Parkinson’s disease is more than just the shakes.
People are more than just strangers.
Some bike rides are more than just bike rides.
What do you know about Amsterdam?
I imagine – and I might be mistaken. I am, occasionally – that the name ‘Amsterdam’ inspires in you hazy, smokey, pungent images, tinted with a neon-reddish glow, and punctuated with vivid flashes of pink. Amsterdam has a global reputation based on its tolerance of prostitution and cannabis, and is seen as a party destination, receiving millions of visitors each year, many of them for these exact reasons.
But what if I said there was more to Amsterdam than drugs, drink, and ladies of negotiable affection? What if I said Amsterdam has 75 museums? Or that it is also known as the ‘Venice of the North’, thanks to its extensive canal network? Or that it is a city of major architectural interest? Or that in the 17th Century, it was the centre of world economy? Or that it has almost 1,300 bridges over its many waterways? Or that it has one of the busiest outdoor markets in Europe? Or contains the oldest zoo in Holland? Or eight windmills in the heart of the city? Or that Albert Camus’ ‘La Chute’ (The Fall) was based in Amsterdam, and described the city as ‘the middle-class hell […] peopled with bad dreams’?
Amsterdam is more than its reputation. And, speaking of hell, so are neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and the much less common Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). Parkinson’s and MSA are not just a case of the shakes. They are both seriously debilitating illnesses with a broad spectrum of symptoms. While treatments for the two conditions may be similar where symptoms overlap, even within each illness no two people afflicted with the same condition will experience it in the same way. “We are all exceptional cases,” the protagonist of La Chute tells us. This rings particularly true for those afflicted by neurological illnesses.
The physiological symptoms can seriously inhibit a person’s capacity to lead an independent lifestyle. These ailments are often accompanied by pain, a loss of control, and an increasing inability to communicate with others. But the window display of physical symptoms can only hint at the psychological trauma experienced behind the closed doors of the mind. Anxiety, depression, and an impaired mental capacity are among the unseen evils of these terrible conditions. This fall from independence and health into the prison of one’s own body is an experience I am grossly unqualified to discuss, but it is an experience many people live with – either within themselves or through caring for a loved one.
There is, at the moment, no cure. So to raise funds and awareness, our little bande of baroudeurs is cycling from London to Amsterdam, not just because we can, but because others can’t.
We can’t see the finish line, but we know it’s there. It will take time. It will take effort. It will take teamwork, kindness, strength, courage, determination, and love, but we will get there. We believe the same can be said about cures for these neurological conditions. So as we undertake our symbolic journey, with the memories of those affected by Parkinson’s and MSA in our minds, we are adding our shoulders to the wheel, and our mettle to the pedals, and trying to help people take back control of their own lives.
It’s not just a bike ride. It’s not just a Red Light District. It’s not just the shakes.