Paul was diagnosed with bladder cancer in September 2012.
Following surgery and chemotherapy he underwent a programme of immunotherapy over a period of three years.
I yearned to feel well between treatments, so I took to my bike whenever I could.
Then the cardiologist told me that my heart rate was too fast, blood pressure too high. No surprise, I was terrified.
His advice was to continue to ride the bike but to avoid all hills.
So I bought a basic heart monitor, strapped it to my chest, trained to the safe max., then headed for the biggest hill I could find –
Tour de France legend, the one they call “The Beast”.
The road starts off gently enough, winding up through beautiful lavender fields, olive groves and woodlands dotted with beehives. The bike was Swiss, a BMC - apt – “Beat My Cancer, Beat My Cancer, Beat My Cancer” was the silent chant revolving in my head as I studied the initials, turning the pedals, looping the chain, higher and higher, steeper and steeper, unbelievable views, keeping that rhythm, checking the heart monitor, pushing, harder and harder, wiping the sweat, onwards, upwards.
A few kilometres from the top is an auberge called Chalet Reynard. No trees now, no green at all, a moonscape disappearing, almost vertically, into the clouds. Cyclists stop here briefly to take water and prepare themselves to attack the summit. I was one in a line, stretched across the road.
Then came a special moment
Two riders on the end curled fists and touched knuckles with the word ‘courage’ – (so much more inspiring when spoken in French). The gesture rippled along the whole line. In an instant, we were a team. Shoes clicked into pedals, gears lowered, eyes raised and, for me, heart monitor switched off. One by one we headed for the summit, past the Tommy Simpson memorial, each encouraging the next to keep pushing to the top.
Back on a sunny terrace at ground level,
with the experience still revolving in my head,
I wrote this simple poem:
Eyes rise up
From the ground
Hear the sound
Round and round
Don’t stop now
New friends found
Arms pull hard
Gears slip down
Teeth and fists
Taste the clouds
Tour de France
Kiss the moon
Fly free downhill
A POEM TO INSPIRE
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