The speed of the mob is the pace of the slowest sheep. Drovers around Quilpie will tell you that for free, but the Queensland chapter of Chain Reaction knows that intuitively. Each day we set off on our route, and there are, of course, people of differing abilities through the peloton, but the Queenslanders keep an eye on all their people. There is inevitably a team mate or a captain checking to see that, if riders in the group are struggling, they are protected by the stronger ones. And its only when all else fails that people jump in the wagon. The climb up Mt Hotham two days ago was a little different. Tim Chadd told us all in the briefing that we needed to be selfish.
The mountain was way too hard to conquer whilst you were pushing someone else or even protecting them from the wind; there were shuttle buses for people who didn’t think they would make it; and, for the rest of us, it was every rider for him or herself. One of the great things about this group is that this even needed to be said. The climb yesterday up Mt Buffalo was different again. There was a very steady slope, and people put their heads down and beavered away.
The blogger was sitting thirty metres behind a group that was riding with Kelly Commins, whose birthday it was. They were climbing very slowly through a thick forest, and they started singing “happy birthday” in deep voices whilst they surrounded the man of the day. They looked and sounded like nothing so much as the Seven Dwarves - although, to be frank, Kelly would make a very ordinary Snow White.
We left from Mansfield this morning and headed to the sixth peak in the series, Mt Buller. The peloton has become a little more relaxed now that we have cracked the week, and the blogger rode along with Lachie Murray wearing a Ronald McDonald suit (he had promised a donor he would don the suit in exchange for $500.00) and Michael Bona singing La Donna é Mobile (he is a very proud Italian).
For the purists, its 1793 metres to the top with a gradient of about 7 degrees for most of the mountain. You gave to climb gently for about 30 kilometres before you even reach Mt Buller and it’s a tough road. Some sections of bitumen are like glass so that you move so quickly and others are like sandpaper, but this one was like Velcro. It was like you had to force your way through. Then you climb Mt Buller for 17 kilometres which was all kind of benign, but then the road smacks you around for the last 2 kilometres – about the same time you glimpse the chair lift – by upping the gradient to 10 degrees. As it happens, Mt Hotham had instilled a heap of confidence through the group because everything is gentler than she was (Are mountains feminine?).
Having said that, I imagine that there are some readers who have had their fill of bicycle statistics, and the blogger promises to keep the data to a minimum from this point. We were down a rider today because POK (aka Peter O’Keefe or just “Harrison”) had damaged his bike, and JJ the Mechanic benched him. Peter has an amazing ability to be blind to obstacles and to see only new opportunities, and he accepted the change with his usual enthusiasm. That kind of optimism is to be expected, I guess, if you are in the tiny cohort of people who are a “sound” 70 years old and climbing 7 mountains with people way younger than you. So Pokky jumped into one of the vehicles, made himself comfortable with the support crew, and immediately set to handing out water and food, running after riders where necessary, and collecting clothing when riders were disrobing.
When we reached the base of Mt Buller, POK made an announcement. He wanted to have a little wager. He would donate $1,000.00 to the fundraising account of whichever team was first to get all its people to the top.
Now the Chain Reaction mob might be compassionate but it is full of individuals who tend to be very competitive (so that they can say quasi-inspiring things like: “remember, second is just the first loser”), and there was immediately a heightened level of interest in the morning. It was kind of stressful for this blogger who is the weakest rider in the Hutchies group. Even if you are a little doughy, you quickly realise that the effect of POK’s rules was that there was a race between the slowest sheep across the teams. It doesn’t matter how the hot shots perform; it is only important that you get your slow coach across the line before the other slow coaches.
Limitless were surprisingly quiet about their prospects, and Sunkids and PWC-Gowdie were milling around. But the Korda Mentha members quickly called a team meeting to discuss strategy. They are, in fact, the most athletic of the five teams but they are not always at the front because they hang back to support POK. But with POK in the car, they were looking like firm favourites and with Jon (“Chewie”) Erbacher talking and strutting around like Usain Bolt, it looked like they were well-alive to their prospects. I must say, it’s a little hard to understand why they needed a team meeting to analyse the data, but it would be interesting to know what they discussed.
In any case, Hutchies were still in the field (did I mention we write the blog?). When the flag fell to start, the Korda Mentha boys were still conferring. I would like to say that this blogger (aka the slowest sheep) sprang like a startled gazelle from the get-go, but it was more that he pedalled away with the steely determination of a furious tortoise. The PWC-Gowdie team stretched out thin; there were some random Sunkids riders up the front; the Limitless team seemed to be milling at the back, but the Korda Mentha team had to be coming. 17 kilometres of furious pedalling. The blogger would like it recorded that his Hutchies team-mates caught up with him 4 kilometres from the finish, and we crossed the line to a glorious victory, and a joyous hug from POK. To be fair, one of the Korda Mentha boys, John Cooper, suffered a flat tyre and lost time in the changeover, but we’ll reflect on that another time.
The 8 women riders got together on the peak to have some photographs and I hope you take time to look at the results. You’ll see how excited and proud they are to have achieved so much, and how much strength they take from each other’s company. Which is not to say that they are some clique. They ride with their teams, and we all mix easily and happily. Obviously, they are also a little different. The blogger descended Mt Buller with one of the female riders who said that, every time she sees a road sign saying “Tight Curves Ahead”, she thinks: “Exactly, that’s something I want to get out of Chain Reaction!” Not a thought that had occurred to either blogger…
We had a magic day today. After we descended through the forest, we rode 30 kms into Mansfield, and stopped for a beautiful lunch in the beer garden of a country-style pub there. The place was ridiculously pretty with gardens, rural paraphernalia, a giant chess set, and a lovely couple overseeing everything. We were being bussed to Marysville where we are staying the night so the group snuck in a couple of cheeky beers, with the great cold lunch. Some of the boys ordered bowls of “man salad” (i.e. hot chips) and, with the day over and the sun on our backs, things were looking pretty good. The lady who owned the place seemed very happy with proceedings, and said she had heard that there is a place like hers in Brisbane called the Mansfield Tavern. I quietly suggested that they may not have enough in common to sustain a sister relationship…
But speaking of establishing rapport, some of the riders, when we got to Marysville, decided they hadn’t taken on enough fuel and walked over to the local fish and chip shop. There was a sign on the door saying “lemons needed please”, and one rider, Donny, immediately made some calls and arranged for a case to be sent down. Very grateful owners.
We are a little excited about the night ahead. There is a rumour that the ride into Melbourne is going to be scaled down so we miss a mountain. We have had a relatively gentle day, and the Broncos are playing tonight against St George. So there is a thought – just a thought – that maybe we could relax a little rather than jumping into bed at 9.30pm and waiting for the turmoil ahead.
So here we are in beautiful Marysville. It’s a tiny town. One hundred and thirty people died in the Black Saturday fires here and Wes Ballantyne (who is a Victorian, adopted by the Queensland crew) has explained that, as the epicentre of the fires, Marysville has become a very special place in the hearts of people in this state. We will not forget.
Actually, its 10.40pm at night now and the blogger has come back from a long dinner to finish this report. The support staff presented tonight and spoke beautifully. They took turns to say in very different ways that they take great joy in the week of Chain Reaction, and they are deeply committed to the causes and the spirit of the week. There was so much more depth to how they spike, but it is was so special and so hard to approach late at night that the blogger will leave it alone. I would also mention that POK followed through on his promise and said that he would donate way more than the initial amount of $1,000.00.
There was a 90 minutes bus ride from Mansfield to Marysville and the blogger found himself musing with another rider, Matt, about why we do Chain Reaction. Which is a question many people’s friends and partners seem to ask. And it’s closely aligned to another question people ask which is, how come the Queensland ride is so consistently successful? The fundraising is a key thing. With AEIOU, almost everyone has a friend with a family that has been affected by autism. We see the love and resources that go into dealing with the challenge even with affluent families, and it makes you realise how much pressure the condition must place on marriages and on siblings for other families. Most of all, we are keenly aware from our discussions with the AEIOU staff of the enormous benefits from early intervention, and we would like to know that every opportunity has been seized to improve young lives and family dynamics.
The situation is just the same with Ronald McDonald House. If you come from the regions, a tertiary hospital can seem like such a foreign place to you, let alone to your child. You just want to make sure that you are there with them every step of the painful path they tread. And the House is such a fantastic thing. It means that parents can stay across the road from the Hospital, and bring family and children along, so that the admin is all sorted, and they can devote all their energies to the child in distress.
But we ride for other reasons too. We have seen so much beauty over the years as we ride through different parts of Australia. We have stretched ourselves to the limit and found we could do things we didn’t think possible. And we have seen so much kindness from people. We have also ridden with a great big group of fantastic human being. Community. Excellence. Physicality. Three things to which you will already have committed if you join Chain Reaction, and which turn out to be a really dependable filter – if you care about those things, you’re likely to be someone who has an interesting story to tell. And there are such close bonds made. We ride sometimes at 50 kms per hour and you are only centimetres from the backside of another cyclist. You need to have complete trust that they will call out any problems they see in the road and, if they don’t, you are in all kinds of trouble. There are bonds from trust and shared experience that would exist if no one even spoke - but, actually, the riders speak and share a lot!
Our head coach, Adam Gill, said tonight that he was really moved when one of our riders said to him that being part of Chain Reaction had made him a better husband, a better father, and a better worker. That might seem far-fetched from a distance, but it seems entirely plausible close up. We work so hard to reach a common goal, whether it is fund raising, or cycling, and there is a real sense in the group that you need to stay positive, supportive and committed, if you are going to reach that goal. When you come back to the wider community, you take that culture with you and there is a sense of stillness as well as purpose and positivity that sets you in good stead.
So this blogger would like to say in closing that 58 people have put themselves through an enormous challenge this week because they believe in the value of two enormously important causes. If there is anything you can do to help promote those causes, we would be so grateful.
Jersey winners stage 6:
Red (Nova) - Michael Tritton
Blue (JC Decaux) - Wes Ballantine
White (Courier Mail) - Sandra Fields
Polka dot (Channel 10) - Jarrod Villani
Green (Transurban) - Don McKenzie & Alistair Byrom
Black (LSH Auto Australia) - Mark Russo & Russell Freyer
Yellow (McDonalds) - John Cooper & Patrice Sherrie
There is a poem that has been a favourite of mine recently. It is about a Buddhist monk in Japan who didn’t seem to cycle at all, but it encapsulates the aspirations of Chain Reaction and our efforts this week, so I share it with you in closing …
Strong in the Rain by Kenji Miyazawa
Strong in the wind
Strong against the summer heat and snow
He is healthy and robust
Free from desire
He never loses his temper
Nor the quiet smile on his lips
He eats four go of unpolished rice
Miso and a few vegetables a day
He does not consider himself
In whatever occurs
Comes from observation and experience
And he never loses sight of things
He lives in a little thatched-roof hut
In a field in the shadows of a pine tree grove
If there is a sick child in the east
He goes there to nurse the child
If there’s a tired mother in the west
He goes to her and carries her sheaves
If someone is near death in the south
He goes and says,
‘Don’t be afraid’
If there are strife and lawsuits in the north
He demands that the people put an end to their pettiness
He weeps at the time of drought
He plods about at a loss during the cold summer
Everybody calls him Blockhead
No one sings his praises
Or takes him to heart
That is the sort of person I would like to be
- Damien Atkinson