Day 52 should have started poorly. It was a poor night’s sleep finishing at 4am with no hope of being able to slip back to sleep. A thick pea soup of a fog hung heavy in the air. I was in a constant battle with myself as to whether or not I should attempt the cycle to Aberfoyle today. Another 45 mile round trip crossing the Menteith Hills twice. Any sensible person would have seen the conditions and in the light of my very recent quite difficult seizure activity have come to an immediate and logical conclusion that it would be quite frankly stupid to go. 6am arrived so up I got and immediately sensed that my head was clearer and my lips had stopped tingling. At last – it has taken 48 hours or so but as long as things continue as such the remnants of Saturday night’s seizure appears to have finally gone.

Cobwebs laced with dew on the Great Trossachs Path
Cobwebs laced with dew on the Great Trossachs Path

I have had, since my seizure in the wood on Day 36 in which I learned of and finally understood the difficulties and frankly horrors of blindness, a fear of the tangled area of deforested wood and undergrowth behind the War Memorial and avoided it to avoid the memory of that dreadful morning of me thrashing around in the undergrowth with my litter picker searching for a way out as the seizure tightened it’s grip on me. Well the atmospherics provided by the heavy fog this morning seemed to be the perfect back drop in which to tackle those fears and go for it. Contacts fitted and still seeing normally. Anti seizure pills popped and still feeling fine. Torch packed, plastic bag and litter pickers collected and still feeling okay so chocks away and off I set. I found I was enjoying the atmosphere and damp smells of the fog as I worked my way down past St Modoc’s church, picked up a couple of bits of litter from the foot of the memorial and then up the steps to the orchard behind it. Last time I couldn’t even find the gap in the hedge. This time it was there right in front of me clear as day. I smiled, dived through the gap in the hedge and went for it. I could see the path and was managing to navigate around the debris of the forestry work laid on the track like a grim path made of mammoth sized rib bones laid side by side but realised that I was feeling fine, could see great and hadn’t fallen once. I started to hum amazing grace again. It seemed appropriate 15 days ago. It was even more appropriate now. Today was going to be a great day but was I going to Aberfoyle? No – that would be stupid and besides I have already been on that route.

Once back home swinging my litter picker on the way in a happy swagger now that I had faced and beaten my fear of the wood behind the memorial I started to assess how I was feeling. I had breakfast with the children and felt good. I checked my diary in which I had written my plan for the day and confirmed that No; I wasn’t going to Aberfoyle. I,m going to Glen Finglas instead. In a jump of excitement I fetched the map of the Trossachs and folded it down in to my map case keeping the Great Trossachs Path area exposed. This was a relatively new recreational trail that I hadn’t been on before and on checking the rough route (as the path wasn’t yet on my map) I identified that some climbing would be involved but after the National Cycle Network 7 route over the Menteith Hills from Aberfoyle to Callander experience I thought I could tackle anything and needed a few hills to get the blood pumping. As I made my packed lunch, packed away breakfast and put the back wheel complete with new tyre and inner tube back on my bike I noticed a dull ache coming from my ankle. I was pretty sure that this was joint pain caused by the toxicity of th chemotherapy so a good bike ride would sort that out. I was still going so off I set. I was going to Callander via the back road which was a good decision. The road was quiet, eerily quiet with the fog hanging heavy in the air. I could see nothing of the countryside but was enjoying the exercise on a quiet country road. As I started past the Lanrick Estate I spotted a red van and it was only after I passed it that it was a good friend Murray in his work van. I screamed to a stop past him as he started to pull away. I shouted out to him and thought he had heard something so started to cycle up to him waving enthusiastically. I must have looked like some irate cyclist shaking his fists when viewed through the fog in his wing mirror because he shot off. I was sad to have missed him because he always makes me smile and hope I didn’t strike the fear of irate cyclists into him!! It was only me!! I carried on and had an uneventful trip in to Callander and on to the Rob Roy Way which then linked on to the Great Trossachs Path. As I progressed towards the path I bumped in to two delightful ladies with whom I had a great chat. They were out for a walk with a walking group from Callander and just from their sunny disposition as I passed them I thought that they might be interested in the challenge. So I stopped, talked and walked and told them all about the challenge. They asked if I was on my own and I of course immediately replied yes to which they seemed surprised but it was time for me to push on so as not to run out of light so said farewell to Moyra Loots and Christine Ffinch certain in the knowledge that they would come and find me on Facebook and help me raise awareness of the challenge. Thank you Christine and Moyra, it was a delight to meet you and I hope you enjoy the journey with me.

As I progressed deeper in to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park so the Great Trossachs Path grew steeper and steeper and steeper. It was getting harder and harder and harder but I had so far managed to stay on the bike. I had, on trying to peddle up the steep bits, unintentionally learnt how to pull a wheelie which brought a surprised giggle as I panted and ground my way along the path. Again no views to be had due to the fog but there were blankets of spider webs glistening in the heavy dew from the fog in the upper branches of the gorse bushes. The heavy due made them look like a first frost or light dusting of snow and certainly brightened the heavy green of the hedgescape alongside the path.

And then , if it was at all possible my day got better. I came to a cattle fence with a metal gate and found it to be just ajar. Noticing, but not paying attention to a small group of people down on the bank by the stream I pushed quietly through the gate. It swung heavily back on it’s spring. I failed to catch it and it clattered to a shuddering and clanging close. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by a group of ladies, who I now know to be retired psychiatric nurses, with startled expressions on their faces and looking sheepish. ‘Did you get an eye full?’ they asked. I had just come through a herd of cattle and was wondering whether I had ridden through a cow pat and had it splatter up my torso and on to my face but then why were the ladies looking guilty, shifty, slightly embarrassed yet giggling like naughty schoolgirls caught up to mischief behind the bike shed. Then I realised what had just happened. What I initially saw, concealed by the fog down at the river bank was the call of nature being answered by the ladies. Perfectly natural and perfectly hilarious!! I saw nothing but we immediately launched in to excited conversation between us during which time I had to introduce them to the challenge. They were awesome, such fun and again am certain will come to join me on the journey. I can feel a Christmas calendar coming on in support of the challenge!!! When we were talking we got on to a point I had been deliberating on earlier in the cycle ride. Why was it that I became frightened or wary of such seizures I had been experiencing? The answer is I think remarkably simple in that the auras are to all intents and purposes as real as me talking to you now. The mind influences every function in the human body, touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight, thinking and motion. So when the mind decides that such and such is happening it is as real as it actually happening. When I lost all control of my senses in the wood I genuinely believed that I was turning blind, that I might be trapped there until found. When the eels, were in my mouth, although I knew they were not there when the mind decided to send one down my windpipe the gagging reflex was a real physical manifestation of the physical reaction to the eel blocking my windpipe. It feels completely as if it is there. The scratches on my arms and legs after getting stuck behind the war memorial being testament to the ferocity with which I tried to break free and therefore testament to the reality of the event itself. The carnage I witnessed during the deja vu , the sights, sounds and smells of the twisted metal and twisted bodies as real to the mind witnessing it as the event itself hence the reaction evolving in to a public argument with myself about what had to be done as witnessed by the old lady in the carriage who came to comfort me as described in the post for day 26. The recent aura of the ivy growing down my arm squeezing the life out of my arm then chest making breathing more difficult, then moving up towards the neck before crushing the skull was again very real. You try and convince yourself that it is not really happening ad try and beat it back with positive thought but then the mind convinces you that you can hear the ivy growing, that you can smell it as it works it’s way up, that you can almost see it as it winds it’s way around you and suddenly you are struggling to breath, gulping for air. The complete seizing of the senses and cognitive function is so convincing it manifests itself in real physical reaction. Some like the ‘Harry Potter’ aura described on Day 27 were actually strangely comforting but others like the most recent one and the ‘Matrix’ aura described on day 23 were truly frightening leaving images and physical reactions to such images that are hard to cast from the mind.

Perhaps the challenge then has become more than just a means to try and enhance my chances of beating the beast but has also became a vehicle from which I can escape the demons left behind by the auras and cast them out through emersing myself in the beauty of God’s creation and the bosom of human kindness.

After a quick photo call I bade farewell to the ‘Golden Girls’ as they call themselves and set on to complete today’s challenge.

The 'Golden Girls'!
The ‘Golden Girls’!

I reached the Glen Finglas visitor centre but with not enough time left to complete the 15 mile Meall Loop and be back in time for the children. But I still had a little slack time so opted to continue on towards Brig O’Turk and a Mocha at the delightful Café………..That I discover 3 miles later was closed!! With nothing else closer than another 2.5 miles away I opted for my packed lunch, veggie pick and mix bag with some water. Lunch done I had 2 hours to cover the return 11 miles back along the Great Trossachs Path and it’s tortuous hills. Do that and I could stop for a Mocha and a flapjack at the Deli Ecosse and still get back in time for the children. So there was a sense of urgency but was flummoxed by the first hill. It was a monster and when a final big push on the pedal produced a monster of an uncontrolled or intended wheelie which I was convinced was going to send me over backwards I decided to swallow my pride, dismount and walk up the steep bit. This on and off the bike was repeated another 3 or 4 times on the first 5 miles back towards Callander. Slowly however the route became a little more achievable in the uphill but rewarded well with the downhills. Except for the fact that the gravelly track was a little like trying to cycle on marbles. I had earlier confirmed, when asked, that I was out on my own. Yet I later hurtled down the hillside with a smile on my face until I decided I needed to apply some brakes as we approached a sharp corner. The bake wheel kicked out to the right viciously and I lost complete control of the bike with brakes fully locked on as I hurtled towards a wide, water filled ditch. The brakes were on hard but still I still skidded and slid and skidded and slid and skidded towards the ditch. I was in a flash thinking of jumping but suddenly felt a very firm slowing of the bike and indeed stopped with my front wheel resting on the grass verge of the ditch. I have mentioned previously in posts how I have experienced the most extraordinary sensation of having a Father’s hand guiding me up a hill as my own Father used to and in this case it felt decidedly like Father’s hand had grabbed the saddle and arrested my rapid descent towards disaster. Was it a sudden change in the track surface that gave me enough traction to rapidly stop? A look behind me at the deep brown skid mark all the way down to my position showed that not to be the case. Or was it an aura brought about the panic of my descent – No – I was feeling a little shaken by the narrow escape, this far up a hill side, but was certainly not suffering a seizure. My only conclusion is, as it has been before, and what I think I have always known, is that I am not walking alone.

Composure regained I made it the last few miles back to Callander for a Mocha and a Flapjack. Julie was pleased to see me despite the fact that the sweat was steaming off of me. Debbie introduced me to her family who were in for a visit so we had a great chat getting to know each other before it was time to tackle the hill over top road back to Doune. The school bus was collecting the children in 20 minutes. If I left now could I beat the bus back? The challenge was set. I cycled hard and thoroughly enjoyed this tarmac surface after the excitement of earlier. The downhills were great and escaped a puncture, unlike previous attempts, but as I approached the main road it became clear that I was going to have to affix and switch on my lights. As I did the No 59 packed with children from McLaren whooshed past. The race was back on. I cycled hard the last 3 miles and as I rounded the corner into our street I saw James running for the house. He had seen me as they overtook and rightly guessed that this was now a race. He won by 1 minute but I won the whole day as I had, tackled some fears, cast out some lingering demons from other auras, made some new friends (I hope) cycled 40 miles over some extreme climbs and had not one seizure all day. My lips aren’t tingling!!