Ever feel like your life is just one big film in which you’ve got the starring role? Ever feel like things just seem to follow a certain script? Well I do, and unfortunately for me, my film’s a black comedy, probably directed by the Coen Brothers or something. Let me explain.
Things were looking so good. I’d finished my last ever exams, I’d managed to (con)vince a friend into storing a bunch of my stuff (thanks Doug!), and I had a month in Girona to look forward to before beginning my big ol’ adventure in Belgium.
The journey and flight over to Spain, captured using plenty of timelapse footage naturally, went about as smoothly as can be expected given I was lugging a great big bike box around with most of my worldly possessions stuffed inside. Even the minor glitch of having to kip down in the Girona arrivals lounge when my lift went missing in action (it’s already forgotten about Fiona and Gareth!) didn’t do anything to dampen my mood.
The following day, having settled into my new apartment in the quaint little town of Serinya and established that it provided everything I needed to make it through the next month, I set off for my first ride in paradise. And a paradise it was. Singletrack roads led off into the mountains in every direction while the traffic seemed to be taking a day off, or maybe just a daylong siesta. This weren’t your typical UK singletrack roads either, these things were smooooth!
Just another empty road to nowhere in particular
Having spent the first 30mins of my ride just doing double takes at the incredible views of the snow-capped Pyrenees, I stumbled upon yet another little descent with a few corners that would make a racetrack designer shake with envy.
Knee out, outside foot down, eyes looking forw…
The impact itself is still hazy in my mind, but what is sure is that I was down (and out) before I’d even had time to register what was happening. I do remember picking myself up off the road to get out of the way of an oncoming car, whose driver helpfully stopped and offered me some tissues to clean up my face. Oh dear, I wasn’t looking too great then.
I couldn’t for the life of me remember how I’d gotten to the spot where I was now found myself sitting in the verge off the side of the road. Looking around, I recognized these mountains from somewhere (I’d visited the area in late December) and deduced that I must be in Spain, but had no recollection of my flight the day before, or even my ride so far.
Having spent 40mins on the side of the road trying to piece things together, I figured I’d better get a move on. My rear derailleur cable had snapped, so I wasn’t going to be completing my planned ride, even if I was crazy enough to attempt it after all that had happened. I decided to head to the nearest town and call in the cavalry – Gareth and Fiona from Girona Cycling who were my contacts in the area and had helped me with finding an apartment.
Upon seeing the state of my helmet, and learning of my possible loss of consciousness, they decided to take me Olot hospital, around 10 miles down the road. There I got seen very quickly and was soon getting everything tested – reflexes, x-ray, blood and urine samples, the works. I was actually pretty impressed at the efficacy of it all, and was hopeful that I’d be out of there soon enough when the tests came back all clear. I was feeling much better, and my memory had pretty much all returned. The doctors remarked that I was acting like a normal person, which I perhaps took as more of a compliment that they were intending!
Then the first seeds of doom were sown – I needed an MRI. Olot didn’t have an MRI machine, so I’d be taken by ambulance to Girona hospital 30 miles away. No biggy I thought. What with my first ever painkiller IV (did I forget to mention the road rash?) and now this ambulance trip, it was turning into quite a day of firsts!
Arriving in Girona it was clear that my first impressions of the Spanish health system might have to be revised. Doctors and nurses were rushing around, while the corridors were lined with people in beds waiting, just waiting. It was nearly 40 mins before I was seen by anyone from the hospital at all, during which time the paramedics had to stay watching over me, catching my eye in silent communication every so often. Turns out, the body language for “this place is a f***king sh*tshow” is the same in both English and Catalan.
I was eventually seen by a doctor, before being relegated to the corridor once again for another 3 hours before I was ushered into the MRI scanner to get zapped. Throughout this all, Gareth and Fiona had been patiently waiting outside with some of my clothes, though they weren’t being allowed to come through and see me. At this point, I have to express my thanks to them as I’m not sure what I would’ve done if they’d not been there to sort me out.
Cutting a long story short (it’s pretty mind numbing lying in a hospital corridor for hours on end with no book or anything to entertain you), I ended up spending 10 hours stuck there on a bed wearing a hospital gown designed for someone 5 foot tall. It was over 24 hours since I’d last had a bite of food to eat and even longer since I’d had a drink. As you’d expect I wasn’t in the best of moods.
At 4am, I was put back in the ambulance (sat in the front seat, seemingly contradicting all the advice so far for me to lie flat?!) and taken back to Olot hospital, passing within 200m of my apartment. I was under the impression that I needed to stay under supervision until at least the morning, just to make sure that I wasn’t going to suddenly keel over and die, but upon arrival the doctor there quickly pronounced me free to leave.
Great, it’s 4 in the bloody morning, where the hell am I supposed to go!
I attempted to phone Gareth, but wasn’t surprised when I went through to the answering machine. In my best Spanish, I attempted to explain that this was my first day in the country and I literally knew no one who could pick me up. To be fair to the nurses, they were extremely helpful, and managed to sort me out a bed so I could attempt to claw back some missed sleep. What a day this was turning out to be!
Dawn rose with a steady increase in level of hustle and bustle within the hospital, and I was treated to a delightfully nutritious breakfast of Maria biscuits and instant coffee. Gareth turned up soon after and I was discharged back into the outside world, to try and make sense of what had just happened to me.
Since then, things have been pretty damn good if I’m to be honest – like, how I thought things would be when I first planned this all. The riding is even better than I could’ve imagined. Yesterday I was riding up past banks of snow lining the road, whilst today I enjoyed a leisurely pootle down to the beach. The variety of landscapes and the empty roads still haven’t set in.
Up into the snow at the top of Coll de Bracons
The Med looking awfully tempting
It's difficult to be too angry at life when faced with this view
Gareth and Fiona were even kind enough to take me out for an all-you-can-eat sushi dinner just down the road in Banyoles. Two nicer and more helpful people I couldn’t have hoped to meet and if you’re considering coming to the area, I highly recommend giving them a shout. If nothing else, Gareth’s enthusiasm for sushi just has to be witnessed to be believed!
It’ll take a while for the skin to grow back and the joints to return to their usual (semi) smooth action, but in the meantime, I’ll be hoping that the next few scenes in the film are Rocky-style training montages. Hit the music.
Thanks to the Dave Rayner Fund (@DaveRaynerFund) for supporting my 2014 season in Belgium with team Terra Safety Shoes. In addition to the blog you can catch my day to day ramblings on twitter: @liamtglen
For 5 years, racing was my life and I went all the way from a newbie bonking after 40 miles, to a full-timer plying my trade on the Belgian kermesse scene. Unfortunately, the pro dream wasn't meant to be and these days, you're more likely to find me bimbling about country lanes and sleeping in a bush on the side of the road.