Forced stop

Posted on 14 November 2019, by Arianna

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Feeling a bit frustrated with my knee failure...

When we set off on this journey I was well aware that something could go wrong at some point. After all, despite being two reasonably well-seasoned cycle-tourists, we had never attempted anything of this magnitude before, with such a heavy load, and during late autumn months. Clearly, there was plenty of room for unexpected complications… My main concerns were regarding Zola, and the fact that she may end up hating the whole experience, my own mental state, since I have been suffering for a long time with health anxiety and panic attacks, and Daniel’s right knee, that had let us down on a couple of occasions before. But never ever I would have thought that my body would fail me whilst cycling! As a matter of fact, I had always believed that I was born to travel by bike…

But it appears that I was wrong! None of the things I feared occurred, and instead both my knees developed a patellofemoral pain syndrome. It’s kind of funny, as this is the same condition that affected Daniel’s knee before, and in order to prevent him from suffering from it again, I have always carried more weight than him, at least at the beginning of our trips. Now we will probably have to swap! With hindsight, considering that I have had problems with my knees from a young age (I dislocated my kneecaps 5 times in one knee and 4 times in the other), it does not seem unimaginable that my knees could start hurting after having cycled 3800 km with a heavy load. But only with hindsight…

As we learnt from Daniel’s experience, patellofemoral pain syndrome means absolutely nothing. Or rather, it means that there is pain localised around the kneecap, but that it is difficult to exactly pinpoint its origin. The physiotherapist I consulted in Italy believes that in my case the syndrome arose due a misalignment of the kneecap as it moves through the femoral grooves upon bending the knees. On my first visit, in the beginning of October, my kneecaps where so stuck near the femur (especially the right one) that it was impossible to move them through their normal range of motion without myself contorting in pain. It didn’t help the fact that my brain had been probably wired for a long time to keep my kneecaps immobile, as a measure to prevent further dislocations.

In the past few weeks I went through lots of these painful kneecap manipulations and I slowly re-learnt how to bend my knees properly.

Even if I was briefly smiling in the picture, I guarantee that I was suffering hellish pains!
Even if I was briefly smiling in the picture, I guarantee that I was suffering hellish pains!

Re-learning to go up and down steps
Re-learning to go up and down steps

On top of several physiotherapy sessions, and many repetitions of various rehabilitating exercises, I also got a professional bike fit done and bought a pair of orthotic shoe inserts, both aimed at decreasing injury likelihood while cycling.

Checking my cycling position at a professional bike fitter
Checking my cycling position at a professional bike fitter

Furthermore, I started going back on the bike (I resurrected my old Koga Miyata for this, as my beloved d.r.k. bike is in Paris waiting for me), slowly increasing from a few kilometres on the flat to longer and more demanding climbs.

Cycling along Lake Maggiore western side with my old Koga Miyata
Cycling along Lake Maggiore western side with my old Koga Miyata

Alongside fixing my knees, the second most useful thing that we have achieved during this forced stop has been that of selling our car. We should have done it ages ago, but we simply didn’t find the courage to… In our consumerist societies private cars often represent a status symbol and are believed to be a necessity that no one can, or should, live without. But we would like to challenge this belief and show that a fulfilling and meaningful life can be achieved even without a car. It will certainly be difficult for us, since we live in a hilly countryside where public transport choices are very limited, but we are sure that the benefits that will derive from our decision will vastly outweigh some intrinsic disadvantages. And naturally, we will cycle a lot!

Selling the car was really exciting and left us with a wonderful sensation of freedom. Strange how most people think the opposite, and view the private car as a must-have in order to become free. However, our timing choice for selling was quite funny since, after years of pressure from me, my family and his own family, Daniel had finally, unhappily, surrendered to the idea of getting a driving licence and had recently passed the theory test… Well, I guess the whole process will have to be postponed!

Finally sold!
Finally sold!

While I was engaged with various medical visits, bike re-training, and finally finishing work (this time for real) Daniel and Zola carried on with their usual activities: one busying himself in his workshop, trying to design one (or two) electric cargo bikes that will have to replace our car, and the other mastering various napping techniques on the sofa or directly in bed. We feel that Zola has actually suffered a bit our return to a semi-normal lifestyle and is getting bored. The other day, to entertain herself, she even decided to write something on a cardboard, claiming that she came up with it all by herself, even if we know that she has been reading H. G. Wells in secret…

Zola quoting H. G. Wells! She is more literate than us both. We probably need to teach her to spell properly though...
Zola quoting H. G. Wells! She is more literate than us both. We probably need to teach her to spell properly though...

Given that my knees seem to be fixed and my physiotherapist thinks we can resume our journey, we are planning to go back to Paris on November the 18th, hopefully starting to cycle again on the next day. My injury set us back nearly two months and this means that we will have to cycle through winter, with most of our camping equipment being rated for 3-seasons only! Thankfully we have plenty of experience with winter cycling, since when we lived in Finland we used to commute regularly to work even through winter…

This is me cycling to work in Finland in -23 °C, back in January 2012
This is me cycling to work in Finland in -23 °C, back in January 2012

Indeed, I am not so much scared by the cold, nor the darkness… It’s true that it will be demanding for all of us but I know that we will be able to manage, perhaps relying more on platforms like warmshowers or couchsurfing. What worries me most now are my knees, because I am not sure how much I can trust them, and I really hope that they will not let me down again soon! Unfortunatley this long break also means that we will not be able to claim the Guinness World Record, even if we will manage to complete the drawing, but this would have really just been a cherry on top of the cake… Now we will focus on the cake only!



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