Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Ups and Downs of a Summer in the Mountains!

Looking back at my previous posts it seems the last time I sat down to write was early June! It has been a really busy summer (in a good way!) with less time than ever to sit and put pen to paper, and on the short occasions when I have, it has been to write blog posts for one of the companies that support me.  Have a read here if you’re interested!

But finally the season is at an end, and I have time to sit down and write ….although I have to say it’s not entirely in the way I’d have wanted!

With just 7 days of guiding to go until the finish of the season, I took a little tumble. When I say little, I mean the slowest speed, smallest, softest little crash I’ve ever had. I could literally throw myself off my chair as I sit and type this and land harder on the ground than I fell off my bike.

Minutes from the road on the way to lunch, after another awesome morning out on some beautiful but challenging trails, I managed to let my front wheel come up against a small rock hidden under the blanket of fallen autumn leaves on a trail I’ve ridden dozens of times before, and it slowly tipped me over the bars. A careless mistake from a body and brain tired at the end of a long season….in all-likelihood, if I’d been riding faster, it probably wouldn’t have happened, as my speed and momentum would have carried me through. But I was guiding, and as a guide, you ride at the pace of your group.

Inconspicuous trails, always the places where accidents happen....(It wasn't this one by the way!)
Now, going over the bars might sound alarming if you’re not a mountain biker, but believe me, it’s a fairly frequent occurrence when you ride technically tricky trails, and normally results in a few grazes and bruises, some banter from the people you are riding with, and a bruised ego for all of about 5 minutes. Then you get back up and carry on, forgetting it even happened.

Over the years I’ve been riding, I’ve had high speed crashes where you know whilst you’re in the air that hitting the ground is going to hurt, big tumbles that scare you and require a little sit down to recompose yourself, and heavy landings on big rocks where you get up and can’t believe you’ve got away without damaging yourself more. And yet this crash was none of those. I expected to get up and walk away…in fact I did get straight up, having not really felt anything when I’d landed and “tucked and rolled”, thinking “Well that was a daft little crash!”. It was then I noticed my right shoulder felt a bit weird….
A glance down at it confirmed that it was indeed looking a bit weird too, in fact the ex-physio in me kicked in immediately as I recognised it was dislocated…..bugger.

At least I'm in good company...turns out there're plenty of MTB pros who've dislocated shoulders in the past!
Unfortunately I couldn’t relocate it myself, and my main priority was to get my group safely down to lunch before the pain started to kick in, which I knew it would. My group were brilliant, did exactly as I asked, and told me afterwards they couldn’t believe how calm, and in control I’d remained despite clearly having part of my body in a position it should never normally be in! It was a good job they didn’t see me an hour later, lying in the back of an ambulance, alternately screaming, swearing and groaning with the most intense and all-consuming pain I’d ever felt in my life…I definitely didn’t look calm or in-control then! To my dismay, the paramedics would not relocate my shoulder, and anyone who’s had this injury knows the pain gets worse the longer it has been out, as the muscles around it spasm and pull it harder, pushing the wrong bits of joint against each other. It was complete agony…I never want to experience pain like it again! Morphine and Gas and Air were having absolutely zero effect at all, and my hand was losing circulation. Faced with another 2 hour drive in an ambulance when every little bump sent nauseating pain coursing through me, I just would have done anything at that point to get the pain to stop. Amazingly I was still understanding and speaking in French despite thinking I couldn’t focus on anything except how much pain I was in…guess my language skills are continuing to improve then!

At some point around about 90 minutes after I’d had the crash, I heard a helicopter arrive nearby and the next thing I remember was a doctor entering the ambulance and telling me he was going to put me to sleep and put my shoulder back in….I could have hugged him (if I hadn’t been unable to move or even open my eyes due to the pain!) I have no idea what they use to put you to sleep but I remember nothing except slowly coming around and seeing and hearing things that seemed really kaleidoscopic and distant and blurry…must have been some good drugs! Anyway, when my vision cleared I realised I was lying down in a helicopter and my shoulder was no longer hurting….possibly the most amazing realisation ever after the mind-numbing pain I’d been in before!

(NOT my helicopter, or even in France!....turns out getting a ride in a chopper when you're injured is nowhere near as fun as when you've chosen to go up in one!)
Anyway, a quick x-ray to check it was back in the right place, and instructions to wear the sling I’d been given and keep the arm immobilised for a few weeks until I could see an Orthopaedic consultant in the UK, and I was allowed out of the hospital. I must have looked a bit of a sight, still in riding clothing and my knee pads still on, with a slightly vacant and spaced out look after the concoction of strong drugs I’d been given in a short space of time!

Back in it's rightful place! the damage!
Aside from feeling bad about being unable to work the last week of guiding for Ash and Melissa at Trans-Provence, I was able to relax and get used to using my left hand for daily tasks whilst in the sun of southern France. My pain was kept under control with a concoction of red wine and codeine, and to be honest I was ready for a bit of a rest at the end of a season so didn’t feel any desire to be out on my bike (I’m not sure how long that will last….) I did lots of walking to stay sane, enjoying the autumn sunshine and changing colours, and thinking about things whilst drinking coffee in the sun…there are definitely worse places to be convalescing! I was lucky to be able to stay with Ash and Melissa, who looked after me and made me very welcome whilst I waited for my awesome dad to fly out and rescue me by driving me and my van back home!

Exploring Sospel's hidden streets whilst injured
So, injuries suck, and it’s frustrating that such a small tumble could have such a big consequence, but as the French say "C’est la vie". With the job I have, I’ve done pretty well to avoid any big injuries up to now….this one is just mildly frustrating that I don’t even have a story of the gnarly riding I was doing when it happened…I must start concocting something for when I’m recounting it in years to come! As Gareth always said whenever I hurt myself before…”It could have been worse” and eventually “I’ll be alright”.
Things are always more obvious in retrospect, and I guess as I’d been thinking about getting private medical insurance for a while, I should have done it ages ago. The NHS is great and we’re lucky to have free healthcare, but it has it’s limitations, and when you are a self employed person who relies on a high level of functional use of their body for their livelihood, and life enjoyment, you cannot afford to wait months for appointments, or go with the “we’ll leave it and wait and see what other problems you have with it in the next few years” approach that unfortunately the doctors I saw seemed to have. could be some time before I can do this again!
You need a prognosis promptly, and to take action quickly to allow yourself to recover and get on with life. The knowledge I have from formerly working as a physio meant I knew as soon as I dislocated my shoulder, I needed a scan to know what the damage was inside the joint, and the likelihood therefore of it healing to the point of being able to continue doing all the things I do without further instability and dislocations, or not. When I managed to arrange this privately through the specialist sports physio that I eventually saw, it confirmed that surgery is the best option, and the sooner the better. Current NHS waiting times for the surgery I need extend until next February/March but waiting until the start of my main summer season for treatment is not even an option when I can have something done immediately and be hopefully able to work again next season. So any savings I might have put aside this year are now being spent on getting my shoulder fixed to the level I need it to be able to work in the future. It’s a lot of money but what’s the point in having savings if you don’t use them to pay for something that will enhance your life, and your happiness! As I write this I’m waiting for my surgery tomorrow, and will then start the 3 month recovery process, which by my reckoning should still allow for a little bit of winter mountain fun before starting the biking season.

Chloe enjoying amazing conditions on a walk up Snowdon....I may be injured but my legs still let me get into the hills!
The plans I’d made for this Winter are therefore on hold and I’m trying to think of things to keep me busy that can be done with one arm…any one who knows me knows how difficult that’s going to be! At least I’ll be able to walk, and I’ve already rigged up a static bike trainer that I can use one armed! 5 weeks on from the dislocation, with religiously doing my rehab exercises (it helps having been a physio and having a bit of knowledge!), I can actually do quite a lot again with my arm currently, (although I am still weaker than a baby kitten)….although all that will change obviously when I go under the knife!

Walking & taking photos....soon to become the things that will keep me sane through the winter!
Back to the summer though, and what a great one it was, full of fun trips and guests and with incredibly dry, hot sunny weather.
The TP was once again one of the best weeks of the year. I was the sweeper and sign-clearer this year, so got to ride the whole route, following at the back of everyone.

Clear views behind when you're riding at the back1
It was great to have a Mountain staff role, although I found the job harder than actually racing the event! All the stop-starting, the weight of the bag with all the signs and tape in, and the combination of a very hot week in which lots of racers suffered, meaning very long days out as the last person on the hill, combined to make it a tough week. I’ve already agreed to go back next year as Mountain staff again though….it’s such a fantastic week I can’t stay away!

The usual obligatory epicness of the TP!
 After the race I spent July working for Ben Jones in the Savoie. The riding here is very different to the Southern Alps but it’s just as fun, and the scenery is stunning in a different way.

High on a col above Valfrejus
Snow and glacier capped mountains, including Mont Blanc, are visible most days, and there is a lot of open flowing singletrack through high alpine meadows where you’re accompanied by the sound of cow bells from the cattle grazing on their high pastures. It’s not a bad place to call your office that’s for sure! The weather was stupidly hot which made some of the big climbs we do over high cols pretty hard, and even the fittest guests suffered.

Mont Blanc standing guard above the Chamonix valley
One of the nice things about working out of Chamonix is that each Saturday there’s a day off, as guests can make their own way to and from the airport with the multiple companies offering transfers, instead of us having to do it. I took the opportunity to get into some open water swimming with Alison, a friend who lives in the Chamonix Valley, who was training for a 10km swim later in the year. We headed down to the beautifully scenic lake at Passy each week and swum a few kilometre laps. I haven’t swum like that for years and I was reminded of the sheer joy of the sensation of moving smoothly through the water that I used to love about swimming. I’m not as strong or fast as I used to be but it was nice to find my technique is still pretty good and I could comfortably manage a 4km swim without using too much energy. I love swimming outdoors, and would definitely like to do more of it, my only problem is that I’m terrible at swimming in a straight line! Years of following the lines on the bottom of a pool means when I’ve got nothing to follow it turns out I swim all over the place! I did manage to get a little bit better at “sighting” after a few swims with Ali, but it still feels quite unnatural!

Alison on the summit of the Grande Floria
After 5 weeks working with Ben, I took a bit of time off to go climbing in Orpierre with Jonny, Jo and Simon and Team Chaos (aka Ellie and Jessie), as we have done for the last few years. Once again it was an awesome week and a half of croissants and coffee, swimming at the reservoir or the gorge, afternoon cranking on the routes at the crag, and tasty dinners eaten outdoors with large quantities of red wine, followed by star watching in the amazingly dark skies above the gite we rented. A perfect rest and holiday with great friends, in a place that's also full of incredible memories of the long hot summers Gareth and I spent there year's trip there is already being planned!

Yes that does say 47 was hot like this all summer!!!
Feeling refreshed, I then headed back to TransProvence Country. Again it was still hot and dry but a bit more tolerable! The route from this year’s race is in my opinion the best ever, and it was fantastic to get to ride the trails each week…they are the kind you never get tired of!

My office view....
It was also really nice to see how different they looked at the end of summer as opposed to the start. Each week the leaves were changing to the most beautiful autumn colours and the long grass was dried out, golden and shimmering in the breeze.

Just another mildly distracting piece of scenery to stop and stare at!
The last week that I worked we even had some snow flakes falling and the tops of the nearby hills covered in a dusting of snow, showing the seasons were changing. I was really tired by this point though, and in retrospect that’s maybe why I crashed. In previous years we have guided half day on, half a day off, or sometimes a day on/off, but this year we guided all day every day which starts to become a bit too much on a tough trip like the TP when you have done it 4 weeks in a row. The physical tiredness I can deal with, it’s the concentration and mental fatigue that I think caused my crash.

First snow dusting of the year...Norwegians and Swedes feeling right at home!
I did have lots of plans for an Autumn of enjoying myself after working hard all summer, but I guess that’s not to be this year….or well it is, but just in a different way!  

It’s funny how life has a way of bringing you down when you’re up….a reminder that we have less control of our life than we think, we just need to go with the flow, and deal with whatever life throws at you as it arises, and remember that sometimes opportunities can arise out of life circumstances that you could not have predicted before. We all face tough or difficult times in our lives at certain points, but it’s how we choose to approach them that leads to whether anything positive can come out of a potentially negative experience.

There are worse times to be injured in terms of the working year, but from a personal point of view it’s not the best. November is a tough month anyway…one that leaves me feeling down, on the edge of tears many days, and with a veil of sadness, remembering that whilst I’ve rebuilt a life I love, it’s not the one I really wanted to be living, at least not without Gareth here with me. I miss him most at this time of year, as I’m reminded of the events of 4 years ago and how perfect and carefree our lives were to that point.

I’ve thought a lot over the past four years, what it would be like the first time I injured myself without Gareth being around…How I’d cope without his support? Well, it’s been ok. I’m lucky to have a fantastic relationship with my mum and dad, who help me out in so many ways more than I could ever ask for, as well as a wonderful support network of friends all over the place. Of course none of these is the same as having your husband there, and I know I’ll miss his support through my recovery, and the reassurance I used to feel from him…the companionship that a close partner gives you can not be replaced. When someone knows you so well they know exactly the right words or actions or gestures that will help at any given time. I miss that most…
But in a way it feels like he is still here.
Happy days together in the mountains...
Not in a physical way, which obviously would be the best way possible, but because I can remember and imagine what he’d be saying, what his advice would be, the banter and jokes….and because I know  I’m stronger as a person because of everything he taught me and that I learned from him. Our relationship and love was so strong that I’m learning I will still be able to feel that in so many different ways as I go through the rest of my life. His spirit and the energy he had when he was alive, I can sense so many times a day, in so many of the things I do….and that gives me the inner strength and reassurance to know that things will always be alright, one way or another….

Hoping normal function can resume soon!
Well, here’s to a fun and busy early winter that will be somewhat different from planned but hopefully still full of new experiences and a new and improved shoulder!

As ever I’m massively grateful to Juliana BicyclesSramInvisiframeSweet Protection and Bikmo Insurance for their support throughout this season. I’ve also been using some Maloja casual clothing this summer which I love. It’s a small but great brand with a huge range of high quality women’s clothing which is really refreshing and nice to find, and I hope I can continue as an ambassador for them into next year!
Summer mountain dreaming already!

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