By Kat Woods
"Oh my god I am sore!"
Over four months on the road and this was the first time I had heard Ben proclaim just how much his whole body was hurting. It was the day after making it to Steep Point, the most western point of Australia, and it was like Ben had whiplash to every park of his body. Throw yourself down a sand dune on a push bike and I guess this is the unavoidable consequence. He could have done with another rest day but we both knew there was no time for that - we needed to get back on the road again and pronto.
After the solo ride to Steep Point, despite his muscle soreness, Ben was happy to be riding with Matt again the next day, heading south on the North West Coastal highway towards Geraldton. The roads here a very open, long and straight, a vast space of relatively flat terrain with mostly shrubbery, low level trees and lots of red sand. Although the scenery here can be described as beautiful in its own way, it is also extremely monotonous. When you are travelling at 30km an hour and nothing seems to change, it can get very boring. It wasn't a leisurely ride either, the boys were faced with a steady headwind, so a flowing conversation between them to pass the time wasn't a possibility.
So what does one do when you are terribly bored and looking for some excitement during another day glued to the saddle? None other than goat races of course! (yes, I said GOAT, as in the farm animal that eats everything). This was something we were not expecting to see in the arid lands of Western Australia. There are over 2.6 million feral goats in Australia, with a large proportion of these living in the Mid-West region of WA. From old, wrinkled looking billy goats to the cute little guys - huge packs of goats could be seen regularly grazing near the highway. These goats are quick too (hence why I have no photos), speeding off and away from the strange sounds of grinding chains and spinning wheels. Ben and Matt loved going as fast as they could as the goat families ran frantically along side them making their strange little goat noises. This is a bizzare sight in the middle of the Australian dessert. We realised after a while that they must be more intelligent than we gave them credit for - we only saw one dead goat by the side of the road throughout this leg of the journey. They clearly understand the concept of running away from danger (unlike our kangaroo friends).
The headwinds here were terrible, and even though Ben was feeling uncomfortable physically, he and Matt were able to get though a big couple of days of riding. Two days later, they triumphantly rode into Geraldton for a much needed rest day, a coastal city in WA with a population of around 40,000. We were hosted in Geraldton by a high spirited, friendly and welcoming local who got in contact after we appeared on the Today Show, offering up a place for us to park our vans on her land, with access to water and power. Lee made us feel very welcome, getting lots of people involved in the community including the Rotary Club, cycling club and the local newspaper. Times like this make you realise how much good there is in the world - there are so many people out there that want to support a good cause, even welcoming complete strangers into their homes.
At this point we were all getting excited about reaching Perth, but we had been warned by local cyclists about the dangers of the journey south of Geraldton. They explained that while we wouldn't need to be on the lookout for road trains, the coastal road north of Perth is well known for hooligans, who use winding narrow road as a playground. 'A beautiful coastal road!' we were told by the cyclists, but also 'very dangerous', and not somewhere any of them would ride by choice. Of course, Ben and Matt had no other option and I was once again filled with anxiety and worry about the next leg of the ride.
This 440km ride to Perth took Matt and Ben another two days, and whilst the first day of riding out of Geraldton wasn't too bad, once they made it to the Indian Ocean Drive the dangers of being a cyclist on this road became very apparent. It was narrow, with little to no shoulder and lots of blind, sharp corners. We could feel a city close approaching as many of the country road niceties began to dissipate and the road became busier and busier. It wasn't possible for us to stay close to Ben and Matt anymore, there was never anywhere safe for the support vehicles to pull off the road. We had no choice but to drive ahead and meet them at the rest stops instead, every 30 - 40km, leaving Ben and Matt to make do with whatever water they had on them at the time.
It was a huge relief to finally make it to Perth safely. One of the most isolated major cities in the world, and in my opinion, one of the most beautiful cities in Australia. The boys made the most of their non-riding days and were busy with fun activities; a day at the cricket, dinner out with friends, eating their way around the city. Sadly, this was where we would say goodbye to Matt who had endured over 1,400km, almost non stop headwinds, consistent 40+ degree weather and some mind-numbing terrain to support Ben and the Ride for Jase. We were grateful to him for giving us his time and energy - he had become part of the crew. In his place, we had Jared, a good friend from Sydney who would join Ben for the next leg of the ride from Perth to Esperance.
After Matt left, we couldn't believe how much things had changed. There was no doubt that Jared and Matt would have completely different experiences during their time with us. The 40+ degree weather was suddenly a distant memory as the temperature dropped 20 degrees overnight. By the time we reached the Margaret River in Southern WA, it was cold and wet. Rain poured in heavy bouts for days. It wasn't ideal for Ben and Jared to be riding in these conditions but it was also a welcome change - watching rain is quite fascinating when it has been months since you last saw it fall. We rummaged through the under bed storage in our motorhome, trying to find our winter coats and woollies that we had stored away since the previous winter. It was mid December at this point so WAY to early to be rugged up, but still, a nice change.
The scenery along this leg of the ride, through Southern WA; the Margaret river, Pemberton and Denmark, was also a striking contrast to the previous months on the road. We loved Southern Western Australia's endless greenery and rolling hills, tall green trees and dense bushland. It reminded us of parts of NSW and made us feel at home. It took two more days of riding before we finally made it to Coalmine Peaks on the south coast of of WA. It was bitterly cold in the water but Ben and Jared decided they absolutely had to go for a swim to mark the end of the day - the first time we had all laid eyes on the Southern Ocean.
We fell more and more in love as we travelled through Southern WA, passing by some of the most beautiful beaches we had ever seen and quaint little towns along the way. The downside to travelling through Australia at such a fast pace was that we felt a deep sense of wanting to see and experience the places Ben had worked so hard to get to. We tried to take it in as we passed by but had to learn to let go of any real desire to explore and spend time there. Unless it was a designated rest day, we were merely passing through. This area of WA was the worst for this, the coastline is pristine. The temptation to swim and laze about in the sun was overwhelming. With our tight schedule the best we could manage was an ankle deep splash around in the crystal clear water during our lunch break before Ben and Jared were back on their bikes again. We made a mental note of these places that we loved, and agreed we would try to go back one day.
Ten days after leaving Perth, Ben and Jared finally cycled into Esperance on Christmas Eve, right on schedule. Jared had played such an important part during this leg of the journey. Ben and Jared helped keep each other's spirits up after hours of riding in the rain and the heat when it warmed up again, rotating every 5km to share the load. Jared pushed himself to the limits riding over 1,200km to support Ben, and we witnessed them both really feel the physical strain and mental pull a challenge like this puts on the mind and body. It felt like the end of an era arriving in Esperance - it would mark the final day of riding with a buddy by Ben's side. From now on, and for the remainder of the journey, Ben would be slogging it out on his own.
We spent Christmas the way many Aussies do; lots of cheesy Christmas carols, splurging on delicious food, soaking up the sun, finally enjoying a swim and some relaxation. There wasn't much alcohol involved - anymore than two beers would put Ben in a terrible state and would make the next day on the road absolute torture. Besides, Ben has to be in top form. On Boxing day Ben would make his way towards the Nullabor where the next big Ride for Jase challenge would begin....
If you or someone close to you needs support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
By Kat Woods
Have you ever heard of Steep Point?
Before this venture I had never heard of it, let alone know anything about how to get there.
We have a friend who had been there, and it was mentioned that the track to the most western point of Australia is sandy. That's ok, we thought. Ben did two weeks of off-road cycling up to Cape York, and Steep Point is only a 144km ride from the highway, so how hard could it possibly be? Looking back I guess we had been lulled into a false sense of security. In our minds the most challenging leg of the ride was done and anything Ben would encounter going forward would unlikely come close to what he had already put himself through.
When we arrived in Shark Bay on the coast of Western Australia, we had one day to pick up our hired 4WD and pack it with everything we needed for the journey. We were back on the road early the next morning for the 80km drive to Useless Loop Road (actually quite a fitting name), where Ben would jump on his mountain bike and start his 144km ride. It was during this 6am drive that it suddenly dawned on me that amongst our busyness to get everything organised, we had failed to do our Steep Point homework. We knew very little about the place and what to expect. We had lots of questions but with no internet, no phone reception and no real plans, I suddenly felt that we were very much on our own. How long will a tank of petrol last in this car? Will it be enough to get us out there and back again? Is there anywhere to fill up out there? Where do we let the tyres down? Where do we camp and do we need a permit? I had so many questions!
We were on a tight schedule, with only two days to give it a shot and no time to diddle dawdle around. We decided that Ben would get started and I would drive another 40km in the opposite direction to the nearest service station in search of petrol, reception and answers to my questions. While this was a frustrating detour, it was well worth it. I got the information I was after; the 4WD had two tanks which would be plenty for a 288km round trip, camping permits can be purchased at the rangers station upon arrival and we can let our tyres down upon entry to the National Park. Phew! Feeling relieved, but still unable to shake the nervous feeling in my stomach, I jumped in the car and headed back towards Ben to try and catch up with him.
The first part of the road out to Steep Point is bitumen for about 12km, and with a strong tailwind, Ben had managed to ride 60km by the time I caught up. At this point he was cycling on unsealed roads, rocky and bumpy, but all in all not too bad. He had been making speedy time and was in good spirits. After a quick break Ben rode another 40km in record time. We were feeling very positive and at this rate we would likely be at Steep Point in a few hours, plenty of time to get to the rangers office for a camping permit before it closed at 4pm.
It wasn't long before we came across this warning sign and suddenly things weren't looking so rosy.
The first 10km from this point alternated between heavy corrugation (bumpy like a corrugated roof) and soft sand. Ben hadn't been able to hire a fat tyre bike from anywhere nearby, so he was attempting to tackle this on his mountain bike. It was a slow 10km from this point. Often getting bogged, Ben's back wheel fishtailing, having to stop and start over and over again until he could find some grip. We let his tyres down to 5 PSI - they were almost flat and this helped somewhat. It was all very slow but he was moving and making progress. If it was like this the whole way it would be difficult, but possible, and we remained positive. I was still driving the car on full tyre pressure as we hadn't seen anywhere to let them down, but was certain we would come across it at some point soon and so far everything seemed to be going ok.
All my positive thinking and determination to stay calm went out the window when we came to a steep sand dune with a narrow winding track and a sign which said 'Let your types down to 18 - 20 PSI'. I realised that there was no means to be able to do this (and measure the pressure) like we had been told. So, I stupidly kept driving hoping for the best and of course, after about 100 metres uphill I got bogged. Luckily Ben was right behind me and came up with the genius idea to use his bike pump to let down the tyres and get them to the correct PSI. I was beside myself with worry but this worked and Ben managed to get the car unbogged.
By this time it was 3pm and Ben had another 30km to go. We knew that we needed to get to get to the ranger station by the time it closed, so Ben suggested I go ahead and not stop anywhere in case I get bogged again and just wait for him there. Not really sure if this was a good idea, but out of fear of being bogged again, I left him and continued on the arduous path towards the ranger station.
What came over the next 20km was the scariest track of road I have ever encountered. There are no photos of this track because it was just too dangerous to stop. It wasn't a road. It was sand dune after sand dune, so steep that when I made it to the top all I could see was the bonnet of the car and the sky above. I kept wondering how Ben was going to be able to get through this on a push bike; my instincts telling me it wasn't possible. I wanted to stop and wait for Ben but it didn't seem safe, the track was only wide enough to fit one car, there were so many blind spots and I was terrified of getting bogged. I kept driving until finally I arrived at the rangers office. I jumped out the car and ran up to the ranger, desperately worried about Ben being out there on his own. When I told the ranger that Ben was on a push bike about 20km back, his eyes widened.
"You think I shouldn't have left him out there on his own?" I asked.
"Well love, I got two more vehicles coming out here this arvo and I can tell you that the first time they see him will be when they are on top of him".
I was struck with panic, a huge lump in my throat, trying not to cry.
"But the cars are noisy right and there is nothing out here. He'll be able to hear them when they are coming up behind him and he can move out of their way yeah?" I asked, hoping he would tell me that what Ben was doing was perfectly safe.
"He won't be able to hear them", he said, "not with the wind howling the way it is".
Oh shit. What had I done? The ranger agreed that I absolutely had to go back to Ben and try to get to him before the other cars heading in his direction. I jumped back in the car and scooted off the way I had come.
I drove and drove, desperate to find Ben. Every few minutes blurting loudly down the two-way, "Ben, do you copy?" It took about half an hour of driving until finally I got a response. "Yep...Kat...I copy"
What a relief! A couple of minutes later and I see him ahead. I stop the car, leap out and run into his sweaty arms, unable to stop the tears, so happy to have found him. We agreed that it was a stupid decision to split up, and so I sat closely behind him all the way to the rangers station.
The ranger was impressed when he saw a sandy, sweaty, dishevelled looking Ben ride up to his station window. He couldn't believe that he rode his bike most of the way. Ben explained that he had to walk about 5km over some of the really steep sand dunes before hurtling himself and his bike down the other side, just hoping for the best. He fell a few times, but was lucky to land on his good shoulder.
There was 10km left to go to the most western point of Australia from the rangers station, and as there was still some sunlight left, Ben decided he would try and make it the whole way before the end of the day. I sat behind him, driving about 20km an hour, and didn't let him out of my sight. Now that we knew we were close to the finishing point, the anxiety was replaced by a feeling of exhalation and I noticed the exceptional beauty and unique landscape around me.
Less than an hour later, and right on sunset, Ben cycled his flat tyred mountain bike right up to the most westerly point of Australia. Yelling, jumping up and down like crazy in celebration. To say that we were both on a high would be an understatement. It was the most unbelievable feeling to watch Ben fulfil this part of the journey and a very emotional moment for Ben showing Jase this special place. There had been sweat, there had been tears (all mine) and there had been lots of stress and worry about the whole ordeal, but he had made it. Safe and sound. Despite everything he came up against he never gave up - he was determined to get there for his brother. With Jase's ashes in hand, we watched the sunset over the horizon, the last people in Australia to see the sunset for that day.
We camped that night by the ocean and although we were both exhausted, we barely slept a wink. I put this down to the almost gale force winds beating about our rooftop tent, but all of the adrenaline and emotions from the day's events was probably the real cause of our insomnia. We ate our breakfast on the beach the next morning, watching the sunrise and the waves crashing in the ocean, not another soul in sight, filled with a mix of happiness and relief.
Unfortunately, the kilometres Ben cycled up to Cape York and out to Steep Point won't be included in his Guinness World Record attempt because they were done on a different type of bike. This meant that there was no point in Ben torturing himself and riding back the next day, so he got to sit this one out in the car with me. We both learnt a lot from the journey out to Steep Point. We will be more careful with our planning, finding time in advanced to do more research, especially the more dangerous parts of the ride and won't be getting complacent again. We are both just so grateful that we got out of there!
Ben will be sticking to sealed roads from now on, and with only one more milestone to go, the most southern point of Australia, we are hoping that the most challenging part of Ben's journey is now behind him.
If you or someone close to you needs support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
By Kat Woods
Ben's cycling journey around Australia will take him through every state and territory in the country. After tackling NSW, QLD and the NT and riding over 9,600km, Ben cycled across the Northern Territory border and into Western Australia on day 98 of the ride.
We had been looking forward WA; being closer to the ocean after so long inland was something we talked about a lot. Crossing the border into WA also had a few perks. With the time difference between the states, we gained an hour and a half - which under these circumstances is absolute gold. We relished the idea of an extra long sleep in the next day after months of 5am starts. We chose not to give any thought to the fact that we would have to give back this borrowed time when we eventually left WA. Crossing into WA also meant the speed limits dropped back down to 110km (yay!). Ben rides as close to the left side of the lane as possible, but he can't ride on the dirt, and watching him cycle on single lane highways with 130km speed limits and no shoulder is absolutely terrifying. This brought us some relief and hope that people would be travelling a little slower from now on.
Despite being excited about the next leg of the adventure through WA, we were nervous about the conditions Ben would have to ride through. Frequently told by locals, 'you've chosen the wrong time of year to do this!', the idea of Ben spending a significant amount of time cycling through a desert was daunting. But really, we were already experiencing mid to high 40's temps, so how much hotter could it possible get?
So we waited, well prepared with a new riding routine and frozen water bottles in hand, for these terrible conditions to eventuate. To our relief, it never really came. It was still very hot, with numerous days in the 40's. But we also had days where the temps dropped back down into the 30's, and these days were a real relief. Ben had acclimatised by this point and so it didn't seem so bad in comparison to what he had been riding through in the NT.
After travelling south west from Katherine over 13 days passing through the Great Sandy Desert, we finally made it to Broome! We loved being on the coast again and couldn't wait to get in the water, our first swim in the ocean since QLD. Cable Beach in Broome is as long as the eye can see with sand so white it almost stings your eyes to look at it in daylight. We had made it just in time before the arrival of the stingers and spent some time on our rest day here bathing in the warm Indian ocean. The landscape in Broome is impressive; it's where the desert meets the ocean and is completely different from any beachside town we had ever seen before. Red dust from the desert stains the walkways around town and small areas of well kept green grass are a striking contrast to the dry, natural landscape. Beach driving is allowed here (how cool is that!), so we enjoyed a picnic out of the back of a mates 4WD and watched the camels as the sun set over the ocean. A complete novelty for us Sydney siders.
From Broome, Ben continued on his journey south along the coast of WA.
Now this is where the fun began!
When we planned the itinerary for the Ride for Jase, it was all based on the most favourable weather and wind conditions around the country. Because of the accident, we are two months behind which means the direction of the winds have changed, and this became Ben's biggest challenge during this leg of the ride. It was a constant and relentless southerly. Day after day. Much of the ride south of Broome was through desert, so the landscape was dry and open, with no shelter or cover from the winds. Even the birds battled with it. Watching them float in the air, flapping their wings but not moving anywhere, before finally giving up and turning to fly in the opposite direction helped us to understand what Ben was up against. He really had no choice but to push through and just hope that the next day would be better.
During this leg of the ride, there was an overwhelming amount of support. Port Hedland and Karratha, both mining towns where the community really got behind Ben and the cause. We met up with other cyclists and people who had heard about the ride on social media and wanted to meet Ben and support him in some way.
After another 1,369km of dodging some of the biggest trucks we have ever seen on top of the nasty headwinds, we finally arrived in Exmouth for some much needed time off the bike for Ben. It had been a busy few weeks, doing as many school talks as possible before the end of the school year. Ben did his final school talk in Exmouth and a presentation at a local Brewery, a community also touched by recent loss of life from suicide. The locals here really believe in what the Ride for Jase is all about.
Exmouth is also a really beautiful seaside town. We made sure we had the time to check out the famous Ningaloo Reef. We hired snorkels and flippers and drove down to Turquoise Bay, a 40 minute drive from town. The beaches here will leave you speechless. The colour of the water is so unbelievable, clear and clean. The current is strong; you can start at one end of the beach and let it take you down to the other. You really don't need to do much work, just enjoy the ride. The reef is only metres from the shore line with an abundance of different types of coral and fish so we didn't have to swim too far out to take it all in. We were even lucky enough to see a long neck turtle!
By this point, Ben had been riding solo, so having a new riding buddy arrive in Exmouth on day 120 was something really special. Matt, from Sydney would be cycling from Exmouth to Perth and Ben had been looking forward to having someone with him during the long, solitary hours in the saddle.
I had never actually met Matt and Ben had only met him once, so it was a bit of a gamble having him join us on the road for two weeks. We would be spending all our time together. Cooking and eating all our meals together, confined to the motorhome in the air con on the hot days, trying to escape from the flies and bugs outside. On a venture like this you don't really get much personal space, and the whole operation revolves around our motorhome. This could have been a difficult couple of weeks and I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous about how it would play out. I was relieved when Matt arrived to find that he was easy going, funny, down to earth and always willing to lend a hand. He immediately fit in. Although Matt fit in, we couldn't fit him in the van (he is so tall!) so he bunkered down in a swag outside.
Matt's first few days on the road from Exmouth to Shark Bay were tough. He had come from 20 degree weather straight into riding 150km in 40 degrees with headwinds. Matt is very athletic, a competitive runner, but he didn't have much time to train before he left Sydney so was unsure how he would hold up. There are no traffic lights to give you a breather and the roads are extremely flat, so there is never any break from pedalling. The first day was a hot one and it threw him about, unfortunately having no choice but to pull out not far from the end of the day's ride. The next day was even hotter, but he got through it, and by his third day on the bike he and Ben were working like a well oiled machine. In sync, they rotated every 5km to help each other push through the headwinds. I noticed a huge difference in Ben in these first few days. His spirits were high and despite some big days he was a lot less exhausted than usual after battling a headwind alone.
It was a great to finally reach Shark Bay on the west coast of WA. This is where we would leave Matt, Joan and Lance behind and hire a 4WD so that Ben could take on the ride to the most western point of Australia.
At this point, we had absolutely no idea what we were about to get ourselves into. What came over the following days went far beyond anything we had experienced in Cape York and well and truly pushed Ben to his limits.
Still a little traumatised by the events that would prevail during this leg of the journey, I will do my best to give it justice in our next blog.
If you or someone close to you needs support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
By Kat Woods
You would think that cycling 'around' Australia would mean quite literally riding in one direction only. Well, not exactly. Since Ben is attempting to reach the most northern, southern, eastern and western points plus the centre of Australia, it's not so straightforward. Since making it to Uluru, Ben has had to do some unavoidable backtracking, over 1,271km to be precise. For the Guinness World Record attempt, everything needs to link up, which means throwing the bike into the back of the van is strictly off limits. Besides, Ben is not at all interested in taking the easy way out.
Backtracking, however, does actually come with a few benefits. For the first time since reaching rural Australia, we felt a bit like locals. We knew what the roads would be like and everything seemed a little familiar. It was easier for Ben to plan his rides, his rest stops and where we would set up for the night. We could drop into the places we liked along the way, say hi to the people we had met, and avoid the places we didn’t like so much (Luckily only one so far, but we wont name and shame here).
Venturing east along the Lasseter highway from Uluru, Ben cycled his way back to Alice Springs for another rest day. The term 'rest day' probably doesn’t really give you a good indication of what this actually means. Given we are on the road 5 - 6 days a week, there are lots of things happening when he is off the bike, and lots to get done. Getting through everyday stuff like washing and other chores is sometimes almost impossible, so we are lucky to have help from Joan and Lance here, making life on the road that little bit easier and giving us more time to concentrate on RFJ stuff.
Being school holidays at the time, Joan organised for Ben to share his story with a group of high school kids staying in the holiday park. Ben talked about mental illness, the loss of his brother and his own experiences while on the ride. It's only natural to worry about how the kids will take the talk, especially if they are going through a difficult time themselves. You hope that they can take something positive away from it. Seeing so many of the kids come up to Ben afterwards, wanting to tell him about their own experiences, really reinforces that something good has come out of it, at least for the ones who may have needed to hear it at the time. You know that his story has connected with them in some way.
After leaving Alice Springs, Ben cycled north along the Stuart Highway for another 507km before making it to Threeways Roadhouse near Tennant Creek, where his backtracking stint would end. At this point, despite a sore rear end, Ben was doing well physically. His biggest complaint wasn't his shoulder or anything cycling related. Strangely, a set of seriously swollen feet have taken centre stage here, appearing every time he has a day off the bike. We laugh that his body is so used to riding that being off the bike is abnormal. Wearing his Firefly device to get his circulation going along with some cold packs has kept this under control, and thankfully, Ben has been able to fit his feet into his cycling shoes the next day.
On day 84, Ben was back on fresh roads heading towards the Top End. After few challenging days, we arrived at Daley Waters, a little town some 276km south of Katherine. The Daley Waters Pub and caravan park is a little gem, so full of character. With two pools and a spa it was a god send on a 40+ degree day. Every nook and cranny of this place is filled with memorabilia from travellers been and gone. Photos, Id cards, clothing, coins, even bras and undies from all over the world hanging from the ceiling. You could spend hours in the place reading all of the messages and checking out the weird and wacky things travellers have left behind, all wanting to make their mark in the outback. Joan wrote a beautiful message for Jase on a lime green hat and it was left to hang from the ceiling, a permanent reminder of the RFJ journey.
During the ride from Daley Waters to Mataranka it got hotter and hotter, and as we later found out from one of the locals, was the hottest it has been in 12 years. Ben was absolutely struggling to get in enough fluid, the break leavers on his bike were so hot he could barely hold on properly. By 2pm that day, the temperature gauge on his bike read 53 degrees and by 4pm, it had jumped to 58. While we don’t think it was that hot, it would have easily been in the mid to high 40s, made worse by the lack of shade and the heat reflecting off the bitumen. When we finally arrived at Mataranka we couldn’t wait to get down to Bitter Springs for a swim. Located in the Elsey National Park, these freshwater thermal springs can reach up to 32 degrees. While the water was warm, it was still very refreshing. Spending the afternoon here was the best way to end the hottest day of the ride so far.
It took Ben another two days from Mataranka to reach Katherine, in much the same conditions. Knowing that there would be springs to swim in at the end of the day helped Ben to stay focussed and push through the intense heat. Katherine didn't disappoint and we were lucky enough to be able to explore some more thermal springs and enjoy a bit of rest just in time before the start of the wet season and the incoming crocs (as I was later informed by one of the locals, they often pull them out of these water holes after heavy rains during the wet season. Lucky she told me this after we already swam).
At this point we came to realise that this was just the beginning of the hot weather. Heading towards Port Headland in WA, Ben will be riding through some of the hottest areas in Australia. Ben has weeks of these conditions to get through. We decided the best way to tackle this would be to change his riding routine. Getting on the road by 6:30am rather than 8:30, Ben could try and beat some of the scorching heat, and get as much of the riding out of the way as early as possible.
What a huge difference this made! Ben usually gets through 60km in the first two hours on the road, so it meant a big part of the ride was out of the way early. On so many levels this was a great thing. Ben's water stayed colder for longer and we arrived at our destination earlier, giving us some down time.
The weather also changed dramatically a couple of days out from Darwin, going from a dry heat to an intense humidity. The humidity caused Ben to sweat profusely. Gallons of it would roll down his forehead and into his eyes and made it hard for him to see properly. His jersey looked like it had been dunked in a bucket of water after only a few minutes of riding. Not the prettiest.
Arriving in Darwin was exciting, our first capital city since Brisbane. Ben wanted to make the most of the time here and try and to spread the word. The Darwin community really welcomed us with open arms and the two days here was filled with activity. Ben did two school talks, three radio interviews and one newspaper interview. We caught up with people we had met during our travels, friends from home that are now living in Darwin and we had a surprise visit from family. While our time in Darwin wasn’t very restful, we left feeling fulfilled and grateful for the opportunities that had come up to start a conversation about mental health and we were lucky to meet some amazing people, all very supportive of the cause.
Ben finished his last morning in Darwin with a ride through the city, meeting a group of Darwin cyclists. Our caravan park was way out of town so it was important for Ben to feel like he had cycled right into the heart of the city. Since leaving Darwin Ben backtracked again over two days down to Katherine, with the support of a couple of local cyclists who helped Ben get through a another big day on the road.
The new routine seems to be working well, starting and finishing earlier has been such a positive change. We are hoping that this will be enough to beat the heat, but we will just have to wait and see, we really don’t know how much hotter it will get. Ben is just taking it one day at a time and focusing on making it to the next RFJ milestone - the most westerly point of Australia.
If you or someone close to you needs support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
By Kat Woods
Since leaving Sydney, Ben has now cycled over 8,000km. I know it’s a long way because I have been here with him, but it is not until I look at the map does it hit me just how far he has come. It has taken 72 days on the road to reach Uluru, the red centre of Australia and the third checkpoint of the Ride for Jase journey.
After a few days off in Cairns to get things organised post the Cape York leg of the trip, we were ready to get going again and start the journey towards the red centre of Australia. I was expecting yells of joy and lots of smiles from Ben on the first day back on sealed roads. After riding to Cape York, I think we all had false expectations that the rest would somehow seem 'easy'. I definitely didn't expect the first day back to be so challenging for him after what he had just completed. Getting back on the road bike after spending 2 weeks on a mountain bike in completely different terrain took some time to get used to. For someone who has always been a road cyclist, Ben strangely felt awkward and out of sync. The shorter days up north had resulted in a change in his endurance fitness levels and the longer distances in the saddle were a real struggle a first. Despite feeling more exhausted than normal, Ben gradually adjusted to the change and got back into his daily riding routine.
As we ventured west along the Savannah Way in northern Queensland, other than the sealed roads, it felt like we were back in the Cape. Lots of red dirt and a dry, dry heat. The roads were extremely narrow, sometimes only one lane, and busy with road trains. There is no phone reception or internet between towns so we stayed within 10km of Ben so that he could reach us on the 2-way. This means pulling off the road and waiting for 10 minutes before catching up to him again and doing this over and over again for 6 - 8 hours a day. Tedious, but worth it to make sure he is ok. And it means we get to warn the road train drivers that Ben is on the road ahead, which has come in handy a few times already.
The further we got inland, the further apart the towns were, resulting in massive days on the road. Ben had no choice but to cover greater distances in a day so that we could make it to the next town. This was a challenge. Riding over 200km consecutively in 40 degree heat ain't easy! (I have never done it and probably never will, so I am taking Ben's word for it). Luckily, the scorching heat gave way and by the time we got to Mt Isa on 29th September, the weather had dropped back to normal temps for this time of year. Still hot, but a dream compared to 40.
After 10 days of riding from the east coast of QLD and covering over 1400km, Ben finally cycled across the border and into the Northern Territory. An exciting moment for all of us. There have been some pretty big milestones during this journey but crossing a border is a big deal. It’s kind of like a fresh start, a new adventure. It’s a reminder that Ben is getting closer and closer to making it all the way.
It’s amazing how much the landscape changes out here and just how quickly. When we hit the NT it was almost instantaneously flat. It makes you feel like you can see forever. Just miles of tall grass and sporadic herds of cows, horses and wildlife. Long grass as far as the eye can see might sound boring, but it was beautiful. There is nothing to block the view of the sun as it sets along the horizon and the movement of the grass in the afternoon breeze. Magical stuff.
Being in a new state, heading towards the very centre of Australia was exciting and we were all looking forward to what was to come. We tend not to be able to venture off track and explore areas outside of the riding itinerary unless it's a rest day, so we were pretty stoked that Ben's itinerary had us travelling right through a Northern Territory must see on day 64 of the ride. The Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve), is just under 100km south of Tennant Creek and is absolutely incredible. A collection of enormous granite boulders scattered across a wide shallow valley, balancing on top of one another, appearing to defy gravity. Karlu Karlu is a sacred aboriginal site of great cultural importance so we weren’t able to climb the boulders but they were just as amazing from the ground. There were a few vans of other travellers here at the time all curious as to why there was a guy in lycra on his push bike. A bunch of kids wanted to know where Ben had cycled from; the look on their faces when we told them he had cycled from Sydney was priceless.
The next few days on the road to Alice Springs were eventful for Ben. A close call with a brown snake who took a strike at him as he passed, narrowly missing by inches. Dodging herds of frantic cows, strangely terrified by the sound of a bike but not too fussed by a car (hence so much cow road kill!). A broken rear derailer, numerous flat tyres, a bogged support vehicle. Despite the adventures of life on the road, Ben was now on a roll averaging 174km a day with an average speed of 29.3km an hour. At this point he was well adjusted to long days and the increasing temps, but was ready for a couple of days off, so coming into Alice Springs couldn't have come sooner. After seeing so many small towns it felt like a big city in comparison, nestled in between the impressive MacDonnell ranges. We loved having a couple of days off to rest at the Big 4. We were all big kids again going down the epic water slide and enjoying the amazing free Sunday pancakes thanks to Brendan and the team. Ben was also able to fit in a talk to high school students here which was definitely the highlight of this part of the trip.
After a good rest, Ben was back on the road for another 3 days and over 469km from Alice Springs to Uluru. As we ventured closer towards Uluru, it gradually took on the quintessential Australian look that you know and expect of the outback. Rolling hills, lots of shades of green, red earth peering out from between the shrubbery, so peaceful and serene. It's really amazing how far in the distance you can see Uluru, long before you come anywhere near it.
The journey from the entry point to Kata Tjuta National Park to the base of Uluru is a good 15km ride. Ben took this part of the ride nice and slow, taking in every angle of the rock which is visible along the winding highway until you finally reach the base. From afar Uluru looks dusty and sandy and its not until you get up closer to it that you can see that it is all solid rock. It was a proud moment when Ben reached the base of Uluru with Jase's ashes in hand, made even more special having his mum Joan there with him by his side.
We only had one rest day at Yulara (the closest town to Uluru) so we were up early and on our way back to the Uluru the next day. Being short on time to explore the area and wanting to get around the full 10.5km base of Uluru, we decided that Ben would ride his bike around it and I would run next to him. No easy task in the outback heat! I got some strange looks from passers by, but it definitely made me appreciate what Ben is doing even more than I already do. Highly recommend walking/running/riding around Uluru if you want to experience the vastness of the rock itself without climbing it. We spent the rest of the day exploring the Olgas at Kata Tjuta National Park and watched the sunset from the lookout that evening. They Olgas don't get as much attention as Uluru but they are just as incredible and there are lots of different walks you can do so worth spending some time there.
We were told by a lot of people we have met along the way that if you go to Uluru, you absolutely have to make a stop in at Kings Canyon, another spiritual site in Watarrka National Park. After one day off at Uluru, Ben was back on his bike bound for Kings Canyon. It was well worth the detour as this place has been one of our favourite spots so far. We did the 6km rim walk which gives you the most incredible views looking out across the canyon. It is a challenging walk and takes about 3 hours but I think this really depends on how many photos you take, which will most likely be a lot because it is so beautiful. There are signs everywhere asking you to stay at least 2 metres from the edge and its easy to see why, with parts of the cliff face giving way and falling into the Canyon (maybe a million years ago but, still, safety first people).
We have met a lot of fantastic people during this leg of the journey. It was exciting to stumble across other cyclists who were taking on the Aussie outback. Seeing them carrying everything they needed (including water) on their bikes, some travelling this way around the world, over a number of years, was very inspiring. It was great to be able to share stories and hear about their own experiences of life on the road. We also had lots of people who have wanted to get involved and help out in different ways. Lots of caravan parks along the way donating camping sites, the musician at Kings Canyon Resort's bar, giving up his tip jar for two nights while we were there to promote the ride and bring in some donations. Ben has had people offer him water as he rides past as well as others standing on the side of the road cheering him on and holding out donations. You certainly see a lot of good in the people doing something like this. Ben is now heading north again through the Northern Territory, Darwin bound. We are looking forward to reaching Katherine and then seeing the ocean again when we reach Darwin.
Until next time!
By Kat Woods
Today officially marks 3 months since Ben’s shoulder surgery.
It is hard to believe how far he has come in this time. Within 3 months of undergoing surgery, Ben has completed what is thought of as being difficult in a car; the journey to the most northern point of Australia. And all of it on his pushbike.
We left Caboolture on 12th August for the first leg of the journey since Ben’s shoulder surgery on a carefully planned reduced riding schedule. Hopeful but not really sure how he would go. Surprisingly, Ben’s shoulder held up really well and the reduced riding itinerary with extra rest days from Caboolture to Cairns gave him time to adjust and get back into the swing of things gradually. It also meant we were lucky enough to enjoy time in some of the most beautiful places on the QLD coast as well as plan and prepare for the next, somewhat daunting, leg of the journey; the trip up to Cape York.
By the time we reached Cairns after a few weeks on the road, it was all systems go. We had one full day to get all the camping things we would need for the journey up to Cape York in our hired Campers Oz 4WD. We love camping, but we have never camped under these circumstances, and so there was a lot that need to be considered. We were a little apprehensive for what was to come, but we managed to pull everything together and set off for Mount Molloy on 4th September in 30 degree heat, hoping that we had everything we would need. This also marked the start of the return to the regular riding schedule (5 -6 days on the bike with 1 -2 rest days a week), a big turning point for Ben.
The coastal road from Cairns to Port Douglas displays the most incredible scenery. While the road here gives you the opportunity to check out some pretty spectacular views, the leg of the ride from Cairns to Mount Molloy, was not the best place for a road bike. The roads here are super twisty, with little to no shoulder and lots of blind corners. Huge trucks also use these roads so it was all a bit stressful, although Ben seemed to handle it perfectly well (cool, calm and collected as always!)
We arrived at Mount Molloy for the first night of camping and although it didn’t go exactly as planned (we forgot pillows, didn’t bring any warm clothes and chose a camping spot right on the highway), we survived and set off early the next day for Lakeland. Although these were a big couple of days from a kilometre perspective (and were extremely hot), they were also the last two days on sealed roads. We arrived at Lakeland late afternoon and Ben was greeted with clapping and cheering from the owner and residents at Lakeland Holiday Park who kindly put us up for the night (and gave us pillows for the trip – absolute lifesavers!).
When we hit the unsealed roads the next day, although we had an idea of what to expect, it was still a bit of a shock. Bumpy, sandy and with huge dust holes, this terrain was an all-new ball game. Gone were the 150 – 200km days and Ben was now limited to getting through 80 – 100km a day max. We took the Telegraph track (the Old Telegraph Track is for 4WD enthusiasts) and Ben cycled steadily for the next few days, breaking every 25km for a drink and something to eat. We struggled to keep things cool and the car got so hot that our bread went mouldy after a couple of days. We started to go through all our fresh food quickly and supermarkets were pretty much non-existent for the first 5 days so we had to make do with what we had. Baked beans on Jatz anyone?
We had no phone or internet reception so we stayed in contact via walkie talkies and I sat behind Ben in the 4WD going 20 – 30km an hour to make sure other drivers could see him. When the dust picked up, visibility was really bad and Ben couldn’t always stick to the very side of the road, so this was the safest way to travel. We kept ourselves entertained by listening to the comments of other drivers and truckies over the 2-way as they passed by; "check this out!", "you don’t see that every day!", "city slicker!" and "good on ya mate!". The majority were very courteous around Ben, gave him lots of space, warned each other to watch out for him, slowed down when passing by and pretty much everyone waved, gave thumbs up or a friendly toot.
After 5 solid days of Ben slogging it out under these conditions, we finally arrived at a little town called Coen and Ben got his first rest day. At this point we had gone through pretty much all of our fresh food. We were glad we had stocked up on a heap of packaged and canned goods before we left, as the food at the local store was well out of our price range.
After a day off in Coen, Ben pushed through some more heavy days on what was mostly unsealed roads (sporadic bits of bitumen road always resulted in a massive fist pump and a joyful yelp from Ben over the 2 way). At this point in the journey we had become used to being covered in red dust by the end of the day, it gets into absolutely everything. Stopping at Moreton Telegraph Station for the night was an absolute hooray moment, when we rocked up and were confronted with grass! You never realise how much you love grass until you have been camping on dirt for a while. This place also had random wild cows that would come in and eat the mangoes from around the campsite and scared the living day lights out of us when they came for a midnight snack around our tent.
We stayed at Roadhouses along the rest of the way (loved Bramwell Roadhouse Burgers, they even had a veggie one!) but did do one night of real basic camping (no toilets or showers) at Sailors Creek on the Old Telegraph track. This one was a little hard to find and when we got there we found a gaping hole in the ground on the road into it, but we managed to squeeze on in. We had the whole sight to ourselves and cooked tinned spaghetti and scrambled eggs under the stars. Very gourmet!
Sailors Creek was less than 10km from Fruit Bat Falls, a must see if you are passing by. The first and only place we came across where you could safely swim where there were no crocs. The water was crystal clear and refreshing after a long day on the road and doubled up as our shower for the night.
The last day to the most northern point of Australia from Bamaga was a day filled with lots of different emotions. It had taken 11 days of gruelling riding over 1000km for Ben to get to this point, and with only one day off for 11 days of cycling, he was exhausted. The roads also seemed to get worse on the last couple of days (extra bumpy and sandy), so even though it was only 40km from Bamaga to the top, it was a challenging day. After riding the 40km, Ben had to get off his bike and carry it the rest of the way over the rock face to get to the most northern point. It wasn’t an easy walk, especially wearing cycling shoes and carrying his mountain bike. I carried Jase’s ashes under my arm and every camera we own to make sure we could capture this very special moment of the Ride for Jase journey.
On Day 45 of the Ride for Jase, Ben finally reached the most northern point of Australia with Jase in tow.
What an achievement against the odds. The rest of the day and for days afterwards we were on an absolute high. We stayed at Punsand Bay Camp Ground that night and just happened to come across a lot of people who had seen Ben cycling on the way to the top or had met us somewhere along the way. There was so much support from these very genuine people and real compassion for the cause and for Ben’s determination. Ben received lots of cheering and clapping from a family who had seen him on the road on the way and happened to be at the tip when we arrived; a very special moment.
The journey so far has really cemented just how incredible it is to talk to people face to face about why Ben is putting himself through this gruelling challenge. We came across so much support and generosity for the cause along the way. Locals pulling up beside us to find out what Ben is doing on a pushy and to shake his hand. Other travellers touched by their own experiences with mental illness or the loss of someone they love. It really rang home just how significant this cause is, and the huge impact it has had on people from all walks of life. To see the look in people's eyes when Ben shared why he is doing the ride, and then hear them say that they lost their own child, brother, sister or best friend, it really makes you more determined to keep going and to try to make a difference.
Ben still has a long way to go. We have returned to Cairns now to our beloved Lets go Motorhome, and are preparing to get back onto sealed roads (yay!) and continue with the Ride for Jase journey in a couple of days. A total of 4000km done and about another 16,000 to go. After seeing Ben take on Cape York, I know he wont give up and will keep going with this ride in memory of Jase and in support of mental health.
If you or someone close to you needs support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Today is a great day.
I almost feel like my old self again. All of the pain and frustration from 6 weeks ago feels like a distant memory and I am focused on one thing.
Getting back on the bike.
Today, Dr Brosnan gave me the all clear to do just that – to take the first step to conquering the Ride for Jase journey. Words can’t describe how happy I am right now.
While I am elated, I wouldn’t say that this is a complete surprise. I have had first class treatment and rehab on my shoulder, something I am extremely grateful for. The moment I came out of surgery I was very focussed on getting to where I am now. Although its been challenging, I gave myself no other option. I was not going to give up. I have also been very lucky to have had the opportunity to take on my rehab on a full-time basis – I know it’s not often the case and most people aren’t afforded that kind of luxury when managing an injury.
After my initial three and half week recovery period at Scarborough Holiday Village, we made our way down to Cabarita Beach on the north coast of NSW to stay with some friends and begin my rehab in Tweed Heads. During my time here, Jono Freeman from The Athletes Workshop saw me almost every day. At my first session, I could barely move my left arm more than 20 degrees.
While the initial recovery period was painful and frustrating at times mostly because I was limited in what I could do, once I started rehab with Jono, I felt like I was on track and progressed very quickly. I focussed a lot of my mental energy into just getting better. My sessions with Jono consisted of physio to the shoulder area and then take home exercises that were gradually built on as I progressed and improved. Outside of these sessions I tried to stay as active as possible and get as much blood flow to the joint to aid my recovery. I would go for walks, swim regularly and built up to being able to swim 1km (breaststroke only) in the local pool. Eventually I was able to get back on the stationary bike up to 40 mins at a time. Man, it felt good to be able to work up a sweat again. All those endorphins. I had missed them!
So, as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to show Dr Brosnan how far I had come at my appointment today. He was very happy with my progress and said it was incredible to have full range of motion at just 6 weeks post op (great job Jono!). He gave me the ok to start the Ride for Jase again when I feel ready but reinforced that I need to be conscious of how my shoulder feels and listen to my body. At 6 – 8 weeks the joint and scar tissue is still trying to heal. Getting back on the road and being exposed to the bumpiness of riding under these conditions for long hours could aggravate the scar tissue. Dr Brosnan said that if it gets too painful I have to stop as it's a sign that my body is not ready. If this happens, he said I would need to take a break and continue the ride at a later time. If I don’t pay attention to my body and try to push through the pain, it could result in long term chronic pain issues. Well, I definitely won’t get away with that, I know that Kat will be the pain police from now on!
So, what’s the plan now?
I will spend the next 9 days continuing to strengthen my shoulder and will start to do some small rides, just to give myself some time to see how my body feels about being out on the road. If all goes well, we will re-start the Ride for Jase on Saturday 12th August from Caboolture to Noosa, just under 8 weeks post accident.
But what about the weather? This is a valid question we have had a few times now. The ride for Jase was planned and timed specifically for the weather conditions around the country. From a climate perspective, with a two month delay it will be hotter up north than we would have previously encountered, but all in all, the climate should still be ok. Luckily I function better in the heat!
AND, on another very positive note, it looks as though I may not lose my first 1000km from Sydney to Caboolture in my Guinness World Record attempt. Although I have spent more than 14 days off the bike, we looked further into the guidelines and it appears that there are exemptions for injuries. I was pretty devastated when I thought I would lose these kilometres, so I am stoked to think they may be able to be included in my final tally.
While I am very conscious of the dangers of cycling, even more so now, I am not afraid of getting back out on the road. I am just going to take it one day at a time and gradually work my way back into it. I may be a bit rusty at first, but you know what, I am really excited for what’s to come and I can’t wait to share more of this journey with you.
Day 10 of the Ride for Jase. Brisbane to Noosa. Perfect weather. Fantastic conditions, slight tail wind. I was on a roll. Feeling strong and confident. The first 9 days on the bike were good, despite the rain. Everything was going to plan, like clockwork.
And then, out of nowhere, bang! I was hit by a car.
I lay there on the road looking up in to the sky, a thousand thoughts going through my head. Am I injured? Have I broken anything? Can I get up? Will I continue riding today? Something inside me was telling me not to move.
My mate James who was riding with me that day was standing over me. "Are you ok?" James asked in a concerned tone. I was, but I really couldn’t speak much. I let out a gasping “yeah, I’m alright”. I find out later that after performing synchronised front flips over the bonnet of the car which had cut us off, James had actually landed on me as we hit the asphalt. The ambulance arrives and I can only assume that I will not be back on the road again that day. But what about the Guinness World Record attempt for The longest journey by bicycle in a single country? I am not allowed to have more than 14 days in a row off the bike....this is the only thing I could think of in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
A few X-Rays and examinations later and I realise I wont be back on the bike within 14 days. I would need shoulder surgery. It was not what I wanted to hear, but I knew I was lucky. It could have been a lot worse. The staff at Caboolture Hospital had heard all about the Ride for Jase and knew I wanted to get back on the bike asap. They managed to line me up to see orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Brosnan, at Peninsula Private Hospital for the very next day.
This was nothing short of amazing really. Not only was I lucky that Dr Brosnan was able to see me the day after my accident, he is also one of the best orthopaedic surgeons in Brisbane, an expert with this type of surgery. He explained that I had a Grade 5 Acromioclavicular separation - the most severe type of AC joint injury. He was very clear about what needed to be done and explained that surgery was my only option, but reassured me that I should make a full recovery. Dr Brosnan had a sense of certainty about him. I knew I was in good hands and I trusted him immediately. I explained that I wanted to get back on the road asap, so Dr Brosnan arranged to fit in my surgery that afternoon. And on top of that, he believed in what we were doing and wanted to help out. When he said that he would donate the surgery as his contribution to the cause, both Kat and I cried. We just couldn’t believe the generosity shown by a complete stranger. A gesture of absolute kindness that we will remember forever.
A few hours later I was in surgery. All my tendons had been completely torn so my collarbone needed to be cut back and artificial tendons used to hold it back down in position. My new shoulder would be able to take 400kg of weight post-surgery recovery so it would be stronger than ever, but it would be 6 – 12 weeks before I could get back on the bike. Considering how well I had recovered from previous injuries, I mentally took hold of the 6-week mark and decided that I would do everything possible to get back on the bike by then. I had something to work towards.
Dr Brosnan worked his magic and the surgery was an absolute success, but the first week post op was really hard. I was completely out of it. Taking heavy painkillers, sleeping most of the time but waking every 3 hours feeling like I needed to go to the toilet. Kat had to help me get out of bed every time I woke up as I couldn’t move on my own. Even though all this was happening I knew it wouldn’t last long - my body was telling me to rest and let it do its thing. Gradually, I started to improve and progressed to being able to get out of bed on my own, take short walks and even use a knife and fork again after a couple of weeks. Baby steps really.
It’s definitely been challenging both physically and mentally. All the work we put into the ride, all my training, and planning, this has changed things. But there are positives. The accident happened in a place where I had access to fantastic medical services. I have been given time to rest in a place where the sun is shining, the weather is warm and the people are kind and friendly. If anything, the accident has taught us that you can’t control everything in life. Really, there is very little that you can control. It’s about accepting what can’t be changed and doing your best to get back on the right path and move forward. It doesn’t matter how slowly, all that matters is that you are going in the right direction.
I am determined to finish this ride for my brother and for everyone else that has ever struggled with depression. I am taking things slowly and listening to my body, all the while staying focussed on a 6 - 8 week recovery and hopefully, getting back on the bike then. I will be seeing Dr Brosnan again for my second follow up on 2nd August, so this will really be when I find out when I am going to be able to get back on the road.
I have received a lot of messages of support since my accident, thank you to all of you who have reached out. Reading these messages gave me that little bit of strength that I needed, and reminded me that whatever happened, it was going to be ok.
I received a message from one of our supporters saying ‘this setback is such symbolism to how people get a few steps ahead in their mental health and then experience a 'big crash'. Self-care, patience and compassion are the remedies until we can get back on the bike’.
I couldn’t agree more.
I love cycling. It brings me right back into the moment, focused and present. It’s easy to get into a rhythm, in touch with my surroundings. My senses are heightened; a feeling of vulnerability yet complete control of my body and bike, working as one. And the scenery, you notice more on a bike than you do in car. It makes me feel free and more alive than ever.
As much as I love cycling, if someone told me a couple of years ago that I would be spending 6-8 hours a day on a push bike for over 6 months, I would have told them they were kidding.
It’s definitely not the way I envisaged I would travel around Australia. I did everything with my brother. I always imagined that traveling around Australia would be something that we would do together one day too. It’s still hard to deal with losing Jase to suicide. That is never going to go away. Nor would I expect it to. But it has made me more determined to focus my energy into something positive, something that will help other people. Something that will get people talking about their own struggles without feeling ashamed. And why should they be? It is reality. It’s real life. It isn’t perfect, and sometimes it is just so damn hard.
Not long after losing Jase, my wife Kat and I started talking about why Jase got to the point of where he felt there was no way out. We will never know all the answers, but we know that Jase didn’t want to talk about what he was going through. He didn’t want people to know about his struggles. He didn’t want to share his feelings and even if he did, we don’t think he really knew how. He kept these feelings to himself and over time, they grew and they grew. We can’t change what happened and we can’t bring Jase back, but maybe, by doing something to encourage others to talk about their own struggles early, we might be able to save someone else’s loved one.
With this in mind, we gradually started to build what would be the Ride for Jase; a cycling journey around Australia in memory of my brother, in support of mental health and suicide prevention. The ride would be a way to heal from the loss of my brother, all the while showing other people that we aren’t afraid to talk about mental illness. A journey to remind people that it is ok to speak up about what you are going through and ask for help.
Planning the Ride for Jase took us completely out of our comfort zones, we really had no idea what we were doing! It was challenging and at times overwhelming, but we never lost sight of why we were doing it. We copped a lot of rejection, but we didn’t care, it just made us more determined. We kept reminding each other that we were just ‘having a go’. We would make the Ride for Jase happen somehow.
Over time, and with the support from the Black Dog Institute, our sponsors and our family and friends, the Ride or Jase started to become a reality and gradually became bigger than what we could have ever imagined. After 7 months of training, planning, preparation and hard work, June 2017 came around faster than we had anticipated.
We spent the week before the start of the ride living in our sponsored Let’sGo Motorhome in our local caravan park. We thought that the time between finishing work and setting off would be an easy week of pulling together all the final bits and pieces. We couldn’t have been more wrong! There were so many things we had to get organised. Bike services, mechanic courses, riding gear, tubes, tools, coordinating camping spots and event logistics as well as sponsor logo stickers on the camper. We knew that when we got out on the road, moving every day, that there would be very little time to go out and find things we needed.
After a week of late nights and few frantic moments, everything finally came together. On Saturday 10th June, we woke up with a feeling of excitement and anticipation for what we were about to embark on. The clouds finally parted after a week of non-stop rain. I felt Jase in the air, I felt him with me.
We had a great turn out of people. Friends and family. People who heard about the Ride, passers-by who wanted to know what the Ride for Jase was all about. There was certainly a buzz in the air. And then there was the TV crew. We were pretty stoked that Channel 9 wanted us on the Today Show. It was an incredible feeling talking about the Ride for Jase on national TV.
When I got on my bike and cut that lime green ribbon to mark the very start of the Ride for Jase, I was filled with so many emotions. It was surreal. Excitement, nerves, relief that the day was finally here. I was ready. All the months of training, planning, late nights, energy and commitment had finally paid off. With Jase in my heart, surrounded by an incredibly supportive crowd, I jumped on my bike and started what would be a once in a lifetime opportunity make a difference and remember my little brother.
A very special thanks to Rachel Gibbeson, Ali Hiddlestone, Ashley Nicholson (FDC Group), Nati family, Beverly Gibbeson, Dan Coutts, Maggie Gibbeson, Blake Walsh and Michael from Café2U Australia. Your efforts are very much appreciated!
Photos courtesy of Dan Coutts
While a lot of you may know that I lost my brother Jase to suicide, many of you wouldn’t know much about who Jase was as a person. I am sad that some of you didn’t get the chance to meet him. I got 29 years with Jase. That, in itself, is a blessing. For 29 years, I had a little brother and a best mate all rolled into one. He was a bloody good bloke. I know if you had met him that you would have liked him. Everybody liked Jase.
There were 4 of us kids. My two elder sisters, Jase and I. It was a great childhood. I would often hear my aunties and uncles telling my parents that they couldn't believe how well Jase and I got along. Sure, we had our usual brotherly bickering moments but we always looked out for each other. We spent nearly every waking minute together. At times, it felt like we were just in-sync, like twins. This kind of brotherly relationship was all I knew, it was just normal to me. But I always knew that it was the best relationship brothers could have.
We filled our days playing EVERY sport we could think of. Whatever sport just happened to be on TV that month, we were playing it. Tennis and basketball on the water tank, three-hole golf course from tree to tree, soccer, footy, surfing and cricket. Table tennis in the garage, even Olympics on the grass. We were competitive, but we loved it. And when it wasn't sport, we were building something or getting our hands dirty. From treehouses to flying foxes, anything that kept us outside, full of adventure and curiosity.
We shared a bedroom until I moved to Sydney to start a carpentry apprenticeship at 18. This was the first time in our lives that we were apart. As a young adult, this time apart really cemented in my mind just how much Jase meant to me. I missed my little brother. It was only a few years before Jase finished school and followed in my foot-steps to become a carpenter and we were living together again in Sydney.
Life was good! We shared so many young adult experiences, we even got to work together as carpenters. I like to think in the years we were working together that I taught Jase a little bit of Carpentry. But Jase was a master craftsman. He was very good with his hands and extremely talented. He always wanted his work to be perfect and most of the time, it really was.
I always admired Jase's confidence and sporting talent. He was my little brother but when it came to sport, I looked up to him. Basketball is where he really shone, he had an aura about him on the court and a never give up attitude to the game. But he was also a gentleman, always shaking hands at the end of a good battle.
Jase may have been tough on the sporting field, but he always seemed to have a heightened sense of compassion towards other players, especially if there was ever an injury. He seemed to feel their pain. I remember when I broke my leg at soccer and Jase drove me to the hospital. His face appeared to show more pain for me than what I was actually experiencing.
One of Jase’s best attributes was most definitely his sense of humour. He was cheeky, a joker, always ready to have a laugh. He was genuinely a funny guy and people loved that about him. He always knew how to make me laugh. I miss how well he knew me, and how well I knew him. We could be laughing at the same thing, even if nobody else thought was funny. It sometimes felt like we had our own language.
Jase and I never held grudges against each other, we made up quickly if we ever argued and we weren’t afraid to say I love you. We were always in touch even if we were traveling in different countries. We were a part of each other’s lives, no matter how far away we were from each other.
Jase may have looked like a big, strong guy, but he really was a sensitive soul. He genuinely cared about other people. He was incredibly sympathetic to everyone else's struggles. But he found this difficult to express in himself.
I saw Jase go through some very dark times in the 6 months before his passing. But I will always remember him for who he truly was. Before he lost hope, before he felt like there was nothing that could help him. We shared so many wonderful memories and these are the ones I will carry with me.
My time with Jase and his passing has taught me a lot about life. It has taught me that life is short and that you need to make the most of the time you have with the ones you love. While Jase was a caring, gentle man, he wore a smile even when things weren’t going well. Jase has taught me that being a man is not about being tough and pretending things are ok when they are not. Men can cry, men can be vulnerable, men can feel like they have failed. But that’s ok. I wish Jase knew that, I wish he knew that what he was going through was normal and that things would get better.
Jase, you will always be my best mate and a champion in my eyes. I will miss you every day little brother.