It takes quite a lot of work to make a big trip happen, not to mention a liberal sprinkling of money where airfares and equipment are concerned. From the seeds of a vague conversation sometime last winter, to what felt like weeks researching routes, plane tickets and airline policies for bicycles, in summer we paid up and committed to what we hoped would be our biggest cycling adventure so far: two months in the mountains of Patagonia. Even the name stirs a little excitement, the idea of travelling to our planet’s most southerly portion of continent outside of Antarctica. The plan was to travel light, wild camp and to sniff out as much ‘true’ off-road riding as possible, all in the shadow of the instantly recognisable southern Andes: the Torres del Paine and Cerro Fitzroy.
With just a couple of weeks before the flight out, final preparations of kit and logistics were coming together, and filthy November weather on this side of the equator seemed to be hurrying us away. So gar, so good? On Sunday we decided to go for a run in the Lomond Hills of Fife, to get a last dousing of soggy autumn before chasing the sun further south. Coming down a steep bank from one of the summits, I slipped awkwardly and fell, hearing a loud crack as my ankle rolled beneath me. I got up and tried to shake it off; the pain wasn’t bad at all and besides, I couldn’t be injured so close to our departure. I hobbled the couple of kilometres off the hill by repeating in my head that it was just a sprain, nothing that a couple of days of rest couldn’t fix.
I’d broken bones before though, and there is a familiar feeling – discomfort rather than outright pain – that is usually a precursor to bad news from the radiology department. As much as I tried to get those worrying thoughts out of my head, in Ninewells hospital in Dundee a radiologist confirmed that there was a fracture around an inch above the bottom of my fibula. Crutches and a horrible boot-thing for four to six weeks were prescribed.
None of which really registered for a little while, until the fact that the whole adventure was now in doubt arrived, followed by the most selfish of tears. Guilt quickly overtook both: more so than ever, there are uncountable numbers of people in the world who have more to worry about than a little holiday spoilt, a fact which was all the plainer after the events of Friday night in Paris. Even the fracture itself could have been worse, with the tibia remaining intact and no apparent tears to the ligaments around the joint. Still, the drive home was a quiet one, as that backdrop of spiralling granite and ice that had been so close faded back into the distance.
So, where once there were remote camp spots and the convoluted topography of Patagonia, there is now a very large and unwelcome question mark. Until a follow up x-ray next week I won’t know how much of the time is recoverable, and there is always the risk of complicating things and setting back the recovery even further by going too fast. Maybe, just maybe though, I can be sat on a bike and pedalling to freedom by Christmas day, which would be quite a present given that I’m currently as mobile as a wardrobe on squeaky wheels.
One way or another, I will see those mountains.