Monday, 31 December 2018

Beirut, Berlin and Beyond

According to my cycle computer, I’ve cycled on 105 days this year (since April) and travelled a total of 3362 miles with 47500 feet of ascent. That’s the equivalent of cycling from here to Beirut. I’ve averaged 89 miles a week on the bike and 32 miles per ride. Over the same period, I’ve walked 1142 miles (an average of 22 miles a week). That’s the equivalent of walking from here to Berlin. After years of poor health and incapacity, I feel I am getting some of my strength and fitness back.

2018 has been the first year, out of the past four, in which I haven’t been in hospital for major surgery during the autumn. At this time a year ago, I’d been taking opioids for three months following surgery and was about to embark on several weeks of cold turkey (not the festive fowl). Three years ago, I was in hospital on Christmas Day. This change for the better is undoubtedly cause for celebration. Long may it continue.

My last big operation (September 2017) was to repair a problem caused by previous surgery. Thankfully the op was successful and I now have two fully functioning lungs again. The best recovery is walking. Nursing staff force you to get out of bed the day after surgery, and then help you to take tentative steps. When you can walk to the toilet unaided (and do your business) you are discharged.

At home I walked every day, however painful my ribs and abdomen felt. At first this was just around the house, T supporting me. Then we managed short walks outside. Eventually I could walk unaided and embarked on short trips down the lane. After some months, I had graduated to easy walks in Castlewellan and Tolleymore Forest Parks.

As my strength improved, I tentatively began cycling. I started out on easier rides along the canal towpath, making a habit of stopping at the excellent Petty Sessions Cafe. Then I graduated to hillier rides through the lanes and drumlins of South Down. Eventually, in the good summer weather, I took the bike on the car to Louth and Meath for longer rides. My longest ride of the year was in August, a loop through Meath of 63 miles. Normally, I would stop cycling in the winter. But because it has been relatively mild, I’m still heading out two or three times a week and riding 40 miles or so at one go – just because I can. If the mild weather continues, I could soon be in Kabul.

None of this activity has been without pain. My new surgical scar has joined my four old scars and together they can ache pretty badly. I have learnt to accept this chronic pain as the price of survival. I need to use pain relief and grit my teeth, then rest up. I know that attempting activities on consecutive days is out of the question.

I’ve come a long way over the past year in more ways than one. I'd like to thank all the friends and family who have encouraged and supported me on this journey. Your help has been invaluable. Thank you so much. But most of all I’d like to thank the ever dependable and resourceful T, who has been with me every step of the way.

A Happy New Year to one and all.

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