Uncertainty does one of two things; it boosts adrenaline to counter the effects of dread, and it makes for a good story!
DAY3 – 24th October 2015
Another average weather forecast for the day with light rain, showers and crisp winds (the sun barely made an appearance), we set out for Stage 3 – the “fun” stage. But there was still some uncertainty about Warren’s ability to assist.
After a few discussions as to how Warren would continue the remaining days with a dislocated index finger (which turned out to be fractured and required surgery), we concluded that some medical tape and limited pushing with the hand would do the trick! Most people at this point would pull out, and that’s probably the smart thing to do, but Warren made the trip simply to assist me in my ride.
We lined up with the 800+ riders at Xanadu Winery while we were being briefed, but I noticed something bad – my brake line had a hole in it!
Don’t ask me how, but I’d suspect it was from one of the bigger hits I took on stage 1 or 2. Now a brake-line puncture would normally mean the end of the hydraulic brakes, but fortunately the pinch was at the crest of the tube and not all the hydraulic fluid was lost. The brakes were still catching tight but we were uncertain if it would leak while riding. Well, it was too late to do anything now so Matty grabbed some electrical tape and gave it a few laps. All we could do now was hope that it held up – worst case, I still had my rear brakes intact!
PAINT THE TOWN RED
There was a 7km rollout from Xanadu to the start line just outside of Margaret River town centre. It was a perfect opportunity to warm the body up while having a good yarn with Conor and a few of the other riders.
We cruised down the main strip of the town centre and it was pure madness! Kids, families, staff, supporters and spectators from all around were lining up the sides of the street and medium strip. Cheering everyone that rode past and even throwing a few high-fives, the crowd lit up when I popped my trike on two wheels. It went from loud ecstatic cheering to people jumping up and down as though someone scored the winning goal at the world cup!
I’m not the one to go out of my way to impress spectators (the trike does enough of that), but when things are easy-going you will spot me popping a wheelie or two – kids lose their marbles when they see it!
DOWN CARTERS & INTO THE WOODS
We regrouped at the start line and took off after group 3. Down Carters Road for a 20km loop to the left before coming back into the Margaret River Pines. This is the place where dreams come true… or nightmares.
The previous two years we took detours which turned into misdirection and wasting time looking at maps. The forest goes for kilometres, and when you’re in the heat of it, all you see is endless old 20m-high pine trees and lots of colourful riders winding their way through the trees.
The other difficulty with the pines is that there are plenty of single trail climbs and descents. Usually this isn’t a problem but the trails are mostly machined with a tread of less than 80cm. This means consistently having to keep one wheel of the trike off the tread and on the scrub = super slow climbing.
To make things more challenging, there are hundreds of other riders smashing through the trails due their the flowy nature. So when you have a below average handcycle going up hill, you can imagine the commotion it might cause – simply put, some people don’t know how to overtake when there’s 5 metres on each side of the trail tread.
This year we had the signage and alternate alignment which cut out the single-track climbs. All good and well, but one of the handcycling signs was in a confusing fork on the trail. I had a split second to react and I decided to take the regular route – at least I knew this would eventually end up in the right place.
We twisted and turned our way through the majority of trails, with Warren and Matt doing another great job directing overtaking traffic and alternating between pushes.
We could hear the faint echo and cheer of spectators. With no sense of direction (no landmarks or sun), the crowd’s cheering would pulsate from loud to quiet as we worked our way through the trails.
The suspense started to pick up when the cheering grew louder and louder and louder. I still couldn’t see who was making the noise but suddenly, WHACK! The noise and spectacle of the cheer squad was in my face as I turned into two massive berms. Cow bells, bike rims, horns, shouting, and even a chainsaw (no chain) was launching a relentless attack on any rider passing through what is known as “Hecklers Corner“.
I took the first berm with full speed, then leant hard into the second while the photographers camera flashed away. Out of the second berm and into a hard-kicking jump which I made with only two wheels grounded – barely. I lost all momentum and was in the wrong gear to climb the jump, but amongst the intense rush of the cheering mob I managed to maintain my balance and push over the kick. While I teetered on two wheels and on the edge of tumbling down a slippery drop, the spectator with the chainsaw was no more than a foot away from my face. I didn’t know if I should punch the guy in the head or laugh at the spectacle. Once I got out of hecklers corner I just laughed at the madness! What a rush!
STRANGERS AND STRAGGLERS
Throughout the Pines section we had a blast with a small group of guys who would consistently break down with mechanical failures every 20 or so minutes. How is this funny? Well, firstly they would over take, then we would catch up, then they would overtake again and so on. Despite the desperation of the team, we turned it into a fun experience and wished each other well… until the next turn.
PAIN IS A REMINDER YOU’RE STILL ALIVE
At this point my neck and back were playing up. Well, at least I could feel something other than numbness. Luckily Bianca was waiting around with my support crew to offer some on-the-spot neck massage while we fuelled up and had a rest.
The rain was picking up, so it was time to go again so that my body didn’t cool down too much. We crossed Bussell Hwy and into a local campsite where we took a few minutes to admire the Margaret River water features (selfie was mandatory – unfortunately blurry). There’s no point coming out his far, with months of hard work and three days of intense riding, to not appreciate what we were riding through.
A few kilometres on and we took another moment to refuel and joke around. The bush was heavily shrouded, the rain had settled and, other than a few lone passing riders, you could hear a pin drop. The ambient silence and serenity was broken by one of the boys intentional flatulence. That was my cue to continue riding!
A CENT FOR EVERY PEA
We trekked through some heavy forest growth (some areas with wheel-height shrubs that I had to ride over) which turned into some wider sections of pea gravel – every mountain biker’s arch nemesis. There was a small section of single trail which came off a fire break and looped back around itself. Single trail is fun when you have it to yourself, but this section was just a pain in the ass with all the stopping and starting. This gave Conor and his group a small opportunity to pass, since his hand cycle has the advantage of being 5cm narrower – yes, this makes a massive difference.
From here it was easy sailing through a few farms, one last hill and paddocks to the finish line at Colonial Brewery where the usual microphone and cameras greeted us. I always appreciate this last couple of kilometres as it’s a reminder of the 2013 ride when my support rider Jon and I started this whole off-road-handcycling madness!
A pleasant surprise to see one of the new Wheelchair Sports WA members, Ian at the finish line with his partner and pet dog. Only two days before I was speaking with one of his work mates from the Fire and Rescue team – small world when it comes to mountain biking.
After a quick feed and some fluids, we dropped into the Giant repair tent to see if the pierced brake line could be fixed. Unfortunately the parts weren’t available so I made the decision to leave it the way it was for Stage 4.
A quick shout out to The Bike Dr. (mobile bike mechanic) who gave the trike a quick wash down at the finish line. Also to Stacey who I met in 2013 and has continued to be the friendly face amongst the dirt covered riders.
Day 3 done – One to go!