Travels with my father
I left home when I was 18 since then I don’t think I’ve spent longer than a weekend with my Dad.
Introducing my father, Steven Winter.
He’s had a hard couple of years, recovering from leukaemia, a lung tumour, DVT (and a whole other string of associated health problems). On top of the other shit, that life tends to throw at you.
Realising life is too short, dad calls me “Gareth, I have a week off in March, let’s use it.” So, we booked a week in Mallorca, to reconnect (the only way we know how), cycling.
How was this dynamic going to work? I’m a completely different person to the one that left home all those years ago. How much do we really know each other nowadays?
But first, the BIG C
Dad, how did it feel when you were diagnosed with Leukaemia, a lung tumour, DVT, etc?
“It was a relief, believe it or not (to find out what it was), I knew something was up.”
“Then, how am I going to beat this? I never felt that it was going to be the end
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
“My biggest fear was how to take care of the people I loved if the worse case happened.”
How has cycling helped in your recovery?
“Being a cyclist you set yourself goals. If I can cycle to end of the road this week and to the shops tomorrow, I was improving. There’s a nice cafe four miles down the road so that was a good goal. Harley (my brother) works in a cafe 6 miles away, so I kept going.”
What advice would you give to anyone dealing with cancer or other life-changing conditions?
“Don’t sell your bike.”
Thanks, dad. This conversation was a great reminder, that when facing a (metaphorical) mountain, setting small, achievable goals will get you to the top.
Day 1: Cap de Formentor Lighthouse
A leg stretcher after all the travelling, it’s 20°c and not a cloud in sight. We headed to the lighthouse, dad was looking strong - spinning at a high cadence, enjoying the weather, climbing and views.
Day 2: Coll de Femenia
This is where I realised the effect of Leukaemia, and what dad has been dealing with. After getting a bit carried away yesterday, he struggled to recover.
Dad’s a lifelong cyclist, I don’t think he’s handling the loss of form particularly well, who would? Going from ‘hitter to shitter’ can’t be a good feeling. I have to remind him ‘progress, not perfection.’ But the racer in him still thinks he’s twenty-five.
Despite feeling fatigued from yesterday’s ride, dad suffered up the Coll de Femenia as only a cyclist could. It was cold, wet and windy, he was working so hard that sweat was dripping onto the top tube.
The doctor told dad that he’d hardly be able to walk with his lung condition, so it’s inspiring to see him dig deep and refuse his fate.
A true cyclist never forgets how to suffer, you might get slower or faster, but the effort remains the same.
A lesson I’ll never forget.
Day 3: Sa Calobra
The cumulative effects of ‘going into the red’ caught up with dad, he had a high pulse and poor nights sleep. It’s easy to get carried away out here.
The sun was shining, so we took a steady ride to Sa Calobra, then dad let me loose.
Can you imagine spending a lifetime racing, then suddenly being in dads position? Chemotherapy, lung and respiratory issues, etc. Being from his generation, I’m sure the whole experience was a lot worse than he let out, physically and emotionally.
While we were cycling and the sun warmed our faces, nothing else mattered.
Day 4: Recovery
Time for dad to listen to his body and put his feet up - just as well, the weather was shit.
I popped out, intending to cycle up Cap de Formentor. Halfway up the first climb, I bumped into Russ Ellis, AKA @cyclingimages, so we rolled along the seafront and went for a coffee.
Russ is one of the most talented cycling photographers of the moment; he’s hard-working, humble, kind, and just an all-around decent human. It’s a pleasure to work with him and an honour to call him a friend.
Dad and I went for lunch and enjoyed a walk around the historic town of Pollença, taking in the architecture and culture. The Museum and the Santa Maria dels Àngels parish church are incredible, this island has a beautiful culture and history.
Day 5: Sa Calobra - the comeback
Dad wanted to give Sa Calobra his due diligence. After watching him suffer on the Coll de Femenia and struggle to recover, I wasn’t sure how he was going to ride.
Got a monkey on my back
Got a mo, mo, mo, mo, monkey on my back, back, back, back
‘Nobody’s Fault but Mine’ - Led Zeppelin
He let me go, I descended back down to find him. Dad was riding strong, I could see he was hurting himself and enjoying it, not suffering like before.
I rode alongside him and placed grandad's medal (I always carry him with me cycling) in his pocket for courage, and left him to it.
I joined him for the summit, where he emptied the afterburners and stopped his watch.
01:05:02 - a solid effort. From ‘just about making it to the local cafe’, to climbing Sa Calobra - is a huge achievement.
Day 6: Cap de Formentor
Our final day of riding, today is about sunbathing on two wheels, not pushing it.
Dad has found so much form in a short space of time, he looked at home on the bike.
This trip was all about rehabilitation for the body, mind and soul.
Day 7: Recovery
Coffee and a walk around the Catedral-Basílica de Santa María de Mallorca, before our flight home.
So how well do we know each other nowadays? That doesn’t really matter, our relationship is like your favourite book, you can pick it up and put it down whenever you like.
One thing’s for sure, cycling is a powerful way to connect people.
Then, as it was, then again it will be
And though the course may change sometimes
Rivers always reach the sea
‘Ten Years Gone’ - Led Zeppelin
Dad, sorry for bossing you around all week. Let’s plan another cycling adventure.
If my dads story has connected, and you’d like to show some support - please make a small donation to Cancer Research UK using this link - Gareth’s Birthday Fundraiser