Two wheels instead of four – by Helen May


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You probably have an image of my holidays: it’s not sitting on a crowded beach soaking up the sun, letting your cares drift away. Instead I exercise my cares away: I walk; I climb and even try a bit of cycling. I’ve had a bike for as long as I can remember. When I was a student, I cycled everywhere. When I lived in Cambridge (not as a student), I cycled everywhere. But now, I’m a bit of a fair weather flat-gradient cyclist. Not that that stopped me from booking a week in the saddle in Jordan.

Before the trip, I had a few practice rides of 30 miles and didn’t struggle too much. I was warned about saddle soreness so packed my faithful saddle (it’s been protecting my “delicate area” for over ten years). And my hand luggage was supplemented by my cycle helmet; I was as ready as I could be.

This should be a relatively easy trip: no more than 60 km a day. But it was something different to my previous holidays. It’s not that I haven’t done much cycling in the past. What I haven’t done is cycling for five consecutive days with diabetes. I assumed it would be just like doing any other exercise, like walking, for five consecutive days and I’m used to doing that.

I was wrong. My blood sugar readings affected my cycle fitness more than they affect my walking fitness. I was fine on the flat; and as my confidence increased, I used my brakes less and less on the downhills getting faster and faster as the week progress; but ascending hills was not the forte for me and my diabetes when eating scrummy but unfamiliar diet (it’s difficult to accurately count carbs when you don’t know what you’re eating). I can walk up a hill with a reading of 9.0 feeling a little tired but cycling up a hill with a reading of 9.0 and … well, put it this way, I walk. But put me on the same hill with a reading of 5.0 or 6.0 and I’m at the top in no time (that’s a relative term: relative to the length and gradient of the hill, of course).

The trip catered for most levels of fitness with a minibus collecting any stragglers who needed a rest. There were two distinct groups of riders on the trip: the fast ones who didn’t need the minibus and the slower ones who used it more often. I’m pleased to say despite my troubles with hills, bicycles and diabetes, I was still part of the first group: a little walk and a blast of insulin then I was back in the saddle and away. Even when the chain came off the bike (which happened far more than expected), I maintained my independence putting the chain back without getting too greasy and cycling off into the desert before the minibus could catch me.

I think if I was to do it again. I’d put in a more practice on the hills before I left home. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my pedal through deserts and the amazing rock carvings in Petra. Although, I confess the most fun part of the trip was sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum and waking up for a bit of climbing in the gorge before breakfast: the temptation of rock is just too great for a climber!

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