accident

A Summer Break

It’s been a little while, hasn’t it?

Partly, I was a bit bored of writing about how my shoulder, back and neck were feeling.  Partly I was getting stressed trying to make training rides on country lanes seem interesting.  And partly, I suspected that you, dear readers, were probably a bit bored of reading about the same stuff over and over again, too.

But things are getting (at least vaguely) interesting once more, and there’s a bit to catch up on.  So I think it’s time to put virtual pen to virtual paper again.

It may be a bit of a bumper issue, so you might want to get a nice cup of tea if you intend to wade through the whole thing in one go…

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I’ve been discharged from medical supervision (assuming no relapses), which is nice.  I’m apparently about 20-30% off full shoulder movement, which may or may not get any better.  The broken vertebrae in my back and neck should continue to strengthen with time.  In terms of day-to-day activities I’m about 90% sorted.  I may never again be able to do overhand chin-ups, but since I never could anyway, that’s no great loss.

The x-ray above was taken when I got back to Bristol, a week after the crash, and is (hopefully) the last you’ll hear about the Thai Truck Incident.  It gives at least a vague impression of how many bits were mangled and / or moved about at the time, and how big the impact was.  For me, it’s a nice reminder of how lucky I am to be more-or-less together four-and-a-half months later.

I’m fairly confident that I won’t be bothering you with further medical details because I completed my summer sportive programme on Sunday.  I can appreciate that some people may think that recovering from a major accident by building up to a timed 100-plus mile ride is somewhat masochistic, but it seems to have worked OK for me.  And if I was going to break down physically, it would’ve happened by now.  I think.

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My second sportive (after the one in Newbury which I wrote about last time) took me north to the Peak District National Park.  I wanted to get some proper hills under my belt, which is difficult in the south of England.  The Peaks are also a beautiful part of the world.  And I was lucky enough to ride mountain bikes up there while I was a student, so there was a nostalgic motivation for the ride too.

The ride itself was all a bit different from the Newbury event.  This was partly down to the much tougher terrain, but mostly down to my riding buddy for the day.  If you remember, I rode the first sportive with Luke, who’d only had a bike for a few weeks.  As the faster rider, all I had to worry about that day was whether I could manage the distance.

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To add to my Peak District nostalgia, I was riding with Jon.  He was one of my mountain-bike buddies from Uni, but we hadn’t seen each other for about 20 years (a good reason for writing a blog; he rediscovered me through this site while I was in Indonesia, or somewhere).

Jon’s a thoroughly good bloke, and we got on as if the decades-long gap had never happened.  Unfortunately, as you may be able to tell from the picture above, he’s also at least as fit as he was 20 years ago, and certainly way more than a match for me.

So in a slightly painful reversal of the Newbury ride, I spent most of the day clinging to Jon’s wheel as he nonchalantly climbed pretty much everything in the big chainring.  I thought I was keeping up OK until he decided to ‘have some fun’ on the steeper slopes at the top of Snake Pass (below).  He put at least a couple of minutes into me just in the last mile of the climb.  And I don’t think he was really working very hard even then.

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I’m sure there was a time (a couple of weeks in 1992, maybe?) when I could have done the same to him.  That time definitely isn’t now.

But at least I could console myself with: the three or four other riders who dropped off my wheel on the lower slopes of the pass; a reasonable time (at least by my current standards, and given the amount of climbing involved); and a couple of very decent pints of cider in the sunshine afterwards.  A really good day.

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The drive up to the Peaks reminded me of why I’m looking forward to my upcoming tour up the length of the UK.  Just over three-hours in the car (roughly 150 miles) whisked me from the flat flood plain of the Severn estuary, to the exposed moorland of the Peaks.  From golden stone cottages in Cotswold villages to dark brick terraced towns.  From people who over-pronounce the letter ‘r’ to people who don’t always bother with the word ‘the’.  And that’s just the start and end points; between the two I passed the UK’s second-biggest city, Birmingham, as well as the former centre of world pottery production around Stoke.

None of this will surprise anyone in the UK.  But there are so many countries where you can ride a bike for weeks without seeing that sort of variety of landscape, accent and culture (the American mid-west and Australia, for example).  150 miles is only two or three days’ cycle touring, so riding the whole length of the country for a month or so should be really interesting.

But I was getting ahead of myself.  I still had Sunday’s ‘ton’ to come.

This was the big test of my fitness to get back to touring.  I reckoned that if I was reasonably comfortable doing 100 miles as a one-off ride, then touring more slowly at 50-70 miles a day should be fine.  If Sunday went wrong, then the UK tour (and eventually getting back to Asia and finishing the round-the-world trip) would have to be put on hold.

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I needn’t have worried, as it turned out.

The Sodbury Sportive starts and finishes just a few miles from home, and is distinct from the other events I’d ridden, as the profits go to charity (it made nearly £19000 last year), rather than fattening corporate wallets.  Volunteers, organised by the local Rotary Club, made it run like clockwork.  There were a pair of enthusiastic pensioners pointing the way at almost every turn, and semi-professional cheerers (with cow bells!) and a steel band at the finish line to welcome the riders in.  A really good event.

Most importantly, from my point of view, the weather was spot-on for cycling; not too hot, not too windy, and no rain (always a bonus in this country).  And, with a thousand, mostly local, riders on the road, there was plenty of friendly company.  I even ran into Graham, who I went to school with, and Nev, who I used to work with.  Which makes the whole thing sound a bit more parochial than it actually was, but still…

It would be pushing it to say it was easy (though the first sixty or seventy miles, which included all the main climbing, felt surprisingly good).  I was hanging on a bit at the end, if I’m honest.  But 103 miles (166km) in 7 hours 30 minutes, including food stops, is not too shabby.  I missed the ‘silver’ award time by about five minutes, but I didn’t know what it was until after I finished, so can’t be upset about that.

The bottom line is that the distance and the time were fine.  My back and neck were not too battered at the end.  So the return to cycle touring is on.

The Beastlet is currently tucked up in a local bike shop, getting its wheels and mechanicals rearranged for touring purposes.  I just need to get the racks bolted on when it comes back, and it’ll be good to go.  And I’ve got a detailed plan for the UK tour, starting late next week, and running to late September.  But, in keeping with my severe procrastination habit, I’ve not actually booked any of it yet.

There should be updates on the bike and the route over the next few days.

And then I’ll be back into touring mode.  The full length of the UK in four-ish weeks.  It’s not exactly India or Iran, but it should be a lot more interesting than broken bones and training rides.

Can’t wait…

Type 2 Fun – The First Sportive

It’s after four on Sunday afternoon, but it feels much later with the glowering black clouds cutting the light down.  Driving rain lashes Newbury racecourse, as it has, intermittently, for most of the day.  And it’s chilly, even for the fickle English summer.

The Wiggle Magnificat Sportive is drawing to a close.  Think of it as a mass-participation marathon on wheels, without an elite race in front.  Hundreds of damp, tired cyclists have completed their choice of 44, 85 or 128 mile rides.  They shelter in the cafe and bar, easing their pain with alcohol or warming up with steaming cups of tea.

Maybe a few of the nicer ones among them are sparing a thought for the stragglers still out on the course.

A couple of miles away, two of those stragglers are finally rolling down the last hill towards the finishing line, and carefully negotiating the slippery white paint of the mini-roundabout on the last corner.  One of them is trying, unsuccessfully, to prevent his teeth from chattering as the cold wind cuts through his soaked clothes.  This is me.  The other can’t quite believe that his legs, which stopped working properly over an hour ago, are actually getting him to the finish line.  This is my friend Luke.

Few would argue that this is conventional, Type 1, instant gratification fun.  But we finished.  It wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t pretty in places.  But that really isn’t the point.  We’ve been there, and (literally) got the T-shirts:

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And, at least for me, as a protein-rich dinner and a couple of pints of cider mingled happily in my stomach a few hours later, it retrospectively became so much fun that I signed up to do another one in a couple of weeks.

Luke may take a bit longer to convince.  But I’m sure that, eventually (when he can sit down again without a soft cushion), he’ll agree that it was fun too.

Given our various physical issues and relative lack of preparation (basically, find a sportive training guide online, tear it into tiny pieces, and replace it with a few sporadic short rides, beer, and darts marathons), I reckon we did OK.

85 miles (136km) and 1366m (nearly 4500ft) of climbing in a day is a decent ride by most standards.

In a straight line, the 85 miles would have taken us from Newbury (pretty much in the middle of southern England) to Newport in Wales, or Birmingham in the midlands.  And the climbing was a little more than going from sea level to the summit of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK.

For me, it was really about continuing my rehab after the accident.  I was pretty sure I’d be fine with the mileage after touring halfway round the world in the last year (the same Sunday in 2014 saw me rolling off from Greenwich to start my still-unfinished circumnavigation).

But, with my shoulder, back and neck still in pieces, it was a test to see if my body could deal with a whole day on the bike.  It can, which makes me very happy.  I’d struggle to do it for several days in a row, though, so I’ve still got some recovering to do before I get back to touring in a few weeks.

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For Luke (above, climbing one of the countless small hills in a rare non-rainy moment), it was a different sort of challenge.  He only bought his bike a few weeks ago, and his training’s been limited to laps of Richmond Park in London.  Which means that Sunday was his first ever ride over 40 miles, and the first time he’d gone anywhere close to that level of climbing.  Forcing his exhausted legs over the last few hills and miles was a proper result for him.

So, a cycling first for both of us; sportive number one completed.  An achievement, if not quite on the level of what Team Sky just did to the rest of the Tour de France this afternoon (Tuesday).

Was it worth it?  I’d say ‘definitely’.  But then, I’ve made hard riding a bit of a habit over the last year.  Luke might say ‘maybe’.  Or something unprintable.  The countryside was lovely, if damp.  The riding was fairly tough, but not outrageous.  The organisation was excellent.  The weather was shocking, and the course designer was a bit of a sadist, throwing stacks of stinging little climbs into the last few kilometres.  But in the end it was good, if definitely Type 2, fun.

And it hasn’t put Luke off cycling.  He’s talking about putting some bags on his bike and joining me for a couple of days on my UK tour in a few weeks.

Assuming he can bear to sit on a bike again by then, of course…

The Railway, the Ridge and the Extra ‘S’

It’s surprising how your strength starts to come back when your back finally decides to cooperate.

Helped by decent weather (but hindered by unfeasibly high pollen levels), I’ve upped my distances to over 30 miles (50km) in the last couple of weeks.  And 50-odd kms is now comfortable enough that I’m chucking in some 15-20% gradient hills as well.

I’m pretty chuffed with this; it’s a big jump from struggling to do 20 miles on the flat just three weeks ago.  In fact, it’s not so very far away from the sort of level I was at before I began the trip last year.  The Magic Shrug continues to work wonders.

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With my range increasing, I’m re-discovering more of the cycling I used to do as a kid.  I’m pretty lucky around here, with a bunch of different riding options.  Flat rides, hilly rides, rivers, cities, all within fairly easy reach on a bike.  You can even get to another country (well, Wales) within about an hour.

Which means I can avoid boringly repetitive rides quite easily.  But when I head south, it’s harder to avoid the Bristol to Bath railway path (picture above).

The path was built around the time that I was allowed out on a bike by myself, and was the first section of what eventually developed into the UK’s national cycle network.  So it’s another big dose of cycling nostalgia for me.

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It’s also a well paved, traffic free, and fairly quiet route between the two city centres.  Bristol is pictured above and Bath below.  If you ignore (or, perhaps more appropriately, carefully avoid at a sensible speed) the odd wandering child, dog and mobility scooter, it’s quick, easy and flat riding, which is ideal for getting the miles in when you’re still not 100% fit.

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There’s loads of history and culture at both ends of the track.

Bath‘s got world-famous Roman remains and hot baths, and some elegant Georgian architecture (it’s a World Heritage Site as a result).  And I caught a bit of professional bike racing there last week, among the old Cotswold stone buildings and the cobbles.  It’s a beautiful little city.

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Bristol, meanwhile, is responsible for: English-speaking America (North America having been claimed by ships from Bristol in the late 1400s); Banksy; stacks of Brunel‘s best engineering work (like the SS Great Britain, above); Concorde; and, erm, Wallace and Gromit.  Among many other things, of course.

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And if I don’t fancy the cities (let’s face it, getting into town on a nice vehicle-free route is all very well, but once you’re there, it’s back to diesel fumes, potholes and traffic lights), I head north-east, into country lanes and the Cotswold Hills.  The western ridge of the Cotswolds runs for miles down the Severn valley, and is only a few miles from me.

Being southern England, there’s not much in the way of really big hills here, but there’s a multitude of short, sharp climbs to choose from.  Many of these lanes plunge straight down from the ancient highways and odd monuments along top of the escarpment to the villages at the foot.

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All in all, it’s not that bad round here…

This is starting to sound a bit (maybe even a lot) like a tourism advert.  So, let’s move on to the Extra ‘S’.  You’ve probably noticed it already, haven’t you?

No?  Well, go back shamefacedly to the top of the page.  Got it now?  That’s right.  The word ‘trundle’ at the end of the subtitle of the blog has gained an ‘s’.  I guess you’ll understand the significance of that immediately.

The Extra ‘S’ (along with a new pair of shiny hand-built touring wheels that arrived last week) means that I’ve finally committed to the inevitable.  Despite my initial thoughts of abandoning the round-the-world ride after the accident, it was probably never going to happen.

I can be a bit stubborn like that sometimes.

The Extra ‘S’ means more than one big bike ride.

In fact, it means a total of three.

I will definitely go back to Thailand to complete the circumnavigation by riding back to London.  I’m still a bit concerned about the amount of money I’ll have left on my return, but that’s just something I’ll have to sort out when I get back in 2016.  Finishing what I started is more important.  Round-the-world Part II is on.

The monsoon season, and the fact that I’m not yet up to full speed physically, means there’s no point in going back to Asia until the northern winter.  And that gives me the chance to squeeze in a bonus tour between the two halves of the round-the-world.

And now, big ride 3.

I’ve still not clicked back into taking the UK for granted, perhaps because I didn’t expect to be back here yet.  And there are actually a bundle of places in this country which I’ve not seen (or, at least, haven’t seen by bike).

So I’m going to take the opportunity to ride from the southernmost to the northernmost point of the UK (with a few ferries included, as I still – frustratingly – can’t ride on water).  This is a bit longer than the classic Lands End to John O’Groat’s ride, which is ‘just’ the length of Great Britain.

The UK stretches all the way from the Isles of Scilly in the south to the top of the Shetland Islands.  And the ride will include all four countries that make up the UK; England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.  It should be somewhere in the region of 1150 miles (1850km) in about four weeks, which will be a nice little warm up for returning to Asia.

The overall plan now looks like this:

July and August will be for getting fitter, and riding sportives (probably three, the last of which should be my first ‘official’ 100 mile ride).  Then I’ll convert the Beastlet for loaded touring.  I’ll start the UK tour in late August or early September.  Once I finish that, I’ll have a couple of months to maintain a degree of fitness and get the logistical bits and pieces together before heading back to Thailand.  With a bit of luck, and no further interventions by heavy goods vehicles, I should be back in London next summer.

All sounds pretty straightforward.

Though I guess it might be just a little harder than it looks on paper…

The Magic Shrug

There’s a stage when recovering from an accident hits a plateau.  One week, you have nice, morale-boosting day-to-day improvements (more movement, less pain etc).  The next, you’re frustrated with the apparent lack of progress on the problems that remain.

In my case, the frustration’s been all about my back.

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While the most obvious visible damage – the collarbone and the shoulder-blade – has been improving nicely, my time on the bike has been severely limited by the slower-recovering cracked vertebrae.  I got to the start of last week unable to push past about 15 mile (25km) rides.  The riding itself is pretty much pain-free now, but having to stop to relieve the ache in my weakened back every twenty minutes is, erm, a pain.  And after an hour or so, the weakness seemed to spread around the rest of my body, forcing me back to the sofa to recover.  For a couple of days.

Some might say that it’s unreasonable to expect to be back to full speed two months after damaging your spine in a serious road accident.  That may be true, but it’s very, very irritating, to say the least.

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Still, I managed to get out and about for short loops, continuing my rediscovery of the local country lanes.  And I was climbing better than I was while riding the same hills last year (before the trip).  Clearly, cycle touring does get you fitter.  And it takes a while to lose all the improvements while convalescing.  Which is nice.

Then there was a breakthrough.  I was back at the physio last week.  And it turns out that he’s a genius.  He did his usual routine of a couple of minutes’ visual inspection of my shoulder.  He nagged me (again) about my posture.  I had a bit of a moan about my back.  And so he taught me the Magic Shrug.

I didn’t know it was magic at the time.  But I performed it a few times, as instructed.  The next night, I went to sleep on my front for the first time, as my back seemed more comfortable.  I woke up late.  I woke up without an ache for the first time.  The magic was happening.

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Encouraged, I went on a nostalgia trip the next day.  The run out to the old Severn Bridge and back was one I used to do a lot when I was a kid (after I realised that 20 miles on a bike is really not that far – even on a five-speed clunker, as it was in those days). It’s roughly ten miles each way.  I made the return trip with no problems.  I didn’t need to collapse into a comfy chair when I got back.  And the next morning?  I could have done it again.  Except that the English early summer was doing its thing (driving rain and high winds).

So, with the Shrug working its magic, I feel like I’m back on track.  If 20 miles isn’t a problem, then why would 40 be?  Or 85?

Well, 85 is the number.  I’ve finally signed up for my first sportive ride; the Magnificat at Newbury on 12th July.  Appropriately enough, that’s a year since my departure from Greenwich to ride around the world.  So, about six weeks to get myself together for 85 miles in a day (just over 135km in new money).  Hopefully, an achievable target on the way back to full fitness.  And a return to loaded touring later in the year.  And maybe, just maybe, a return to Thailand to finish the ride…

With the Magic Shrug in my arsenal, what could possibly go wrong?

Rehab

Four weeks ago today, I woke up in hospital in Thailand.

At the time, it appeared that I just had a broken collarbone.  Since then, I’ve been repatriated to the UK.  The medics here have found nine more broken bones in my shoulder and back, plus damage to my neck.  I’ve had time to reflect on what happened to my cycle helmet when it was hit by the truck.  And I’ve realised just how close my injuries were to being, at the very least, life-changing.

I’ve had four weeks of gentle improvement, slowly reducing pain, and gradually increasing mobility in my damaged arm.  But also four weeks of almost total physical inactivity as a depressing contrast to my previous life on the bike.

And then, this afternoon (Monday), this happened:

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It wasn’t for long (about fifteen minutes before my back decided enough was enough), and it wasn’t exactly comfortable.  But I was pedalling again.  I wasn’t going very far.  But I was definitely pedalling.

This is, in no uncertain terms, progress.

Along with rediscovering several even more advanced capabilities in the last week (including lifting two coffee cups at once, pulling t-shirts over my head, and drinking a handful of pints of cider without falling over), it looks like the rehab is getting properly underway.

I’m attributing this to a cunning tactic.  I’ve already taken delivery of the Replacement of the Beast, to give me an incentive to get better quicker.

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Like my recovery, it’s far from complete yet.  It’s a Kona Rove (kind of half touring bike, half cyclocross bike), which, because it’s a 2014 model, was reduced by over 40%.  So it seemed like a good idea to get it now.  In its current spec, it’ll be perfect for the long distance day rides I intend to target as my condition improves.  It should be a good bit quicker than the old Beast.

As I hopefully get myself together over the next little while, I’ll use the money it was reduced by to turn it into a proper custom tourer.  New wheels, tyres, gearing adjustments, racks and so on.  It’s one of the very few types of shopping that I enjoy, and it gives me a little project to focus on until I’m fully mobile.

And I’ve been giving a little more thought to what to do next.  I guess my last post on here probably reflected my far more limited physical condition a week ago.  I said the trip was over.  I put up some modest targets to get me moving again.

But the more I think about it, and the better I feel, the more it seems to me that I’m going to have to go back to Thailand and finish the trip eventually.  I can’t just leave it half done.

There are a few issues with this (not least, how I’d afford it).  But I guess I’ve still got a bit of time before I’m fit enough to go back.

So time to get the thinking cap on about how to make it work…

Perspective and Bereavement

It’s been a busy, painful and tiring few days.

And I think, after making sweeping (and potentially erroneous) statements like ‘the trip’s over’, and ‘only a smashed collarbone’ in my Thai hospital post, you probably deserve a little more of a considered appraisal of what’s occurred.

I was in pain and in shock, after all.  Not a good time to be making decent assessments.  So let’s roll it back a little, and start at the start.

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The roads in Thailand had seemed pretty benign.  I was heading north on the coast last Sunday, with a gentle tailwind, in the sunshine, without a care in the world.  I passed a temple or two.  It was the middle of the afternoon.  The road was quiet.

And then the truck hit me.  And then I woke up in hospital.

My initial understanding of what happened was pieced together from shards of half-remembered conversations with doctors and policemen (quite possibly with a little morphine involved, too).

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Apparently, the truck had grazed the right-rear pannier on the bike, flipping the Beast and me sideways to smash my collarbone on the, erm, hard shoulder.  The doctors had scanned me while I was semi-conscious, and my head and spine were OK.  I was a very lucky boy.

But the more I thought about it, the less some of this made sense.  Why were all the scratches and scrapes down my left side, when it was my right collarbone which was damaged?  How did I end up with a bump on the back of my head?  And how was I knocked unconscious if I’d fallen off sideways?

Time, crash scene photos, and endless scans and x-rays have clarified things a little since.

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The collarbone didn’t break on the road.  That was a false assumption, based on how most cyclists pick up the injury.  In fact, the truck really did hit me, as well as the bike.  And it hit me hard.  The bike went down on the left (that’s the scrapes and scratches accounted for).  But all the damage to my shoulder was caused directly by the truck.

Tons of metal on flesh and bone at a closing speed of about 60kph.  Not what you’d call a fair fight.

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After finally getting back to the UK on Saturday evening (a long and tedious journey, of which little needs to be said), I spent most of the rest of Easter weekend in and out of another hospital.  More scans, more x-rays.  Every one identifying more damage.

The truck pretty much took out the whole upper-right quarter of my torso.  As well as the collarbone, my shoulder-blade is now in three big pieces (and several smaller ones).  I’ve got at least four broken ribs.  And at least four fractured vertebrae in my back to match.  So that’s technically a broken back, then.  Oh, and a bunch of neck vertebrae which now have bits missing.

And so I won’t be riding a bike for a while.

So far, so unlucky.

Or…

So far, so very, very lucky to be alive, sitting slightly uncomfortably on a sofa and writing a post.  So very, very lucky not to be paralysed or brain-damaged.  I’m actually a relatively happy bunny at the moment.

If I’d arrived at hospital in the UK with those back injuries, I’d have been straight into emergency spinal surgery.  If I hadn’t been wearing a helmet (smashed into a thousand tiny pieces), the truck’s indicator housing would have stoved in the back of my skull like an eggshell.  And if one of the broken ribs had punctured a lung (apparently pretty common), I’d have been in real trouble too.

None of those things happened.  So it all depends how you look at it.  Yes, I got hit by a truck.  Yes, I need an operation on my shoulder (that’s next week’s fun-packed agenda).  Yes, I’m finding it difficult to sit or stand or lie in comfort.  But if you’re going to get hit hard by a truck, this is probably the best outcome you can hope for.  I can walk.  I can think.  I can breathe.

Is the trip over?  Well, clearly yes, in its original form.  Even if I had a break and then went back to finish my planned route, that would be two ‘half-way round the world’ trips, rather than one whole one.  I’m a bit gutted about that.

But again, a sense of perspective is required.  Assuming the op goes OK, there’s nothing to stop me from cycling in the reasonably near future.  Am I finished with long distance touring?  I don’t think so; I’m already climbing the walls with boredom here (that’s obviously metaphorical, given my condition).  And I nodded off earlier, and had a dream about riding a bike through the Alps.  Or maybe the Andes.  Or the Scottish Highlands.  Some hills, anyway.

Will it be a series of shorter rides, or another intercontinental journey?  Will I finish what I started, or start something new?  I don’t know.

But I don’t think the riding’s over just yet…

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Now, some truly sad news.  Whatever the next ride is, I’ll be missing a faithful friend.  The Beast is, erm, deceased (well, it more-or-less rhymes…).

Tough old boot that The Beast was, the truck was one step too far.  It just wasn’t worth trying to bring it back to the UK for repairs, especially as the truck’s insurance were willing to pay me out for it.

So sadly, after over 15000 trouble-free kilometres (including a few before the trip), and at just over a year old (far too young), it’s time for me to look forward to whatever the next adventure is without the solid, heavy, reassuring presence of The Beast alongside.

I’ll keep you posted on what that adventure might be, how my recovery goes, and what Beast II looks like over the next little while.  Guess there are still a few unknowns out there to chase down…