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