Dark clouds ahead
There may be trouble ahead.

Hiatus: A gap, a pause, a lull, an interruption. Call it what you wish, there are all manner of reasons for having one. At the moment I’m having a hiatus from cycling, for one simple reason; I’m injured. As summer approaches and the days grow in warmth and length, stretching our imaginations far and wide, I can’t go out and pedal any distance. All of my thoughts, cycling dreams and plans are on hold.

To say this is frustrating, hardly touches how I feel at the moment. I have spent the winter ducking and diving, trying to gently extend my fitness levels whilst maintaining my ever-fluctuating mental health. The ultimate irony of this injury is that it occurred after I backed-off from a long ride and twiddled my way home slowly feeling that I’d made a good decision. Packing away, there was no inkling of what was to follow, just the tired satisfaction gained from a forty something mile ride over Devon’s, rolling and challenging hills.

I dutifully stretched, ate, showered and had long since put Kermit away when my attention was drawn, rather sharply, to the sudden biting pain in my right knee. I knew straight away what it was. Without tenderness, swelling, or any other tell-tale signs and with the pain limited to the small gap on the inside of my knee between my right hand tibia and femur, I suspected a torn cartilage. The reason I thought this was because the pain felt extremely familiar and completely unlike any other pain from soft tissue injuries I have previously experienced.

The only times I had experienced this type of pain was when my left medial meniscus, or cartilage as we tend to call it, was torn, twice. Since the injury I’ve sat and rested up, knee raised, frozen peas at the ready and newly purchased knee support to hand for the moment that I get bored and decide my knee would have to learn to get better. When I suffered a similar injury to my left knee, I had a devil of a job convincing the physio’ that it was damaged. It was my doctor who finally diagnosed it after several years of effort and an ever declining ability to walk.

The trouble with ageing is that things are easier to damage, take longer to heal, and any hard won fitness gains seem to retreat much quicker when you stop exercising. I’m sure by now we all have heard of the acronym R.I.C.E, well it gained ‘P’ since I last saw it. P.R.I.C.E: Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation is the new motto of the injured. In fairness to myself I was quick off the mark with this, even without the P, which was factored in later on. I spent several days doing as the acronym ordered, while searching online for a professional opinion, from a reliable source, that would tell me I could ride my bike again sooner rather than later.

It’s always a balance with injuries. Sometimes you have to stop and rest for the initial recovery process to have a chance. Often, you can still exercise the rest of you in ways that don’t threaten the damaged bits. All the research I saw suggested that I could cycle once the initial pain retreated, assuming it would, and that left me feeling a lot better. My eyes were drawn to the lines in several advisory web pages where it was highlighted that you could exercise unless it gave you any pain and that at that point you should stop.

A few days later, and feeling rather unsure, I set off with a bunch of Sustrans Volunteers on a signing ride, during which we check out National Cycle Network signage and route condition to make sure folk aren’t misled on their travels. I managed two miles before turning around, my knee feeling horribly graunchy and my mind feeling silly for having tried at all. It didn’t stop me eating my share of the spoils when the cycle party returned from their guideless travels for a cream tea at my house.

It was eight days after the injury when the pain in my knee subsided and I began to feel I might try again. Much more sensibly, I placed Kermit in the car and drove to Okehampton, parking at the top of the hill that usually leaves me out of breath, in the old station car park. It felt like I was cheating as two road cyclists pulled over for a rest after conquering the aforementioned gradient. I lifted Kermit out of the car, a major danger moment for my knee and gently placed him on the floor.

I had a fixed plan. Regardless of how well I felt while I was cycling, I would only ride to my friends hire shop: Devon Cycle Hire and then back again. If at any point I felt pain, I would stop and return. Being impatient wasn’t going to help my recovery and I still want to go away on my trike this summer. My heart was in my mouth as I tenderly stretched. I was wondering whether this was a good idea or not and also how my leg would react to cycling. I knew from previous experience and study that I could be lucky if I had torn the part of the cartilage that has a blood supply. If that was the case, then it might repair without intervention. I also knew this was unlikely as there were no signs of bruising or bleeding on my knee.

Escape to the country. This one's Wales.

Any athlete will tell you that when they get injured, and after any initial rest period, they try to do as much as they can without aggravating the injury site. Stretches, strength and muscle balance exercises, gentle walks, whatever they can do. It’s a natural reaction to want to keep going, but one that needs tempering so as not to make things worse. And with that in mind I set off along the trail, as quietly and gently as I could.

To my delight, my knee just described circles. There was no pain or reaction from pedalling up the gentle gradient and I kept my effort to a minimum by spinning the pedals freely in low gears. It had been cloudy and cool when I left home but I had timed my outing perfectly to meet the sunshine that was breaking through, revealing the moor in all its summer glory. I stopped to adjust my seat at one point and the two road cyclists, who looked at me with great disdain as I unloaded at the top of the hill they had just pedalled up, passed without saying hello despite my best efforts to engage them by waving and saying hi. Some people!

The scenery was as sublime as ever and my mood state changed completely as I dawdled along therapeutically. Somewhere just passed Meldon Viaduct, I met a touring cyclist who had spent the night in the sidings, so to speak. The old sidings provided a near perfect flat grass area with benches, a great spot for a wild camp if you remembered two things: some water for cooking and that the ground was like rock as it was built to support the weight of trains. His ancient, but beautifully restored, Raleigh mountain bike was sporting equally ancient cotton duck (waterproof canvas) panniers that he had kept since his teenage years.

He was tall and slim, sporting long, blonde hair and a suntan that made me wonder where he had come from. When he said Gunnislake in Cornwall I was quite taken aback as I had expected him to say somewhere in Southern California. He was on his way to Croyde, a well-known surfing place in North Devon, where he was meeting up with an old friend. He was taking his time, walking the steeper hills. He told me how he used to have to ride every inch, but now he was older he left his bike with higher gearing so he would have to slow down by walking. He says this had opened his mind to what he had missed through all those years of grinding away, hunched over drop handlebars, staring at the front wheel. I think we could have talked all day, but he was keen to at least get to the pub at lunchtime before continuing, so I said my goodbyes and toddled off.

Lost in France
Lost in France

Arriving at Devon Cycle Hire I found my friends huddled over a pair of ancient gear shifters from Shimano. They asked me if I knew how they should work, and luckily for them I had overcome the same problem on an identical pair just a few months back when I was rebuilding a pair of Raleigh Pioneer bikes for a friend. My advice was swapped for a cup of much needed tea and we spent the next half an hour trying the free-up the said shifters with 50% success as the rear one relented and started working again.

Meantime, Kermit basked in the sun waiting my return, which was imminent. Waving goodbye, and wishing them luck with the other shifter, I set off back toward my car with no sign of any distress in the knee area, something that brought a smile to my face that remained there until I packed away and set off for home.

It’s Saturday now, the day after my ride. My knee reacted overnight, the pain keeping me awake and feeling sore and stiff this morning. I strapped it up to help prevent further problems as well as to give it much-needed support and stability. I half expected this to happen, so I’m not disappointed. It hadn’t hurt at the time I was exercising and that means I can try a little more when it settles again.

I should say that I saw my doctor last Wednesday and she also thinks I’ve torn the cartilage. Sadly, she can’t make that decision, nor can she order a scan to ascertain the damage. It has to be the physiotherapist who decides the cause. So now I’m hoop-jumping, waiting to see those with the knowledge and power that can decide my fate. To do that I have had to fill in forms, take them in, wait several days and then call for an appointment. Something tells me that this might take some time to get sorted out. My summer may well have to be quite different from the one I envisaged, but it doesn’t seem such a bad thing now I’ve had time to get used to the idea.

Fingers crossed please.

Until next time……………