Like all good things, this Blog series must also come to an end. For those of you diligent enough to read through the preceding five posts, I give to you, the final part in this series.
DAY 3 – Thursday 24 April 2014 (Collector To Canberra – The Run Home)
After the media commitments with the Prime Minister were complete, we saddled up and began the ride towards Canberra and our final destination on this huge adventure; the Australian War Memorial.
I sat at the back of the pack with Robbie and watched as the PM was swamped by the sponsor’s representatives. Slowly but surely, the Veterans had their chance to speak to him. Our roll into Canberra was slow and steady as Mr Abbott controlled the speed up front with Scott.
As we descended along the Federal Highway towards Northbourne Avenue, we were joined by Mrs Janny Poate (mother of Private Robert Poate – KIA in Afghanistan 29 August 2012) who was riding her mountain bike. She was ushered and helped to the front of the pack to speak with the PM. One of the most memorable moments of the ride was seeing Jeffro pushing Mrs Poate past us and alongside Mr Abbott.
As we neared the last few kilometres of the ride, Robbie and I moved to the front and flanked the Prime Minister. We were to escort him in the AWM and it was during this time I was able to speak with Mr Abbott. I didn’t hold back. I spoke not only of my struggles, but also that of my friends and the many others that have not been able to gain access to the appropriate support services. He was receptive of what I was saying and also very aware of the steps DVA was taking to help veterans access support services once they have discharged from the ADF.
The remainder of the ride was quite relaxed with Mr Abbott speaking quite candidly and without reservation. Our short leg up to the AWM sparked the PM’s desire to attempt a breakaway sprint which I quickly reigned back in. We rounded the final round-a-bout and entered the grounds of the Australian War Memorial to the waiting crowd of supporters and media.
At the end of the post-ride event/function I went home with my Wife and Parents and returned to the AWM a couple of hours later for a guided tour with some of the other other riders. I was still excited but very fatigued by this stage. With ANZAC Day the following day I was knew I wasn’t going to get much rest in the next 24 hours. Before heading home to get ready for the night’s function I had to swing by my work to pick up the on-call phone (yep…winning at staff retention!).
A huge thank you to my Wife, Parents, Sister, Brother-In-Law, Nieces and friends for their support leading up to and during the ride.
Thank you to Soldier On: John, Tony, Dion, Shane, Anna, Robbie, Pearl and Danielle.
Thank you to Scott Sunderland and the other members of Team Soldier On.
Thank you to Matthew Connors for the awesome photos.
Thank you to The Citadel Group, Mittagong RSL, Bushranger Hotel, Australian War Memorial, Dr Nelson, the Prime Minister and of course all the people that waved at us while we were riding!
DAY 2 – Wednesday 23 April 2014 (Mittagong To Collector)
The second day of our ride along the Remembrance Driveway would see us ride 120km along the Hume/Federal Highway into Collector.
We pushed off at 09:00 after breakfast and coffee with the Soldier On Team in front of the Citadel Group riders. Scott wanted us to start riding together and getting used to being side-by-side and wheel-to-wheel. It wasn’t long before we were finding our rhythm and we were cruising down the Hume Highway at speed.
Our first stop was at the 32km mark with a couple of the sponsor riders opting to hop into to the support vehicles and rejoin us at the end of the day (to be honest this was the smart thing to do considering the climbing and fast pace that would soon be occurring).
Our second/lunch stop was at the 74km mark with a decision being made by both Scott and Soldier On event organiser TC that the slower riders would ride in the support vehicles until the 105km mark for safety reasons. We were unable to average a safe speed, particularly on the long climbs, and it was becoming increasingly more dangerous with large trucks not being able to see us as they crested the hills. This would definitely explain the burnt rubber we were smelling shortly before this stop. While it wasn’t the most popular decision, it was the right one.
Our next 30km was an ad-hoc training session from the one and only Scott Sunderland. It was fast bunch riding; something I am not very experienced with. It certainly got the heart rate up and I was somewhat relieved when we eased up on the pace and the slower riders rejoined us for the roll into Collector.
DAY 3 – Thursday 24 April 2014 (Collector To Canberra – The First Bit)
Our final day of riding started early; before dawn. I was up, packed and ready for the ride to the Lake George lookout where we would meet Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the final leg into the Australian War Memorial.
While the others were waiting patiently to start the final day’s riding, I was on the phone to Mix 106.3’s Kristen & Rod.
Our ride to Lake George was extremely quick and I soon regretted my decision to wear my wind-stopper jacket. Scott was pushing us along the Federal Highway at over 40km/hr for the 30km leg.
We reached the top of the Weereewa Lookout and patiently waited the arrival of the Prime Minister.
DAY 1 – Tuesday 22 April 2014 (Sydney To Mittagong)
There was a lot of nervous energy amongst all the riders, in particular myself and Robbie. We had spent a lot of the morning in front of the media and both of us just wanted to get on our bikes.
At a little before 14:00 we finally rolled off onto the Hume Highway for the start of our three-day journey to Canberra. The first day’s ride was scheduled to end at Mittagong, a relatively short 70km away. The riding was slow and steady at first but we soon picked up the pace under the mentoring of Scott Sunderland.
After only an hour or so of riding, including a few small but taxing climbs, we stopped at the Frank Partridge VC Rest Area, for a quick rest stop. By now some of the sponsor riders were feeling the effects of the climbs and little to no lead up training; but still they persevered.
There was a little bit of bush mechanic work on a stubborn seat post clamp before the group headed off towards Mittagong once again.
As before the pace began to slow and our group was banding together to keep the others on pace and more importantly on their bikes.
A quick re-org of the riding order saw a few of the slower riders moved up front to set the group pace and stop the rubber-band effect that was tiring those that were at the back.
As the afternoon got a little colder and the shadows longer; concentration started to lapse among some riders. A few instances of half-wheeling began to occur when suddenly two riders hit the road at around 30km/hr. I was in the right lane and broke formation to avoid the carnage and quickly pulled over to the side of the road. Amazingly there were no serious injuries to downed rider (carbon bikes don’t like such spills!).
After some first aid work on the downed riders they were ushered into the support vehicles, the bikes strapped to the wagon’s roof and we resumed riding our final leg into Mittagong. We arrived a little after 17:00 and were greeted at the Mittagong RSL by the sub-branch representatives.
We checked into our rooms (apparently it’s funny to put two Chad’s in one room), showered and made our way over to the bar for some light refreshments and dinner at the bistro. We were joined by the Australian War Memorial’s Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, for dinner and after a quick recap of the days activities and a run down of timings for the next day, it was time for some bike prep and then bed.
The 2014 Soldier On Remembrance Ride was a feat only achievable by a great deal of hard work, volunteers and good luck. With only a couple of months to get the wheels rolling, Soldier On had their work cut out for them to get things ready in time; and being privy to the process some things came down to the wire.
I was asked to participate in the ride very early on and I jumped at the opportunity. Three days of riding from Sydney to Canberra with a group of Australian Veterans and some members from our corporate sponsor; The Citadel Group. Also along for the ride was pro-cyclist turned coach/mentor Scott Sunderland.
Before the drive up to Sydney even happened we were locked into a steady routine of media commitments and admin duties at Soldier On HQ.
The drive up to Sydney was an uneventful affair with a couple of bikes strapped to the back of the Soldier On Audi and four of us squeezed inside with our gear and luggage (the car is really spacious, we just crammed a lot into it). After unloading the car and checking into our hotel opposite Hyde Park, we quickly went through the next days timetable and retired for the night.
DAY 1 – Tuesday 22 April 2014 (The Event Launch)
The morning of the ride was a whirlwind of interviews, photos and a lot of standing around waiting. Soldier On CEO John Bale presented the team to the waiting media and soon we were being told to pose and look at this camera, move, look at that camera and of course speak to the media. Ordinarily I’m not a huge fan of interacting with the media; but sometimes anxiety and nervousness must be set aside for the greater good. I conducted three TV interviews at Hyde Park with SBS, ABC Sydney and SBS Cycling.
After our event launch it was time to pack the cars and go for the short drive to our start point (due to Sydney’s stupidly unsafe roads we couldn’t ride out of the CBD).