1. characterised by or performed with much energy or force.
2.arduous, straining, strenuous taxing to the utmost; testing powers of endurance.
I recently went on a short cycling holiday in Dorset (for Icelandic and Singaporean readers that’s a county on the south coast of England.) In preperation of for the trip I bought a book of cycle rides in the area, booked a place to stay, washed my lycra, bought a couple of pairs of padded shorts and set off on the 3 hours journey that would get us there.
Yes, us. I didn’t go on my own. For reasons of national security I will call this other person Fausto Coppi.
We arrived, cast off our clothes for (in my case) merciless body – hugging lycra cycling kit, which is designed to kid ageing folk like myself that there is still hope. And off we set for the beautiful sights of the Dorset countryside.The cycle route book graded the rides as easy, moderate or strenuous. It also provided a picture of the gradients on the each ride. The ride we chose – o.k. my companion Fausto Coppi ( 2 time winner of the Tour de France (1949, 1952), and the Giro d’Italia a mere 5 times (1940, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953 chose was a 36 mile route classified as strenuous.
Strenuous? I can do strenuous.Where I live (on the south coast of England) all points north leading to the countryside entail a modest, gradual 3 mile climb, and a steep 2 mile climb back in the opposite direction. Sussex is home to some steep climbs, including Ditchling Beacon, which featured in the Tour de France when it visited these shores in 1994. The winner of that edition of the Tour, Greg Lemond, said that he respected that climb. I can’t remember how many times I made that climb up the beacon ….. didn’t get off once.
So you get the picture. I climb hills. I don’t get off halfway and push. I enjoy the view from the top without finding myself bent double struggling for breath.
Not this time.
This time I didn’t read the signs. I could see that the climbs were recorded as having this many or that many hundreds of feet, sure. Details.
And so we set off into the countryside with full water bottles, a bike lock and a map. Fausto Coppi led the way. Before we had set off for this trip we had agreed that he would wait patiently for me at the summits we would cross. And so he did.
He had to, really. Right after stopping for a plaeasant well deserved stop at a pub in the innocuosly named village of Abbotsbury we encountered the first of 3 climbs that meant the ride was classified as strenuous.
The road sign in the picture warns cyclists and others that it is a 17% gradient on the way down. I don’t recall seeing a sign on the way up saying anything helpful.
There comes a point on this climb when this winding road finally allows the cyclist a view of the top, haughty and scornful. I could see the end. I was getting closer with every creak of my pedals as they pleaded with the chain to turn just one more time. But I knew I was never going to make it. I kept pedalling – at walking pace. And then, abruptly, I got off my bike, leaned over the frame and shivered in the heat of the late summer sunshine as I struggled to find my breath. By the time I joined Fausto at the summit I figured that I had pushed my bike up 100 steep metres.
It happened twice more that day. But it was seeing the top of that climb outside Abbotsbury, and knowing that I wasn’t going to make it, that brought it home to me.
A tourer bike weighing more than 19kgs, including bike lock, pump, water bottle, pannier rack is always going to make reaching the summits of 17% gradient climbs impossible for a 50 year old cycling enthusiast who (according to figures released by The Second Helpings Government Watchdog) weighs – apparently – 82.5kgs.
It was the realisation of my limits that burned my lungs and scorched my throat as I wobbled off my bike on that climb. I am never going to be dancing on my pedals gliding up hills like that even with a racing bike.
I heard my psychiatrist telling me that he treats a doctor who has the same affliction as me, and that she has to accept that she will not make it to become a consultant. The most recent time that I was coming out of a period of sick leave he told me that the aim should be that my relapses should be shorter, less severe and less frequent. I felt my life receded into a cave.
But he’s right, isn’t he?
There’s a lot I am never going to be able to do. Things I thought I would be able to achieve, I am not. No amount of Hope or Recovery Behaviours is ever going to change that.
Hope is a fickle friend. But, like the fool I am, I will keep stuffing my panniers with it and continue to creak towards places I have no chance of reaching.
Into My Heart An Air That Kills
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
A.E. Housman (1859 – 1936)