouldy commented more than once on the #TeamOscar bike ride about the triple ring on the front of my Domane road bike: see when yer riding uphill 30mph of a headwind mate, that 30 ring on the front is a Godsend.
So after two of the worst days of weather we’ve had in ages, I rather unexpectedly found myself sitting on 93 miles. 88 is a good norm, 93 is out of the park.
Then I started focussing on the 15,000 milestone that I know is lurking around the next corner. I dared to mention it last week and got into hot water because of the timescale I had in mind. But now it was there for real, 93 miles closer and almost within touching distance. I started this week needing 420 in 9 days (9 because I’ll lose next Wednesday by virtue of a hospital appointment and because it brings it in ahead of Jane’s birthday). 93 off 420 left 327 off 7. This was already starting to resemble the run chase that brought up the magic thousand in May.
Then the rain stopped: pity the wind didn’t. I elected to do exactly what Angela knew I would do and ignore the comments from last weekend and pile in the miles. “It’s risky” said experience.
But to my amazement I felt really, really good. And you know what worked for me: corned beef. A whole tin, washed down with oatcakes, followed by a jam doorstep combined to provide the rocket fuel that propelled me to 50, 52 and 62 on the three days that completed the week.
Let’s put this into some kind of perspective because it’s important that I do that…
May delivered 1,000 miles, the first ever thousand mile calendar month.
The first week of June delivered 257 miles, the most ever in a Monday to Friday working week. I keep looking at that number, 257, and I cannot believe it. Did I really just cycle 257 miles in shit weather and put in 37 hours at work? Yes I did. And the week also delivered 50 or more miles on three successive days for the first time. Never done that before. “Give it a try” whispered the HEART.
So now, hopefully, you’ll start to understand why I binned last night’s blog and started again from scratch. It’s because Leona gets that this ain’t easy, and that I ain’t for giving up on my dream of finding those limits sometime soon. Last week I thought I’d found them but now
I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…