Across the Sicilian Interior on Christmas Day

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Bridge over the deep valley bisecting the lie of the land between Palazzolo Acreide and Buccheri   David Bugeja (c) 2016

Curve and sweep of the eight hundred metre Anapo bridge.

Cold, wet steel crash barrier.

Sky, leaden and overcast.

Pregnant-with-rain jet-black thunderheads streaked with ethereal wisps of silvery grey clouds ushered across the sky by the frigid maestrale. 

Icy cotton wool fluff floating down to hilltop villages obscured from view by a purple haze of mist and fog.

Sharp tingling splash of a bloated raindrop against my skin – dank winter cloud dribbling down my nape.

No place to linger and savour the majesty of having pulled through my bout with melanoma and being here, on the road again, cycling solo across the Sicilian interior.

Not in the failing evening light. Not with drizzle driving to downpour and the hollow echoing rumble of thunder in the hills ever louder.

Get back into the saddle fast and climb the four kilometre slope to Palazzolo Acreide before this storm really gets going.

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The way I was riding across the Sicilian interior on Christmas Day  David Bugeja (c) 2016

Strange how  calm and focussed I felt as I cycled over that bridge.

Nine years had gone by since I last cycled through this place in winter.

What distance in time and how changed my circumstances now were!

Then, I had just started out with cycling and was obsessed with the wild idea of biking solo across Europe and Asia regardless of how long it would take.

I had come a long way since those early cycling days – for nine years I had quit backpacking, bussing, training and hitchhiking my way across the earth, choosing instead to bike across Italy, Balkan Europe and as far as the Ukrainian Carpathians.

But how was I to know that my too eager enthusiasm to see the world in such a free spirited manner would eventually end up seriously endangering my health?

Too many days of pedalling across southern Europe in the sizzling summer sun resulted in a cancerous skin lesion on my left shin.

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Doing what I love best – still wandering solo with a bike in spite of cancer  David Bugeja (c) 2016

The ridiculously high amount of  factor fifty plus sunblock I routinely slopped on all exposed parts of of my skin plus restricting cycling time during peak hours of sunshine meant I must be safe and had cancer well covered. Surely taking these precautions should be enough to ward off such a remote and unlikely threat as melanoma! I never once doubted this conviction until the unthinkable happened to me.

Because before it happens to you it’s that sort of thing that somehow could only happen to someone else – I guess that most people think somehow they themselves shall always be spared the nightmare of a  cancer diagnosis.

 Malignant melanoma shook me like no other preceding life event.

To my mind my life now lay divided. An impassable barrier now severed what had once been – before my cancer diagnosis – from what I now had left after my initial recovery from invasive cancer surgery.

The doctors evaluated my prognosis as being excellent but hey no promises and no guarantee that micrometastases might not already be at work.

So what to do? How should I go about living my life hereon?

I felt so confused, so let down. After all I had always been one hell of a  health freak – unflinchingly diet conscious, rigorous  and disciplined  with my  exercise routine , never smoking, only drinking  on occasion…

Everything had so suddenly  changed from my hospital/clinic free previous life.

For the next five years I’d need a hospital check up every two months  –  no playing around now with skipping any scheduled appointment, but strict adherence to the set protocol no matter what.

No matter whether I chose to keep on living in Malta, – at least for a while – or decided to quit everything and take off on my dream solo journey to India before the year was out, the hospital visits must go on.

Slowly I started to recover from the raw shock of my diagnosis and the niggling deep rooted fear of possible recurrence.

I reckoned that in the meantime I must control my  anxiety and fear levels as far as possible and do my best to  live one day at a time (in spite of all the doubting and the so many unanswered questions) in the manner that made the most sense to me – by keeping up my helter skelter, no strings attached lifestyle and by touring solo by bicycle whenever I could.

So for as long as I’d keep on teaching and for as long as my health held out I’d cycle in winter and hit the road with a backpack in summer,  just as I used to do before cycling ever started.

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Out of the summer sun – Magic of a  winter journey solo by bicycle  David Bugeja (c) 2016

But no way I’d ever again be risking the summer sun by stubbornly keeping up my four or five thousand kilometre bicycle treks through hundred Fahrenheit plus days for weeks at a stretch.

One cancer diagnosis was enough to convince me of wising up against such foolhardy and dogged persistence in a way of life that could go on no further.

All Text and Photographs Copyright (c) David Bugeja 2016

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