Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and sadly a victim of cancer said something which I believe after this weekend to be profoundly true.
His quote highlights to me that those willing to try what most deem impossible or unachievable may just do it and in due course change the world. Now I don’t ever profess to be able to change the world through anything I do, but I do believe that I can be a part of something big and profound and we will play our part in helping make a difference.
What the hell is this crazy man talking about you may ask? Well as many of you are aware, I am part of the Vision Crusaders Grand Slam group. We are cycling in all 6 rides around Australia and New Zealand to raise money and awareness for 6 different cancer research and treatment facilities in the hope that one of them will find a cure for cancer. This weekend saw us all come together for the first time and take on our first ride to try and conquer cancer. Please stick with me, this is likely to be a longish post, but as there was so much that happened and will stay with me for life I will try to convey to you all what it meant to us over the course of the weekend.
So Friday saw me head to Brisbane with 5 other Victorians to join our team mates in Brisvegas. We were met at the airport by some of the local team members that had volunteered to pick us up and ferry us to our relevant places we were dossing. Some of us were even crashing at their houses. This was of course after we visited the race start so we could assemble and check in our bikes (gees it takes a while to put it all together.) Then we all headed off to meet up with the rest of the bunch for a team dinner, get our new team jerseys and just get to know each other. This was a fantastic way to get to know some of the team members eccentricities (this is what I will call it anyway) and prepare ourselves for what lay ahead. Then after a lovely dinner on the Brisbane River it was time to go home (Thank you Royal on the Park Hotel for the free night) and try to get some sleep if possible before our big day.
There was not a lot of sleep to be had actually, but what we did get was solid. The alarm went off at 4:30am and off we went to get ready and start our crusade. We got to the start line, met up with our teammates and our bikes and were all having a chat, nervous energy filling the air from the 1500 riders taking part. Now I knew that my lovely friend and adopted little sister, Kate Beck was coming to see me off, which really made it feel special. It was 6am in the morning and she wanted to come and see me off because I was in her hometown and she knew my wife and kids weren’t there. How amazing is that. For this I will be eternally grateful. BUT, add to that, Courtney Worthington came along as well. Even better, but wait there’s more. They made the most amazing sign for me (see below) and held it up as they walked up the hill towards me. This was just too much and I feel a little teary sitting here writing this. Of course everyone they walked past wanted to look and see who this was for. This only drew more attention to us (which we would gladly and easily do ourselves over the weekend) and the warmth and friendship I felt here was incredible. Not only did they make that sign, they had a mini version of it that I could take on my bike with me to look at whenever I wanted to. I kept this on Bruiser (my bike’s name) the entire ride. Add to this they gave me nine envelopes which had different messages that I could open at each stop. One of them specifically for camp at the end of day 1 and then another at the finish. I had no idea what was in them, but I put them in my pocket for the ride. Funnily enough one guy asked me if that was my will in my pocket as we were riding.
The start of these rides is always an emotionally time when people remember why we are doing this. Speeches are made by the institute/hospital you have supported, sponsors and also a rider/survivor. In this case a young man who was doing the ride and blatantly said he was not sure how long he had. This is when you certainly realise that what you are doing is more than a ride, more than raising money and more than most people understand.
We were all in a group and headed off after a big group hug, and I quickly made sure my lovely little sisters got a hug and a kiss. By the way girls, my team mates think you’re sensational. I was trying to introduce them to my team mate Troy Douglas (Cleo Bachelor of the Year finalist) but it was impossible. Sorry ladies, you will just have to come to Sydney for that one. It was now time to ride and ride we did. It was a huge relief to finally be on the road after 6 months of planning, but this is what it is all about.
Brisvegas put on some amazing weather for us, the crowds were out cheering and the pedals all turning. We tried to stay together as much as possible, but with traffic lights, different levels of ability etc it wasn’t possible. We did manage to catch up at each pit stop and have a chat, but soon went our own ways again so as to not rush anyone or stiffen up. I was lucky to be riding with our team captain and the crazy man who came up with this idea all day. Guess I am lucky I could keep up with the old man, or maybe he was just being kind to me. Now I knew all along there were going to be some hills on this ride and whilst I have not trained on any hills, I was hoping my leg strength and cardio would get me through. I got to the 85km mark and came across this wonderful part of the world called Pine Mountain. This hill was not huge in length, but the steepness or gradient was a killer. As per all the others during the day I attacked (my version of attacking it anyway) and up I went. This hill was that steep that I was averaging 4.8kms per hour, so basically stopping. I was halfway up the hill when I got a cramp in both thighs. If you have ever had a cramp in the thigh you will appreciate how painful it is. Having 2 is extremely shitty, especially when you use those muscles the most going up a hill. I had 2 choices open to me. Stop and walk up the hill, or suck it up and get there on the bike. I had a split second to make the choice and at that moment all I could think of was my father in law and his battle against cancer. It dawned me that he can’t just stop and get off when he feels like it because it is all to hard. He can’t take the easy way out. I wasn’t either. I grit my teeth, let out a bit of a roar (scared a couple of ladies on my left hand side) and pushed. At that point in time I dug deeper than any time in my life. This is what these rides mean to me and everyone else doing them. No hill was going to beat me this ride. I did stop at the top and stretch but I wasn’t stopping part way up.
Thankfully it was only 5kms down the road to the next pit stop and a chance to hydrate, refuel with some food and have a good stretch. This also meant we only had 20kms to go for the day.
Now this may be sounding good but this last 20kms had two of the bigger hills for the day in it and I was not looking forward to it at all with the thought of getting another cramp. Thankfully when we got to them they were not steep like Pine Mountain, but long constant climbs. This I did not mind as I just dropped Bruiser into granny gear and off I went at a constant pace. When I got to the top of the second all I could see below me was Wivenhoe Dam and I knew it was only a few kms to go. Klaus and I rode in together, considering we had ridden all day together it felt fitting to go across side by side. Now the fun begins.
We quickly put the bikes to bed, grabbed our bags, found our tent and started to sort our stuff out. Showered and changed and feeling human again the next stop was the bar for our free beer. Sadly they only had XXXX Gold being in QLD. But hey after 110kms even that crap didn’t go down that badly. Slowly the rest of the team started to come in, get cleaned up and we had saved a table near the front for us all. Kai (one of the crazy young guys and also owner of my tights, but more on that to come) had made a banner for us with our logo. That was duly hung up on the end of our table. Dinner was scoffed, more drinks consumed and then the speeches started. The CEO of QIMR, whom had joined us at our table, made a speech and asked for all staff taking part in the ride to stand up. He then mentioned each of them and what they were doing to fight cancer. For us this was special because we are fortunate enough to have the amazing Ken Dutton-Regester as a member of our team who is a researcher for melanoma. When his name was called out all of us roared, cheered, applauded and some even stood on chairs and went a little nuts. Why not as well? These guys deserve some credit. Then unbeknown to us the CEO decided to give us a mention, which caused us to go nuts again.
The night continued with some music and some more drinks before we all started to head off to bed as we had an early start and another long and taxing day ahead.
4:20am (WTF????) I awake to some arsehole talking a few tents away. Well there goes that then. No sleep in for me, if you call 5am a sleep in. I was up dressed, packed and ready to go by 5:30am only to be told that we were not allowed to leave due to a thick blanket of fog. Police deemed it unsafe as we had to ride the first 30kms on the highway and visibility was down to 40m. We were told it would be 1 hour, then it went to 2 hours and finally after 3 hours we were allowed to go. I must admit that this delay allowed us to mingle with other riders and teams and get our story out there. It also gave our resident trouble maker Matt the chance to strut his stuff in front of a crowd. Mind you, his partner in crime Dani, didn’t need to be asked. Both of them were out front of the thousand strong crowd bumping and grinding and entertaining. They were joined by our teammate and event crew member Stephen. Great show guys and what a laugh. It also gave matt and Kai the chance to coerce all of the guys in our team to don Black Milk tights for the day. Now this is a strange thing because to my knowledge these tights were for woman, but Kai and Matt live in them. They even managed to have enough pairs with them for the entire team. So after a little while everyone was wearing a pair except Nicko. He wants to make some money out of it. Spoil sport. So see below for the bunch of misfits wearing tights.
Finally we were allowed out and under police escort for the first 30kms we rode along the highway free of traffic. It was surreal riding along in a massive bunch like that. After an hour or so the fog lifted and we were speeding along without the escort. The sun came out, the temperature rose and we were on our way home. We all stopped off at the various pit stops to refuel and have a quick few laughs about the comments we were getting regarding our tights and the praise people were heaping on us in relation to the quest to complete the grand slam. I will admit it made me more determined to ensure I do it, knowing that it meant so much too so many people that we were trying to achieve this. It is not only special to us, it appears that so many would like to join us but have reservations like we did about the fundraising. We are not only doing this for our loved ones but for all cancer patients, survivors and families impacted. That alone is inspiring enough to get the money needed.
So after 73kms we got the lunch stop. My rear end was sore, but my feet were hurting more. Pushing up some of those hills was having an impact on my feet, but also my shoulders and upper back. The grip you need to work up the hills is just as bad as the grip you need going downhill at 60km per hour on those crappy bumpy QLD roads. I sat down and took off my shoes and just wanted to stop. Worst part was I still had 37kms to go. We all agreed to meet up at the last stop and work out our strategy for the finish line. We then decided to stop just short, group up and go across together. So this is exactly what the Vision Crusaders did. We rode up to the line to the cheers and applause of the crowd after the announcer mentioned we were coming. We stopped, all hopped off our bikes and walked across the line taking it all in. There was family there to greet the locals, but we had mentioned earlier in the weekend that we were all one big family now and there were hugs, cheers, tears and beers shared after the ride and we were even lucky enough to meet the families of the local riders in our team.
After a group shot with the photographers, we all hung around chatting and sharing tails of one of the most amazing weekends of my life. We are all so pumped that it is only 59 days until our next ride and even better, I will have my family at this one to share the experience. Vision Crusaders is an amazing bunch of people and sadly this blog post can in no way put it into words adequately how proud I am to be in the team and share this with each and every one of them. I have just made another 23 friends for life and I am sharing something with them that I doubt anyone will be crazy enough to try again, unless of course we back it up in 2014……..