Into Death Valley again

This is taken from Cycling Plus, a specialist cycling magazine, so the writer is able to make assumptions about the knowledge and interest of the readership. Even so, there is nothing too technical to deter the casual reader (us). The tone is mostly factual, although there are emotive moments. This man uses humour throughout the piece to combat pity; he rejects self pity, or anyone else’s pity, and refuses to see himself as a tragic figure. In this way he gains the reader’s respect and admiration.

Number the paragraphs.

The title makes an oblique reference to the poem The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson ( In the poem, few that rode into the valley survived, so this is an allusion to the dangers faced by Stuart Hughes as he undertakes this adventure. The title also establishes a geographical location (

The brief introduction to Hughes’ article uses the superlative “harshest” and the ellipsis at the end of the line (I think it’s called aposiopesis but you don’t need to worry too much about that) to generate a sense of expectation and tension in the reader.

In his opening paragraph (2), the phrase “mere suggestion” and “unthinkable” show how far from his mammoth trek Hughes was before his accident.
What single word does he use to signal his attitude change?
What is the impact/effect of his beginning a sentence in this way – as I have taught you it is wrong to do!

With the words “explosives and burnt meat” Hughes both informs and shocks us; we immediately know that he has been injured in a bomb blast and that the burnt meat is him. This brutality of language is both shocking and has the effect of emotionally distancing him (and thereby us) from the event. Isn’t it odd that emotive language can actually evoke emotional distance? (Unless you think I’m weird and that it actually does no such thing.)

This odd blend of fact and emotive language occurs again in the next paragraph (3). Which word, about half way in, is designed to remind us of the human cost of this “routine assignment” which “did not turn out as planned”?

Hughes goes on to write about his rehabilitation process – his journey to recovery. His “residual limb” is the bit of leg which is left. A prosthetic leg is a false leg. He uses macabre humour during this time to combat despair.
Find the words in paragraph 5 that show this.
Towards the end of the paragraph he contrasts a long sentence –“It occurred to me…comfortable than walking” – with a very short sentence-“I was elated.”
Comment on the effect of this.

Paragraph 7 is full of facts, figures and stats which bring home the reality of the epic journey being undertaken by Hughes.
List the fact and figures cited in this paragraph.
There is also use of a metaphor, some alliteration and some emotive language, however.
Identify and list these.
The metaphor creates a very visual image to help the reader understand the problem. The emotive language enables us to feel with the writer. The alliteration highlights the fact that Hughes is laughing at himself and the folly of this whole enterprise. It’s an example of his refusal to take himself or his plight too seriously. (Remember that it’s not enough to identify devices; you have to have a stab at analysing their effectiveness too.)

Paragraph 8 opens with 3 examples of threatening vocabulary.
List these.
It then moves on to a simile,
Identify and explain it
and into a mixture of stats and emotive language. The stats concern height and distance. The emotive language describes his feelings about his experience.
Find the two words which indicate his excitement and the two which suggest his apprehension.

In paragraph 9 Hughes makes use of a humorous but slightly ghoulish anecdote about his artificial leg falling off. This is another example of his refusal to feel sorry for himself. I like the way that he uses contrast and balance in this paragraph – “My prosthetic limb began to feel like a clumsy spare part instead of a natural extension of my body.” I also enjoy the satisfying onomatopoeia of “plop”.
Learn to spell onomatopoeia!

This part of the journey must have been unpleasant for Hughes, but he chooses to tell it with humour and, refusing to dwell, moves straight back to the positives.
Find the phrase in paragraph 10 which shows this determination to accentuate the positive.
Look at the way Hughes piles on the sensual description in this paragraph to enable the reader to share the experience.
Identify the senses used by Hughes and match them to quotations from the paragraph.

Paragraph 11 is full of history. I like the contrast in the sentence “Smooth blacktop gave way to rutted and pock-marked asphalt” and the balance created by the repetition in successive, contrasting sentences of the words “of the entire trip”. As ever, Hughes insist on closing the line of though on a positive.

The skilled shaping of the piece begins to emerge in paragraph 12 as we return to the poem referred to at the beginning, and to the word “mere” (though I may be over egging the pudding at this point.

The ‘49ers were the men involved in the Gold Rush in Death Valley in 1849

This skilled shaping continues in paragraph 13 as Hughes returns us to the day he heard he would lose his whole leg. We see that this piece has been about a life journey, for which the cycle journey was an enacted metaphor.

The pictures show the man himself and the terrain through which he cycled. They are initially more attractive than this much dense type, but appear (to me) quite trivial by the end. I thought I was going to be bored by this, but I have, in fact, found a new hero.
(OK, so I’m sad!)

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