Wednesday, 29 July 2015

You're bleeding from WHERE?

The call came shortly after 8 UK time this morning. Immediately I knew all was not well.

"What's wrong?" I asked, picking up what sounded like whimpering against the clatter of cafe noise.

"Nothing, I'm fine," John said, but his voice was tight. Was he crying?

"Are you ok? Please tell me what's the matter," I pleaded, a knot forming in my stomach.

John's voice was choked, but he insisted, "No, I'm good. It's just I'm bleeding out of the bowels."

"YOU'RE BLEEDING OUT OF THE BOWELS?" I shrieked, loud enough to be heard by the kids downstairs. Loud enough to be heard by most of the village, as they sipped their milky tea and ate their flaccid toast (this is how all British people start their day, as far as I can tell).

"No, I said I'm letting off the valves," meaning he was overcome by emotion brought on by the exhaustion of reaching the second checkpoint of the race - and completely missing both the terror in my voice and the hilarity of the misunderstanding.

"I just did the climb of my life. It's thrilling. I'm feeling really strong," John said, sounding anything but.

"So you're not bleeding from your butt?"


"And you're not bleeding from anywhere else?"


"OK then."

Mentally, today's accomplishment signifies more than just the 2176-metre climb: though the second checkpoint of this year's race is on top of a different Alpine peak in Italy, it will vanquish the demon that's haunted him since the 2014 Transcontinental Race.

In his first race attempt, John burned through France and Switzerland, hovering around 14th place as he headed toward the Stelvio Pass in eastern Italy. But in a rare feat of sense triumphing over determination, John opted out of that section - disqualifying himself - because of a massive summer storm that promised torrential downpours, high winds, and ice and snow on top of the mountains.

As it happened, that storm system caused several climbers on Mont Blanc to lose their lives, and a landslide in the Swiss Alps left a train hanging over a ravine.

John was supposed to be on that train. He was going to clear the storms and pick up his route again further east in Italy, but when the train service was cancelled he caught a lift in a mini bus - unaware how much worse his luck could have been.

So while I worry about the dangers of this race (and I do worry, a lot), I know that John's common sense and previous mountain experience prevail, and he won't take risks. I also knew, even as he continued on last year to Croatia - doing a total of 1300 miles in eight days - that he'd be taking another stab at it in 2015. Unfinished business.

He called a couple hours ago to say he'd spent two hours descending the mountain, picking his way along a rocky track that was blowing tires left and right (he managed it with just one puncture). He had a quick word with his mum, and with each of the boys, and set off again for a few more hours of Alpine cycling. He's happy as a pig in muck.

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