So, this last year has been fairly rubbish for a variety of reasons. My mom’s death, the small matter of a global pandemic and, for me personally, the stark reminder that my body is a shonky wreck.
(Incidentally, autocorrect just tried to change ‘shonky’ to ‘chunky’, which is also accurate).
My knees have always been a hot mess since my teens – soft cartilage that gets chewed up easily, missing a couple of ligaments, and so on. But last year, shortly before my 40th birthday, I decided to add a broken ankle to my repertoire.
It was self-inflicted, and completely stupid. I was riding up what is usually a fairly tame bridleway – for context, I’ve towed Mini-Toast up it in a trailer. But this time I was riding solo, it was a beautiful evening, and I decided in my infinite wisdom that I’d try to beat my previous Strava time up the hill.
My line choice was poor – instead of riding within the rut of the track, I rode the raised bit in the middle. It’ll be faster, I told myself. And so it was… right until the point the edge of the line fell away and I went over.
There was pain. There was shock. There was the growing realisation that I’d properly hurt my ankle. I didn’t want to call Mr Toast, as he was getting Mini-Toast to bed. I didn’t want to call an ambulance, because that would be an overreaction, and I was probably fine, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic. So, after rolling around in agony for about 20 minutes, I gingerly got back on the bike and rode the most painful 3.5 miles of my life.
After getting home and crawling in, Mr Toast came downstairs and was slightly disconcerted by my general demeanour. We got my shoe off, rolled up my legging… and it was not pretty. Nothing poking out of the skin, but my ankle was exceedingly wonky. We called 111. They called an ambulance.
The paramedics were amazing. They assessed that I’d certainly done something to my ankle, as one pressed my foot and said, “There should be a bone there, but it’s not”. So off to hospital I went, with delicious, delicious morphine.
Long story short – unstable Weber B fracture, 3 months in a cast, 6 weeks in a moon boot. Not the best way to spend a summer. Especially not in a heatwave. In lockdown.
As the ankle recovered, naturally, something else had to go wrong. I developed an ear infection that lasted three months, and took multiple courses of increasingly aggressive antibiotics to clear. Apparently, I have ‘dainty ear canals’, which means they’re more at risk of infection. Hurray! The ear infection eventually cleared, but the antibiotics kicked off another issue, which I won’t go into as… ugh.
Then, towards the end of 2020, I lost full use of my shoulders. For weeks my shoulders could cause agonising, breathtaking pain if knocked the wrong way. Even when the pain subsided, I couldn’t lift my arms up past a certain point. I couldn’t brush my hair properly, or put it in a normal ponytail (I had to rock a side pony, 80s style). I could only wear baggy tops, or ones that button/zipped up. Fortunately, that only took five months or so to clear up, and I nearly have full mobility back.
So, I’ve been plodding on, with intermittent bouts of IBS which I put down to stress. Only, it might not have been stress, as two weeks ago I ended up in A&E again, and am now missing a gallbladder. Fortunately, this has been relatively minor compared to everything else, and recovery has been quick. Also, free weight loss! Yay! I’m currently assessing what other organs I can get shot of to cheat the scales.
I’m hoping that I can be free of hospitals for a while, and that things might start looking up. I’ve had my Covid jab, I’ve got a new bike arriving today, and we’re moving into summer. We’ve got holidays booked for Forest of Dean, Glentress and Dalby, so fingers crossed I can have a better year this year!
First up, a content warning – this post is going to be fairly miserable, and not contain anything about biking. Instead, I’m going to talk about my mom, and the last few months of her life. With the whole global pandemic thing going on, I don’t think I’ve really even started to process my grief. Maybe writing it out will help. So, you’ve been forewarned.
Back in May 2019, I took my mom on holiday with my son and dog, whilst Mr Toast was at Google I/O in San Francisco. We went for a slightly less exotic setting, staying at a forest lodge in Sherwood Forest. My son took his balance bike but I remained bikeless – thanks to arthritis, my mom was in no physical shape to look after a toddler and frequently over-exuberant dog.
I have many memories of the trip. My mom was frequently infuriating, funny and kind in equal measure. She adored her grandson, and enjoyed getting out into the forest on her rented off-road scooter – even though she was, quite frankly, a menace on it. She literally ran into Ethan’s balance bike at one point… whilst he was riding it (fortunately no injuries occurred!)
However, I noticed that she couldn’t eat as much as she used to. This wouldn’t have been a huge concern, appetites can change as you age, but she admitted that it wasn’t that she didn’t want to eat more – she felt like she couldn’t. She suffered from terrible indigestion and reflux. I told her to go to the doctor when she got back, and she promised that she would.
Despite her usual antipathy towards the medical profession, she did go – I think it had been worrying her for a while, she just needed someone to tell her that she should. An endoscopy was quickly arranged in the following weeks. Leading up to that, we wondered what it could be. I thought perhaps a hiatal hernia, trying to avoid the idea that it would be the original big-C. Sadly, the endoscopy showed what was ‘almost certainly a tumour’, in the words of the doctor.
More tests followed, at a variety of hospitals (Burton! Derby! Nottingham!). My mom said that, even if it was early stage cancer, she didn’t want treatment. She didn’t want her remaining time, however long it was, to marked by hospital visits, surgery and drips.
I sat with her as the oncologist gave her the results. The cancer was advanced and aggressive oesophageal cancer, and there were other tumours around her body. The best but unlikely case scenario, they were all independent primary cancers, but they were most likely metastases – the oesophageal cancer had gone on a tour around her body. I started sobbing uncontrollably. My mom comforted me. She was fine with it – being the eternal pessimist, it was what she was expecting. I was not fine.
She firmly told the oncologist that she didn’t want any chemotherapy or surgery. She didn’t want to ‘drag it out’ and, to be fair, she’d been whimsically pining for ‘happy hunting ground’ since my dad died. She’d seen both her kids happily married and have children, and her arthritis was robbing her of more and more of her independence. I still wasn’t fine with it, but I didn’t try to talk her out of it. Apart from anything else, she was a stubborn old mare, and I knew it wouldn’t have worked.
She carried on in comparatively good health for months. Her bad days of reflux got worse, but, on the whole, she was relatively stable for the rest of the year. We booked a family Christmas meal, not knowing if she’d make it, but she did. She made it to my nephews’ birthday parties, at the end of December, and the start of January.
Then suddenly, she went downhill. She had an extremely nasty fall, and agreed to go to St Giles, the local hospice, for convalescence. They saw the bruising and sent her to A&E at Burton, suspecting that she’d broken something. Fortunately it was ‘just’ bruising, and she stayed at St Giles for a couple of weeks, where she proceeded to be a pain in the arse there. How?
Well, throughout my life, mom had a drinking and smoking habit that would make Keith Richards blush. Remarkably, despite it being a bone of contention through my teens and 20s, she actually managed to cut right back on the drinking in her last few years. However, the smoking remained. I remember the oncologist raising a brow as she explained how she was now only ‘a light smoker’, smoking around 20 a day. Really, it should have been no surprise that she’d come down with oesophageal cancer, more that she hadn’t come down with it earlier.
Anyway, as mom recovered in St Giles, she hit a snag. Quite rightly, you’re not allowed to smoke indoors, and that includes hospices. However, you are allowed in the smoking shelter in the carpark… if you can get there. If you can’t, you have to wait for a relative, as the staff won’t do it (again, quite rightly).
This meant that my mom’s usual greeting as we visited her in the hospice was, “Can you just take me outside?” And lo, we’d roll her outside in a borrowed wheelchair, and she’d proceed to chain smoke 2-3 cigarettes in the space of 15 minutes.
After a couple of weeks, after it was evident that she was not going to die imminently, she was sent home. She was quite irritated by this – not the being sent home, but the being told that she wasn’t going to die any time soon. After a week or so after being at home, she took another downhill turn.
In addition to having a horrendous cough, she started to go delirious. She called the carers murderers. She didn’t know that she had cancer. She didn’t know that dad was dead. She didn’t know that nan was dead. I broke her heart by explaining that nan had died nearly 30 years ago. I wondered if honesty was the best policy. We thought that perhaps the cancer had finally spread to her brain.
My brother and I braced ourselves. We started sleeping on a mattress on the floor, taking care of her as she called out throughout the night. We were exhausted. She said that she wanted to die at home, but she also said that she never wanted to be a burden, and my brother and I were being pushed to our limits. So, back into St Giles she went, to spend her last days.
Except… she didn’t die. She just kept on going, and the doctors decided that, as she was being so stubborn, perhaps they should treat that chest infection.
Antibiotics can work miracles. In a couple of days, my mom was fully lucid again. We explained how poorly she’d been, and she was quite shocked by how she’d ‘lost her marbles’. There was a price though – she’d regained her marbles, but lost the use of her hands. The doctors thought that it was most likely the arthritis rather than the cancer. There wasn’t much to be done.
She received visitors again. She was even well enough that Ethan could see his nanny for one last time. She was well enough to ask him for a Wotsit. He dutifully hand fed her the rest of the pack without prompting.
One of the best things that happened was that her brother, who she hadn’t spoken to in over 25 years, came down from the Lake District to visit her. Although she’d professed that she didn’t want anything to do with him, when she was delirious, she called his name. I think that their estrangement had weighed heavier on her than she liked to admit, and him visiting had laid a ghost that had been troubling her to rest.
Then… then Covid-19 happened. As March rolled on, it was obvious that things were getting worse. The hospice removed all the tea-making facilities, increased the amount of hand sanitiser (which they already had a lot of!), started operating closed-door source control on some of the rooms… then they stopped visitors. Every day I phoned to ask how she was, and the answer was the same. She was stable, unless something acute happened she was fine for the time being. They started talking about moving her to the long-term residents unit, as she evidently wasn’t going to pop her clogs any time soon. My brother went to Cheltenham for a few days, calling me for updates. A few days before Mother’s Day, the hospice said that visitors were allowed again, with restrictions. My brother went to visit. I got her a card. I’d see her on Sunday. My brother started to feel a bit iffy, and had a temperature. He let the hospice know, and they told mom that he was isolating, so couldn’t visit – but I’d be along on Sunday.
It was about 3.30am on Saturday 21st March when my phone started ringing. I recognised the number. My heart started racing. Let’s face it, it was fairly unlikely the hospice were calling to tell me that everything was fine. They told me that ‘something had changed’ and she had started to decline rapidly.
I got dressed, and got in the car for the hour or so drive to the hospice. My brother rang me, distressed. He couldn’t go, he was isolating. I told him I’d keep him updated.
I got to the hospice, and went in to see mom. She was still alive, wheezing and gasping for breath. She said my name a few times, and I sat with her, holding her hand. I told her that it was all right, that it would be all over soon, and that she would be with dad and Robert. I told that I loved her. She replied, “I know”. Those were her last words.
Yes, my mom accidentally quoted Star Wars on her death bed. Way to go, mom!
Her breathing slowed, and she seemed to calm down. Eventually she settled into what looked like a restful sleep, but with her eyes slightly open. I called a nurse. I’ll never forgive the look of pity on the nurse’s face as I asked if she had passed, and she said, “Yes, love, I’m so sorry”. She closed my mom’s eyes, gave me a quick hug then said, “I’m not supposed to do that at the moment”.
Mom died on the day that Boris closed the pubs. Because of course she fucking did.
The rest is a bit of a blur. I remember being in the hospice’s remembrance room, and talking to another nurse as she went over what happened next. She was apologetic, telling me that normally they’d be offering tea and hugs at this point, because of covid everything had to be a bit more clinical. I made a comment about mom being a bit of a pain about us wheeling her out for a cigarette on her first visit. The nurse giggled and admitted they’d found fag butts by the windows that time. My mother, the rebel.
Eventually, I stood outside of my brother’s house, and we shared our grief through a window. He was pretty much a wreck. He had covid, so he felt like shit. Because of that, he hadn’t been there when mom died, so he felt like shit. He didn’t know if mom’s sudden decline was because of covid – we’ll never know, she wasn’t tested – so he felt like shit. It didn’t matter though – after nearly 15 years of saying that she was ready for the knackers’ yard, mom was finally free of pain. We still both felt like shit.
Her funeral arrangements were almost comical. Lockdown was now in full effect, and my mom – or rather, her body – did a tour of the local Co-Op funeral directors. She was supposed to go to Burntwood… but they got furloughed. So she went to Brownhills… then they got furloughed. Then she ended up in Lichfield, and after two weeks of isolating, my brother and I met again over her coffin. To the director’s credit, she looked a lot healthier than when she was alive. We laughed and cried, and prepared for the not-so-big day. Only six guests allowed, we ended up with five. Mr Toast couldn’t go, as he was looking after Ethan – due to lockdown, no-one else could.
I arrived at the crematorium and was surprised that the gates were closed, with a security guard. I confirmed which funeral I was attending, and off I went. The funeral was weird – no hugs from the few that were there – but I took solace in the fact it’d be the last time I had to listen to Barbara Streisand.
As we left, there seemed to be some sort of police yard on the graveyard, with blue flashing lights and officers in stab vests. It turned out that the reason why there was security on the gate was because an earlier funeral had breached the capacity rules by quite a lot, and they didn’t want it to happen again. The police had come and dispersed the crowd, but had returned as some mourners had sneaked back in. I giggled. Mom would have loved the drama.
Here we are, 10 months later. We’ve not got probate yet (because of covid), and so we’ve not sold our childhood home yet, or even managed to get it decorated (because of covid). And most of all, I still can’t believe that she’s gone. I think because EVERYTHING is so weird, it’s hard to grieve properly. I don’t get to see her on weekends, but I wouldn’t be able to anyway, because of lockdown. I can’t phone her every day after picking Ethan up from nursery, because he’s started school, but isn’t at school, because he’s at home, because of lockdown. Sometimes I feel bad because I don’t feel anything, then sometimes I’ll howl with grief because I remember something, like the existence of armchairs.
There’s also a sense of relief that she isn’t here to have her last years marred by lockdown. My mom basically loved three things, her family, smoking, and going out for dinners (sometimes it was questionable whether it was actually in that order). I think the idea of no more cafe lunches or pub dinners would have horrified her – as I’ve said to many a person, her dying on the day the pubs shut was possibly the most on-brand thing she ever did. But it still hurts. The first time I went into a Morrisons cafe (back when ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ was the order of the day, before, ‘Oh shit what have we done? Abort! Abort!’) I burst into tears, as I remembered all the times we’d eaten there when I’d taken her to do her shopping.
Anyway, that’s that done. Thanks for coming to my therapy session. RIP mom, you’re dad’s problem again now.
You know, it really was a shame that I didn’t keep up with this blog. The month after my last post, I rode Pivot 24/12 and got a podium place! Third! With a trophy, and everything! Admittedly, there were only four women in my category (12 hour solo, under 40s) – something like eleven had dropped out due to the horrendous weather, which also ended up curtailing the 24 hour race. It would have been a great post. Really uplifting. Look, here I am with my trophy – sadly not on the physical podium, as the wind made it too dangerous.
Instead, I’m posting in 2020. Now, I’m sure everyone’s aware by this point that 2020 has been a bit shit, but I’ve found it particularly… trying. Let’s tick things off the list, shall we?
Global pandemic: Got to say, didn’t see that one coming. Here in Blighty we’re currently riding our second wave. Yay.
My mom died: OK, we did see this one coming. She was diagnosed with cancer last year, which had already spread, and she actually had relatively good health until the start of this year. I still can’t believe that she’s gone though, and despite our occasionally fractious relationship, I miss her like crazy.
I broke my ankle: First time I’ve broken a limb, and I did it on my bike! I tried to peg it up a hill as fast as possible to beat my previous Strava time. It didn’t end well.
Fortunately things are coming around a bit now, and I’m riding more than ever. I’ll possibly detail my recovery a bit more in future posts, so I can look back cheerfully at this amazing year….
Yes, another good ol’ stretch between posts. In my defence, this time I have a slightly better excuse: like the US elections, my site was compromised by the Russians! It took a bit of work, but it’s now back to normal and safe again. Huzzah!
So, what have I been getting up to? Well, I’m still riding, although crushing mommy guilt (as well as a genuine desire to spend time with my son) prevents me from getting out as much as I used to. Ethan’s got a trailer now, so I’m looking forward to getting him out on more rides.
I’ve got a Lapierre Overvolt ebike (known as Voltron) that I use for getting in the miles, but Devastator the Stumpjumper still reigns supreme on the technical stuff – mainly because my ebike is slightly too big for me, and weighted oddly due to its small frame size.
I can still push it a lot on the ebike though – with the strain on my knees much lessened, I can pedal harder and faster. Today I pushed myself so hard over 30 miles that I felt dizzy and nauseous when I stopped. Once the ride was over, I treated myself to a ham sandwich, a slice of malt loaf and a shower.
Unfortunately, the nausea made a sudden and dramatic reappearance whilst I was in the shower, culminating in surprise projectile vomiting. If you’ve ever wondered what malt loaf looks like approximately 20 minutes after consumption, the answer is “exactly like dog shit”. My shower was followed by an intense bath cleaning session, and then another shower. Because picking chewed up ham out of the plug hole is kind of disgusting.
If you’re feeling iffy reading this, just be glad that you didn’t experience it first hand.
So yeah, still possible to push yourself on an ebike to the point of being sick. Yay, I guess?
Today’s adventures aside, we’ve got a couple of weeks before our anniversary trip to Scotland. We haven’t been for the last two years, as in 2016 I was two weeks off giving birth, and last year Ethan was a bit to little for such a long car journey. My fitness still isn’t quite up to how it’s been on previous visits, but I’m hoping that I’m up to the task – Voltron is staying at home, so the initial climb should be interesting…
Ah, the daily check of the weather forecast, hoping that as the day draws closer, the forecast will improve. The sinking feeling as the forecast gets worse instead. Oh dear.
I very nearly bailed on Pivot 24/12. The spectre of Mountain Mayhem 2012 loomed large, with the added complications of a seven hour round trip and having to leave my son for the first time, only one week after his first birthday. What if the course was too technical, too brutal for me? What if Mr Toast couldn’t get mini-Toast to sleep? What if the entire venue was a mud bath? And camping? I hate camping!
Eventually I pushed all of those thoughts to the side.
I wouldn’t know about the course unless I tried it. Anything too tricky, I’d walk.
Mr Toast is perfectly capable of looking after his own son.
Venue a mud bath? Well, it couldn’t be much worse than Mayhem 2012, could it?
Camping? Suck it up princess.
I have to admit, the event didn’t have an auspicious start. The two hundred mile journey took five and a half hours, for a start. The weather restricted itself to a light drizzle throughout the journey … until about twenty miles out from Newnham Park, where it promptly started pissing it down. Glorious.
I met up with my fellow Chase Trails soloists. Dave and Andrew helped me set up my new tent (a ‘Fresh and Dark’ one from Decathlon), Petra provided me with food (although I’d gorged on half a massive bag of cashew nuts on the journey down – optimum pre-race nutrition there…), and we continued to check the forecast in the vain hope that it’d improve.
(Ron Howard Voice: It didn’t)
As I snuggled down for the evening, checking my phone for updates on the Toastling and listening to the rain beating down on the tent, I admit I was filled with regret. Fortunately, I slept relatively well (with the Fresh and Dark tent actually being fresh and dark), and woke up determined to attempt at least one lap, hopefully two.
Still, there was a general feeling of panic as I did the usual race preparation, and some less usual preparation – as I’m still breastfeeding but was without my darling offspring, I sat in the tent for over twenty minutes accompanied by the gentle honking of my portable breast pump. It was a bit surreal, to say the least.
Eventually I found myself on the starting line, heart racing. And off we went.
Being the consummate athlete in peak physical condition that I am, I quickly fell to the back. Petra, bless her, kept on waiting for me to catch up as I bimbled up the Clif Climb. I may not have been particularly speedy (*cough*), but I rode it without stopping both laps. After the climb it was into the woods and…
The course was brilliant. It was honestly a huge amount of fun, even in the mud. I had to walk a couple of bits, but I like to think that I could have ridden it all in the dry. My main issue was having to pull over for faster riders on their second (and third…) laps – I ended up spending a lot of time standing off to one side trying to find a gap in the traffic. I’m also terrible at maintaining speed in slippery conditions, so there were a few steep inclines that I didn’t have the momentum to ride up. With the patience of a saint, Petra continued to wait as I made my merry way along at a leisurely pace*.
Then disaster struck. Petra had a puncture. After trying for a while to sort the canister out and failing, and her pump being broken, Petra bravely sent me on to find help. What would have been helpful is if I’d remembered that I had a new shiny pump in my bag, purchased for exactly such a scenario. Sadly, this thought didn’t occur to me until fifteen minutes after abandoning Petra. Oh dear.
Fortunately her husband Dave, being the speedy chap that he is, was already on his second lap. He soon caught up with me after having helped sort the puncture. We approached the river crossing – through the water, or over the bridge? Decisions, decisions. I decided on the water, but completely messed up my approach and went over at the top of the slope, right in front of the marshal. The marshal kindly helped me up, made sure that I was OK, and then promptly started telling riders to avoid the bridge as another rider had come off at the same time as my acrobatics.
The rest of my first lap was uneventful, and I pulled off the course for lunch, because I’m basically a Hobbit. I scoffed some pizza and was joined by Abby and Andrew. They seemed quite pleased that I was enjoying it, because… well, my feelings about Mountain Mayhem 2012 are well known.
Determined to at least qualify, I set out on my second lap. The course had deteriorated a bit more by this point, so there was a bit more walking, but some of the sections were still surprisingly quick – and some had been improved by the rain, as the mud was now thin and watery instead of thick and clay.
I fell off a few more times on the second lap, but the main issue was reoccurring cramp in my left leg. Ow, ow, ow. I managed to get through most the episodes with dignity intact, but then I had a particularly bad cramp in the arena, so close to the end.
However, this episode highlighted one of the greatest things about the weekend – how bloody nice everyone was! From chatting away over pizza, to even the fastest riders waiting patiently or taking the time to say thanks as you pull over, small children giving high fives – it was a great atmosphere. And if you get cramp in the arena? Expect spectators to shield you with their umbrella, offering you drinks and waving your leg in the air in an attempt to banish the cramp!
Given that the weather wasn’t improving, and my cramping and falling off shenanigans, I decided to call it a day. I was absurdly pleased though – my first endurance race since Mountain Mayhem 2012, a year after pushing a human out of my nethers.
Sadly the race did take a bit of a toll – my shoes ended up in a skip, I’m covered in bruises, and my bike is away for a new bottom bracket. I’d do it again in a heartbeat though – let’s hope that next year has better weather!
I’ve been managing to get out on the bike a bit more recently, which is fortunate, as I have Pivot 24/12 next week. We’ve had months of hot, dry weather, so naturally it stands to reason that it starts pissing it down as soon as my race comes within sniffing distance.
Fitness-wise, I’m not doing too bad – I can do 16-20 miles off road fairly comfortably. Tech-wise, I’m a bit more frail. I’ve done the Forest of Dean blue (which was fine), Dalby Blue (struggled with the berms at the end), and Follow the Dog.
Despite having ridden FtD without issue more times than you could shake a stick at, there were numerous points where I had to stop. The turns at the end of the first section. The exit to the first section. The tiny plank stream crossing on the second section. Most of section 11.
It wasn’t all bad news – I rode the Steg and the original boardwalk with no issue. Yay! I’ve also been trying to do a bit more off-piste to prepare for the race with… let’s just say ‘mixed results’.
I did the Summer Classic. As I was a bit out of shape and out of practice, I entered in the beginners’ category. I felt a bit guilty, as obviously I’ve been riding for a while and done quite a bit of red graded stuff. I needn’t have worried.
It was fucking horrendous. The course was the hardest I’ve ridden – loose, rutted, rooty and steep in places (confidence not helped by another beginner going over the handlebars on a chicken run in the first five minutes).
I was determined to finish, despite having a pretty miserable time, but we started to get lapped by the under-16s. The lads were polite and passed safely. The leading girl caught me on very narrow singletrack and barged me off track whilst screaming at me.
I picked myself up out of the heather and thought ‘fuck this!’. I was having no fun, and was being rammed by children. FML. I bailed around the halfway point, angry and miserable – not emotions I usually aim for when riding. I reported the rider, but she suffered no penalty – I’m guessing because a beginner doesn’t really matter compared to the regular elite racers. It’s amazing though, I’ve done Mayhem and Sleepless, and never encountered anything like that.
I seriously considered bailing on Pivot, but I’ve been assured that Pivot’s completely different, very relaxed and friendly. It’s going to be hard for me though, not just because it’s my first solo endurance race, but because it’ll be two nights away from my son. Apart from the emotional aspect and the gnawing feeling of guilt (which I always feel when I’m out riding instead of being with t’boy), I also have to take the breast pump, or risk blocked ducts and excessive leakage.
I generally have a pretty monogamous relationship with Devastator, my Stumpjumper. He’s confidence inspiring, fun to ride, and lovely to look at. But sometimes, I get curious about other bikes, so it’s great when demo day season kicks in.
Sadly I missed the Specialized demo day this year, but I hit the Leisure Lakes one the following week. It was a glorious orgy of bikes!
I attended last year’s Leisure Lakes demo day as I was helping to man the Chase Trails tent. I was also five months pregnant, so restricted myself to a Haibike Sduro ebike. This year I started off the same, only a slightly smaller Sduro (35cm instead of 40cm). It made for a more comfortable ride, but the smaller Haibikes are only available with the Yamaha motors, due to the battery – the Yamaha’s slide out sideways, whereas the Bosch lift up – and there’s not enough room in the frame for that.
Not that the Yamaha motor is a problem – I avoided the demo loop that took in the last few sections of Follow the Dog, due to fear and cowardice, instead heading down the blue. I hoped to do the short blue, and hoped I didn’t run too much over the allocated 30 minutes. 20 minutes later I was returning the bike with a big grin on my face, having cackled merrily all the way up a hill.
Bizarrely, I probably get more out of breath uphill on an ebike than on a regular bike – on the latter, I have to go into an easy gear and spin up hills, due to my substandard knee cartilage and lack of ligaments. It’s a big strain on the legs, but not so much cardio wise. On an ebike, I’m pedalling like the clappers and guffawing as I fly uphill. Lovely stuff!
Second bike was a bit off an odd choice – a small Orange P7. There’s something lovely about a nice, simple hardtail (Mr Toast has a gorgeous SIngular Swift). As I rode out with Chase Trails’ trail builder and noted Apple fanboy Will, it became fairly obvious that ‘small’ in Orange wasn’t quite small enough.
Again avoiding the demo loop, we rode to the start of Section 12, which marked my first attempt at riding any of FtD for over a year. The P7 felt a bit skittish and unwieldy, but that was down to the too small, rubbish rider. I literally stopped on a descent that has no drops and is a straight line (and is in no way off piste, ahem) because I panicked over what might happen. Boooo!
Third bike was a Specialized Turbo Levo, Spesh’s full susser ebike. Despite my better judgement, I ended up on the women’s ride, which was going around Follow the Dog. So, after being off FtD for well over a year, there I was, on an unfamiliar bike, in a group ride (so putting myself under loads of pressure).
It wasn’t a complete disaster, but I was very, very nervy, and massively struggled with… corners. Downhill switchbacks, uphill ones – I’m normally pretty bad with them, but that day… yeesh. I did also nearly come a cropper just before the Rollers, when I took the ‘easy’ side of the rock feature, over cooked slightly, headed towards the drainage ditch, hit a stump, but miraculously managed to correct myself. My heart was in my throat, but I was quite pleased at my save.
I did Twist & Shout, hovering at the back. However, I was painfully conscious that I was a) on the only small Turbo Levo they had to demo, and b) holding everyone up. So I bid the ladies farewell, and headed back to Tackeroo. I was alternating between frustration and satisfaction – I felt that I’d embarrassed myself a bit, and recognised that I’ve got my work cut out to return to my previous level, but at the same time, I’d got back on the red route, ridden Tackeroo, etc.
My cunning plan was to next demo a Cube ebike. However, the small was out. Did I want to demo a standard bike? Sure, why not. So I demoed a 13.5″ Cube Stereo, and it was actually rather lovely.
Emboldened by my earlier efforts, I took the Cube to a different part of the Dog, and did the Bomb Hole. And you know what? I actually did it in a half decent time (for me). I’m guessing it was because the Cube was a good size for me, very nimble, and more like what I’m used to.
So, overall musings – Orange P7 was a bit useless for me as it was too big. The two ebikes were really good fun, and it was interesting to see the difference in the motorised assistance. The Specialized felt like it kicked on the first pedal stroke, giving you instant zoomy fun, whereas the Haibike felt like it took a few pedal strokes to kick in, a bit more subtle. On climbs, however, the Haibike felt like it gave quite a bit more assistance – however, that could have been because I’d been riding for a while and was possibly a bit knackered by the time I was taking the Levo uphill! Either way, I’d definitely love an ebike for exploring.
For trail centre riding though, I definitely felt more comfortable on a normal full susser – which is fortunate, as I have an excellent one in my Stumpy!
I had a pretty easy pregnancy, all things considered. I managed to get out on the bike a couple of times during the first two trimesters, but being fairly risk averse at the best of times, I took it very steady. I even got a heart rate monitor to make sure that I didn’t go over the oft-cited 140 limit. This gave me two options:
Flat, easy routes such as Draycote Water and the Stratford Greenway
Riding an e-bike
I generally stuck to 1, but I did get the opportunity to demo an e-bike at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day last year. It was glorious – it was the first time I’ve ever been able to ride up a hill with no knee pain whatsoever. It also created the (probably comical) sight of five month pregnant woman sailing past a load of other riders. I was doing 11mph. Uphill. To put this in context, my Garmin normally autopauses on the same hill because I’m going so slow…
But, just as summer was cranking up, so was my girth, lack of balance and pelvic girdle pain, and it was getting increasingly difficult to ride. One of the hardest things was the feeling of restriction and desperately missing the woods, especially whilst the weather was glorious.
Fortunately my relatively easy pregnancy was followed by a relatively easy birth – unlike his mother, my son was a speedy little fellow (less than four hours, I’ve had longer bike rides!). Six weeks later I got the OK from the doctor, and went on a short ride down the greenway. I managed just under ten miles of flat riding without too much grief, but was a bit tender afterwards. Which isn’t hugely surprising, really.
Since then, I’ve been gradually increasing my riding. It’s been slow going, as I’ve been breastfeeding, so it’s been hard leaving the little fellow, but he takes a bottle well so I’ve been able to get out a bit.
Since he hit the six month mark, I’ve gotten a bit more adventurous and started ‘proper’ riding again. I was hoping to have an ebike when I got back riding, as it make it easier riding through winter, with dodgy knees and baby weight, but after a sensible look at our finances we decided against it. Maybe next year. 🙁
So, it was just me and Devastator. I was a bit worried – it’d be my first real test of fitness. What if my legs crapped out on me? What if I couldn’t cope cardio-wise?
I won’t lie, it was tough – I was only doing the blue route, but it was the hardest I’d found it in years. I loved being out though, although it was cold, and miserable, and my knees hurt. Happily though, my woes were more muscular than cardiovascular – I hadn’t lost too much fitness, but my joints were still knackered from longstanding injury, pregnancy (hello, relaxin!) and the excess weight I still need to shed.
I’ve been out a few more times over Sherbrook Valley, and once over Dalby blue. Dalby blue is massively improved since the last time, with more single track added. Again, I struggled a bit – I found the initial climb very tough, and the final descent (hooray for flat bits!).
It’d be so easy to get demoralised, as I have been in the past, but I just loved being out, unperturbed by my shoddiness. Ultimately, I’m in a better place than I was when I first started biking, so I’m sure I can get back to where I was!
So, I mentioned my bike getting nicked. Here’s the comical story.
After a hard day slaving in front of a hot computer (very hot, it was our old offices and there was no air con), I meandered outside to my bike, which lived out of sight behind a wall, chained to a fence. Only my bike wasn’t there, and my heavy duty, insurance improved cable lock was in bits. Well, shit.
With a growing sense of rage and shock, I bimbled to the police station, the remains of my lock curled up in my bike helmet like an injured animal. I recounted my tale of woe, described my bike, and went on my way with my crime number.
Each day I checked eBay and Gumtree for my bike, and each day – nada.
That was until five days later,
I’d registered my details on www.stolen-bikes.co.uk, and used their excellent ‘Find that Bike!’ feature, which collects bike sale ads from numerous sources. And there it was, some 80 miles away. At first, I nearly overlooked it – it didn’t have my distinctive purple flats on. But then I spotted the Superstar logo on the grips, took a closer look – yes, it was my bike, but with shitty old pedals on. The guy who was selling it had a history of selling a wide variety of bikes on Gumtree, and indeed had put up another fairly decent hardtails shortly after my bike.
I immediately called the police, whose response was… underwhelming. It’d probably take a few days for them to get the info from Gumtree, there was nothing they could do.
So, in the absence of actual policing, I turned internet detective. In the space of an hour, I’d learned the name, address, occupation, education history and family details of my bike’s seller. Although he lived miles away, he had a brother who lived fairly local to me. Hmmmm.
Armed with that knowledge, I contacted the force local to the seller. They were originally reluctant to get involved without a referral from my local force, but I… well, I nagged them, pointing out that my bike was likely to sell quickly at such an artificially low price. After describing the unique quirks of my bike, they said they’d pay a visit.
And they did! The following day my bike was recovered, and the selling scrote admitted that he’d got the bike off his brother, but that he obviously had no idea that it was stolen. Amusingly, when the police recovered my bike, the purple Wellgos were back on, which would suggest that the seller removed them and replaced with shitty old pedals (which were used on another bike in another advert) for the sole purpose of the Gumtree photos for some reason. If one had a suspicious mind, one might think that this was because they were an identifying feature.
As local brother scrote was local, it was now a matter of the local force interviewing him, as selling scrote’s police force needed more evidence that he knew it was stolen. Once that was done, I could get my bike back.
The local police interviewed him promptly, his story quickly unraveled, and he was charged with handling stolen goods.
Oh wait, no – what actually happened was my case was assigned to a guy on sick leave who eventually returned six weeks later, wasn’t allowed out of the office so had to reassign the case, and a few weeks after that an officer finally got around to talking to local scrote. Local scrote said that he bought it off Gumtree (despite there being no other Gumtree ads for my make and model of bike in that time period), from a fellow ‘at the side of the road’, but ‘couldn’t remember who’.
And that was that. Besides, he ‘didn’t look like a bike thief’.
I was… a tad miffed. Surely he could be done for handling stolen goods, as obtaining expensive goods for a fraction of the price and not keeping records is an indicator, but the police felt that sub-£200 for a £900 bike was fine. Indifferent shrugs all around.
I raged. I seethed. And, being British, I put in an official complaint, I eventually got an apology and a reinvestigation of the case, with the Sergeant admitting that it was pretty obvious that local scrote was stealing/obtaining bikes and giving them to his brother to sell. Unfortunately, too much time had passed, and nowt happened except the promise that they were now ‘on the radar’. It still rankles that it was handled with such indifference, but it could have been worse – in all seriousness, the same local force ignored a woman who phoned them and said she’d been beaten, who was murdered shortly afterwards. Perspective, and all that.
And Tessa, the bike in question? Three months later I had to drive a 180 mile round trip to get it back. It had some new scratches in the paintwork, and the lights and bell were long gone, but I had it back.
A few months after that, I discovered that I was pregnant. I swiftly knocked commuting on the head as many local drivers are psychopaths, and decided that we needed a bit more room, so decided to give Tess a new home. She’s now gone to a new owner in the Peak District, so will hopefully be having more exciting adventures than canal towpaths and dodging cars.
I’d hoped to replace her with an ebike, but that’s not happened yet, so it’s just me and Devastator, my Stumpy, for my post pregnancy adventures…
Blimey, has it really been nearly three years since my last update? I admit, I was finding it hard to find different ways of writing, “I rode Cannock Chase and I still sucked”, but still… tsk.
Well, a lot has happened in those years. For example:
I’m massively chuffed with my career, now working at an ace studio, on ace stuff, with ace people
I had my Contessa stolen, but got it recovered in Sheffield using my legendary stubbornness and Internet Detective skills
I learnt to ride a 125cc scooter, which was stolen a week after my Contessa. I didn’t recover that. 🙁
I lodged a complaint (which was upheld) about the police being a bit shit
I’ve accepted that I’m just too damn hobbity for 29ers
I’ve replaced the Professor with a new Stumpjumper FSR, this time a 650b
I discovered that there were two medical reasons for my increasing chunkiness – polycystic ovary syndrome and an underactive thyroid
Mr Toast and I have successfully procreated a Mini Toast. He’s currently six months old, and adorable. He’d be more adorable if he slept more at night though… I’ve not really ridden much for a year, due to pregnancy/breastfeeding!
Despite not having ridden much and becoming large(r) with child, I’ve signed up for Pivot 24/12 this year
So yeah, quite a few posts’ worth of material there. I’ll get around to it…