Where has the year gone? Well… it was mostly spent training for another epic year of off-road handcycling at the 2015 Cape to Cape MTB race.
Every year has its highlights and this year didn’t fail. The focus was on completing all 4 stages. Having two years of experience on the event’s trails, it was only a matter of time before building up to a whopping 200km of dirt, sand, rocks, gravel, tarmac and face-whipping flora.
It was a slow and unforgiving start to the year with many personal complications, uncertainties, and health concerns, but at no point did I consider giving up on the dream of completing 4 stages of awesome trails – it just needed some time.
About 4 months out from October 2015, things gradually started to come to life again with both personal health and physical preparation for what would be a mammoth task. At the peak of my training I was hitting the gym 3 days a week for various programs of strength and conditioning, backed up with 3-4 days of 30-45km of handcycling. However, the hardest challenges had to do with reprogramming a consistent recovery and sleep pattern. Only a week from the event and things started to fall into place.
This year, team Break the Boundary saw a fresh wave of unsuspecting volunteers. With my previous support rider, Jon, coming down with severe health problems, which forced him to pull out early on in the year, and the unavailability of my wonder-hands physio, Ryan, half the mission was to establish a solid support team that could handle the tasks at hand. At times it seemed uncertain if I’d have a team in time for October, but hope was never lost and a support team made up of WA and QLD friends came to the rescue!
First, good friends Seb and Jamie (QLD) had booked their entry to the event, little to my surprise. Following suit, Warren (QLD), planned his trip over for the sole purpose of supporting me during each stage on the trails.
Learning from the last two years, it was important to have at least two support riders during the full event. But, you can never have enough support riders, so Matt (WA) jumped on board at the very last few days as a support rider to even out the workload between Warren and Jamie.
My good friend, Brad (WA) joined team Break the Boundary as the support vehicle driver and Frances (WA) also came to the aid with general support.
The final piece was a physio therapist. Having stretched all my contacts to try and find a suitable volunteer, Bianca (WA) came to the aid, despite having prior commitments.
We were ready to rock and roll.
EVENT COORDINATION & PLANNING
With over 1000 riders thrashing it from Cape Leeuwin to Dunsborough over 4 days, it’s easy to get disoriented and even lost in some sections! We learnt this the hard way over the last two years when we went off-course due to unclear/confusing detours for handcycling.
This year saw a massive change. The C2C race directors sent their trail coordinator, Rex, to put up with my endless ranting about how the trails can be better aligned for handcyclists. Rather than running away, Rex took on the challenge and did an absolutely outstanding job with handcycle detours, shire and event approvals, new signage, handcycle support vehicle checkpoints and starting requirements.
Despite his rugged and casual appearance, his work is delivered with professionalism, consistency, and logic.
The only thing we had to worry about now was training hard and completing the event!
RECCY DAY – 21th October
We hit the red dirt of Margaret River for a reconnaissance ride in the late morning to check a small section of the Pine’s trail. There were a few hairy spots, but with a bit of caution and sensibility, the trails which Rex (Cape to Cape) mapped out for us were fit for a wild time of riding.
Seb, Jamie, Warren and myself explored the bottom half of the pines at our leisure and had plenty of opportunities for selfies and catching some air-time!
DAY 1 – 22nd October
The nerves started creeping in during the early morning. Although I knew everything was in place and the training I had been consistent with over the last few months would lead to completing the event, the excitement and jitters still couldn’t be contained. I just had to get things rolling.
With a big carb-loaded breakfast (cereal, oats smoothy, honey, banana– if you must know) it was time to set out for a 40-minute drive south to the start line at Cape Leeuwin.
We arrived with plenty of time to head up to the lighthouse and get some selfies and slowly prepare for the rollout. People where everywhere! We were getting the usual confused looks from most people but plenty of cheery greetings and encouragement from others – some of whom have seen me in previous years.
There was a short mention of me by the MC before we queued up at the start line, which helped ease some of the tension. It made me feel like I was back with my second family and that we were being taken seriously – not just a novelty side-show to boost ratings!
I lined up next to Conor (who has a thing for trying to throw me out of my chair and handcycle – it’ just nerves) and his family who were buzzing with enthusiasm. The cameras wouldn’t stop clicking at us and for every click and flash that went off, I was reminded of how the emotions of the ride extend out to those around us.
After the ‘Welcome to Country’, rider brief and elite rider introductions (by which time most people just wanted to get the ride started!) the horns sounded. One wave after the other we took off into a nice decline which didn’t last long before we had to start grinding away.
One of the highlights of the whole 4-day event, this hill was one nasty piece of work! But it wasn’t as daunting as bike riders make it out to be…
Matt and Warren took alternating turns pushing me and carrying two bikes behind. At some points, both bikes were down while Matt and Warren assisted me together (sometimes they held hands without even knowing it!). One metre at a time we plotted along the steep hill which only seemed to get more rutted, rooty and rocky. One step at a time – one hand crank at a time – we eventually made it to the top. It was slow and slippery at some points but it was an awesome team effort with so much encouragement between all 3 of us!
As we know, what goes up, must come down – and boy, did it come down!
A fast section of dusty red dirt firetrail was awaiting us. There was enough space either side of the handcycle so I started to open the brakes and close in on the riders in front. The only problem was that there was so much dirt kicking up, I could barely see a few metres in front of me. When I could see in front, I’d notice Conor blazing down the dirt with caution. I thought to myself two things “This is the toughest thing he has done on his handcycle” and “Get the hell out of my way because I want to let it rip!”. Of course, the nice guy in me slowed down a little – the last thing I wanted was a collision with anyone. Either way, there was some serious speed as I ate about half a kilo of delicious WA dirt! Yummy!
Riding on, things started to get really sandy, really quickly and very dune-like. I was worried that the handcycle detour wasn’t in place and we were heading to the beach section. I kept telling Warren and Matt that if we were going into the beach then we’d just have to do it anyway!
We plotted along towards the beach, but eventually took our second handcycle detour onto Caves Road, where Brad was waiting to shadow us up the road and back onto the course. We skipped the 3-odd kilometres of beach not because it wasn’t achievable, but because we didn’t have all day and the river mouth (ocean-to-river) was a high-risk area. With bad reports from previous years, the flow of the river and the sand beneath, it would have meant that two people needed to carry the handcycle and rider across – one small slip and it could have ended in disaster.
LESS ASS, MORE GRASS
Joining back with the main riders, we made our way to the farm hill. A big grassy hill for two things, speed and photo opportunities. Greeted with a small cheer squad consisting of cowbells, clapping, shouting and punch lines, we descended down the hill for a brief 20-30 seconds. There was little opportunity for me to get enough air for a crowd pleaser (not enough kick on the water bars, which felt more like mini speed bumps).
FREQUENT FLYER POINTS
Continuing on, there were a few slow climbs which required regular stops for drinking and refuelling. This led to a couple downhill trails which gave me so much air time, my bucket seat would bottom out on the trike’s frame each time I landed (with the suspension open and hard!). I was flying through this section so much my support riders almost lost sight of me. The four consecutive jumps were so high I’d have enough frequent flyer points for a round trip to Alaska.
Enough fun, time to go up and over Hamstring Hill. If you ask me, it’s kind of average compared to Heartbreak Hill, Hamstring Hill was more like “Calf-Twitch Hill”. Or in my case, “Deltoid Twitch Hill”. I guess everyone else was buggered from the beach sand, still we managed to stay on several bikers’ tails.
Over Hamstring Hill it was the final few kilometres to the finish line. Things got a little speedy, a little rocky and a little side-ways! At one downhill section the 3-meter wide trail was slowly narrowing down with a deep rut on the left side. The right side, where the tread was, kept angling steeper towards the rut. I couldn’t maintain traction despite leaning far right over my front wheel. It got to tipping point really quick so I pulled myself up, grabbed the bars a little tighter, and let the trike drift towards the left and into the rut. With brakes on, the trike kicked up and the left wheel slammed hard into the side of the trail, locking my handlebar and sending me back to the right side with a massive thud. The force ricocheted through my arms and back but I managed to maintain a line.
Matt calls this the ‘pinball manoeuvre’, where I just bounce around like a little toy from one side to the other and over one obstacle into another – he even has a song about it!
Towards the finish line I pumped out a little more to get myself on the last few hundred metres of sealed road towards Hamelin Bay finish line. We casually rolled through and made our way to the Giant repair tent to have Matt’s (now, not so new) Specialized bike looked at to sort out some funky noises it was making for most of the ride.
A quick chat with the camera guy, a chin wag with a Fire and Rescue rider, and a trike/face washdown before we packed up and made our way home.
DAY 1 – CAMPSITE CONGREGATION
Cape to Cape isn’t just about riding and finishing. There’s a lot of in-between-fun to have along the way, which I think some people forget to embrace. For me, joy comes not only from thrashing the trike on the trails, but more so the excitement, memories and interactions with others.
A few of us took off to Wharncliffe Mill Bush campsite, buried in the heart of Margaret River Pine Forest. Set with the handcycle we unloaded and went to the communal shelter to meet some of the locals and give them a better understanding of what off-roading handcycling entails, the equipment, and the Wheelchair Sports WA Association. Kristen, a pretty cool chick I met at last year’s C2C mustered some of the Capers from the campsite to join in on the commotion.
Adults were just as excited as the kids and were jumping on the trike, trying to figure out how to pedal and steer without taking out obstacles (or themselves). Seeing kids so casual and care-free around something they haven’t been exposed to before makes me feel welcome, humble and accepted with or without a disability.
One of the most common remarks I hear from adults is “Wow, I could never do what you do!”. Intended as a compliment, I flip it around and correct people by explaining that my upper-body ability is equivalent to their lower body, and it’s only a matter of practice.
We packed up and went back for an early night’s sleep in preparation for the next 3 days of madness.