Tomorrow, Rachel Gibson embarks on an incredibly personal journey, to cycle from London to Paris in aid of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, a charity raising money for the exact disease she’s suffering from.
We first met Rachel, when she was in the midst of training for this epic challenge, opening our eyes to the difficulties she’s encountered while cycling with Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease.
With one day left, she shares the hurdles and challenges she’s faced while preparing for London to Paris.
I can hardly believe it, there’s only one day to go until my first long distance cycle ride, since finding out I had Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease. So much has happened since I signed up to cycle 300 miles over four days from Crystal Palace, London to the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris.
I’m cycling to raise money for The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, a charity trying to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, of which I suffer from. As there’s currently no cure, people just like me, a very normal 42-year-old married mum of three young girls, face an uncertain future of possible physical disability and mental deterioration.
There have been lots of momentous highs, the most memorable by far, cruising up a notorious killer hill this week, which on previous training rides had me gasping for air at the top! Plus a few disappointing lows, the forced withdrawal of Judith, my third team member being the worst, due to a severely damaged knee. Judith will be on the operating table instead of on her bike.
Hurdles encountered along the way
The first hurdle I stumbled on was an administrative one, which I hadn’t anticipated and was sadly rather demoralising. Essential documentation required for the trip was Personal Medical Insurance, nothing unusual in that of course. Unfortunately for me, the recommended insurers refused to cover me on the challenge due to my Parkinson’s. Quite disheartening when you are taking part in a ride to raise funds for the condition! After several equally uncooperative telephone calls, I successfully acquired medical cover from a company specialising in insurance for people with medical conditions and to my delight, it was even 20% cheaper than the recommended policy, it seems there are benefits to having Parkinson’s after all.
Training for a long distance ride is much the same for a person with Parkinson’s as one without the condition. Everyone sticking to their training schedule regardless of wind, rain, sleet, snow, hail, ice, freezing temperatures, need I say any more about the last few months. The one thing that I struggled with for a long time was deciding on the cleats/no cleats option. I have been riding with cleats for a month or so now and most of the time they are great.
Unfortunately, if my left leg is tired, a little slow and rigid I have trouble releasing my cleats. Crashing to the ground is not at all cool and my top tip is when you know your cleats are stuck, and you’re heading at quick speed to the ground, go limp as if you’re drunk. Trust me, it definitely helps reduce pain on impact, I should know, I’ve done it enough times.
Some days my legs do feel like lead and I begin to wonder whether I have forgotten to take my medication on time. Us Parkinson’s sufferers have to take their drugs at strict time intervals and if there is a delay, symptoms do seem to rear their ugly head all too soon.
Currently, my cocktail of drugs are needed every 3 ½ hours and if I forget, my legs take on this bizarre life of their own, with the muscles contracting inappropriately. I can find myself either limping and dragging my foot, disturbingly similar to the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or even worse, my legs have been known to stick, completely routed to the spot. Neither of which are great if you happen to be pushing a shopping trolley around your local supermarket with three young girls or racing down to the school gates when you’re already late, never mind while trying to cycle up a massive great hill on your bike.
The good news is that right now, my Parkinson’s is fairly stable, in fact, I’m convinced that all my training has significantly reduced my symptoms. The months of hard training on the bike, increasing my milage up to 180+ miles a week, has resulted in stopping the episodes of foot limping and dragging. However, since last week, while resting my legs prior to the ride, covering less than 100 miles, my episodes of limping have returned, speaks volumes about the benefits of cycling!
My experiences of the benefits of an exercise training programme are being monitored at a clinical trial at Oxford Brookes University. No conclusions can be made as the trial is still in it’s preliminary stages, but if Parkinson’s Disease symptoms can be stabilised or even reduced by simply cycling fast and hard regularly, this will be an amazing step forward in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.
So, once the challenge is over, I am determined to make cycling a big part of my life. I’m already looking in to signing up for Cycletta, Loseley Park!
Packing and last minute fretting!
With the training complete and our fundraising total reaching way above our wildest dreams, the packing and fretting has begun. These last minute nerves are the same the world over, it doesn’t matter if you suffer from Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease or not:
Dilemma #1 What to pack in my overnight kit bag and what to carry with me on the bike?
Our challenge has been co-ordinated and planned by a professional charity adventure company and our personal belongings are delivered on four wheels, to our humble crash pads each evening before we arrive. As is often the case for novice riders, the most common mistake is to carry too much on the bike, the excuse being you never know what weather conditions you may encounter.
I am becoming increasingly desperate to keep the weight and volume of kit to an absolute minimum on my bike. Through training rides, I have found that careful packing is the way forward. Thin base layers are good for warmth and take up little space. A bright, reflective waterproof works well as windproof layer as well as helping to be more easily seen by passing motorists. Foil blankets are virtually weightless and can be squeezed in anywhere, great for an emergency but equally useful to reduce heat loss when resting during the ride.
Dilemma #2 What are the best high energy snacks?
Many cyclists use energy drinks and snack bars and gels. After a less than favourable experience with high-energy gels, my favourite cycling snacks are malt loaf, dates and sultanas mixed with the occasional piece of Kendal Mint Cake. Only time will tell whether these will surfice.
Dilemma #3 Getting lost on the route
Having trained every ride with the luxury of a sat nav prompting turns etc., my main concern is getting lost! I’m sure all of you experienced long distance riders reading this can identify with the frustration when course arrows have been turned around. Additional miles due to deviations from the route are not what I have in mind!
Dilemma #4 How many pairs of cycling shorts will I need?
Having found that wearing cycling shorts, worn WITHOUT underwear is a must for any comfortable cycle ride, how many pairs do I need for a four day cycle ride? For novice cyclists on a budget, one or ideally two pairs with some travel detergent will hopefully prove to be sufficient!
Dilemma #5 Bike maintenance
Having acknowledged that it was probably over 20 years since I last changed and inner tube or repaired a puncture, a refresher course was in order before we upped our miles. With the ‘encouragement’ of my cycling mad hubbie and Total Women’s Cycling piece on changing an inner tube (now stored on my phone for emergencies), our mission was successful. We have been incredibly lucky to have had no punctures on our training rides. Really hope that is still the case on our journey through to Paris.
Paris here we come!
The training is done, the bags are almost packed and we’re eagerly waiting to get going. If you’re interested in following our progress on Twitter, please follow Rachel Gibson. If you have any tips, it would be great to hear from you.
On a final note, I do hope my experiences over these articles have inspired you to get on your bike, no matter what your circumstances. If you’d like to donate to The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, please visit my fundraising page, any amount would be kindly received.