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.