Saturday 20 December 2014

Pedal the Planet

This trip is certainly no knees-up

Breifne Earley is now fully discovering the challenge he has taken on.
Breifne Earley is now fully discovering the challenge he has taken on.

After the crash last week I noticed a marked decrease in what I was capable of completing on the bike every day, my knee was still a little bit swollen and the bruising hadn't appeared to have eased at all. It was after leaving Belgrade, Serbia, almost 600km after the crash that I really noticed the issue.

I had spent what seemed like hours slogging away through the rolling hills of the south of Belgrade city feeling like I wasn't making progress at all. I took a glance at my GPS recorder to see that I had barely scraped 15k in almost two hours on the bike.

Even given the hills and the poor weather which had ranged from short heavy showers to moderate headwinds, this was pathetic. I eventually ended up calling it a night at dusk on the far side of Smederevo after riding less than 60k.

I succumbed to what many people had been suggesting on social media for a while and went to see a physiotherapist to have my knee checked out. His immediate reaction was to call the doctor on duty to come and have a look at it. The only word of their conversation that seemed to have a familiar ring to it sounded like 'catastrophe' and it was included in every second or third uttering between them.

Once they had their discussion they came back to me with an appointment for the following morning for an ultrasound and a consultation with an orthopaedic doctor. The physio's limited English vocabulary stretched to "It's bad" and "Need to drain your knee".

When I got back to the hotel that evening I had a little cry and genuinely thought my hopes of finishing the World Cycle Race were going up in smoke.

Fast-forward to the morning and I was called in to see the doctor with little English again. His daughter, a medical student, had come with him to act as a translator. His facial expressions were anything but positive and the tone of the entire examination was extremely serious.

After a few minutes of him staring at a screen as he moved the scanner around my knee I asked him if it was a boy or a girl. He almost fell off his stool laughing. I hadn't thought it was that funny, but he seemed to get a great kick out of it.

After that the whole tone changed. He became very interested in my cycle and he had loads of questions about Ireland. The final result was that the fluid in my knee was just superficial, it hadn't entered the knee joint itself and the bruising would ease in a few days. There was no serious damage done and I would be free to resume the cycle, although possibly at a lesser level than I had been doing until the knee returned to a normal size and colour.

I was walking on air, even though the discomfort in my knee hadn't improved, really; mentally, I felt like I could go and run laps with Mo Farah.

I took the remainder of that day as a rest day and hit the road south again the following morning, attempting to hit a metric tonne of 100k to Jagodina in southern Serbia.

I had a very funny experience in the town of Smederevska Palanka about 30k into the journey.

I had stopped to grab a bite to eat and two Roma children – a brother and sister who were about eight years of age – came up to me as they were fascinated by the bike, particularly how my shoes clipped into the pedals.

The exchange must have looked hilarious to any passer-by, it was only at the tail-end of our interaction that he held up a single dinar coin and indicated he wanted some money.

The poverty that has been evident through most of eastern Europe, particularly in Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, has been the biggest eye-opener for me on this trip, although the generosity and warmth of the people who live here is also something I've witnessed a lot on this trip.

Breifne is taking part in the World Cycle Race. See www. pedaltheplanet.tv

Irish Independent

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