John and I started talking about this trip in early 2018. John’s father had been a prisoner of war at Changi jail in Singapore during World War Two and John was keen to visit the location, museum and chapel, so it was logical to design a cycling challenge that finished in Singapore. We both have experience of Thailand and love the country but none of Malaysia, so the plan was hatched to replicate previous challenges. Aim for 1,000 miles over 12 days, hire Sang as the guide and build the challenge of cycling from southern Thailand, down through Malaysia to Singapore.
In late 2017 John had been talking with his PD (Parkinson’s Disease) consultant about the possibility of having Deep Brain Stimulation surgery to assist with day to day living with Parkinsons. Because of the sensitivity of the surgery he couldn’t plan a trip several months before or after the expected surgery date. It was suggested in early 2018 that his surgery would take place in August of that year. However for a number of reasons the procedure was eventually done in January 2019. The post operation analysis would take several months to tune so it was decided to do the challenge in November allowing for the weather to improve in Malaysia after the August to October rainy season.
Best laid plans of mice and men applied during Spring and Summer 2019. Completely unconnected with Johns PD, his lower back for a number of years has been an issue because of weakened vertebrae. Every six months he has a series of 23 injections in the lower back to relieve the pain with the expectation that the relief will last that duration. He was due to have the next series of injections in April only to find that his health authority had deemed it unnecessary because of his DBS treatment. This was wholly incorrect and the injections were delayed for eight weeks until his PD consultant could fight this decision and get the treatment delivered. Meanwhile John was in considerable pain resulting in him taken by ambulance to A&E for emergency pain relief. I had to take him to hospital for the delayed injections to be delivered and we needed paramedics to get him out of the car and into a wheelchair, the pain was so intense. This totally unnecessary action from what we could understand was simply a cost saving decision which when you cost the paramedics and hospital time produced a negative conclusion. It took some time for John’s back to feel strong enough for him to get back in the saddle.
During 2019 the DBS had to be tuned to work correctly with John’s brain and body. Monthly meetings with his consultant at St Georges hospital re-evaluated the neurological tuning and from January to late summer 2019 there were a number of inconsistencies which, being quite natural and therefore expected would effect his walking, speech and hand movements. This would inevitably undermine John’s confidence and mobility. There were times when he simply couldn’t walk in a straight line or make much sense when talking.
So it is fair to say that for at least the first eight months of 2019 John was unable to deliver anything like 100% towards his preparatory fitness training for the TMS Challenge. When comparing his level of fitness with the start of the China challenge of 2017 he was way off target. When comparing with China 2017 he is 2.5 years older and his PD has naturally advanced during this period. The TMS Challenge had a totally different set of parameters for John to work with.
John achieves a considerably high level of fitness because of self belief, determination and bloody mindedness and therefore the start of the TMS Challenge on Day One in Krabi was with positive vibes. Within two and a half hours and 30 miles the whole structure and balance of TMS was turned on its head. The temperature that morning was around 30c and although John wears a sweat head band beneath his helmet which can act as a kind of cushion. John’s head swells in the heat and the DBS wires under the skin at the top left of his head were pressing against his helmet which was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. He decided after 25 miles to cycle without his helmet. His argument with Sang in discussion on doing this was that the roads were very quiet, he has cycled many thousands of miles and it was worth taking the very small risk to remain comfortable. Fifteen minutes later he swerved to miss a pot hole in the road and his front wheel lost grip and the bike went over with John landing on the gravel head first and skidding along the sharp grit about 1.5 meters where he remained, concussed. The rest of the day’s saga is contained in TMS Day One blog so won’t be repeated here. Suffice it to say the resultant nature and delivery of the challenge changed significantly at that moment.
Part Two will review the delivery of the TMS Challenge.