On Sunday June 17th, Chris Neate rode his bicycle from Perth to Melbourne in 21 days, finishing in Federation Square on Saturday July 7th. Our dad, Geoff, was the support crew for the ride, driving alongside Chris the entire way, providing invaluable support. Below is dad’s summary of the trip!
With the exception of a couple of incidents the ride went exceptionally well, Chris’ preparation paid off and he was able to complete each sector of the ride feeling tired but with his body in good shape. On the completion of the sector into Ballarat his right ankle/achilleas became very sore however a visit to a physio and pain relief meant that the final sector into Melbourne the following day was able to be completed on the originally scheduled arrival date of the 7th July. All up 3,508 km in 21 days.
The main threats were going to be weather and trucks – the pictures on The Aftershock’s Facebook page show what that looks like when those threats are combined. On this day there was a strong crosswind from the right and with the combination of the ‘wake turbulence’ from the truck and the slippery road it was safer to stop and wait until the truck passed – and of course this was accompanied with a free shower. The motorhome really shook when they went past so you can imagine what it felt like on a bike.
I thought that we had addressed most threats however we didn’t foresee either of the two incidents we had that I mentioned earlier. At the beginning of the trip I said to Chris not to trust the lights at railway crossings and to carefully check both ways before crossing. What we didn’t take into account was the angle the road crossed the railway line – it’s normally around 90° however at a place called Livsey Crossing on Day 2, the road to rail crossing angle is very sharp (see pic) and a combination of slowing down to look both ways with a wet and slippery road /rail line resulted in the back wheel of the bike getting caught in the gap – and the bike going down. Chris didn’t have time to release his foot from the pedal so his knee, elbow and shoulder took the full force of the fall resulting in him cutting his knee open.
In the scrape on his knee there were two deep cuts which would probably have been stitched had we been near a doctor however we patched him up as best we could and on he went. Apart from his knee and the abrasions on his thigh, elbow and shoulder, his wet weather gear got ripped which would result in a very uncomfortable time a few days later. Incredibly the bike wasn’t damaged. Cleaning the wound and applying new dressing every night was both annoying and painful for Chris, however he was pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t too much stiffness of the joints in the mornings and he was able to ride pretty much unaffected by the fall.
An interesting little side story to the fall was about 50km after the railway crossing we stopped at Merredin for a coffee and to clean up the wound as the bandages I had put on had fallen off in the rain. We were sitting in the café and one of the girls who served us was also the local ambulance officer – she took one look at Chris’ messy knee then disappeared for a few minutes – and came back with a supply of professional looking bandages and tape which enabled us to clean and dress the wound properly. A man who was sitting in the café also started chatting and was very interested in the ride – he was a 4th generation local wheat farmer and the next morning we discovered that when he got home, despite his own financial stress caused by drought, had donated $150 on The Aftershock website. There were a number of stories like these where people would stop us on the road or in roadhouses and either donate cash or ask how to do it on line – there are some very good people out there.
The second incident involved the motorhome – on Day 13 we had stopped off the side of the road to let 3 road trains go past, the last one passed and then I heard a sound like a gunshot followed by the tinkling of glass! The last truck had flicked up a stone and it hit the back window – this filled my bed full of glass and I was still finding bits of it on the last day of the trip. After a lot of cursing and cleaning up we completed the last 45 km of that day’s ride in a place called Kimba which fortunately had a hardware store. I bought some plastic sheet and dowel, and with good old duct tape we did a temporary repair for what was supposed to last a couple of days, however a miss communication by the motorhome company resulted in not having a replacement window in Adelaide so the repair lasted another 9 days to Melbourne. It didn’t leak and the main inconvenience was that I lost the use of the internal rear-view mirror – this was better for seeing and judging distances to the oncoming traffic from behind than the convex side mirrors.
Speaking of the traffic, the radio communication I set up with Chris worked extremely well – for all east bound trucks (travelling in the same direction as us) I would advise Chris that there was a truck coming and to stop and we would both vacate the road. By doing this we didn’t hold up any trucks for the entire 3500 km. For all other traffic we would make sure they had plenty of room to get around us and we would also pull over for blind corners, hills etc. The radio frequency we were on was the same one the trucks used (Ch 40) so they could hear my instructions to Chris and most appreciated what we were doing. There were only a few who made derogatory remarks and a couple of those even apologised after I explained what we we doing the ride for.
The motorhome worked out great for the trip – not only did it enable us to have relatively inexpensive and flexible accomodation, it was essential for carrying all the bike bits. The bike slept in the motorhome with us so it was a bit cramped but nevertheless comfortable. It also enabled puncture repairs out of the rain, again images can be found on the Facebook page.
Another ‘Dad’ thing I got wrong was that I said to Chris that we should get good tailwinds on the Nullarbor. The first 2 days out of Perth the tailwind was quite good but on the Nullarbor there was a High pressure system sitting in the Bight that gave us headwinds. To put that into perspective a tailwind of around 10 kph could reduce a 200 km ride from 7 hours to 6 hours – and vice versa – a headwind could mean another hour of riding. So some of the sectors across the Nullarbor were hard work – particularly the days of heavy relentless rain.
Chris’ daily calorie burn was around 4,000 so it was important that high calorie food went back into him to keep his energy levels up and not lose condition. Fortunately for him (and not so much for me) the staple food of the roadhouses along the way is the truckie favourite of a very large serving of chicken parmigiana with lots of chips. Some nights he would eat 2 servings of these and it obviously worked as he made it to Melbourne without losing too much weight.
Both of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience – the Nullarbor is fascinating and while Chris was doing all the hard work, driving at a leisurely 30kph enabled me to have a good look around – certainly looks different at ground level compared to 35,000 ft. There were times where the traffic was quite busy and times, particularly on the Nullarbor, where we wouldn’t see anyone for over an hour, so we were probably the only 2 people in a hundred square miles – and when you stop in the middle of nowhere the silence is deafening. Living in Melbourne you eventually stop noticing the residual noise but you really notice it when it’s not there.
Some of the scenery, particularly around the Bight where the road is close to the ocean, is quite stunning. At one stop for lunch we were only 200 m from the cliff face – I walked over to as close to the edge as I dared, and then the sound of the pounding of the ocean on the rocks 300 feet below came up – absolutely awesome to stand there and look at something that was exactly the same as it has been for thousands of years – and no sign of any human intervention or interference.
And while I have been concentrating on the Nullarbor, there were numerous other great parts to this ride, the climb through the hills out of Perth, Port Augusta to Clare, the climb out of Adelaide all went through some spectacular country and well worth a look.
As mentioned earlier we met some great people along the way, most had there own story to tell of an encounter with some form of cancer and the sad reality would seem that either you or a close family member has either been affected by it – or you will be. One of the main purposes of this ride was to highlight that, as physically challenging as it might be, Chris always had the choice to stop and pull out – and unfortunately the word ‘choice’ isn’t in a cancer sufferers vocabulary.
A good example of the nice people we met were Steve and Jen who own the Grampians Edge Caravan Park at Dadswells Bridge – both had lost a parent to the same type of cancer. Their caravan park was one of the best we stayed in and is a really nice spot to stay if you want to do a trip to the Grampians.
Now to the important part – the ride raised nearly $40,000 which combined with the money previously raised since the launch last October totals around $120,000. This exceeds the $100,000 target Suzanne had for the first year of the Aftershock and this will all be donated to The Alfred’s oncology department to fund research into rare cancers. At a recent meeting with the Alfred’s Head of Oncology, Mark Shackleton, Suzanne acknowledged it wasn’t quite the same as what larger foundations were contributing to cancer research – Mark then said do not underestimate the value of these ‘seedling’ donations – for a start the amount has since been matched by various other bodies such as hospitals and universities, so $100,000 can quickly turn into $300,000 and then if the research shows any sort of promise it will quickly attract major external funding. This one bit of research into a specific cancer just might be the breakthrough that they have been looking for and from my point of view, even if it assists just one person into remission, it’s worth it.
So to all of you that have supported and donated to The Aftershock, and some of those donations have been very substantial, a very big thank you.
And to all those that messaged and/or called along the way, apart from the parma’s, it helped supply the fuel Chris needed to make it.
PS: You would think that Chris would be sick of the bike for a while – but he still rides to work taking about a 30 km route instead of the 4 km direct trip. He has now done over 10,000 km on this bike in less than a year which is much more than I’ve done in my car!