Exercise It

A short ride with Charli. Attentive longer-term readers will have noticed that I’ve not mentioned Charli recently. In brief, she’s had a routine, elective and successful operation that has, however, laid her low for a while.

During the course of it all, she ended up with some fluid on the lungs. As a result, when first out of hospital, even going up some stairs would make her alarmingly breathless. That improved quite quickly. What was quite a shock now was to find that some just slightly strenuous exercise – a very gentle incline taken at a gentle pace – left her gasping for air again.

Needless to say, we modified our plans and did a very short and easy ‘rehab’ ride. We suspect it will be the first of several, to gradually get her breathing back to what it was. That’s all fine and positive in the big scheme of things – Charli will recover.

The take-away from the experience, the real eye-opener for both of us, was how capable we in fact both are in normal day-to-day life and how hideous it is to not be fit enough to do anything even mildly strenuous.

Witnessing someone being so breathless on my part, and experiencing it for Charli, has been a powerful reminder to us both, to appreciate what we can (normally) do and to keep on using that ability regularly, to keep it functioning well. Look after your body. It benefits from exercise, so exercise it.

High Jinks

Hoo-bloody-ray! A bike ride. A short, easy, tentative and cautious ride on a still weak ankle and bruised foot, but a ride. The first for 10 days – and a pleasure. It was grey, windy, it rained for half the way around and I’m to be found grimacing if I try and move my foot sideways (for instance, to release a cleat), but it wasn’t cold and it wasn’t hammering it down. And it is so, so nice to be outside again.

The pleasures of being out are many, and among them it is always a real treat to watch Red Kites. Today there were four, flying low, jinking and jostling for position against each other and against a gusty wind as they all tried to drop down to a recently killed pheasant on the road near Henley. Their agility in flight, their physical control and skill, is something you can only admire.

Whether they are intelligent is another question: while they were engaged in their high jinks overhead, a Magpie was getting on with it – darting out from the verge between the traffic whenever it could and grabbing mouthfuls of the same road-kill.

The route took in Bolney Lane, Lower Shiplake, and someone’s put up a new bench there. It looks home-made, privately done. It’s no masterpiece of seat design, but looking at it and the hand-written message on its back rest made me realise how bland so much public furniture is. The same seats, the same type-face for the message on the back … Functional isn’t the sole purpose of design.

A bench with inscription - have a rest

I suspect the writing on the back is sincere


Yes, there has been a distinct absence of bike riding going on. On the night of the 3rd April I stumbled and fell down the stairs: nothing broken but a badly bruised and sprained ankle and foot. It’s getting better, but it’s a slow process. Perhaps a ride this weekend will be possible – I can only wait and see.

The commonsense reality of there being no point hurrying it or I’ll only make it worse and more drawn-out, does nothing to cheer me up. The fact that since I fell there have been some decent cycling days, among the very few this year, decidedly brings me down.

As well as this post, I’ve just put a ‘Previously’ entry on line, which looks back at this week in 2012 and 2011. In 2011 I was made aware of just how long I’ve been keen on cycling – 36 (now 38) years.

Thirty Six Years: Good Grief!

I’ve been unable to ride at all for just a few days and I’m a not a happy bunny; being unable to ride at all, permanently, is quite a horrible thing to contemplate. In a way so typical of human nature, it’s taken falling down the stairs to make me properly realise just how much I value riding a bike. I’m not sure I’d urge all cyclists to fall down the stairs, but I would urge appreciating how much pleasure it brings. You never know when you might no longer be able to.

Be Thankful

Both rides yesterday and the day before were of the ‘good to be out’ but ‘boy, is it yukky out there’ variety.

Both were short-ish, partially off-road excursions in the territory between Caversham and Henley. Both times, I came back mud be-splattered with a bike caked in the particularly finely textured gloop you seem to only get after it’s been frozen. I don’t know if the freezing and thawing process somehow breaks mud down more.

After today’s excursion I did wash the bike down and as I was sprucing it up it crossed my mind how well it had kept working despite all the abuse it was enduring, and how little I appreciated its reliability.

Mud-covered bike parts

Somehow, it just keeps working

It’s like a lot of things – when they’re working they’re ignored: things mechanical, things electrical, things biological – not least your body. Now, 50+, it’s getting harder to ignore my body. I’d be lying if I denied having more aches and pains – niggles, but frequent niggles where there once weren’t any.

Presumably, things will continue to deteriorate. Possibly, there comes a point when the deterioration is so bad that it’s unpleasant enough to want it all to cease. Prior to that, be thankful for what does work.

Getting Emotional

The turbo-trainer blues … If I’m bored then I’m not going to inflict that boredom on anyone else. At present, new entries in ‘Codgertation’ are appearing less often than I’m to be found pumping away on an indoor trainer to try and keep vaguely fit.

Charli and I, just four weeks ago, were saying we must make more of an effort to ride through the winter. Now temperatures are hovering just above freezing, those have proved very hollow words. There comes a point when it just isn’t pleasurable.

It’s endurable; if I had to cycle to work or something I still would be … but that isn’t the same as doing something purely out of choice.

I’ve been wondering about, and experimenting with, the best kind of music to be listening to (in headphones) while working up a sweat on the turbo-trainer. Something like Fluke works very well in that it’s intelligent music that gives you something to actively listen to; it’s compelling and largely ‘up’; but it’s interesting that it didn’t really engage me – it didn’t take my mind off what I was doing. It’s emotionally neutral.

On the other hand, selected on an ‘I’ve not heard that for yonks, let’s try it’ whim as it caught my eye on the shelf, the Eurythmics’ ‘Savage’ did prove absorbing. It’s an album comprised largely of programmed samples and drum loops, so it’s electronic in nature and thus, arguably, akin to Fluke, but the often dark, obsessive lyrics take it – and thus me – somewhere else entirely.

And that must be a simple but effective lesson in the power of even vicarious emotion.

For The Sake Of Fitness

I mentioned the other day that I ride a bike primarily for pleasure, but also for fitness. The conditions around here are so grotty at the moment – floods; filthy roads; cold – that for the sake of health I’ve taken to riding an indoor ‘turbo trainer’.

It is stunningly dull.

It is not what I ride a bike for. I bought it a few years ago for just this purpose – those stray weeks when riding outside is just too fun-free. It could live behind glass with ‘break only in an emergency’ stencilled on it – it’s very much a last resort.

It’s only interesting as a mental test; an exercise in discipline. Firstly, there’s the discipline of making myself do it at all – that’s hard enough. More importantly, there’s the perhaps surprisingly difficult task of taking my mind away from the tedium and the discomfort and tiredness too: riding on a trainer is relentless and taxing.

Gaining a focus on something else is surprisingly elusive. In theory it should be easy: concentrating on something more pleasurable than an un-enjoyable immediate makes perfect sense. Nevertheless, thus far I’m finding it hard to think of anything other than how much I’m not enjoying myself.

I don’t know if I can train myself so that practice matches theory; if we’re starting a long drawn-out winter already I might have plenty of opportunities to find out. We shall see – if I can find a trick to it I’ll be joining the self-help book market …