Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Pulling defeat from the jaws of victory....and vice versa

So, where were we? I was just about to leave for France to do some touring. That was a couple of weeks ago. A reasonable amount has happened since then, certainly enough to justify a couple of pots under normal circumstances. However, this might just turn into one long one, missus. Just to warn you. 

As ever the temptation is to turn the thing into prolonged diary entry ("and on Tuesday I had a very nice  cup of coffee"), you know the sort of thing. So I'm going to try not to do that, and pick out the highlights, and indeed lowlights, out of the last 11 days. 

Let's start with the biggest lowlight. Now, this blog is nothing if not honest, so it's with relief that I'm going to admit the following hiding behind a keyboard rather than face-to-face with any of you. Thought that might happen in time I guess, dammit. I didn't do the tour I planned, well not much of it anyway. That's not the embarrassing bit however. And neither is the reason - I badly injured my left hand, causing it to swell like a balloon, not be able to grip anything, and generally be useless for a week or so. Nope, the embarrassing bit is how I injured my hand. It was putting my tent up. Now you might ask, not unreasonably, how it's possible to injure a hand putting a tent up. Hitting it with a mallet whilst hammering a tent peg in might be a feasible answer. But it wasn't that. It was making it go bendy. Don't laugh. I was trying to fix the bendy bits (the ones that give the tent its height) into position by putting a pin in the end of one of them. I was doing it with my left hand, when all of a sudden, my big finger started hurting. Quite a lot. I looked down, and was a little startled to see to it resting under, and in parallel with my ring finger. I'd somehow managed to dislocate it. Now, a French campsite on a sleepy Sunday afternoon doesn't exactly have medical attention, or indeed other people, on tap, so there was no option but to re-locate the finger myself. Talk about seeing stars, I saw a whole galaxy, but with a sickening click I got it back in. It then popped out another couple of times whilst I finished putting the damn tent up, but I eventually managed it, before collapsing inside to take one of all the painkillers I could find.

It was not a happy night that Sunday. My hand throbbed, my stomach remained empty as the campsite didn't have a restaurant and I couldn't face getting back on the bike, and the rain rained. All night. My towel stayed wet beside me, and my mood darkened with the clouds. Morning brought no relief, in fact the hand was worse. I had a decision to make therefore about what to do. The options were to carry on as planned, carry on the route as planned but not camp, or go back home and consider my options. The first was out of the question; I could barely get the tent down one-handed, let alone put it up. The second was tempting, but I knew there were no hotels to be had within riding distance of Le Mans, because of the 24 Hour race, which is why I too was headed there. So the route was going to have to change anyway, and for that reason (and there was an element of crawling into a corner to lick my wounds) I decided to ride the 75 miles home.

Even that was easier said than done. I couldn't get my riding mitts on, the hand was too swollen. More significantly, I could neither brake nor change gear with my left hand, meaning downhills had to be taken much more slowly than usual, and uphills were all done in the big ring. Good strength training I told myself. 

All of which shows the folly of breaking one of the golden rules you set for yourself. One of mine I set when I was 18. I went on a self-guided walking and camping holiday in the Lake District. It was September, and it rained solidly for 3 of the 4 days I was there. Everything I owned was so wet you had to wring it out, and apart from anything to do with Powerpoint presentations it was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. But showing rare balance and perspective for an 18 year old (I like to think) I did not disavow either camping or being vehicle-less, just combining the two. You see, if it rains but you've got a car you've still got somewhere to dry things out, a sanctuary of sorts. Or if you're walking or riding and get soaking wet, bedraggled and cold, none of which I particularly mind, you still need a hot shower and a half-decent bed at the end of a day.

Anyway, I tried to combine camping and riding. I broke my rule and I paid the price. I slunk home with my metaphorical tail firmly between my legs, my plans in tatters.....

You know what, I am going to spilt this holiday blog into two after all. Bite-sized chunks and all that. And I can end on a cliffhanger.....did I go home and weep into my absinthe for a week? Did I retire to my bed, emerging only to curse in French at the much-too-cheerful sparrows outside my window? Or did I salvage both a modicum of pride and quite a lot of pleasure from the time that remained? All will be revealed, probably on Thursday....

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