I WILL meet you in the McDonald’s car park. That was the message from my good friend Andy Freshwater who lives in the French Alps.

Andy was going to ride the Col de la Colombiere with me and had planned a nice 60km loop that would see us start and finish in the McDonald’s car park.

It was safe to say we weren’t there for any fast food, but a shot of espresso was needed to get the body moving.

A cold fresh mountain morning felt great on the lungs but my paralysed arm was completely dead – it was going to require a strong strap today to secure it to my bike. I worry about strapping it too tight and cutting the blood supply off as I can’t feel it, so it’s hard to tell exactly how tight I tie it.

However, knowing that the climb ahead hits over 10 per cent there is no option if I want my hand to stay on the bike.

I paused to just savour the moment as we got the bikes ready. This is something that spending 11 years in and out of hospital has taught me; to stop and take moments like this in.

I also knew once on the bike I was going to be suffering.

Andy, who grew up in Kincraig, skied in the 1998 Winter Olympics and raced on the World Cup circuit alongside Alain Baxter. He’s an incredible athlete and even though he is not a cyclist I knew riding with him today was going to be a tough day.

It is moments like this, however, that make me feel most alive. It’s the beauty of sport in my mind: bringing people together with a shared passion.

There was no chasing medals or times, our egos were well in check. It was just about the process and taking on a challenge because we love it.

We were met with the first climb out of this small French village after 20 minutes. My first thought was ‘I can’t do this’. I couldn’t remember it being this steep in 2018.

I know I am slightly weaker as I haven’t done as much rehabilitation as I did in 2016 but the thought rushing into my mind was that ‘there is no way I can get up this hill’.

I stopped and mucked around with my arm strap at the side of the road. Inside my head I was going to tell Andy I had some issues so was going to bail. I convinced myself I couldn’t do it in my mind before I had even tried it.

This is the thing with challenges that take us out of our comfort zone. Our minds are trying to protect us, so we go into this inner debate of all the reasons why we can’t do it.

You might not get this – I never got it until I was paralysed and now, well, I have this inner debate most weeks.

It drives me mad, if I am being honest, and can also leave me trapped in my house on the real bad days. I guess it’s the hardest part of this spinal cord injury for me: this constant inner dialogue of reasons why I can’t do stuff. However, today I was determined to not give up. I knew if I could get over this first hill then the rest was going to be possible.

As these two voices rambled away in my mind I just pushed off and attacked the hill. I found my leg pushing hard over the 15 per cent hill and as it snaked around the corner, it thankfully levelled off.

It is a stunning climb through the forest before it opens into a small mountain village and the road also provides a few kilometres of flat riding before it really ramps up  as you approach the summit.

We were lucky as the sun was out, and this gave a clear view of the summit. Having said that, my eyes were mostly fixed on the road under my front wheel as I kept telling myself to keep the pedals turning.

As we rode past the sign saying 3km left I knew at this speed it is going to be a long, hard 3km.

There are moments of mental breaks as I cycle over the painting on the road left from the last time the pros had raced up here, but there is no physical break.

In the final meters I got a chance to enjoy the view, just to savour this moment for a second, to really be present as I took those last few pedal strokes before I collapsed onto the wooden decking next to the cafe and a sign reading the Col de la Colombiere, altitude 1613 metres. The last time I had seen this sign I thought I would never see it again.

In fact, I told myself today I won’t be climbing this again, but somehow I know I will be back. I think of this as the marathon effect.

There are moments in a marathon where people think ‘I am never doing this again’, then once they cross the finish line and their brain floods with dopamine, they quickly forget the pain and change their minds and announce they can’t wait to do it again.

This was one of those moments, as I sat on the summit overlooking the Alps. I have never felt so happy and so alive. It’s a pretty addictive state, so I know I will be back here on this hill next year.