TourXOz 2017 – Andrew’s Diary

Events

19 September 2017

KJR’s General Manager ACT, Andrew Hammond, is cycling 2,500km from Perth to Broome with TourXOz in support of the Black Dog Institute. For the second year running, KJR is sponsoring the event committed to raising awareness and much needed funds for research into mental illness and suicide prevention. In this post, Andrew shares his thoughts after a grueling first 24 hours on the road.

DAY 1 – Perth to Geraldton

What a 24 hours; with much of it spent reflecting on the journey we’re undertaking and why we’re doing it.

Unfortunately, Mum has been a guest at Royal Perth Hospital for the last 24 hours but they’ve treated her well. To see Mum in the hospital bed was confronting but what was more confronting was listening to the conversation in the bed next to her. I can’t remember the fellow’s name but he was not in a good way. His son arrived and the ensuing conversation went like this; “How does your father look – better or worse than last time you saw him?” “I don’t know, we’ve been estranged for a while.” The Doctor went on to discuss with the son that he’d spoken with his sister about their father’s resuscitation order. The Doctor said the decision would be a joint one between the family and medical staff, and, in his current condition, the medical staff would prefer to let nature take its course instead of prolonging the suffering. The son acknowledged the discussion and went to confer with his sister.

I’m not sure how the story ended, but I’m sure there’s many a missed conversation the son wished he had now that his father is nearing the end of his time with the rest of us. In my mind, I was thinking of all the times I wished I could have one more conversation with the loved ones that have been taken by the Black Dog; but that’s usually not possible. The Black Dog just strikes and that’s it. No more conversations, just endless thoughts of what ifs and maybes. Today we all rode for those that have departed, those left behind and those that are suffering in silence now.

 

To those people who are suffering, we encourage you to reach out and draw strength from those around you. I met a fellow on the ride who’s wife has been suffering silently from depression for many years. Since he committed to joining the TourXOz ride, she’s stopped hiding her illness and has shared her story in the local press with the aim of encouraging all those that suffer to seek help.

One of the other riders in our group was struggling to peddle up a hill as he’d never ridden more than 100kms before today’s ride. As I was getting to know him, I asked him how he found out about the ride. He replied that “Some of the guys I treat spoke so highly of the 2015 ride that I knew I had to do it.” As the conversation progressed, I asked why he joined the ride and he said “Because I lost my daughter to suicide 6 years ago”. I was so impressed by the strength of this man to come on the ride and push his limits to the max while carrying that emotional burden, Wow, just wow. Every time he looked like he needed a bit of help getting up the hills, I reached out and gave him a little bit of assistance. I drew strength from his resolve and helped him convert that into physical power in the legs and together we made it. 118kms later and we had Day One in the bag.

 

Day 2 – Geraldton to Monkey Mia

Day 2 started early in Geraldton with breakfast at 5:30am and onto the bus at 6.00am for a brief bus trip to Northhampton. I’ve had a feeling someone is watching over me and I’m sure they played a part in placing my bike right outside the bus door. (Thanks team!)

Today we were blessed with the wind behind us and as a result, we were literally flying and completed our 115kms in 3 hours and 36 minutes. We stopped off in the magical Kalbarri National Park after zooming down the hill and it was amazing to feel the power of the tail we’d enjoyed during the day’s ride blowing us around as we descended. In our haste to see what was there, we all missed the sign that said “No Bikes” but luckily the ranger was watching and quickly corrected our oversight. The scenery was spectacular and in the distance, whales frolicked in the Indian Ocean.

It’s only Day 2 and our peloton is already riding like we’ve ridden together many times before. We’ve already seen special bonds forming between everyone and although we all love going fast and it’s not a race, (we’ve been first to the finish point on both days!) we’ve all adopted the mantra “we all get there together” and helping one another out. It’s important as all too often with depression and mental illness we don’t get the chance to help our friends or family that are suffering. While we’ve only been together for 8 odd hours on the bike, we can already start to pick up the signs of someone who’s doing it a bit tougher struggling up a hill and sometimes a few words of encouragement or a little push in the right direction is all that’s required.

Video Highlights – Day 2 of TourXOz 2017

Day 3 – Monkey Mia to Hamelin pool

Today we started from the beautiful Monkey Mia Resort, one of only a handful of world heritage listed areas in the world that meets all four ‘natural’ criteria;

  • to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  • to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  • to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals; and
  • to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

We enjoyed a slight sleep-in this morning with breakfast at 6.30am to allow for feeding the dolphins at 7.45am. “Surprise” the dolphin joined at us at around 8.15am for her morning feed of fish before we set off on the day’s ride.

The conditions weren’t looking ideal and we had many a conversation over a glass of red wine the night before as to how the winds were going to affect us, but in the end, we knew we couldn’t control the weather. It was a daunting 157kms with temperatures on the road reaching 43 degrees. Today was tough, really tough, and many of us said, “It’s the toughest day riding I’ve ever done.” Ironically, for a few of us that have previously completed a TourXOz ride, it was up there with the toughest rides we’ve every done too. However, we all knew that the pain would subside, the feeling would return to our hands and feet, and our bright red faces would return to their normal colour after the intense heat cooled off. As a group we pulled through and although many struggled and needed a helping hand or a word, no one was left behind. We asked the lovely staff at the Overlander Road House if we could go into the cool room and were surprised when they said; “Yep, it’s over there, just pay for anything you drink while you’re in there!”

Today our road captain, Jan Schaar, was awarded the KJR Yellow jersey and he wore it with pride. Jan is an inspiring lad and always knows when to push and when to just sit up.

Video Highlights – Day 3 of TourXOz 2017

DAY 4 – Carnavon to Coral Bay

For those following along for a few blogs, my Mum was discharged from Royal Perth Hospital on Tuesday with strict observation every two days. She caught a plane to Exmouth and has now rejoined the TourXOz supporters crew!

Day 4 started from our overnight stop in Carnavon and we headed inland for a flat and fast day. It was also hot (damn hot!) and this combination started to impact several of our team however, working together, we are stronger physically and mentally too. We were in high spirits and looking to put in a solid performance for the day, crossing the line first and with the fastest time…not that it’s a race!

Today’s Yellow Jersey wearers included Josh, who battled through physical sickness (an upset tummy to put it lightly) to make it the full 157kms the day before. To ride 157kms on any one day is a great achievement but doing it with a roll of toilet paper in the jersey’s back pocket just in case you have a “Dumoulin Toilet-gate” moment is worthy of recognition. The other Yellow jersey was also worn by Tanja, awarded for her stellar effort as part of the ‘Scoobydoo’ team on Day 2.

We started a bit earlier today and that proved to be a great choice. Noone likes to hear that breakfast is at 5.30am but I’ve been rationalising it based on Western Australia being 2 hours behind Eastern Australia at the moment, so really, it’s more of a 7:30am breakfast! Spirits were high and the element of competition had crept into our peleton which is now known as ‘Pluto’, named so after the Disney character. The other two groups on the ride are ‘Snoopy’ and ‘Scooby Doo’!

Team Pluto monstered the day’s ride, smashing out 144kms in 4 hours and 2 minutes. Running like a finely tuned machine, Team Pluto have taken an early lead, finishing fastest on the first four days and throwing down a challenge to ‘Scooby Doo’, challenging them to at least draw with us given there’s only four days left on the tour!

To close out Day 4, the Yellow Jersey was awarded to David Piggot, Jabra’s group leader and CEO. The Yellow Jersey was awarded to Dave for a stand out effort on Day 4, leading the peleton strongly from the front and for his commitment to the TourXOz cause; it will be great to see him in yellow tomorrow!

Video Highlights from Day 4 of TourXOz

Day 5 – Coral Bay to Karratha

Day 5 started with an early call to my daughter, Mahlia. It’s her 14th birthday today and it’s the first of my childrens’ birthdays I’ve not been home for. When I spoke to her she was her usual bubbly self and had a great start to the day. The roads seemed longer and the end further away today but knowing we’re over the half way point and I’ll get to see her again in a few days makes it bearable.

We got away early again this morning, rolling out at 6.30am, and it was a challenging day, both mentally and physically. We rode out of Coral Bay expecting a tough day as the clouds overhead were flying past, but luckily for us, we turned shortly after departure and the wind was at our tail. We sped along at 45kms an hour for the first 60kms before reaching ‘WTF corner’! The tail that was at our backs was now squarely in front of us and even though we’d been expecting it, it took us by surprise and slowed our progress significantly. Our speed reduced from 45 km per hour to 28 kms per hour and our heart rates rose dramatically. I channeled the pain of missing Mahlia’s birthday and headed for the front of the Peleton. We’ve been riding with the ‘six horsemen’ at the front, rotating around in a carefully choreographed sequence and with the arrival of the wind our Road Caption, Jan, switched into boss mode and put all the riders into position, protecting those who needed it and spreading us out into a ‘three up formation’. I rode in the horsemen for the final 60kms of the day, drawing strength from my Mahli-moo to push on. I was in the hurt locker for the final 13kms but I knew that there were others in the peleton in more pain than me so we just needed to get the job done. Big thanks to Justin, Jan, Dave, Matt and Steve who helped us get to lunch in a solid 4 hours, 30 minutess in the wind. Also, thanks to the morning shift horsemen; Warren, Jan, Adam, Lawrence, Marcus and Hugh! As we head north to our overnight accommodation in Karratha, we’ve hit mining country. The dirt is extra red and the trucks are getting bigger.

The truck driver I was speaking to at the road house said his rig is 51.5m long and has a hotel room on the back of it, in which he stays for 12 nights out of 14 when he’s working. All of a sudden I thought my office job wasn’t so bad being able to sleep in my own bed at night!

On the bus this afternoon I’ve noticed, for the first time, the distinct pain of not being connected. I recall a colleague of mine saying that access to WiFi is a basic human necessity and after being starved of internet for some three hours, I can totally agree. We’re in the middle of nowhere now and unfortunately my mobile carrier doesn’t have much service between towns. Note to self: whenever the next trip is, (and if I’m participating) I need to get a Telstra SIM! I’ve also noted that my iPhone’s music capacity was an illusion as, without mobile service, I’ve got 16 songs to listen to. Fortunately for me, there’s quite a bit of variety…

DAY 6 – KARRATHA TO ROEBURNE

At the end of Day 5 we made it to Karratha and settled into our accommodation. As is now the routine, we find our room, the laundry,pthe Pool, the shower and then head for dinner and the bar!! After all the troops are fed there’s the nightly briefing to recap the day’s events – the good, the bad and the awesome. The KJR Yellow Jersey is awarded and on Day 5, the legendary Lorry, driver of Team Snoopy’s lead car, was presented with one of the jerseys for going above and beyond. Not only does Lorry drive the lead car, he prepares the water, food and sunscreen ate very stop and then works his way through the peloton massaging sore muscles and offering words of encouragement. The second KJR Yellow Jersey was awarded to the Colombian stalwart, the quiet achiever in the ScoobyDoo peloton. He’s ‘Mr Consistent’, just pedaling along, not complaining or making a fuss. These guys looked super in Yellow on Day 6 as I am sure you’ll agree.

For those who’ve read a few blog posts, you’ll be glad to know that the competition between the Pluto and ScoobyDoo teams has escalated. Sick of being told that Pluto is 4-1 up, ScoobyDoo enlisted the help of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) “apparently”. Heading into day 5, Pluto was ahead of ScoobyDoo by 31 minutes for the general classification race. On day 5 ScoobyDoo alleged that Pluto incorrectly used the “Sticky Bidden” manoeuvre to return a rider to the peloton and the UCI’s ruling was instant disqualification; with the final decision being handed to ScoobyDoo and Snoopy for deliberation. The collective decision was to enforce a time penalty rather than disqualification, which saw the leader board re-ordered. Snoopy now holds a 2 minute advantage over ScoobyDoo who are 12 minutes in front of Pluto.

There were no points up for grabs on Day 6; it was a rest day with a light stage of 38kms between Karratha and Roebourne. Instead, today was about community engagement. It gives me great pride to say I was a part of steering the TourXOz strategy towards community engagement. This goes all the way back to 2013 and is the reason this blog started on Day 5!! At the nightly briefing it was acknowledged that the reception created by my fellow YAHS school mates and our Wagga Wagga connections was amazing and my parents were personally thanked for their involvement in the 2013 event. In reality the credit for the event goes to Mel Howard (wife of Joe who passed in early 2013), Joe’s brother Ben Howard, Kelly Grant (school mate of  everyone), Tanya Jackson-Friend (sister of Cameron taken by the Black Dog in 2001), Andrew Upton my best mate from school and their extended families, who waited patiently for us by the side of the road for at least 2 hours. I and many of the 2013 riders who are on the 2017 ride will never forget the welcome we received, the conversations we had and the food and drinks they prepared. Our collective legacy led to the 2015 community engagement events in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, and today, Day 6 of the 2017 tour in Roebourne.

Roebourne is a small but infamous community in outback WA. This article was posted earlier in 2017 and paints a less than ideal picture of a dysfunctional community. We knew today was going to be mentally tough and confronting however the community greeted us openly and Josey (pictured) gave us the Welcome to Country in her native language. She grew up in Roebourne just across from the river where we were meeting. Josey thanked us for coming to visit and investing time in the community and she was touched that we wanted to engage with the community and hear their story. She was strong and confident in her description of the community, acknowledging they had issues, but not that different to any other indigenous or non-indigenouscommunity. She spoke proudly of the multicultural make-up of the community, explaining they were all in it together. Such powerful words.

We enjoyed breakfast with some of the locals before splitting into four different groups. I was lucky enough to be in the group that visited the Roebourne Regional Prison. I’ve never been to prison myself, much less a police station, so I was a little apprehensive, as were many of the riders, however we were put at ease as we entered the prison with just ID’s checked and no cavity searches…!

I am still in awe of Adam Goodes. I’ve been riding shoulder to shoulder with him for the past six days and today he elevated himself again. Nerves were high as we walked through the prison to the dining room. The prison staff had assembled all of the 141 inmates in the dining room to meet us. Talk about the smashing together of two worlds! We were introduced by Vicki, our guide and coordinator of the days outreach activities. She asked if anyone wanted to tell their story and Adam stepped forward delivering an inspirational speech straight from the heart; covering leadership, choices and the need to look after one’s physical and mental health. What a champion. We also had inspirational speeches from the other TourXOz participants; one who has almost succeeded in committing suicide after battling addiction and another who’s girlfriend’s father succeeded in committing suicide. Such moving stories and a day that will be with me forever.

DAY 7 – Port Hedland to Pardoo Roadhouse

We made to the penultimate day. Today’s ride saw us ride from just outside Port Headland to the Pardoo Roadhouse about 110kms up the road. We had a short uplift this morning to get out of the way of the Road Trains. According to the locals there is over 500 three and four-trailer beasts that rumble in and roll out of Port Hedland each day. The Tour organisers have safety as our number one priority and even thought the truckies in WA have been legendary with the support and respect they’ve shown the peloton, we decided to show them some respect in return by minimising our interactions this morning.

Our kick off point felt like the set of an outback western movie. I was anticipating a bunch of cowboys to ride around the hill and ask us “What the hell are y’all all doin’ in these parts?”

The conditions were hot, mostly a tail wind, but that soon abated and switched into a head wind. I started the “off the back” not sure if it was the rest day or the extra glasses of wine I had the night before but I was in the hurt locker for the first 40kms on the road. We set a cracking pace and maybe it was just that I struggled to keep up, either way, by the time we took our first stop at 55km, I had found my legs again. The camera crew found a massive dinosaur cow on the side of the road and brought Pluto a bone! I couldn’t resist when Dave gave it to me, I had to have a taste!

I jumped on the front for the second leg and again found myself in the hurt locker as my first turn on the front I was “on the rivet” and pushing 40kms an hour. When Marcus called the rollover I was so relieved but as it turned out, it was just what my legs needed as I was back and powered through the next 30kms. With one final stop we smashed out the 110km ride in just under three hours! We all agreed it will be a while before we complete another ride like that. Our arrival at the Pardoo Roadhouse was welcomed by the owner who said; “It’s been real quite around here so although it’s stressful, it’s awesome to have you all here!” I suspect, just like our epic ride, it will be a while before a traveling caravan of just under 100 people arrives at the Pardoo Roadhouse again.

Our destination for the night was 80 Mile Beach and by crikey, that is a long beach! We were warned not to “swim” beyond knee depth as there had been sightings of Bull sharks and sting Rays. Fortunately we didn’t actually see any although there were plenty of large objects moving around just a short distance from the shore. We arrived in the early afternoon and spent a large portion of the afternoon “just chilling” in the shade of  trailer. One of our neighbours noticed we were short of a few chairs and brought his spare chair over for us to use.

The sunset on 80 Mile Beach was something to behold; I felt like I was in a Star Wars movie with the big red sun slowly sinking down into the ocean. The pictures we took don’t do it justice and I recall thinking “you can actually see the earth rotating from this point.’

For the first time on this trip, we’re camping tonight. I listened with delight to many of our fellow tour pedlars talking about the tents and remembering back to 2013 when we rode from Perth to Sydney, camping every night. At least tonight the tents were already set up, dinner was being cooked for us and really. all we had to do was wash, eat and sleep, which in the scheme of things isn’t too bad. Our caterers had travelled 400kms to provide us with dinner and then breakfast the next morning. They had also provided us with lunch the previous day at the Whim Creek Pub and did a great job! With a full belly, we headed in for an early night.

DAY 8 – The Final Push to Broome

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow; we made it to Broome! Travelling a distance of some 3,500 kms and cycling personally 917 kms in 8 days. With average speeds of over 30 kms/per hour over distances of 140 kms, it has certainly been some epic riding!

Like all but one day, we rose at 5am and prepared for 5:30am brekky however rising today wasn’t that difficult. We camped overnight in tents for the first time this trip and it was so snug that we couldn’t take our bags inside the tent. We had a restless night’s sleep, perhaps because it was our last night together, with some nervous about the following day’s ride or just because tonight we slept in swags on the ground rather than in hotel beds.

After breakfast it was time to celebrate the tour with photos of the sponsors’ kits just after the sun had risen. First up it was Jabra, followed by Telstra, Microsoft and finishing with AWS. We then chose our favourite jersey to construct “TourXOz” across the sand on 80 Mile Beach and this was my favourite shot after the KJR Yellow jersey shot. The KJR Yellow jumping shot is something to behold with a fantastic collection of riders recognised for excellence, persistence and determination.

After the formality of the photos we gathered our gear and jumped on the bus. Nerves were still high with anticipation of the final ride and the bus ride seemed to take forever, as if the go-slow button had been pushed. When we arrived out the meeting point, there were bikes scattered across the parking area but fortunately mine wasn’t far away from where the bus had stopped. We hustled to get sunscreen on, fill up the biddens with water and electrolytes and get moving.

We set of at a rapid pace, cruising along, and then we found “WTF Corner 2”, the sequel, and our speed dropped by 15 kms per hour as we were smashed by a block side wind. It blew apart our peloton as if to say “37 kms per hour average and you thought today was going to be an easy day to finish? I’ll test your legs out!” The peloton struggled on and to be fair, we still had a 30 kms per hour average at the end of the day which wasn’t too bad!

About 25kms out from Broome, we merged with the ScoobyDoo’s who we had been playing cat and mouse with all day. We formed into single file to allow the to overtake but they weren’t quite fast enough so we pulled into the parking bay to let them pass, only to catch them again a few kms later. As it was the last day and Pluto had the general classification all wrapped up, we merged and rode into Broome together. The merge itself was done with as much grace as a baby giraffe learning to walk! Before I knew it, I was surrounded by ScoobyDoos to the front, back and side of me.

Our entry into Broome was filled with high fives and cheering as we pulled into the Information Center. It was euphoric and the sense of achievement mixed with relief was overwhelming. We hugged, high-fived and back slapped as we grabbed some lunch and slumped to the ground for a well earned rest, waiting for the Snoopys to arrive. It was a bitter sweet moment as we reflected on the achievement of getting here in one piece and contemplated the reality of heading back to normal, everyday life.

Day 9 – Back to Perth

Today we started the return journey, from Broome to Perth, by car. Another 5.00am start but instead of my usual brekky of late (three eggs, a pile of bacon, three hash browns, mushrooms, juice and two pieces of toast) I had a simple cup of coffee and three boiled eggs; the rapid calorie consumption decrease has begun! During the ride we were consuming 5-6,000 calories per day and burning somewhere in the order of 4,000 per day riding and a few more afterwards that our technology didn’t capture. I’ve also started to limit my water intake, mostly to match the massive reduction in activity. I calculated (roughly) that I’ve consumed approximately five litres of water and electrolytes a day while riding. Speaking of electrolytes, this photo was taken by one of my team mates at the end of one of the hottest days riding out of Carnarvon; we sure lost some salt that day!

As I’ve reflected back on the epic journey, now some 24 hours ago, the time has gone by in a flash but I am sure the bonds we’ve made will last for a long time yet. As we said our final farewells at the Celebration Dinner, there were six of us making up the exclusive club to have ridden from Perth to Sydney, Adelaide to Darwin and now Perth to Broome. It’s pretty cool that the six of us; Gary, Neil, Frankie, Stefan, Paul and I, still see each other regularly in between rides, as do many of the group who have now finished two TourXOz rides.

To finish, a big shout out to my fellow Plutos, KJR Australia for their support and sponsorship, my parents for volunteering with the Tour and my wife and daughters for allowing me the chance to take part in this epic ride once again. We’ve collectively met all the goals we set out to achieve, raising over $300k, getting everyone to Broome in one piece and raising much needed awareness to fight the Black Dog by sharing our stories.

Click the photo below for a great video highlighting our 8 day adventure or check out the daily videos here.

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