Before this most recent operation, my restricted knee bend prevented me from riding a bike; the saddle height needed to enable a full rotation of the pedals would have made riding a penny farthing look comfortable. Now that I have a 140 degree knee bend there is nothing to stop me apart from a very real fear of falling off. Despite reassurances that there is no more risk of the damaged leg breaking than my normal bones, the intense pain felt when a prominent screw in my ankle or the scar tissue in my shin is knocked means that I am still highly protective of my leg.
However, in order to re-build muscle mass on my left leg, specifically my quads and hamstrings, I need to get back on a bicycle. I use an exercise bike but, even after my allotted 20 minute uphill pedal, I do not achieve the wobbly legs and aching muscles that the real thing can bring.
Riding a bike is something you take for granted once you get off training wheels as a child. I’ve never been the big hills for fun type of cyclist, but commuting with a half hour bike ride each way, no problems.
So a few days ago, I braced myself and dusted off my old mountain bike that was lurking in the back of the garage. I took myself off around the back of the house, where a flat piece of grass is not overlooked by any neighbours – if I was going to end up in an ignominious mess on the turf, I’d rather there were no witnesses. The worst part was the first pedal rotation, there is always a moment at full flexion of the knee, where I have to assess if I can manage the bend or if I’ve pushed it too far; this moment was suspended in time, stretched out as I held my breath and willed the knee to accommodate the rotation, but once passed, each subsequent rotation became easier as the knee joint eased into the motion. I has passed the test, I had cycled across five metres of grass.
Spurred on by my victory, I grabbed my old cycle helmet and walked to the road leading out of the village, a slow, steady incline of about 800 metres. I pushed off and cycled slowly to the village boundary. Oh god, it was hard. The muscles on my damaged left starting complaining almost instantly, by the halfway point they were burning, by the time I reached the cattle grid that I had mentally marked as my end point, my legs were well and truly wobbling. It was as emotional for me as the first time I swam a length of the swimming pool post-accident – it really emphasised how far removed I am from my previous levels of mobility. But as they say; what goes up, must come down – 800 metres uphill on the way up, was 800 metres downhill on the way back. 800 glorious metres of wind in the face freewheeling. The stupid grin plastered to my face was returned by a passing cyclist even though he was serious, Lycra -clad with all the right kit. It was the shared joy of self-propelled speed.