injury

Back on the Road!

It’s six-and-a-half weeks since I was assaulted by the truck.

I should probably be in India or northern Vietnam, depending on which way I turned at Bangkok.  Then again, I should probably be dead.

Instead of which, I’m at home in the UK.  Which is a bit frustrating.

However…  After 42 days of pain, gradual improvement, and a phenomenally sedentary lifestyle, the last week has seen (in my limited little world, at least) some momentous changes.   I’m down to one paracetamol a day, basically just to combat some back stiffness when I wake up in the morning.  And on Tuesday, I tried driving for the first time since I left on the ride in July.  It worked!  Which was a major step forward.

But the really good part is that I’ve been on the road on a bike again this week.  The first, tentative miles on the way back to touring.

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The shoulder and back are still not fully fixed (not entirely surprising, I suspect).  The muscles in my right arm have wasted from weeks in a sling, and, although I’ve got a decent range of movement now, I’ve got very little strength.  Those nasty cracked vertebrae in my back severely limit the time I can be active before needing a nice sit down and a cuppa.  And my breathing on the hills is a bit constricted by the cracked ribs, and possibly some internal bruising (incredibly, I still have bruises working their way to the surface after all this time).

But I’m riding again, which is the main thing.  I trundled a whole ten miles (16km) yesterday.  Pathetic in comparison to the 50 to 80 miles a day (on a 40kg rig) which I considered normal a couple of months ago.  But, importantly, that ten miles was light-years ahead of the four miles I managed on Monday.  And those four were a big improvement on the wobbly mile-and-a-half I put in on Sunday’s first ride.

It’s all going in the right direction.

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It’s strange riding in the UK again after so long overseas.  You notice things you’d ordinarily take for granted (I guess I’ve still got my traveller’s eye in).

It’s slightly alarming to ride on roads with no hard shoulder, until you remember that the driving standards here are actually pretty reasonable.  And that I rode perfectly safely on these roads for years when I was a kid.  And that I was riding on the hard shoulder in Thailand when the truck hit me, so the safety provided by a line of paint is illusory in any case.

It’s surprisingly pretty around here, too, which you forget after being connected to a place for several decades.  And you also forget that there are thousands of miles of quiet country lanes in England (like the one pictured above), where there’s hardly any traffic at all.  Bit too much horse manure, though…

Of course, it’s not all rosy.

After yesterday’s sun, it’s raining today (all day), which is pretty typical for an English spring.  And somehow or other, the country managed to be so intimidated by scare stories about the ‘risks’ of Scottish people that we’ve instead voted for the risk of breaking up the EU and the UK within the next two years.  Which seems a bit bizarre to me.

Still, things are definitely on the up.  I’ve pencilled in a fairly tough Sportive ride (135km distance / 1900m climbing) in mid-July to give myself a fitness target.  I’m hoping I’ll be ready to do something before that, though.

Just need to keep building up those miles until I get back to a decent level again…

The Invalid

I’m having touring withdrawal issues. For nearly nine months, I was outdoors almost every day, staying in a new place pretty much every night, seeing the world and covering hundreds of kilometres a week on the bike.  This was good. 20141130RTW_8 Roli For nearly three weeks now, I’ve been (with the exception of a couple of days’ travelling) indoors, sitting or lying in differing levels of discomfort, getting fat, and covering maybe a couple of hundred metres a day shuffling around the house (or hospital).

It’s a bit of a shock to the system.

Now that the relief of being alive after the accident has bled off, it’s being replaced with frustration.  Being stuck in the same place with no exercise and a non-functioning arm is not working very well for me.

I met an ancient Frenchman in New Zealand who’d been on the road for five years.  He said he was just going to ride across North America before returning home and ‘stopping’.  I remember wondering how he’d be able to adjust when his trip was over.  I wondered how I would. Now I’m finding out.  It’s hard. 20141129RTW Christian No regrets, thankfully, as I gave the trip my best shot.  Having got close to covering 10,000 miles, I know that I was physically able to complete the circumnavigation.  I thoroughly confounded the unkind expectations of a few friends who thought I wouldn’t get past France.  And there was nothing I could do about the way it ended.

But I need a plan to avoid stalling.  I need to feel like things are moving forward again.  And I really need something to distract me from the tedious, gibbering nonsense of the ongoing UK general election campaign.  And daytime TV.

I need targets. So, what’s next? Well, I need to get better.  I’ve got the operation to put my shoulder back together tomorrow (Thursday).  Assuming that goes OK, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get back out on a bike within six weeks or so.  With a bit of luck, I may be able to get on a stationary trainer a couple of weeks before that.  There will be an awful lot of fitness to regain.

That gives me a few weeks to sort out Beast II.  I think it’ll be a little lighter and faster than the original Beast.  Maybe more of a Mini-Beast.  Or a Beastlet.  Mainly because I felt the Beast was probably a little overbuilt for the conditions I faced on the ride, and I can’t see myself hitting the rough dirt roads of the Andes or Alaska for a while.  I’ve found a few suitable candidates.  And most of them are actually British brands, as a little bonus.  Hopefully, I’ll have it on order fairly soon, to give me an incentive to recover quicker. 20150122RTW_23 Then I need something to do with the new bike.  My current thinking is to get myself fit enough for a sportive (semi-competitive day ride, usually between 75 and 110 miles) or a charity ride sometime in June.  And then aim to do a two or three week tour in the summer with the bags back on.  Maybe the length of the UK (Land’s End to John O’Groats – around 900 miles), or a similar distance in Europe.  It would be nice to pick something I can actually finish.  And I’ll need to work up gently to anything more energetic, I think.

So there we are; a loose plan to get back on wheels for the sake of my sanity.

Things are already looking up a bit.  After their triumph in the FA Trophy, which I reported on from Thailand, Bristol City won 6-0 last night to confirm their promotion to the second tier of English football.

So, good things are still happening.  I just need to make sure I focus on them, rather than the fact that I’m banged up at home for the next few weeks. It’ll be a good trick if I can pull it off.

Photo Credits:  Top photo – Roli Merz.  Second photo – Christian Zenker

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…