• Sue Allaway

TrikeyBob v The Culbin!

My main MS symptom is fatigue. Oft times it doesn’t do the decent thing and give me any notice of its impending arrival, preferring to sneak up and catch me unawares. I liken it to starting with a full bucket of energy in the morning but with a small hole in my bucket (Dear Lisa, Dear Lisa, as the old song goes!) so my energy quota gradually dribbles out during the day. Every so often, and without any warning, the bottom falls out of my bucket and I just grind to a full stop. To people who haven’t got MS fatigue means being, or perhaps just feeling tired, but to us people with MS (PwMS) it’s something else altogether. When fatigue clamps its iron grip on me it’s like a car has running out of petrol. There’s absolutely no question of me trying to do anything much beyond breathing until the tank has been filled up again. My body simply won’t play ball with what my mind is telling it to do.

Over the years I’ve sprouted metaphorical antennae to detect and head off being upended by the ‘Big F’. As I just said, in normal times my energy bucket gradually empties during the day, so come 9.00 or 9.30 p.m. I’m tucked up in bed. And I know that if I wake up in the morning feeling jaded I absolutely have to take it easy that day, or for however many days are necessary. My husband Andrew has become equally watchful on my behalf. If we are in company in the evening and I’ve become unwarily engrossed, but he’s detected me beginning to flag, he’ll subtly extricate me before the bottom crashes out of my energy bucket.

It’s not as though I’ve got no energy. I do six hours of exercise, week in, week out. I can and do walk five miles continuously and lots of triking (of which a lot more in a sec’). In common with many PwMS my balance has gone to pot. I was an avid off-road mountain biker but had to give it up when my balance went to pot and meant I was a hazard not to only to myself, Andrew (if we were riding together) and any poor soul on bike, or on foot who was in my increasingly wide wobble radius.

As an aside, my deteriorating balance also meant that increasingly I began to veer from side to side when I walked, like the proverbial drunken sailor (Editor, which is precisely why so many PwMS are falsely accused of being under the influence, as in the story in memory of John Hamlin in this book ,) until my Alexander Technique teacher took me in hand and got me back on the straight and narrow as it were.

Anyway, I didn’t do any biking for about 15 years until Andrew, and I were chatting one day and he suggested I investigate trikes. I promptly went to my local purveyor of upright and recumbent trikes, sat on a variety and decided the recumbent was most definitely for me. I did further research and met the brilliant Tom Pales of Freetrike Rehab Cycling UK who is based in my home county of Devon and recommended a fantastic recumbent trike range manufactured by the ‘coolly’ and aptly named ICE (Inspired Cycle Engineering) located in next door Cornwall. I tried Tom’s machine by triking down the cycle trail from Exeter Basin to The Double Locks. Although I was happy, I realised I longed for some of the off-road experiences which I’d enjoyed so much in yesteryear . I therefore decided to order an ICE Adventure fitted with ‘helping handles’ to help me get in and out, plus power assist which is so empowering. I should explain that the latter is analogous to a car’s power assisted steering in that one has to push the pedals for the assistance to kick-in but the battery-powered motor does the heavy lifting.

I took delivery of TrikeyBob at Paignton Velopark where I was able to put her through her paces with Tom’s guidance. As soon as I took delivery of and sat in TrikeyBob I thought YES, YES, YES!!!! TrikeyBob cost a pretty penny but in a bit of poetic justice I could pay for her courtesy of the tax free pension lump sum I’d just got as a result of my (MS) enforced early retirement.

I quickly came to the realisation that this wasn’t the real off-roading McCoy I craved so I promptly fitted knobbly tyres, reduced the tyre pressure to present a greater surface area and thereby improve traction. My final off-road adjustment was changing the seat from a semi reclining position to upright to give me a better centre of gravity when leaning into a trail and traversing a slope, thus preventing me capsizing.

You may wonder how come the name TrikeyBob? Trikey is self-explanatory. As for Bob, that came as a result of me losing the ICE pendant flag the trike came with courtesy of some protruding forest vegetation. The only flag I had to hand as a replacement reminded me of Blackadder calling what was a clearly a woman ‘Bob’ in his incredulous manner. So Bob developed into TrikeyBob, and she did cost lots of Bob’s’!

Off I set on many a trail, working up from blue (easy,) though to some orange (extreme). It was simply fantastic to be back in the saddle again. Okay upright seat now. At times I pelt downhill at speeds of up to 25 m.p.h. when the feelings of excitement, exhilaration verge on the ecstatic. Indescribably brilliant. At the other extreme many is the time I just amble along, wallowing in the beauty and richness of my surroundings.

Whilst on holiday in The Highlands we visited the Culbin Forest near Forres in Moray. Most unusually, my husband and I were together exploring the forest. Normally he does far more challenging routes on his e-mountain bike. I was fully kitted out for our Highland fling with emergency thermal blanket and food rations in case we got lost, mobile phone, of course, plus compass and paper map should the mobile phone’s battery go flat thereby depriving me of access to its satnav capabilities. As these were sandy trails I let half the air out of my tyres to improve traction, as I’m told one does with 4 by 4’s before entering the desert for some sand dune yomping. I was all set. What could possibly go wrong? Stupid question of course, otherwise I’d have no tale to tell.

On the very first sandy trail It immediately became obvious that this was heavy going for poor TrikeyBob and me too therefore. Although doing off-road triking had banished the bottom falling out of my energy bucket in normal times this was a battle without equal. I just couldn’t pedal. The spirit was willing, but the flesh weak. Andrew looked at me and said, “You can’t peddle another stroke can you?”. “Nope!” was my despondent reply, not least as we were on the high view point at Laggan WolfTracks, before it descends through the steep forest road that mountain bikers ascend to access the red and black downhill trails .

This being the first trail we were of course at about the point furthest from our parked car! There was absolutely no way I could wade through sand for more than a few yards, let alone the distance needed to get back to the car. Short of calling out mountain rescue the only way to get back was for Andrew to ride his e-bike one handed with his other hand gripping TrikeyBob and in this manner he‘towed’ me back to the car. It must have looked far more romantic than a full rescue mission! Mercifully there were no hairpin bends or vertiginous slopes.

So, TrikeyBob v The Culbin, who won ? You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a first round knockout win for the Culbin sand trail. However, you’d be wrong. I was the real winner – it was such a hoot, both at the time and in the re-telling. And far from putting me off more off-road triking escapades it’s made me even keener. I’m not normally given to preaching but my Culbin sand trail experience reinforces my long-held belief that we should push hard against the limiting boundaries MS tries to impose on us but, in deference to the Big F, choosing our battlegrounds.

Sue Allaway

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