In mid 2012 I started mountain biking, something that would ultimately serve to fill the huge void that had been left in my life when I hung up my uniform. A tight-knit community of caring, encouraging and like-minded people enabled me to feel part of a team once again. And in late 2012 I approached a the contemporary veterans group ‘Soldier On‘ and asked if I would be able to fund-raise in a mountain biking event called The Battle of the Beasts. When the dust had settled and my aching body had calmed I had raised a substantial amount of money that would directly assist younger veterans like myself that were struggling with the visible and hidden scars incurred during our service in the Australian Defence Force.
My journey to France wasn’t as simple as three planes, two trains, a cab and countless hours spent on a bicycle. My journey to France started on January 6, 2012; my last day as a soldier in the Australian Army. Over the previous decade I had made many friends, shared countless experiences, served on foreign soil, and ultimately returned back home when others did not.
My decision to leave the Army was a culmination of differing opinions on what my career path should have been, the lack of ongoing and adequate support for my mental illness and not wanting to force my future wife to live in the shadow of a Australian Soldier. Having spent my childhood as the quintessential ‘Army Brat’, I could not ask the woman who I would ultimately marry and have a child with, to follow me around Australia and put her own career aside. So I left the one thing that had provided, up until my wedding and daughter’s birth, the most defining moments of my life; both good and bad.
2013 would see me design and commission a set of Soldier On cycling jerseys and participate in a full calendar of mountain bike events at which I would wear the Soldier On strip. I would assist Soldier On at various veterans events and fundraisers and ultimately become a very vocal advocate and critic of contemporary veterans issues especially veteran suicide; an issue that has directly impacted my life and ongoing recovery living with depression and PTSD.
Throughout earlier 2014 I continued to race and commute wearing the Soldier On colours. For me wearing the Soldier On jersey was a way for the public to see Soldier On was active in the general community and to let other veterans know that they weren’t alone. It was because of my somewhat visible presence across social, print and visual media that I was asked by Soldier On to participate in the 2014 Trois Etapes Pro-Am in France. At first I was apprehensive as it would mean a change from my mountain bike to a road bike and many, many hours training.
First there was the Sydney to Canberra Remembrance Ride commemorating both ANZAC Day and the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Remembrance Driveway along the Hume and Federal highways. This was soon followed by two training camps, one at Thredbo and then followed by the second at Tweed Heads; and a long-term training program to follow. Of course life, work and injuries interfered with what could have been a relatively smooth timeline; but where would the fun be in that?!
Finally on Friday, 1 August 2014, after many months of training, preparation, stressing, emails and waiting… The time came for me to leave Canberra, Australia and travel to Lourdes, France.
I’ll spare you the intricate details of my trip, but rest assured 39 hours of travel is not an enjoyable experience. Why 39 hours? Well, as I mentioned before, there were the flights, the trains and the cab; and of course there was the the 30kg bag containing a bicycle and a very large amount of cycling related equipment and paraphernalia. It is a fact an EVOC cycle bag is just not train, train station or train passenger friendly. Combine this with French people, a language barrier, jet lag and a person with an anxiety disorder and you have recipe for disaster. Luckily nothing bad happened and we arrived at our hotel in the middle of the night.
After much stressing, a bad case of cankles and a long-awaited shower I finally went to bed knowing the next day I would be riding my bicycle in France!