Frozen Puddles

From the LCFN blog, two years ago this week…

“Every Monday morning at 5am, I roll out of bed and like a scene from the Wrong Trousers, climb into gear that’s already laid out downstairs. Two layers of everything and protective gear where it’s needed most. Think about it: four hours a day, every day, on a bike. By twenty past I’m at work: I have two jobs: one I get paid for as a professional software developer, the other one I do because I love it: I ride my bike.

That Monday  rollout is like starting afresh. Last week doesn’t matter anymore, it’s done, it’s history, it’s just a bunch of stats. Now it’s about this moment, this day, this week and this month. But it took the untimely passing of Philip Hughes to make me realise how every journey of LIfeCycleForNeuroblastoma is like a batsman trying to compile an innings: a score worthy of both the effort and the occasion. Nothing comes easy and everything comes at a price.

Philip Hughes was an opening batsman. He led from the front. He led from the front not just because he was first out the hutch, he led from the front because of the way he went about his business. He played hard but fair. He remains the youngest player to compile a century in each innings of a Test match, and he did it in only his second Test. He had a strike rate of 53 runs per hundred balls in Test cricket. That’s rapid. The current England captain, Alastair Cook, with over a hundred Tests to his name, can only muster 46. Philip Hughes was a gunner, a batsman who went after the ball to set things up for the guys coming in further down the order”.

That prose is hugely relevant. It’s relevant to me as a cricket lover, it’s relevant to me as a cyclist, but above all, it’s relevant to everyone in the context of LCFN.

Philip Hughes was an Aussie legend. Now LCFN is full of Aussie legends. But it’s more than that: Philip Hughes put himself out there, at number one, leading from the front, doing something he loved: something he believed in. When he died, a little bit of cricket died with him.

Look, I’ll cut to the quick: I took on the challenge of LCFN not because it was easy but because it was hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

I don’t need to ask Gail how it is with kid’s cancer: all I need to do is read her incredible Facebook blog and I get the picture. Except I don’t because I’m not the person there suffering. I’m not the mummy there who hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in days, maybe weeks. Who said months?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen, maybe twenty times. The thing that joins LCFN to neuroblastoma is how feckin’ difficult it is to overcome. It’s physical, it’s mental, it’s 24×7 preying on your mind, and it gnaws away at every fibre of your being. There is no escape. LCFN is all consuming.

Now does it sound like kids’ cancer?

If you’re (still) thinking no, stop, take a timeout, and go get a beer from the fridge, or perhaps a glass of wine. No, on second thoughts, go and fetch the bottle because this video is 80 minutes long. Watch it all the way through:

Think of it like this: if your concentration deviates for one split second, you will crash. You might even die. This video was shot at 6am on Wednesday morning on my traditional LCFN route out of Stewarton. It features the first ten miles of my (former) twenty mile journey into work: but it’s got the business end, the dangerous end, the challenging end, the fun end. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve crashed on this road: it’s the official cycle route from Stewarton to Glasgow yet it’s never gritted in winter. I guess that’s because there ain’t many people about who care about promoting awareness of neuroblastoma like I do. Leona (Knox) once told me to never give up so I haven’t.

It was 6am. I used to ride it at five..

It was -6.5C. I’ve ridden that same road at -9.2C

It’s unlit. It’s riddles with potholes and patches. Isn’t wee Puddles riddled with patches (and I mean that in the nicest but reality sense)?

For three years I’ve highlighted the hundred days of hell: it starts in October when the light disappears and it continues until the end of February: eternal darkness in extreme cold, with wild weather: because cancer is a bitch.

The video is a snapshot of three years of my life. Yeah, I’m proud that I managed it, but having gone back to those early starts this week, I’m even more thankful that I survived it. There’s a crash on the video, but you have to watch it to find it and experience it. Black ice is a killer. Even when you know it’s going to be there, it can trip you up. It did for me, even though I thought I was ready for it. It was a soft landing: I broke the ice on a large puddle and ended up with a wet arse: it could have been worse: in February, a mile down the road from that same spot, it certainly was. Even today, nine months later, I have problems with that thumb. Now I’m scared: didn’t used to be like that.

November was not meant to be like this: this is January weather. But hell, you live with it and you deal with it..

Like cancer. It took my dad when I was 19.

Now, let’s take the story back to last weekend. JJ’s over from Australia and I headed down to Nottingham to meet up. But it wasn’t just me: the Gringos hopped on the train from Coventry Nil and we teamed up at Derby. The arrangement with JJ was to meet up in The Navigation but due to a navigation error on my part, we ended up in the wrong one. Fancy having two pubs in the same town with the same name!!! Not to worry, ours had proper ale so the Gringos et moi were happy ahead of the game. Just a bit of a rapid stroll once we realised the error of our ways.

The football was rubbish. I say that loosely because JJ’s team lost and he wasn’t best pleased. But, Genaro played well and he’s an LCFN’er. See, you didn’t know we have a pro footballer from Notts County on LCFN, did you? Tessa, Genaro’s wife, is with us too. They have a wee one, and like every couple I see with a young child, the first thought that comes into my head is “what if…”. I mean no ill, Genaro and Tess, but the reason I do this is to raise awareness amongst friends like yourselves that life isn’t always kind.

Now, I’m a firm believer in the notion that things happen for a reason. It’s not for me to explain, but when I was rushing down the steps having come over the bridge from platform 1 to platform 11 on my return journey last Sunday, who was waiting to board the train but Mouldy. Knock me over with a feather if you will. “Big Man, WTF are you doing on Crewe station at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning”? Needless to say, we grabbed an adjacent bench on the journey north, even though the train was rammed, and it wasn’t until Wigan that he got punted by a dude with a reservation in his seat. I remember the girl that was sitting next to me got off there and I gave her a wristband. I just told her that I had the wristbands because Mouldy is a legend. She smiled, slightly confused, and went on her merry way. I thought she might even Google LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma and get converted. Stranger things have happened, y’know.

And so to the miles: I’ve said very little about the global LCFN challenge on Strava these last few weeks, but don’t worry, it’s still rumbling along. We’re now at 45 cyclists across 15 or so countries and together we’ve racked up just short of 50,000 miles. It might have seemed like a bonkers idea when we started but hey, so was 25,000 miles round the world from Stewarton to Glasgow and look what happened there.

Personally, I’m finally resigned to appreciating how incredibly challenging the Fenwick Muir is in winter. By the time I finally call a halt to this journey, there will be three defining videos:

Wild, wet and windy: which I haven’t got yet.

Snow go: ditto.

And this one…

Eileidh’s been battling this gig for 31 months: I’m pretty much in the same ballpark but this was a week when I turned the clock back and went in search of Puddles… Frozen.

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