First off, the cycling itself varied between extraordinary and dull. The first week of the trip was the pinnacle in this regard. Although the first two days were relatively long, the terrain was gentle and allowed us to adjust to spending all day on a bike. Just as well, because come Day 3 we rode into the mountains and didn’t emerge until a week later! For me, the task of riding up a long hill is the best part of cycling, because your will to get up it has to be stronger than the urgent messages from your legs to stop. Or as Jens Voigt puts it, ‘shutup legs’. This effect was multiplied by the hills cueing up one after the other to try and break us, and left us both completely exhausted and yet feeling on top of the world at the end of each day. By the time we got halfway between Sydney and Newcastle on Day 9, the end of the hills, we had endured some soul-destroying days and were feeling a hundred times stronger for it. Sean and I agreed at this point that if we’d managed to survive that, nothing would stop us. Maybe getting a little ahead of ourselves….
That first week was also memorable for many other reasons. It was the start of a whole month of tremendous work from the support drivers on the trip. Bernie set the tone with her no-nonsense approach, organising food, accommodation and fundraising opportunities in a very impressive manner. In short, Sean and I had to do very little outside of cycling! We also met a lot of amazing people, particularly in caravan parks which were overflowing with characters in the peak holiday season. A few of my favourites were Pam (super enthusiastic nurse/charity worker), James and Lewis (incredibly genuine cyclist and son) and Amanda, who absolutely blew us away with her hospitality in Wollongong. Probably the other part of the first 9 days that stood out was sharing a day of cycling each with our good mates Jack Bennetto and Dean Jacobson. Jack, on his first proper ride, pushed out 175 very steep, hot kilometres on a bike that’s older than he is, and had some great chat as well (not that Dean didn’t!).
The next week between Newcastle and Brisbane was probably a bit less glamorous as we chopped and changed between support drivers and lost a bit of our routine. The cycling was easier, though still difficult enough with rolling terrain and occasional headwinds. After a relatively mild first week temperature wise it started to get seriously hot and we were still fairly wrecked each night. It was fantastic to share a couple of days each with my grandfather (and his partner Chris) and my great friend Rob Carter, before Sean’s dad Peter joined us in Coffs Harbour. His 6 day stint was the easiest of the trip in terms of the cycling, and we took the chance to try to recover a little in some lovely coastal towns. Yamba in particular, along with Byron Bay and many other little havens are definitely worth a visit. More great hospitality was shown by Sean’s relatives in Brisbane and Maroochydore and we were feeling ready to try and get through the last two weeks and 1900km of the trip.
Our next support driver was my father, who had talked a lot of smack in the weeks before the trip about how we wouldn’t make it as far as Brisbane and he wouldn’t be needed. Well, we’d made it, and once he’d gotten the hang of finding suitable rest areas he picked up the task straight away. My wonderful little sister Matilda (or Tillbear) also joined the trip, with her flash new bike and a declaration that she would ‘try to cycle some of the way’. Well, she did better than that, knocking over 140km on her first day and proceeding to complete somewhere in the vicinity of 1000km in her time on the trip. Very proud of you Till and loved sharing it with you!
That third week of the trip, our first encounter with rural Queensland and the Bruce highway, offered very little on the bike with flat, hot, mind-numbing days that had us constantly day-dreaming. Luckily by this point we were very proficient at going off into our own little world’s, so the hours passed soon enough and the days kept ticking over. By the time we got to Mackay, where Mum succeeded Dad in support (along with the tallest man in the world, my youngest brother Will), we were fairly mentally drained. It was around this time that we started hearing about potential cyclone activity, which along with Cairns getting nearer and nearer added some spark to proceedings. We had no idea what cycling towards a cyclone might do to our hopes of reaching Cairns, and we were feeling a little apprehensive about it!
I guess you guys know the rest so I don’t get to set up a cliff-hanger ending. We had one of my favourite days of the trip between Bowen and Townsville where we cycled 200km in constant tropical rain. Said rain led to a potential trip-ruining road blockage near Ingham with only 250km to go, and we were stumped for a little while for what to do. Then, between some initiative from both of our mothers and some top organising from Sean (and nothing from me), we were the recipients of an amazing show of generosity. Dick Arnold and his team at Townsville Helicopters came to our rescue and flew us over 50km of road closures to allow us to more or less stay on schedule with only one day of cycling left. It was an absolute pleasure to meet someone as down to earth and genuine as Dick, as well as a highlight of the trip flying over a pretty cool part of Australia!
The last day of the trip was strange. True to form, it refused to allow us an easy passage into Cairns, throwing up a block headwind all morning. At first we were just relieved that it was nearly over, but as we got closer and closer to the finish line we started to get very excited and I confess I was a little overcome! It felt pretty special to look back on some of the challenges we faced and still be arriving on schedule! Waiting at the finish line was a small group of family and friends, including Bernie who went to a lot of effort to surprise us and help us celebrate our achievement.
I think Sean and I shared one of the greatest experiences of our lives this past month, one that we’ll be trying to work into conversations for years to come! Being so close on the bike and in the van for 29 straight days, especially under such tough conditions, certainly strained relations between us at times, but we came through it friendship intact. On behalf of both of us I’d like to thank everyone who helped us to achieve what we did. Our parents: for each giving up a week of their lives and a bunch of their money to share this with us. Many other people who gave up their time, skills and resources to help us, and to everyone who was so generous with their donations. The final numbers are not yet in, but we are still hopeful of cracking our fundraising goal of $20,000 to help the McGrath Foundation continue putting breast care nurses in communities around Australia. You can still We couldn’t have achieved much without the amount of support we received, and we’re very grateful.
Melbourne2Cairns started as a personal journey for me in my attempt to rebound from my cancer experience. It turned into so much more. It was a chance to remember my amazing grandmother who passed away in 2008 and has left such a large hole in our family, and she was often in my mind out on the bike. It was also a chance to do something to try to protect my beautiful mother and sister and other amazing women who will be touched by the disease in the future. You hear this a lot, but I can honestly say now that it’s real. My cancer experience is gradually becoming a positive change in my life, giving me some perspective on the privileged existence I have been blessed with, and the importance of trying to improve the circumstances of those who have not been so fortunate. I hope for this to be the theme of my life’s work, whatever that ends up being. So here’s my take from the last month. Whatever your equivalent of cycling from Melbourne to Cairns is, however ridiculous it seems, find a way to make it happen! I guarantee you won’t regret it. In the words of Steve Jobs, ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’.