I’d had problems with my left knee for three or four months. Physiotherapy, stretching and weapons-grade anti-inflammatories kept it under control, but couldn’t make it go away. I tried to ignore it; tried not to think about the throbbing ache that erupted when I massaged the joint gently with my fingers. I wanted it to be muscular, nervous – anything but a mechanical problem. That would mean surgery, and days, weeks, even months off the bike. Physically, I knew, a decent layoff would do me good, and the only way to get me to take one would be to force it on me. Psychologically, though, I wasn’t sure I could take it. That’s how deep the addiction ran.
They took an x-ray more as a precaution than anything else. So they seemed as surprised as I was at the results. The radiologist’s report spoke loftily of ‘osteophytosis’, ‘tibial spurring’ and ‘medial compartment narrowing’. I went straight to Google. Rather wished I hadn’t. ‘The findings are consistent with osteoarthritis’ the report concluded. And there it was. Something that, at 41, I shouldn’t really have, according to the statistics. But I did. And now, always will.
In the darkest days, I was ready to quit the bike for good. I didn’t think I had any choice.
And yet, I’m back on again. I don’t ride as hard, or as fast, or as far as I did before. But I’m loving it more than ever. The very fact of being out there at all is enough these days. And while osteoarthritis has got my knee, I’ve realised it isn’t the end of me as a rider, or as a man. And just how much I need this, to make everything make sense.
FRAME OF REFERENCE
This is where I come
To straighten life out;
Its lists and sinks and spikes and kinks
Fall into line,
Constrained by angles,
Cast in carbon strands
Like bones to mend.
Flaws are fettled, scores are settled,
Gaps and cracks smoothed over
And sealed under silver paint.
And for a while, I set the tempo –
Direct, guide, control, decide –
And redefine the plane and line
Of life’s obscure trajectory
With this precision instrument
That measures each day’s worth, and mine.