With experience, most things in life become easier to manage – this year’s Cape to Cape MTB wasn’t one of those things.
Adversity – It’s more than just a buzz word!
With just over 190kms of terrain to handcycle across, it’s not an easy task for anyone, especially with a disability. It requires months of training and preparation, and the smallest setback, such as pressure sores or joint problems, could easily end any off-road handcycling participation. Being a wheelchair user leads to a never ending cycle of medical complications since the body is constantly in a position it’s not designed to be in.
My training started back in March 2016 with a new handcycle hailing from Reactive Adaptions (Colorado). It took a while after last years C2C to get back into things, due to some struggles with my mental health (I’ll elaborate in a separate blog).
I eventually established a routine of gym and cycling (despite the wet and cold), which seemed to be a positive step towards tackling this year’s C2C. But 3 months out from October, while doing a reconnaissance ride at The Goat Farm for a state XCO round, I took a bad tumble – which did more than bruise my ego.
Follow my Instagram account to see the footage.
With a cracked helmet and several deep grazes along my elbow and back, I was reminded of my original accident that paralysed me in 2008. I was so relieved it didn’t send me to the hospital. It could have been much worse, but still served as a reminder of the importance in correct protective gear, group riding, and knowledge of local riding conditions.
My joints, bones and muscles were sore for the first week, but I managed to wheel my chair around while doing basic tasks. It took another 3 weeks for my flesh to heal satisfactorily enough to start moving normally and perform manual work. But this only lasted a week.
Only a week into re-engaging with my training routine, I was struck down with a viral infection and UTI (2 for 1 deal). It started off with that tickle in my throat, but only took a couple days to invade my chest and head. With 3 consecutive days of fever, which reached over 38C, I took myself to emergency. There’s not much you can do with viral infections, and my doctors didn’t know there was a UTI (despite my insistence).
Training was the last thing on my mind. Simply trying to breath without coughing out a lung was hard enough. After 3 weeks, things started to clear up to the point I could operate again. The residual effect of the virus refused to subside. Enter a prolonged bout of mucus-laden coughing (you’re welcome).
Before getting back into training, my silly old disabled body decided to fall backwards out of my wheelchair while at home. Don’t ask how, but I consider myself just like anyone else who is prone to falls. It was a fairly decent landing, but I didn’t think much of it, since it’s happened before.
I was back in the gym and on the handcycle for training, but with only a couple weeks before C2C, I had to make up for lost time. The first day (social ride) was fantastic. The next day was also fantastic (42kms), but as soon as I went home and spent the rest of the day sitting, my back started to seize up. The third day saw me riding only 2 kms – the tight back just wouldn’t loosen and was causing too much pain. I cut the ride short and went straight home to lay down.
I had at least 3 more training sessions planned after that day, but it wasn’t going to happen. If I kept pushing it without the proper physio treatment, I would have risked damaging myself even more.
Should I stay or should I go?
With only a few days until heading down to Margaret River, I seriously considered cancelling my accommodation, cancelling the ride, and disappointing my support team. The pain was bad – I could barely sit at my office desk for more than a few hours.
Last year involved months of solid training and I still found it tough to complete the C2C MTB 2015. How was I going to survive this one?
I decided to take my friend’s recumbent handcycle with power assist, as well as my own. The plan was to ride the first day on the kneeling handcycle, and if there was any signs of worsening and unbearable pain, I would revert to using the recumbent handcycle and rely on the power assist to get me through. With enough physio treatment, Ibuprofen and resting, I managed to get away with all 4 days on my own handcycle (phew!).
Day 1 – Cape Leeuwin to Hamlin Bay (34km)
The weather wasn’t anywhere near as nice as last year, with patches of light showers and cold wind, it was almost like another regular day of training in winter.
We pulled up to the start line and took off around 12:32pm. With Dan, from Advantage Handcycles, in his new prototype handcycle by my side, we hooned down the main road and through the cheering crowd and photographers.
My support riders, Richard and Matthew, were not far behind and it wasn’t long before we hit the first climb of the day. Their assistance up the hills makes it possible to finish in a reasonable time and not miss the race cut-off times.
A few kilometers into the race, we crept towards Heartbreak Hill – one of the renowned hills that very few of the 1400+ riders can ride up. This year, the conditions were a bit damper, which somewhat improved traction. But even with the best of conditions, the hill slowly took its victims and broke their hearts – one by one. Richard and Matt took turns pushing me and the two bikes, while complete strangers would also chime in with the occasional handcycle push. The most memorable part: Matty pushing me up the steepest pinch towards the top, while two others were pushing him! That would have been a photo worth a million words, not to mention a great show of camaraderie.
Over and away from the first climb we plotted our way through the bushes and to the finish line. The back was holding up, despite some swelling and tightness, but I felt much stronger than last year’s stage (maybe the familiarity of the course helped).
- The train of assistant pushers up Heartbreak Hill.
- The crazy cheerleader lady projecting her shouting as we rode past (twice).
- Enjoying the crispy sea breeze and scenery of Hamlin Bay.
Stage 2 – Hamlin Bay to Xanadu Winery (52.6km)
After my morning ritual of 1 x cup tea, 1 x oats smoothie and 1 x shower, we were off to the start line.
After almost losing Richard at the start, we managed to take off together after the first two waves of riders.
Nothing really stood out during this stage, but my back did start cramping after about 1 hour. The pain was easily forgotten when we started weaving through a narly downhill section in Boranup Forest. With patchy areas of cold chill, we still took time to enjoy the serenity – love the serenity. I’ll let the photos do the talking!
Screaming down Highway To Hell (this year with trimmed shrubs) and around Contos Camp area, our team physio/general support Jenna met us at the second checkpoint with an esky, cold drinks and a small hoard of snacks on standby. Having only graduated from uni a week prior, she embraced the challenge of our mad adventures and really got stuck into it!
We took off again, where we slogged out the remaining course that wove through farms and vineyards. We also managed to pick up a new mascot who was sadly laying on the side of the road in the gutter, looking worse for wear. We adopted our new smurf, who has yet to be named, and made it to Xanadu Winery where a small crowd remained to cheer us on – oh, and awesome burgers welcomed us too!
You meet many crazy characters on these wild adventures, and this year was without fail. We met Dylan, dubbed ‘Hipster Jesus’, who was cruising around the first stage in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, sandals, and a hard-tail single-speed bike with fat tyres. Matt couldn’t contain himself. He had to go for a spin on what we refer to as the ‘sofa on wheels’. Form over function.
- Picking a Lilly flower for Jenna to thank her for her support, only to come back to a shrivelled and wilted straw.
- Launching and gracefully landing all 3 wheels over a sandy rolling jump.
Stage 3 – Xanadu Winery to Colonial Brewery (45.6km)
The stage sounds like a pub crawl, from one piss-up to the next. For the lucky few that can keep their drinks down before the ride, it is a pub crawl on wheels. For those, such as myself, who need to knuckle down and slog out 4 plus hours of riding with half the body, there was no drinking until the very final finish line.
Today was going to be a challenge, with only one support rider and the most difficult stage ahead, we were saved by one man, Jesus – Hipster Jesus. Dylan caught up with us at the start of the roll-out and offered to tag along with us for the stage. I wasn’t sure how a man with a single speed and sandals was going to assist, but I would soon be blown out of my mind by his riding talent.
Rolling out of Xanadu and through Margaret River is always a blast, like a Sunday social ride but with the added hundreds of people cheering with cowbells and whistles! Highlight was popping a wheelie past Jenn, Matt and Talya (my lovely lady who came down to support us).
After about 10kms of South Carters forest dirt and road, we hit the Pines. This year we didn’t have any detours in this section so we had to nut it out the hard way. With about 4 stacks (nothing serious) we managed to wind our way through some sweet flowing berms and jumps. Towards the end of the Pine loop there was a small group of riders behind, happily spectating me shred through the tight single trail and weaving between the pine trees. Apparently one of my spectacular jumps was dubbed the “Pine Sauce”. Fair shake of the bottle, I say!
We met with the support crew around the half way mark and refueled. While I was getting ready to go again, a passing rider recognised Talya. I later found out it was one of her childhood friends from South Africa who now lives in Melbourne. I shake my head at how crazy the odds are to bump into someone you haven’t seen for years, in a different city, in the most random of events, in the middle of the bush! We later caught up at the finish line and later that evening for a few laughs.
My lower back was hurting, but it was luckily holding up. Instead, my neck was starting to hurt badly. This, funnily enough, was a good sign. This is the normal pain I get and it’s easier to manage and treat. Despite the pain, I kept telling myself: “It’s only 4 days of hell”.
We nutted out the remainder of the sections, going through some of Margaret Rivers’ beautiful bush and forest land, while picking up some sweet speed on a few gravelly descents. At the finish line the trike went straight to the Bike Dr. who took care of the gear slips that were getting worse after the pines. This is the first year where the equipment held up through stage 3.
- Watching Dylan jump seamlessly on and off his bike to assist me with such grace.
- Telling the guys that “it’s not that deep” at a water crossing then being soaked to the pads.
- Being attacked by my lady at the finish line and getting a smooch.
- Speaking with the lovely lady who rode the entire 4 days with a prosthetic leg.
Stage 4 – Colonial Brewery to Dunsborough Country Club (58.4km)
One day to go!
It was a relief that this wasn’t an overly technical stage. Just head-down and bum-up for 4 plus hours. The weather wasn’t too hot, so there was some relief, and we had more checkpoints between the start and finish to refresh. Dylan ‘Hipster Jesus’ greeted us at the start line carpark and I pulled out the Hawaiian shirt which he lent me the day before. It did stink a little hipster, so I gave it a wash before wearing over my Break the Boundary jersey.
We took of around the 5th wave of riders with a splash through a small shallow stream of water, which seemed to worry a lot of bike riders. “Is it contaminated?!” I went full throttle through it – being blasted with a spray of crispy cold water is the best way to start the morning after 3 days of hard work.
After a couple sensational stacks by Richard, who has a thing for clipping my tyres, we stretched the push out to 40km’s – and that’s when things got tough. Every kilometre seemed like 5kms. There was less banter and more panting as all three of us powered our way over sealed and unsealed roads.
Detouring around the impractical Middle Earth and Meelup trails, we finished strongly through the final finish line and into a sea of mountain bikes, cameras and awaiting media personnel.
- A raging road driver loosing his chops at my team (we still can’t figure out exactly why – haha!)
- The spectator at one of the farms, belting through a witches hat “Go you good thing!”
- Smashing through “The Last Hill” which wasn’t sign posted. Turning back and thinking; “was that it?”
- The Nutella Crepe at the end!
Another year down and another great adventure. The struggles throughout the year; mental health, body, and lifestyle made the finish much more meaningful than last year. Having an awesome team consisting of support riders, physio, my lady and new found friends helped me reconnect with the essence of mountain biking and my ability.
The stories are great and will last a lifetime, but the connections that come, go or stay are the elements that give us meaning and wealth.
Matt Popham from KPMG for sponsoring the new team uniform.
Jason from Malaga Cycles for the A-class services and generosity.
JD and Lee Roy from Cape to Cape for the entry and detour coordination.
Clinton for working behind the scenes to manage last-minute tasks.
Bianca for helping me find a budding physio.
NDS (CLPG) and Better Life Foundation for the massive equipment funding grants.
Chris for letting me borrow his handcycle as a spare.
Kerry and John for the photos and friendly vibes.
Kristen and Gary for the photos and super-cool energy.
Everyone who has helped me with training and giving me a reason to keep going.
All the friendly people on and off the trails during the event that took the time to encourage the team.