Sunday 30 December 2018

Plans for World Domination...

So as things continue to improve health wise, I'm adjusting to my "new normality" and in discovering what I can achieve, thoughts naturally turn to motorcycle competition but what to do? 

Obviously we are not yet in the rally season, the first UK event traditionally being the Brechfa Rally in March. But am I yet up to the rigours of a two day rally or is there an alternative?

So I thought of competing in a Long Distance Trial or LDT, for the uninitiated these are essentially long trail rides on public rights of way following a “route card” which is generally another name for a road book. During the course of the route a number of “observed sections” are included, essential tests of skills over natural terrain. So all the essential ingredients are there; motorbikes, navigation by road book and trail riding but at a much slower pace than a rally and only one day’s duration, what’s not to like?

I had always wanted to compete in one of the Motor Cycling Club’s three Classic Trials, The Exeter, The Lands End or the Edinburgh. These all started in the first years of the 20thCentury in the early days of motorcycling and were originally dubbed “Reliability Trials” as simply completing the events was a real achievement for those early machines. The first of these the “Edinburgh” originally ran from London to Edinburgh, to be completed in under 24 hours, no mean feat in 1904! 

Still referred to as Classic Trials, not because they are for “classic bikes” although many do compete in them but because of the “classic” nature of the events. As the Exeter takes place next weekend, the Lands End, that takes place at Easter in the South West seemed a good target (The Edinburgh that actually takes place in the Peak District these days is in October). So the Land’s End duly went on the sixty by sixty list.

But of course that means nothing “do-able” on the calendar until April but then I spotted the Clee Hill Trial was running again on the 20thJanuary after a break last year. Another Classic Trial that runs in Shropshire, starting from Ludlow. Looks perfect!

So a bit of online research into the event and I conclude:

Whilst the KTM 1090 Adventure R is a candidate for the MCC events as after all they cover several hundred miles, it seems something smaller is desirable for this event which is only 90 miles long. Indeed, my only experience of a Long Distance Trial was doing the Whitley 100 back in 2012, with my friend Michael Messervey on which we foolishly decided our KTM 990 Adventures were suitable bikes…. they weren’t!

To use my rally bike, I would have to change the tyres (only trials tyres permitted), put it back on the road as it’s currently on a SORN, technically speaking the advertising on the fairing would have to be removed or taped over as it’s not permitted under the regulations (but I’m not sure how serious they are about that) and to be honest the rally fairing is likely to be a hindrance on the observed sections, so that rules it out.

So I request was duly submitted to Grainne to borrow “Kevin” as she calls her KTM Freeride 250F, for the day! The perfect bike for this type of event, part trail bike, part trials bike. And she said yes!

So all that remains is to prep Kevin for my extra height and weight, I was able to do this successfully when I borrowed it for a day surveying in the Peak District and requires sliding the forks down through the yokes to the standard height, winding a goodly proportion of preload onto the rear shock and adding ten clicks on both rebound and compression damping settings both front and rear. I will also consider fitting the slightly longer side stand we have too as it is a bit precarious in that set up otherwise (see picture above for evidence). 

Fitting my road book holder will be easy as I’ve already adapted it to mount to the handlebar via a Ram Mount as used on the 1090R when planning Adventure Cannonball Club road book routes.

On the day itself, the event starts from the Squirrel Pub at Ludlow, right next to the Travelodge on the A49. I've stayed there before when working on mountain bike races at Ludlow so finding it is no problem! I did consider booking in there but at £93 for the night it was a bit steep but as it’s only a two hour drive from Milton Keynes, I’ve decided to drive up first thing on the Sunday morning.

So far there’s only six bikes entered in the B2 class (Solo motorcycles over 225cc and up to 450cc) myself included, so unless I do something really stupid like get disqualified, I’m guaranteed at least sixth place in class, world domination of classic trials here we come!

Or of course I could slap some trials tyres on the Rally bike, tax it, strip off the navigation tower and fairing and replace the standard headlight and then truly dominate by doing even better as there's only one bike entered in the C class (Solo Motorcycles over 450cc) 

But on reading the rules I spotted that if there's less than three in a class, they will be combined with another class. So most probably not worth the effort.

It's a tricky business this World Domination lark!

Monday 24 December 2018

Bikes, Blood and Myasthenia

Life with Myasthenia Gravis continues and as I recover after my heart attack things definitely seem to be improving.

I'm guessing this has a lot to do with the fact that i'd obviously been suffering from the blocked artery for some time even though I didn't know it and that in itself must have exacerbated my myasthenia symptoms. Since having the stent fitted the (admittedly slow) improvement has been noticeable.

I still have good and bad days but the bad days seem to be fewer and those symptoms I do still get seem to be lessened and less frequent so all good. It is also likely my medication is starting to settle things down too.

Having received my new licence back from the DVLA and taken my bike out and coped OK, I thought I needed to book some duties with SERV OBN Blood Bikes as an experiment to see if I could survive a duty or two and still contribute as a rider member.


My first thought was to book some day time only duties but in the event I had to work with what was available on the rota, so booked for last Friday night into Saturday morning and the Saturday day time duty (21st and 22nd December).

So having had Yamaha FJR1300 fleet bike "Ruby" delivered on the Thursday, seven o'clock came around on Friday evening and I clocked in by text but the phone didn't ring. Come eleven o'clock and I'm thinking of going to bed as I might get a call in the early hours but in the event I was still awake when the inevitable call came just after midnight. I had been preparing for this by continuing to take pyridostigmine into the evening. This is the drug I take to improve neuromuscular function and is required every four hours, with a very noticeable effect as it runs down.  My last dose is usually around six or seven o'clock as I don't normally need it through the night but this evening I continued and took some around 11.30. this was fortuitous as it takes 20-30 minutes to kick in so was working well as I set off.

The run was for a blood sample for cross-matching from Northampton General Hospital to the Blood Transfusion Service in Birmingham. A long run so my controller asked if I needed to rendezvous with Warwickshire and Solihull Blood Bikes (WSBB) at Junction 2 of the M6 so they could complete the run. I decided that given my circumstances, this would be a good idea and asked if this could be requested but said I'd be happy to run all the way to Birmingham if I had to.

I set off under cloudy skies and it was relatively warm and dry but sadly that lasted all of five minutes! I was rolling down the slip road onto the A5 north bound, when the monsoon started!!!

The rain was of truly biblical proportions, I genuinely considered stopping under one of the bridges, visibility was so bad. The only positive was my waterproofs are excellent and my heated jacket and Ruby's heated grips were doing their jobs. So I persevered and by the time I reached the Old Stratford Roundabout and turned onto the A508, the rain had stopped. I had to contend with wet roads and lots of standing water and the occasional shower for the rest of the night but thankfully it was never as bad again.

Arriving at Northampton General, I collected the sample and got the news I could hand over to WSSB at the Tesco Extra just off Junction 2 of the M6 near Coventry.

Setting off up the M1 and M6, I just set the FJR on cruise control, turned on my heated jacket and the grips back on and settled into the ride. I find riding through the night quite enjoyable and this was no different, near deserted roads are a refreshing change in this day and age. I eventually rolled into the car park at Tescos around 2.00am and handed over to Chris, who was waiting in WSBBs marked car... no roughing it on a bike for him!

A trip into a strangely deserted Tescos to use the toilet and to grab a snack and drink to keep my energy levels up,  I checked in with Malcolm, my controller who confirmed there was nothing else for me and then set off on the long journey south and home. Arriving just before 03:30 I again checked in with Malcolm and in the absence of any more jobs climbed into bed for some much needed sleep, safe in the knowledge I was unlikely to be called again for a few hours as our procedures do require a minimum rest period after a late night run.

My day time controller, Paul checked in with me around ten o'clock but had no jobs at that time and it continued that way through the day until after lunch...

Around two o'clock I was notified by Paul of a non urgent transfer of platelets from the Blood Bank at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford up to Kettering General Hospital that would be ready for collection at five o'clock. Now the only issue was the fact that this is a four hour round trip so there was no way I'd be finished when my duty ended at 7.00. I was due to be handing the bike straight over to Robert, the next rider on the rota, so made arrangements to ride straight to his house from Kettering and he could then give me a lift home as this would only take about 20 minutes. Ian the controller for Saturday night was appraised of the plan and all was set in motion.

At four o'clock I left home for a leisurely ride to  Oxford, collected the platelets at 4:50 and then headed off for the 90 minute ride to Kettering. Thankfully traffic was light and the roads now dry so I was able to reach Kettering in only 70 minutes. The only negative part of the ride was the blind Audi driver who decided to pull straight out in front of me at a roundabout on the A43 at Brackley and then when he realised his mistake, did exactly the wrong thing and stopped in the middle of the roundabout! Luckily I had seen him approaching the roundabout too fast to stop easily so predicted what he was about to do and was already braking to a stop as he pulled in front of me, so no real drama! But I'm still not sure how he could miss a bike that is lit up brighter than the average Christmas tree!

The view he would have seen! 

Even in daylight it's hard to miss

After the drop off, it was a swift ride back to Robert's house, dropped off the bike and jumped in his car and I was back home at eight o'clock, only an hour after I was due to be off shift so no real problem.

So how did I stand up to this? It's fair to say Sunday was a bit of a wash out, feeling very fatigued and my neck muscles especially were very sore. Knowing this to be a potential problem as I hadn't worn a crash helmet for any length of time since August and myasthenia tending to affect my neck muscles in particular, on Friday night I had worn my BMW GS Carbon helmet as it only weighs 1200 grammes. However having a peak, it isn't very compatible with the screen on the FJR causing a lot of buffeting and noise. 

BMW GS Carbon

So on Saturday I swapped to my Schuberth E1, this also has a peak but it can be removed in seconds and is a lot quieter on the FJR as a result. The downside is it weighs 1750 grammes and you can certainly feel the difference and no doubt a major contributor to the sore neck muscles. 
Schuberth E1

So it seems I can successfully survive a blood bike duty (or two) but for future duties, I think I'll try and stick to day time shifts on weekends or bank holidays and this will also give me a suitable rest period in between rather than doing consecutive duties. And I'll stick to my carbon fibre crash helmet and put up with the noise!

Onwards and upwards as they say, so on Monday by now feeling a bit better I rode my KTM 1090 Adventure R to work for the first time since August, no drama although the forecast was for a dry, warm day with temperatures around 6 to 7 degrees. No such luck as the warmest I saw it on the way in was 2 degrees, as always I was grateful for heated grips and my heated jacket!

Thursday 13 December 2018

Tempus fugit

Yep, Time flies...

It seems this being off sick thing is getting to be rather busy!

Doctor's appointments, Consultant's appointments, blood tests, cardiac rehab, medicines reviews and still sorting out insurance from the car crash, it seems that any thought I had that i'd have plenty of time to keep the blog updated was misplaced but I finally got here.

So dear reader, last time I blogged I was still inmate of Milton Keynes Hospital, so what's been going on?

You will recall I had returned from the John Radcliffe Hospital having had my angioplasty but there were still concerns. In order to detect heart attacks they test for a protein in the blood called Troponin that put simply is an indicator of damage to the heart muscle. This was the blood test they did on the Wednesday evening to confirm I'd had the heart attack and produced a level of 2.9; a normal level being below 0.4.

What was causing concern on my return to MK on the Thursday night was the latest blood test showed a troponin level of 38.0!!! 

ECGs were also still flagging concerns so I spent Thursday night into Friday morning on a cardiac monitor, having more blood tests, regular observations through the night, yet more ECGs and was visited by the duty SHO. She in turn got in touch with the Cardiologists at John Radcliffe for advice. 

By morning my troponin level had dropped to 19.0, still stupidly high but going in the right direction, the message from the JR was along the lines of "of course his levels are sky high, we've been poking around in his heart" but by Friday daytime all was settling down nicely, I saw the consultant Cardiologist and in the afternoon went for an echocardiogram.

This showed no permanent damage to my heart  although did show something called Hibernating Myocardium, damage that should hopefully recover in time. The next day I was deemed well enough to go home and signed off work for a month, which is where you find me now. 

In this time I have had my not inconsiderable number of medications sorted out as there were concerns that one of my heart medicines, a Beta Blocker was counter indicated for myasthenia but upon seeing my Neurologist, she confirmed that in the "Top Trumps" of medical conditions, the Heart always trumps Myasthenia, so it was OK to go ahead and take it. So I was now on ten different medicines and that meant I was taking twenty seven tablets a day!

One bit of good news was my Neurologist also agreed to start reducing the amount of steroids I have to take month by month, so from the first December I was only on twenty five tablets a day!

However a bit of a blip last week had me back at hospital with chest pains after my blood pressure went sky high and so I'm back on my original medication (a calcium channel blocker) as well as my new one (an ACE Inhibitor) and it seems to be doing the trick. But yes that means I'm back to 11 different medications and 27 tablets a day!

I've also had an assessment for cardiac rehabilitation and they seem pleased although the combination of Ischaemic Heart Disease (to get all technical on you) and Myasthenia Gravis does seem to fascinate the medical profession and i'm seen as a bit of an "experiment" or rather the "I've never dealt with these two things together before so we're going to have to make it up as we go along" approach. The price of a rare condition I guess? Anyway the assessment went well, they are pleased with my progress and I'm back next month to meet an Exercise Specialist.

I finally got the van back from the repairers so that's all nice and shiny again!

I also got a decision from the DVLA and have had to surrender my driving licence for a "medical review licence" which does what it says on the tin... it lasts three years and is renewable after a medical review. This does seem to be the standard approach to anyone with Myasthenia if they don't actual suspend your licence so it's what I was expecting.

The only downside is I loose my "grandfather rights" to categories C1 and D1 (3,500kg to 7,500kg vehicles). That's because they are now considered Large Goods Vehicles (LGV), I'm a bit miffed about that as I do on occasion use that entitlement. I am allowed to reapply (without a test thankfully) but will have to provide both a Doctor's and an Ophthalmologist's report; no doubt at considerable cost!

On slightly better news SERV Blood Bikes have confirmed that their insurers have no problems with my new medical status, so I can continue riding with them when I'm up to it, although at the moment volunteering in one of the groups three 4x4s seems the more attractive option.

I did get out on the bike for the first time since my heart attack yesterday, only a short 20 mile run over to Brackley as SERV were doing a collection at Tescos there, so I popped over to offer my support. Only half an hour each way was no problem although I was very grateful for my heated jacket and hand grips.