A Grand Tour

The Virtual Tour Of Ireland has opened my eyes to all sorts of possibilities going forward. Yes, I’ve probably become stale by riding the same old routes day after day after day on real tarmac roads, but the Virtual Tour has sorted all that. This is the hardest thing I’ve done in a while. The hills are relentless and they kill your knees. But the intimacy of setting a route and following it regardless of the pain is something to behold.

I knew when I set sail for Cork that I was heading out into God’s country: remote, wild, hilly as fuck and as scenic as hell. It’s just a shame that when you look on Google Maps, there are often so many high hedges they obscure the view. I jest. Hedgerows are good for shielding the wind, not that I have to bother about that when I’m on the turbo. It’s always about the terrain over the next five miles, and how long this darned hill goes on for, and how high it goes. Actually, the height doesn’t really matter, it’s just the time to the summit that I’m always focussed on. The problem with going down the other side of course, on a turbo, is that you’ve still got to pedal like the clappers otherwise you’ll stop. It’s not like that on the road. There is simply no rest.

What do I like best about this gig?

Well it’s a two part answer: I set the route for the next day’s stage as soon as the current one is done. And I try to stay as close to the coastline as I can so I can at least claim that I did the whole tour rather than say, cycling from Dublin to Limerick and missing out the whole south west corner. When I’m done, I’ll try and find a mapping tool that will allow me to join all of the stages together to make the whole gig a virtual reality.

If you’re me, then this past week has been all about virtually visiting Cork, and thereafter cycling on to Bantry Bay. I was in Cork on the weekend of the 22/23 June in 1985: a bunch of us had flown over from Glasgow to be at the wedding of two of our work colleagues. Mary was from Cork so her family played host to the gig. It was the first time that I’d ever been to Ireland and we flew over on the Friday morning. With a change of flights required in Dublin, we naturally hit the bar and it was to our shock and excitement that U2 walked in on their way to their next gig. The Unforgettable Fire had been at number one in the album chart some months earlier, but it was an altogether different kind of unforgettable fire that was to mark that weekend.

We’d woken, albeit with hangovers on the Sunday morning, and managed to get ourselves together for a collective breakfast. Remember this was back in 1985, a long time before the internet and 24×7 news. Late morning there was a newsflash on the wireless: a jumbo jet had gone down in Bantry Bay, fifty miles to the west. Chaos ensued. We went to the airport as scheduled but it had already been commandeered as a search and rescue command centre. 329 souls lost their lives on Flight 182, which happened four years before Lockerbie.

That trip, that coastline, and that memory will remain with me forever. And it was the main driver behind this week being special. I deliberately selected a route for Thursday’s Stage 12 that would take me past the Memorial at Ahakista and the first pit stop of the day allowed for further reflection.

One thing that the virtual tour has done is rekindled my love for the remote communities of Ireland. Jane and I did a sort of Grand Tour for our honeymoon back in 1996, but what this journey has done is it has thrown up a level of closeness and intimacy with the route that you can never get by driving a car. A bike is absolutely the way to go: feel the difficulty and be as one with nature. At the end of every stage, I jump onto Google Maps and get street view on all of the wee towns and villages in order to make a story for the R2CN Facebook page. It’s through reliving the stage that way that you get another sense of what you’ve just endured. And you see the height of the hedgerows.

Lockdown has been exceptional for Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma miles, or should I say kilometres since a good proportion of it has been spent back in the EU.

1,327 miles (2,135km) is the biggest haul of miles since September 2017 when I kicked my training into a different gear ahead of the original Ride2Cure in Australia. Indeed it sits second on the all time list. We’ve been in lockdown now for forty days. Fortunately today was a lovely day otherwise St Swithin might have had something to say. The forty days of lockdown have delivered 1,744 R2CN miles at an average of 43. And I’m 67. I’m not expecting the government to release the restrictions for at least another three weeks, maybe longer, so there’s every opportunity for the lockdown miles to hit two and a half grand, or maybe even three thousand. And just around the corner is the Holy Grail of 12,000 miles in 12 calendar months. I don’t even drive half of that in a normal year. R2CN needs only 1400 by the end of June.

Changing the subject, you might recall that I’ve been working on a clinician’s dashboard using the SNOMED-CT database of clinical terms as a knowledgebase. It’s an ongoing development, and each day that I get on the bike is an opportunity to reflect on where it’s at, and where I might be able to take it next. It’s now at the stage where it’s linking family trees of parent and child SNOMED concepts across related conditions. That might sound a bit pie in the sky but bear with me: there was a new emergency release of SNOMED-CT about a week ago, the second such emergency release of the knowledgebase in three weeks. There are normally two a year, six months apart.

The reason, obviously, was COVID-19. And the fact that NHS Digital felt the need to release an update concerned me. I did a comparison of the COVID-19 stuff in the previous version against what is currently available in the SNOMED-CT browser. The difference is scary, but you won’t see it reported on the news. There is a condition called cardiomyopathy, which historically has been caused by one or more of long term high blood pressure, heart tissue damage following a heart attack, chronic rapid heart rate, heart valve problems, metabolic disorders (diabetes and obesity), alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and infection…

Focus on that last one: COVID-19 is now a documented cause of cardiomyopathy. I guess that because that has only been confirmed in the last few weeks, the patient cohort is yet to be determined. But cardiomyopathy is irreversible, so until the circumstances are better understood, it’s a hell of a good reason to stay at home. You absolutely do not want to have cardiomyopathy coded on your health record. In fact, of all of the things I’ve learned about this disease, that’s the one thing that scares me the most.

And so to the journey going forward: I have to get through the next three or four days first: hills, hills and more hills, but by about Tuesday or Wednesday, I’ll be in Dingle and onto the coastline where we used to take the kids on holiday when they were wee. If you thought the photos were obscure this week, that’ll not be a patch on our old holiday cottages and golden strands.

This continues to be a fantastic journey along a coastline I love…

If it wasn’t already, it’s becoming a Grand Tour!

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