So, I made it………….. It was incredibly tough and so much harder than I could have ever anticipated but I was also fitter than I thought so I am writing this with a mixture of pain, pride and joy.
I have cycled 255km over 3 days from Armidale to South West Rocks.
So... how did this start?
Well, 2 years ago Bench Africa Chairman, Mike Kirkland and myself visited Armidale and had dinner with New England Travel at the White Bull Hotel. Kay Endres showed up slightly late for the dinner and Mike and I joked with her saying she'd better have a good excuse. It turns out that she was actually at the Tour de Rocks meeting as she was on the board.
She explained that Tour de Rocks was a fun cycle marathon which runs over 3 days every year in late April. Any funds raised from the cycle goes towards Cancer Research but also excellent rehabilitation programmes that especially focus on children with cancer. After we heard about what it was all about we were on board! In 2016 Bench Africa donated a Highlights of East Africa trip to the cause and this alone raised close to $30K. I then went along and worked as Support Staff on the 2016 Tour de Rocks.
We were asked if we would like to be involved again this year and we wholeheartedly agreed (well, how could we not?). Once again we donated a Highlights of East Africa trip. This time though I wanted to get my hands dirty too and decided to buy a mountain bike and start training for Tour de Rocks 2018.
I joined Team Roan.
Team Roan cycles for a young man called Roan from Coffs Harbour who has been battling with Cancer at different stages for most of his life. Throughout his battle, Roan has maintained an incredibly positive and courageous approach, well beyond his years. In his father Brian's words:
“My son Roan Clarkson is the most compassionate, caring, thoughtful and courageous young man.”
We have a hand cycle on out team jerseys, which Roan personally picked as our signature logo and it is really quite humbling and an absolute honour to ride for such an inspirational young man. I have to quote my team mate Cathy Flanagan who said it best:
“When the hills ahead look too big to ride up, we just think of Roan, and the battles that he is currently going through, and realise how blessed we are to be able to participate in such a ride. This certainly is a huge motivation to conquer each hill as you come to them (yes, there are still many hills, even though we’re going “downhill” from Armidale to Southwest Rocks).”
And here's how the event unfolded:
Day 1. Armidale – George’s Junction – 95km.
After signing my life away, we left just after 7am in our groups. The first hill just out of town felt like a killer and is such a de-motivating start where you start thinking to yourself oh dear! What on earth have I done? Our first stop was a drinks stop after 25km then turned off onto farm roads with rolling hills. From there we hit Waterfall Way and had morning tea - another 25km later. Then came the longest most frustrating hills and I may have pushed my bicycle up a couple hills to be honest!
Our lunch stop was 75km in, followed by a steep narrow mountain pass down the Great Dividing Range to Georges Junction. Our support crew was waiting there for us, tents all set up with beers and snacks. Bath time in the Styx river is a wonderful experience when the muscles are sore ( apparently cold water is the best thing for sore muscles - you learn something new every day). I crashed out in bed by 7:20PM that evening - let me tell you!
Day 2. George’s Junction – Willawarrin – 88km
We left at 9am after the children did the first 25km leg. The first leg was easy and a stunningly scenic ride to Blackbird Flat. I call it the ride of false hope. This bit was a breeze and you think "Wow, I can do this... it’s not that hard!"
After morning tea at Blackbird Flat we had to ride up 2 mountain passes, and apparently the most difficult part of the course. I am very proud to say that I rode the first one without pushing my bike. Then a beautiful steep downhill… but unfortunately there is the golden rule of cycling, what goes down must go up. Second Pass, 3/4 riding up and a lot of pushing! On that ride down, one cyclist had a deer run out in front of her and she had a nasty fall, breaking her collar bone - poor thing!
Lunch stop at Bellbrook and then, with the adrenaline pumping, we hit more farm roads, waded through creeks with our bikes over our heads. Amazing scenery made me forget about the pain. The sign for Willawarrin was a welcoming sign - all dreaming of a shower, beer and snacks. Turns out the town sign was 5 bloody km from town!! Sigh! I managed 1 beer with the crowd at the local Willawarrin Hotel but hit the hay by 8pm after a visit to the physio travelling with us, havingI lost feeling in my right hand from too many gear changes.
Day 3 Willwarrin – South West Rocks – 72km
Numb hand, sore bum... all in all not doing great and so of course the first leg was once again rolling hills. I took it very easy and rode towards the back with the slowest riders. By the time I got to Kempsey with approx 40km to go I could hardly sit on that seat. I had a 5 minute break and almost all the morning tea food was gone so bananas and slices of cheese were all we had to re-enenergise. The ride from Kempsey to South West Rocks – flat, fast and WET as the rain didn't let up. It was my awesome team’s support and empathy that helped push me through it all and we powered to South West Rocks.
We arrived at South West Rocks at 12:15pm. Riding into town I started getting teary, I still don’t know if it was tears of joy because I had conquered 253km (with just 2 km left to go) or because I knew how close we were and how soon the pain would stop!
After plenty of hugs, tears, laughter and a lovely bbq lunch in the rain (thanks to the Lions of South West Rocks) we could finally have a hot shower and relax until the evening function. Mel Moffatt who won the trip 2 years ago did a wonderful slide show and talked about his Highlights of East Africa trip. It was lovely to see everyone in awe and it was a hard act to follow with my 5 minute presentation.
Even after all the pain when asked if I would do it again, the only thing I could say was yes!
It is more than hills and distance, sweat and tears. Tour de Rocks is about raising funds for vital research to find a cure for cancer. My pain over a couple of days is nothing. Someone with cancer would happily trade places with me and that stopped my whinging and whining in its tracks and kept me peddling. My hope is that sooner rather than later cancer will be a disease that future generations won't ever have to worry about. Whatever we can do to get us to that point sooner we should.
The money raised through raffle tickets for the prize that Bench Africa donated will be put to great use. We are honoured to have been able to be involved and on a personal level I am proud to say that I was able to ride shoulder to shoulder with these wonderful people, all who care so much to give up their time and energy for such a worthy cause!
See you next year Tour de Rocks!
Bring it on!