Posted Thursday March 20, 2014on:
Well, it’s been done and dusted for a few weeks now, but you may recall that I was preparing for a wee lap of Tasmania. About 1,000km or so with somewhere in the order of 12,000m vertical over six or seven days. In the final tally, those numbers shook out to be 992km and more like 14,500 of reaching for the sky. 47 other blokes had signed up and paid a pretty hefty entry fee, and along with it pledged to raise at least $5,000 to help support two really awesome kids’ charities.
Very Special Kids, provides support and end of life care for children with life-threatening diseases, their siblings and families. It’s difficult to fathom what it means for a parent to be able to lie in a real bed, in a real bedroom with their child as they die instead of an ICU bed, knowing that outside the door are people who know what to do next, whenever they’re ready. After the passing of a child, they continue to provide counselling, retreat and support for parents and especially siblings for as long as they’re required. One volunteer I met there still went to visit a girl who had lost her sister seven years earlier. The hospice in east Melbourne is a real harbour from the world, and it’s hard not to be touched by visiting.
The Starlight Foundation, run programs across Australia to make hospitals funner places to be by building play rooms and placing ‘Starlight Captains’ — people (usually actors) who dress up and goof around with the hospital PA, run play rooms and make sure that parties, dress ups, games and foolin’ aren’t missed out on just because a kid happens to be confined to a hospital facing some heavy shit. They also provide a bunch of other services when required — when a kid runs screaming from a procedure and goes to hole up somewhere in the rabbit warren of the hospital, it’s the Starlight Captains who go to retrieve them so that security don’t add even more to the distress of the situation.
So, to the ride…
At the outset I was a little nervous about how I’d survive the week. Would my body break down into a rusty wreck? Would I get progressively ridden into the ground and fall off the back each day? Would saddle sores make the entire trip a living hell? No single day looked un-ridable — nothing over about 175km or 2,800m — but I’d never done so many decent days in the saddle back to back to back … to back … you get the point. Overall though, everything held up fine. I started feeling sore on days 3 and 4, but nothing awful. A niggling hip flexor issue never materialised, but my shoulder hurt from long days on the hoods and after a while I would develop a white-hot at the very top of my right calf, possibly due to my tendency to under-use my VMO muscle, something identified by the myotherapist on tour.
The entire operation was a well oiled machine. Total Rush (for whom nutters races) managed the route and logistics. For the most part we were bracketed on the road by one or two lead cars and tailed by a mechanical / medial van and a ute carrying a photographer, food and giant coolers of electrolyte drinks. Together they worked to keep us safe by managing the bunch like one really long vehicle. In the mountains, the lead car would drive ahead and radio safe passing distances back to the tail car, which would in turn ‘tow’ vehicles that banked up behind us through into the gap. Where it became hilly or open, we’d stop for a piss and a drink and the organisers would declare ‘free play’, meaning the strong teams were free to ride to the front and work at putting the hurt on each other, which was no end of fun. In this way, strong riders got to play without hurting the weaker ones, and those who were on a mission just to finish, could share a different kind of camaraderie.
The Apple Isle itself was incredible. It’s a mix of empty rolling hills, craggy mountains and middle-earth rainforest. In the latter half of the week we would wake up, get ready and fed and roll out onto the rolling roads, almost every one among the best I’ve ever ridden.
We’d wake up to an enormous buffet breakfast (I’d eat three or four eggs, a pile of scrambled eggs, one or two hash browns, bacon, one or two cups of coffee, apple juice, muesli, fruit and occasionally some baked beans) while our bags were loaded onto the truck. During the ride, we carried nothing. At every stop soigneurs would spring from cars with sweet treats, bars, gels, fresh water and voltaran. And at the end of each day we’d roll into another tiny town to find our bags waiting, massage tables set up in a hall way or rec room and laundry collection at six.
Each night we bunked with someone different, which gave us the opportunity to get to know each other and, drawing from the executive pool (between 48 guys we raised $1.05M), they were an interesting bunch to get to know. Each evening there were jerseys awarded for fund raising, riding, instagramming or any number of other themes. There were also fines of $100 for riding three abreast, crossing a centre line, having a dirty bike, leaving team-mates behind, whining, carrying a saddle bag, inappropriate sock hight, having hairy legs and so on.
I ate at least twice what I normally would each night, plus dessert, and would wake up ravenous. Though we’d be in bed by 9pm, in the latter half of the week my eyes would droop if we stopped for more than 20 minutes, and in the week after I felt a constant need to take a little nap.
I won’t talk about the scenery other than to say it was incredible. You can’t help but become an environmentalist of sorts riding out of old growth rainforest, with trees so thick that you couldn’t walk between them, and out into the Queenstown copper mining moonscape, everything denuded by acid rain two decades ago. Mt Wellington is the hardest climb I think I’ve ever done (the rear side of Falls Creek notwithstanding).
Anyway, I feel like that’s already too many words. Here are some pictures…
Fix for cracked steatstay.
The Chain Reaction event blog has day-by-day accounts, with route maps and videos for each day.