On the first weekend in September last year I was up in the Yorkshire dales, amidst the kind of weather we've had for most of this summer - windy, rainy, generally unpleasant. I was on a mountain biking weekend with a mate of mine and, as we sat in the tent on the Saturday morning drinking tea, we thankfully found the nonstop rain to be a source of amusement.
It wasn't going to stop us cycling. We waited for a window of opportunity: in real terms this meant a reduction in the rainfall from "torrential" to merely "very heavy". When such conditions were met, off we went.
It was pretty liberating really - within minutes we were soaked through to the skin - but as long as we kept moving we kept warm. It also meant that when we got to what would normally be a small brook, but what was now at waist level, we just waded through and carried on since we wouldn't exactly be getting any wetter than we were already. It was good fun.
What was also good was that I was as fit as I'd ever been. My mate is one of those people who can sit and do nothing for weeks on end but still be fitter than you even if you've been training hard. So I was surprised that, on the Saturday, I was frequently having to wait for him. We were out for hours, much of it off-road and very rugged. It was great to get back and get warm, then head down to the local.
On the Sunday, the weather began much the same. Still we went out, and if anything it was even tougher: the sky went dark, it was much windier and colder. We spent what seemed like hours cycling through horizontal sheets of rain, and the wind was so strong we had to pedal hard even when going downhill. It was maddening and funny all at the same time.
Time went on and we were nearing the end of an enjoyable if heavy couple of days of cycling. We were heading down into less exposed territory and the wind and rain were finally easing off. Even the sun had decided to show itself - typical, when we only had about 20 minutes left of our route.
My mate seemed to have regained his form on this second day, and was just up ahead of me. I wondered whether a burst of energy might be in order, to try and catch him up (though we weren't in competition). Having been over goodness knows how many cattle grids over the course of the weekend, I wasn't about to give the one just ahead of me a second thought. I remember feeling the judder as I went over it.
Just as I had gone over most of this cattle grid, something weird happened. Thump. That being my backside hitting the road. Another Thump. That being the bike landing just ahead of me. I had only the vaguest sense of what had happened between the grid and the first thump, it was so quick.
Reflexes kicked in, and I stood up. Well that was fortunate, I could stand up. There was blood oozing out of my knee, also down my arm, and I had numerous aches and pains.
"Are you alright?" This was a woman in a white car who had just pulled up.
"I think so," I said, moving but wincing as I did so.
"It's a funny cattle grid that one, seems ever so slippy, lots of accidents happen . I live just round the corner. A couple of weeks ago a woman fell off her bike and bust her face open. Very nasty. Do you want to come in for a cup of tea?"
I wasn't sure I appreciated all this information. By this time my mate had arrived back on the scene.
"No, I think I'd be better off carrying on thanks." I was bracing myself for pain to kick in and, possibly worse, to start feeling extremely cold. I suggested to my mate that we get back to the tent as quickly as possible. A further 15 minutes of cycling felt like a real hard slog, particularly the last uphill stretch, and I was perturbed by just how buckled the front wheel of the bike was. That must have been caused by the cattle grid, so thank fuck I'd been thrown over past the grid and onto the road or who knows what might have happened.
We got back, I cleaned myself up and got changed and warm. I can't be too bad, I thought, the shivering never kicked in, though I did feel very short of energy. At least, as well, this had happened right at the very end of the weekend. I was sure that a good rest and a good night's sleep would make me feel a lot better, and that I would be right as rain in a couple of weeks.
Not so. I was limping badly for days, pockmarked with magnificent, huge bruises, and had to get checked over to make sure I hadn't cracked any ribs or caused other such damage. What A and E didn't spot, when I showed them how far I could move my right arm (about an inch before the pain caused me to scream), was that a joint in my shoulder was about half an inch out of place. I was on co-codamol for weeks (having found out that I was allergic to Ibuprofen), had a course of physio, and it was about 4 months before I was able to start being physically active again.
One year on and, although more than manageable, I still feel the after effects especially in the shoulder joint. Really though, I was lucky, compared with what might have happened.
So what have I been up to so far this weekend? I've just been out on the bike for a couple of hours. Regardless of what I've described above, cycling (on top of enjoying it for its own sake) feels like a painkiller. You'll have noticed in a couple of recent posts that I've hinted how fucked off I've been lately. Going on a bike ride cuts right through that and brings back, however temporarily, a sense of contentment and calm self-assurance. Chances are I'll go out on the bike again tomorrow. I'm not worried about a repeat of what happened this time last year: it's worth the risk.