Following a significant decline of my cycling in 2017 for health reasons, in March 2018 I decided to broaden the content of this blog to include my other interests, notably: travel, astronomy, photography and geology. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions my contribution to Round The Bend this year has been nothing less than miserable. Notwithstanding, I’m pleased to say that the archive of blogs was such that the website still continued to attract significant attention throughout the year, with more than 4,000 views (see map below) and over 16,000 since launching in November 2015. I’m humbled that these personal thoughts and records of my cycling and other things are of interest and can only hope to do better next year.
At the same time as broadening the scope of the website I also chose to adopt a new format, which provides a more accessible overview of recent blogs and what I think is also a more attractive and useful layout. Notwithstanding, the BLOG INDEX still contains a chronological list of all previous blogs and I can also recommend just poking around the new menu structure to find other material that’s not covered by the aforementioned index.
Round The Bend is essentially a personal record but as always, I’m always pleased to hear from anybody with queries, comments or just to say hello. Comments can be left via each specific blog or contact me directly using the details outlined in the ABOUT / CONTACT section which can be found in the main menu.
The year started where 2017 left off, in New Zealand on an extended 6-week trip which I wrote about in Kia Ora on my return. Of course, being in the Southern Hemisphere at that time of year we had the pleasure of an extra summer and on returning to the UK seamlessly transitioned into spring and another hot summer, which was good for cycling and astronomy.
2017 was very bad for my cycling as the deterioration of both knees left little choice but to stay off the bike. Since being a teenager cycling has on-and-off played an important part in my life, especially so since first stopping playing squash in 1990 and went mountain biking and then semi-retiring in 2008, when I got back to serious cycle touring in the UK and Europe. The prospect of not cycling was therefore a big blow, which I’m still working hard to rectify. The turning point came in the summer of 2017 when I converted my Trek MTB bike to electric assistance which thankfully got me back on the road. After a New Zealand / winter layoff I was determined to see what was possible with my ‘new’ e-bike and I’m pleased to say, the result has been nothing less than transformative and a real game changer for the better.
The problem I’m faced with was a total (left) knee replacement (TKR) in 2015, followed by a seriously deteriorating (right) knee; cycling with the TKR is not too bad but I need to manage the right knee to preserve what’s left and minimize the pain. The secret is, (a) don’t overdo it, and (b) ‘listen’ to your body. Therefore in the early part of spring I started with short rides and gradually extended the distance and severity of terrain. Of course, using full electric assistance the hills and distance need not be such a problem but, where possible, I’ve tried to restrict the level of assistance used in order to produce more of a ‘normal’ ride and build-up strength and improve the general condition of both knees; as part of my knee management routine I’ve also been swimming up to 1-km each week (in one visit) for the past 18-months which I’m convinced has also helped a lot.
The bottom line was that by June I was routinely undertaking rides of 30 miles or more without any trouble; it’s important to understand the cycling itself isn’t the problem it’s afterwards, when the knees can be very, very painful, which probably indicates damage or at least severe aggravation of the joint. By July I had returned to most of my favourite local rides and was comfortably managing over 50-miles a day at times, with 40% to 50% of the charge remaining.
It was a real pleasure to be back on the road seeing old places again, in some cases after an absence of 3-years and as a result I felt I was ready for the next challenge – touring. So I’m back on the e-bike OK but given my problems there could still be issues with cycle touring which now had to be answered:
- Could I do the miles, day-after-day?
- Could I deal with a loaded bike?
- Could I manage with the various challenges that occur each and every day, all day?
Put simply, could I still hack it when touring? There was only one way to find out and that was to just do it again, being mindful that I’d need to take care and might need to make some changes to accommodate my problems.
When I was younger I used the YHA all over the UK for cycle touring and only more recently discovered the challenge and resulting pleasure of cycle camping but following the adage of walk before you run, I needed to first take it one step at a time if I was to go touring again. Immediately before my TKR operation in April 2015 I chose to go on a supported cycle tour of Puglia in southern Italy, which turned out to be very successful and enjoyable. Just 36 hours after returning home I was on the operating table for my TKR, albeit with a nice cycling sun tan!
On the supported tour we hired bikes and were provided with routes but during each day whilst cycling we (my wife and I) were on our own, able to do as we please and go the way we liked to arrive at our overnight hotel stop. Obviously this removes much of the hassle of organisation but more importantly luggage is taken ahead to each night’s accommodation, thereby relieving us of carrying it on the bikes – what a pleasure. Based on this success and given the new challenge of touring with two knackered knees, this year I decided to undertake another supported tour, this time of the Italian Dolomites, from Bolzano to Verona, via Lake Garda using a hired e-bike.
Cycling up to 45-miles a day I’m pleased to say we had a great time and I had no knee problems, in fact at the end of the +175 mile trip I was keen to continue for another 175 miles.
Despite the success of the Dolomite trip I’m fully aware that I will still need to take care but I’m hopeful that perhaps it is possible to return to cycle touring on our own again in the future, not sure where or when but I’m giving it serious thought. If I do tour again it’s too early to say if I’d camp again but maybe will instead need to use either guest houses or B&B so as to remove all the camping paraphernalia from the bike and make charging the bike battery easier. We’ll have to see but it’s nice to think that it may at least be possible again and if that doesn’t work maybe try another supported tour?
I was very impressed by the extensive use of e-bikes in European towns and cities as a principal way of just getting around by normal people for their daily activities. From this experience I have come to the firm conclusion that they must from part of the urban traffic solution everywhere, which I hope we’ll see more of on the UK one day too.
Although it’s still really early days, I’ve almost concluded that e-biking is likely to be the only way I can continue to cycle, which after all is much better than no cycling at all. If this is the case then there will be no point in keeping my current Audax and folding bikes, ouch! I’m not a big fan of the very heavy, clunky and often poorly built off-the-shelf e-bikes that are generally sold in the UK, which is why I first chose to convert the Trek MTB bike. However, I do prefer drop handlebars and a more sprightly ride and am therefore keeping an eye on the new breed of road e-bikes which are currently emerging and could in invest in at some time in the future as a replacement for the Audax.
My other main hobby astronomy all too often suffers from the same problem as cycling – bad weather! As a result I spend a lot of time looking at weather forecasts, with mixed results; I really wonder if meteorologists ever look out the window, do they even have windows? Notwithstanding, with patience and a lot of hard work I made great progress with my astrophotography this year, culminating with a trip in November to the Les Granges Observatory located in the Hautes-Alpes region of Provence (see above) in November, where the night sky is very dark i.e. no light pollution. Notwithstanding, after a couple of nights imaging with excellent skies, the clouds inevitably rolled in but not before I managed to obtain my first decent image of a spiral galaxy – M74 the Phantom Galaxy. Further information on this and other tales and images of my astronomy last year can be found on the sister website, Watch This Space (Man).
As already mentioned, I set out this year to broaden the content on Round The Bend but other than my New Zealand trip just didn’t get to write-up anything much. My wife (also a geologist) and I did manage a few geological outings but in truth it was a relatively quiet year; unfortunately my knees also limit walking, which means I try to restrict geological activities to more accessible sites, rather than the top of remote mountains! However, whilst the trip to southern France was mainly about astronomy the geology there was also spectacular, with stunning alpine rock structures and surprisingly lots of fossils too.
So how was 2018? Well pretty good – I’m back on the bike, went touring again and had my best year yet with astrophotography. It’s easy to think about the negatives as you get older and the tally of aches and pains escalates but this year there were lots of positives, in particular on the family front too. It was disappointing that I did not ride one inch on my favourite Dawes Audax and Airnimal Joey bikes in 2018 but the combined Dolomite tour and local rides on my trusty Trek MTB added up to 1,000 miles, a big improvement on the dismal mileage of less than 300 miles in 2017. I’m hopeful 2019 will be another good year for all my interests and activities so there will be lots more to write about as I continue to go round the bend.