Oct. 03, 2013: Macclesfield, Cheshire, England

It rained overnight in Ripley. I awoke this morning to fog, wet roads, and a heavy mist that kept collecting on my glasses, forcing me to stop to wipe them off — not that I could see much through the fog anyway.

An unfortunate beginning to the day I'd chosen to go through the Peak District, which I had anticipated being one of the most scenic parts of my trip. The weather forecasts are predicting this will be the wettest and rainiest day of my holiday, however I do have a schedule to keep as I will need to be in Chester by Saturday AM to pick up my race package, so as they say, “needs must.”

The A6 entrance to the Peak District goes through the Derwent Valley, with its many picturesque mills that in fact are a UNESCO world heritage site. Quite picturesque, if a little touristy. The waterwheel in Cromford is still in operation (probably for tourism reasons), and makes a really neat sound as it goes around.

Along with the mills, the Derwent Valley also came with some very pretty forests and waterfalls. The trees broke up the fog enough that I could actually see some distance for a change. Evergreens in the UK are sufficiently rare that they never fail to take me by surprise! I passed a number of bicycles on the road — it's a popular area for touring.

Pretty soon I was out of the valley, out of the trees, and the fog was back. Biked for a spell through what I think were mostly sheep pastures with little rock walls, a little like something out of Braveheart. Stopped for a late breakfast / early lunch at the Bull-I'th Thorn inn and pub. The place has been around for about 700 years, and has been a tavern and coaching inn since 1472. The place plays up its medieval history shamelessly, and is stuffed to the rafters with antiques, memorabilia, suits of armor, the works. It definitely has character!

The meal was the only true “traditional” meal I've had so far. (Sure, curry and fish & Chips are both pretty British staples, but I'm referring more to the historical sense.) Inspired by the miserable weather outside, I got a big plate full of the “Roast of the Day” — read: roast beef, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and veggies, with the whole lot drowned in six helpings of gravy. It was actually pretty much exactly what I was looking for. Thus sated, I trundled down into Buxton where I found an internet café and was able to make my first blog postings since London.

Whereupon the drizzle finally grew into a full-fledged rainstorm, and after 2 hours on the computer, I emerged into a sky sheeting down through the fog. Between the long lazy lunch and the time in the café I was already rather behind time, so as much as I would have liked to hang back, I decided there was nothing for it but to head out into the rain and make the last push over the final finger of hills, then down into Macclesfield.

8km up through the fog and rain and heath I reached the top of the hill, at which point the Cat and Fiddle pub loomed out of the mists like something out of a Sherlock Holmes story and marked the border from Derbyshire into Cheshire.

“It's a pity,” I again thought, looking out over the moor, “that the fog is preventing me from seeing much of this otherwise very beautiful and dramatic country.”

I wiped my glasses off, took a few photos, then hopped back on the bike for a swift descent into Macclesfield and the flatter lowlands between Manchester and Liverpool.

“This is really going to hurt,” I remember thinking as I tumbled and slid down the highway, my face scraping along the pavement.

It's the face that I remember most. Scraping and scraping seemingly without end until I was sure I couldn't possibly have much face left to scrape. With each impact I expected to come to a halt, only to feel myself back in the air as I endured another bounce followed by another impact.

I don't recall being particularly worried about dying. I thought about it, briefly, but not with much in the way of concern; rather just the simple observation that it hadn't happened yet.

But the pain that was later to come: that was on my mind. And ponderances about what kind of face I would have for the rest of my life. I suppose I'm more vain about that sort of thing than I like to think.

I also remember being pretty certain that whatever else happened, that was the end of the holiday. “So this is where this one ends. On an empty highway. In the fog. And the rain. With no-one around.”

Unless you count the sheep. My friend Nigel blames the sheep: “It's all their fault.”

Indeed, the sheep actually have been blamed for some accidents on what I have since come to learn is classed the the most dangerous road in the UK. But not on this day; they were safely and obliviously munching on grass in the field adjacent.

Or at least seemed to be, from what little attention I paid them. Equally little attention as I paid to all the signs warning motorcyclists about going too fast. I didn't know then the reputation that the road had, and didn't make the connection between a motorcyclist going too fast, and a bicyclist doing the same.

However that activity been the cause for most of the deaths: motorcycles going too fast around bends that suddenly turn out to be sharper than they had appeared. And that's exactly what happened to me.

Two bends from the top of the hill, I started going around; I leaned, sharply, into the curve. The wet road, the gravel, the backpack making me top-heavy. The bicycle slid right out from under me and I, leaning forward into the rain, went down face-first. And bounced. And slid.

“This is really going to hurt.”

Except, actually... it never really did. I'm extremely lucky, in so many respects. Lucky that it was only the second bend from the top of the hill so I hadn't yet reached full speed. Normally on steep hills I get upwards of 60km/h; in this case — without the benefit of having looked at my speedometer — I figure at having been closer to 50. I'm lucky, in some respects, that I did land on my face: if I had landed on my back, I think there's a good chance that spinal injuries would have become involved and some form of consequent paralysis. I'm lucky that I didn't black out and go unconscious (always wear a helmet, kids!) or sustain any brain injuries of any kind, not even so much as a mild concussion.

I'm lucky that a motorist came by within seconds who didn't think twice or ask a single question but instinctively piled me and the bike into his car and brought me directly to the district general hospital in Macclesfield. I stood up from the crash (more than a little surprised that I could stand up) and didn't feel any pain. For a brief second I wondered if my holiday might not be over after all, before I remembered my face and noted that not being able to see a thing out of my left eye other than “red” was probably not the greatest sign. I realized I must still be in shock, and so made to get myself and the bicycle off the road while I could still easily do so. Had barely made my way back up the hill to the bike and pulled it aside when a car came by, slowed, stopped. The driver took one look at me, my shredded clothes, the blood everywhere, and told me to get in. I made some stupid platitude about not wanting to bleed all over his car, but he was having none of it and insisted I get in.

The 25 minute ride to Macclesfield was one of the longest 25 minutes of my life, as I sat there wondering about the future. I needn't have, particularly. Chris, as it happens, is an accident investigator and had a pretty good idea of what to do in the immediate aftermath. In his care we got to the hospital where I was cleaned up and to no-one's greater surprise than my own, discovered that the face that I was sure was half gone had in fact only sustained a couple of cuts and gashes. A bit ugly, sure, but easy enough to patch back together with some minor surgery and a bunch of stitching.

So here we are. Soon enough I'll be heading out with Nigel to stay at his place in Wales; a bit earlier than planned (he lives only an hour or two away — I mentioned how I was lucky). I have a date with the plastic surgeon in Manchester tomorrow. And after that, we'll see.

I write the above from the point of view of being in the waiting room at Macclesfield District General Hospital, where I spent the remainder of October 3rd.

But of course it is no longer October 3rd: it is in reality over two weeks later. I have been back in Canada for ten days and much has transpired.

That rainy evening on the Cat and Fiddle was indeed (in most respects) the end of my holiday. I spent the following week at Nigel's house in Glyn Ceiriog in the Welsh highlands with him, his wife Jen, and their lovely dogs. (I'm not a huge dog person, but for them I will make an exception — for Zoë especially, who is my favourite dog in the world and of whom I am fonder than I am of most cats, even.)

I never did run the Chester Marathon, or much else (although I have done a spot of running in the last few days here in Canada, I am still working back up to anything long). I slept, a lot. I made multiple interminable trips to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, where after hours and hours in waiting rooms, my face was patched up by a most excellent surgeon to the point that now, with my stitches removed, you can hardly tell anything happened at all unless you look really close.

(Some photos for the curious: there's a bit of blood, although I am holding back on the more gory ones: )

Travelling by bicycle is one of the best ways to see a country. Until now, I'd never really considered that axiom as including hospital waiting rooms, but there you go. Yet another way I was lucky: I discovered that medical coverage in the case of accidents is 100% free in the UK, even if you're a sketchy foreigner like me. I have not had to pay a single penny for the care I received. I don't know if we extend the same courtesy to our visitors, but I would sure like to think so.

My arm has turned out to be the most problematic aspect, even though I didn't even realize anything was wrong with it for a day afterward. I seem to have a torn rotator cuff. This means I cannot raise my arm more than about 40° away from my body. This will require more surgery to fix, and it is hard to see when it will happen. Eventually, but it will likely be weeks.

In the meantime I cannot ride a bicycle, as I cannot lift my arm up to the handlebars. Mine (which I brought back to Canada with barely a scratch on it - there was even still air in the tyres! A true testament to MEC quality) is still sitting in the box I used to ship it back. Even once the arm is operated on, I will likely require therapy and who knows what else, before I am back to 100%. I also feel more than a bit of nervousness when contemplating getting back on the saddle. But one thing at a time.

Despite the above, I cannot complain too hard. Considering all the things that could have gone so, so, so much worse; I figure that what I experienced — other than the fall itself — was pretty close to a best-case scenario. As I wrote above, I never really experienced much in the way of pain, even; notwithstanding my initial expectation.

This last Monday was Thanksgiving Day here in Canada, and while my situation is perhaps a little different from those that originally inspired the holiday, it held more resonance for me than it really ever has before. 2013, it frequently seems to me, is the year that the Universe has decided I needed a little bit of perspective.

For now, while I feel like I'm pretty much back to normal (other than my arm, although even that is seeing some improvement both just on its own, as well as with me gritting my teeth and forcing it into doing things it would rather not do) I'm still obviously not quite there yet. I'm still sleeping a lot, and recovering. I'm even more moody than usual, but hopeful that will eventually pass.

One thing is for sure: the aborted holiday is not yet over. I still have a marathon over there to run, and friends I didn't get the chance to see. There's still a hill that I have to beat some sense into (albeit with a bit more care this time).

It will take, as I wrote above, some time before I get back on a bicycle. But when I do, once I am riding again, I'm going back over there. I am getting myself up to the top of that hill, and I am going to finish this holiday.

To be continued . . .

Today’s meal: "Roast of the Day" roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, the works. My first (and as it turned out) only "traditional" British meal of the entire trip (although one might argue about curry being more traditional now). Very very drowned in gravy, including the veggies, etc. Like I said: traditional!
Today’s road: A610 - A6 - A5012 - A515 - A54 - A537. 56.8km, 2h37. And then cut short. To say the least.

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