An Open Letter To The Minister For Veterans’ Affairs

An Open Letter to Senator the Honourable Michael Ronaldson, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Dear Senator Ronaldson,

On 12 November 2013 I sent both an email and a letter to you via your gazetted Ministerial Office contact details.  To date I have not received a reply nor have I received any acknowledgement that my correspondence was received by your office.  Although traditional mail does occasionally fail to arrive at its intended destination, an email with the correct recipient address does not.

My original letter to you was in regards to the comments made by your Department’s Mental Health Adviser, Doctor Stephanie Hodson, which were aired during a segment on Channel 7’s Today Tonight entitled Fighting A Mental War.  Dr Hodson’s comments were not only highly controversial, but also quite insulting to Australia’s Veterans.  To claim that a major part of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs inability to provide timely support to Veterans with mental health issues was in part the fault of the Veterans themselves is nothing short of victim blaming.

Did I, like many others ask to be haunted and troubled by the traumatic experiences from our deployments?
No, we did not.

Did I ask for help from within the Australian Army?
Yes I did and on numerous occasions I was told to “harden the fuck up”.

Did I ask your Department for assistance?
Yes I did, but instead of the support that I was entitled to, I was forced to jump through hoops and make my way through a maze of red tape.

Like many Veterans, I found the system that is supposed to provide us assistance and avenues of support was, in reality, creating more roadblocks on the long journey to recovery.  Roadblocks that ultimately resulted in me turning my back on DVA and finding the help I so desperately required from my family and friends.  To be honest I couldn’t help but assume this was a deliberate ploy by DVA; make it as difficult as possible for Veterans to access support services and they will eventually give up; saving the Department a large sum of money.

Unfortunately many Veterans do not have the type of support from family and friends that I do, and when the world is at its darkest, some will take their own lives.  This year alone more than twenty returned servicepersons have committed suicide.  I must stress that this number reflects only those that are clear cut cases of suicide and not single-vehicle accidents and incidences of drowning while intoxicated.

I was extremely fortunate to attend Paul Barclay’s Boys Don’t Cry forum at the Australian War Memorial on the evening of Thursday 21 November 2013.  During this forum members of the panel discussed various issues regarding PTSD and depression with a focus on the Australian Defence Force and withdraw from Afghanistan.  It would have been highly beneficial for a member of your Department or staff to have attended in an official capacity in order to answer some questions regarding the level of support offered by DVA.

LTGEN Peter Leahy was a member of the panel and spoke about returned servicepersons accessing support from within the ADF and DVA.  While I wholeheartedly agree that the ADF is getting better and that the stigma associated with PTSD and depression is slowly dissipating.  I found LTGEN Leahy’s claims that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is learning from the mistakes of the past a complete and utter fallacy.

This was an opinion that I shared with the panel and audience during the question time at the completion of the forum.  For almost 25 minutes I spoke about my struggles with PTSD, the systematic failures of the ADF and DVA when I was trying to access support services and my fears for Australian Veterans in the future.

The Department of Veterans Affairs exists for the sole purpose to provide assistance to Australian Veterans, whether they have experienced overseas service or not.  This is a role that DVA seems to fail at more often than not.

Senator Ronaldson you are quoted on the ABC’s World of Today webpage from a report by Lexi Metherell from Tuesday 10 December 2013 as saying:

MICHAEL RONALDSON: We cannot repeat the mistakes of post-Vietnam, where this country let down those men who were doing no more and no less than serving the nation at the nation’s request.

Senator Ronaldson I implore you to open your eyes to the facts.  The mistakes of “post-Vietnam” were the mistakes from post-World War 2 which was the legacy from the mistakes made post-World War 1.

I am a third generation Soldier; my Grandfather served in World War 2 and was stalwart for Veteran’s advocacy his entire life, my Father served in Vietnam and dedicated 42 years as a fulltime Soldier; and I have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  These mistakes you speak of, the mistakes of the past are in fact the Ghosts of the Past that continue to haunt us to this very day.

I watched as my Grandfather’s legacy and honour left with him as he passed away in a geriatrics ward; a man of such strong resolution, he dedicated the entirety of his post-war life to the Returned and Services League and spent a record 35 years as the President of the Corrimal RSL Sub-Branch.  The Department of Veterans’ Affairs bureaucracy come to forefront when matters concerning his palliative health care and DVA Gold Card became an issue in his final days.

I have witnessed my Father’s transition to civilian and retired life; not an easy feat after spending almost half a century serving this great Nation.  I watched as a child, my Father’s struggles with his past service in Vietnam and later as his friends died prematurely from illness brought on by exposure to hazardous materials and suicide brought on by depression and PTSD; long ignored and compounded by DVA’s ineptness and unwillingness to support struggling Vietnam Veterans.

To listen to spokespersons from the Government, Department of Veterans’ Affairs and even yourself; the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, speak of not having history repeat itself is insulting.

I have several friends with their names on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial; these are men now forever young that I mourn the loss of everyday.  A heavy weight that I and many others carry on our shoulders as we will not let their sacrifice for the people of Australia and Afghanistan be in vain.  Every loss is felt deeply within the Australian Defence community even if it becomes a just a distant memory for most.

I fear with the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Middle East almost complete, the spotlight will dim and the ongoing fight for support and assistance we have earned will not be forthcoming.  Many Veterans spend months waiting to see specialists and have claims processed.  Coupled with PTSD, depression, anxiety and the blasé attitude of some DVA staff this is a catalyst for self destructive and suicidal behaviour.

The number of Veterans who have taken their own lives now surpasses the brave 42 whose names are on display in our Nation’s capital.

Many of these Veterans have continued to fight long after their war in the Middle East ended.  Like a battle with the enemy this too is a fight for survival; and without DVA accepting responsibility and acting on its mistakes this too will cost the lives of Australians that once donned the uniform of a Soldier, Sailor or Airman.

I care not for excuses and the ongoing blame game of previous Governments.  I care only for you the current Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to stand up, acknowledge the mistakes of the past and find a way to move forward for the better.  I ask you Senator Ronaldson, to engage with us, those Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen that have fought against the bureaucracy of a Government Department that has learnt nothing over the past 100 years.

As we prepare to remember and mark the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign; can you honestly say that today’s Veterans are receiving the appropriate level of support and assistance that our forefathers never got to experience; or like them will this fight become the legacy of my children when I am long gone from this world?

Respectfully yours,

Chad Dobbs
17 December 2013

This letter has been forwarded to Senator Ronaldson’s contact email address: officeoftheminister@dva.gov.au;
Tweeted to Senator Ronaldson’s Twitter page: @SenRonno;
Tweeted to DVA’s Twitter page: @DVAAus.

An Evening At The Australian War Memorial

On Wednesday evening, 20 November 2013, I attended a panel discussion at the Australian War Memorial on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The event was hosted by journalist/writer Paul Barclay on behalf of ABC TV and Radio National.

On the panel were former Chief of Army LTGEN Peter Leahy; author and Beyond Blue ambassador Allan Sparkes; Beyond Blue board member Professor Brett McDermott; and the wife of a former British Royal Marine, Emily.

I was asked about attending the panel a few days earlier by my friend Jason.  Originally I didn’t want to attend as I honestly thought it may be a trigger for an anxiety episode; so I declined.  It wasn’t until the night before that I decided to go along and hopefully have a chance to speak to whoever was on the panel.  I had no idea who was participating in the discussion other than LTGEN Peter Leahy and hadn’t really thought about what was going to be discussed.

In the afternoon prior to the start of the forum, I rode from work up to the Australian War Memorial.  As is the norm, I was wearing my Soldier On jersey and happened upon new Soldier On team member Tony; who many moons ago was my Troop Commander when I served in Iraq.  Jason arrived next and soon we were joined by Anna, Meredith and Dion from Soldier On.  After I got changed into something more appropriate than skin tight lycra, we went into the BAE Systems Theatre.

After the introductions Paul started the discussion with some questions about PTSD in the military for LTGEN Leahy.  The conversation and questions started to flow freely within the panel with some very emotional stories being shared by Emily and Allan.  Prof McDermott gave some very interesting insights on PTSD for not only military personnel; but also for emergency service persons and of course their families.

I wasn’t the only veteran in the crowd; but I was the youngest.  There were a few Vietnam Veterans present, family members of veterans with PTSD and a few senior Defence officers that were skulking around the back pews in civilian attire.

As the discussion progressed LTGEN Leahy was asked some questions about support services available to veterans.  I have a lot of respect for this man; he was an exceptional Chief of Army and has done a lot to help veterans with his current position as Chairman for Soldier On.  But there is a distinct level of detachment from what a high ranking officer is told and what happens on the ground.

Some of his responses started to irk not only me, but a lot of the crowd listening to him.  There were more than a few audible scoffs at some comments about the Department of Veterans affairs doing their best to help all veterans.  One comment in particular drew a very audible “get fucked” from me.  The former Chief of Army said that when a Soldier asks for help, he or she will always receive it.  Paul mentioned the story of MAJGEN John Cantwell and LTGEN Leahy was in agreement.  Whilst MAJGEN Cantwell has done a lot to help break the stigma of PTSD in the ADF; it is also true that a very senior Officer is never going to be turned away when they ask for assistance.

Allan Sparkes shared his story of PTSD and depression from when he was a Police officer; and the ostracising that he experienced as a result.  His story was a very raw, no punches pulled recount of his darkest days and his termination from his employment without his knowledge.  His story was very reminiscent of many veterans from the Vietnam War up until today’s conflicts.

Emily’s story was one of amazing courage from both her and her husband Adrian.  She spoke of her time in the United Kingdom when Adrian returned from deployment in Afghanistan a changed man.  He had experienced traumatic events and as a result developed PTSD.  His struggles with mental health affected his wife and two daughters as they watched as their husband and father dealt with his issues now that he was back at home.  His eventual discharge from the Royal Marines was a result of a physical injury and just like the majority of occupationally injured Australian servicepersons; Adrian was soon pushed out the door with very little support and preparedness for his transition to civilian life.

As the forum was drawing to a close Paul invited Dr Brendan Nelson, director of the Australian War Memorial to speak and field some questions from the panel.  He spoke about the AWM’s role with supporting veterans of recent conflicts by having interactive exhibits and involving them with other projects the AWM is conducting.  As a former Minister for Defence he expressed his desire to see more support forthcoming as the Afghanistan War draws to a close.

As 7pm was quickly approaching a few of us in the audience were wondering if we would get a chance to ask questions of the panel.  Adrian was next to take the stage and he recounted some of his experiences post deployment and how support for veterans is extremely slow from the government in Britain.  He spoke of having his claim for assistance being rejected on the first submission; a trend very similar to that in Australia carried out by DVA.

Adrian expressed his concern for veterans being forgotten after the withdrawal from the Middle East and a strong desire for them to be able to access the support they deserve and not repeat the mistakes of the past.  He likened the struggles of today’s returned servicepersons to that of the Vietnam War era in the way that the fight for support continues even after the war on foreign soil has ended.

Adrian’s address to the panel and audience had clearly reached out to everyone with many of the Vietnam Veterans visibly moved by his honesty.  As he sat down Paul checked his watch and asked us sitting in the audience if anyone had anything questions or comments.  I had been sitting and fidgeting for the past 10 minutes waiting for this moment.  Several different introductions and talking points had gone through my head and all disappeared in the instant I raised my hand and Paul motioned for me to stand up.

I was shaking before I even started speaking; this was always going to be an emotionally charged interaction from me and I started by introducing myself.

“Hi I’m Chad, I separated from the Army early last year and have deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.  I have been diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety and I want to know why not enough is being done to help Australian veterans.”

I addressed LTGEN Leahy first and exclaimed to him that history was indeed repeating itself.

“I am a third generation Soldier, my Grandfather served in World War 2, my Father served in Vietnam and I have served in the Middle East.  I watch as my Father and his mates still struggle with PTSD with many Vietnam Veterans taking their own lives since the war ended.  I watch as my generation struggles with the same issues and now my mates, people I served with, are killing themselves because of PTSD and depression; and nothing is being done to stop this.  There are more people in the ground because of PTSD and depression than there are that are on the wall outside who were killed on operations.”

I spoke of my efforts to get help when the weight was becoming too much for me to bear and that the first two times I asked for assistance I was rebuffed by my unit RSM’s; a statement that clearly shocked LTGEN Leahy.  I was asked questions from both Allan Sparkes and Prof McDermott about my interactions with DVA and I recounted how I was told that my claim was going to be slow as my PTSD and depression ‘wasn’t that bad’.  I explained to them that is was at this point that I withdrew my claim and stopped interacting with DVA as I felt I was being accused of chasing money and that by not receiving financial assistance my criticism of their practices would hold more weight in a public forum.

I described my battles with depression and that very few people understood; and the simple act of asking for help effectively stalled my career in the Australian Army for a number of years.  The feeling of being ostracised and singled out was always present and that few people would support me when I asked for further help.  I explained that while MAGJEN Cantwell’s story is not an isolated one, the level of support and assistance he received was.  The average Digger in a unit has to contend with the ever present stigma of mental health issues and ignorance present within their chain of command and the probable persecution for not being able to fulfil their duties without restrictions.

I expressed astonishment that the very organisation founded to protect the rights of and provide assistance to veterans was failing in its primary role.  I emphatically asked how in the forty years since the end of the Vietnam War servicepersons are still not being afforded the support we fought for.  How it was possible that DVA can state they are still learning and getting better with a straight face as veterans from multiple deployments and generations kill themselves while waiting to access support services.

By this stage the room was silent and I had been speaking for around 20 minutes.  The panel while sometimes asking me questions and making statements had clearly been unprepared for such a raw and uncompromising speech from someone.  I had brought up some points with personal accounts of systematic failures from within the Australian Army, Australian Defence Force and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

There were some topics that I shared with a public forum that had only been discussed with medical professionals and not even shared with my wife and family.  As my speech drew to a close I expressed the hope that one day veterans would receive the appropriate support from the Government but that it was very unlikely to occur in my lifetime and that my children probably wouldn’t see it happen either.

As I finished speaking I apologised for hijacking the Q&A session; Paul started wrapping up the forum and I sat down nervously.  Jason patted me on the shoulder and most of the audience was either nodding in agreement or wiping away tears.  I sat shaking and started to feel quiet anxious from speaking to a mostly unknown audience about issues so personal and distressing that I had spent the last few years repressing and ignoring them.

The rest of the evening was spent talking with members of the audience and panel.  I received a great number of business cards and offers of assistance and opportunities to speak to other veterans and people with PTSD and depression.  I found the response surprising and was shocked when LTGEN Leahy approached me as he was leaving.  He handed me his business card and told me to email him.  He offered to take me to see the Minister of Veterans Affairs to discuss the issues I had brought up.

He told me that the Service Chiefs would be made aware of what I had spoken about and that I should continue speaking up.  Both he and Dr Nelson expressed the need for younger veterans to be the public faces and voices of our generation and that I should be one of them.  I was very humbled by this statement and thought a lot about it over the following days.

At the conclusion of a big night, I farewelled Jason and the Soldier On crew, thanked the others and started riding my bike back home.  The next 45 minutes were some of the most contemplative times of my life as I thought about what I had said and the inevitable shock-waves that they would create for my family and I when the ABC airs Boys Don’t Cry on Big Ideas in late 2013/early 2014.

The Central Point Of Failure – The Department Of Veterans Affairs

I wasn’t sure if I should write this post.  My last opinion piece about the Department of Veterans Affairs was received quite well by the veterans community and prompted DVA to contact me to discuss my and many other young veteran’s issues.  What has prompted this follow-up piece tentatively titled “You Ignorant Fucking Bureaucrats!”?…

On the evening of 11 November 2013, undoubtedly scheduled to coincide with Remembrance Day, Channel 7’s Today Tonight aired a story about young veterans and the ongoing struggle for support with PTSD and mental illness entitled Fighting A Mental War.

The story began as a fairly straight forward account detailing the struggles of those who have had the unfortunate distinction of dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Frustration, anger and depression are some of the emotions one can feel when dealing with a Government Department seemingly intent on ignoring your calls for help and ensuring you don’t get access to quality support services and ultimately rejecting financial assistance for your national service at war.

This may seem like an extreme statement but when the person asking for support is a young service-person trying to access help for depression and/or assistance after experiencing a highly traumatic incident(s); being rebuffed by the very organization founded to help you only causes more stress and compounds an already volatile situation.  It is a fact that more young servicemen and servicewomen have taken their own lives post-deployment than have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ordinarily I would take a story broadcast on Today Tonight with a few dozen grains of salt.  But after watching Keith Payne VC fire up (a man I have had the pleasure of spending time with in both Afghanistan and Australia) and the pitiful response from DVA Mental Health Advisor Dr Stephanie Hodson I was poised to hurl my remote control at my TV in disgust.  I sat staring in disbelief, I wanted to break something, I could feel my pulse rising and my face getting hotter as my skin became flushed with rage.

Ultimately I calmed down but not before I fired off a steam of questions and statements to DVA via Twitter, Facebook and email.  Minister for Veterans Affairs Senator the Honourable Michael Ronaldson was also in my sights and received a highly sanitized and more eloquent email demanding answers about his representative’s insulting statements.

What did Dr Hodson say?  Below is the transcript from Today Tonight’s segment.

“Any suicide is tragic, and the department actively monitors suicide in veteran community,” Dr Hodson said.
“We actually do need to work on getting our staff more trained, but also about getting through these claims more quickly.”

Dr Hodson denies the department’s failure to plan ahead is resulting in long delays, leaving claims and lives in limbo.

“The department is processing claims as quickly as possible, but we acknowledge that some claims can take longer than we want,” she said.

Dr Hodson claims part of the problem lies with the veterans themselves.

“The problem is that it’s not until someone is in crisis that they will actually start to look for the services,” Dr Hodson said. “The treatment is there for veterans; we just need them to come and put up their hand and get it.” 

The full video can be found here:
http://au.news.yahoo.com/today-tonight/lifestyle/article/-/19777434/veterans-with-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/
Dr Hodson’s comments on behalf of DVA start at approximately the 8 minute 15 second mark.

I want to stress I am not launching a personal attack on Dr Hodson; she is clearly a very competent and qualified medical professional.  She previously served 22 years in the ADF as a psychologist and has been with DVA for the past decade.  This is a woman who has dedicated the majority of her career helping service-persons with mental health issues.

I am however attacking the Department of Veterans Affairs for the systematic failure of the past 40 years.  I’ve watched as my Father’s generation has been let down by DVA and his mates have been driven to suicide.  Decades later the same thing is happening to my generation.

By Dr Hodson’s own account, DVA needs to do more work; but also claims that the Department’s failure to plan ahead is not to blame.  So to Dr Stephanie Hodson and Minister for Veteran’s Affairs Sen the Hon Michael Ronaldson I put this to you:

The last Australians withdrew from Vietnam on Anzac Day 1975.  That was 38 years, 6 months and 18 days ago; and yet Australian Servicemen and Servicewomen are still not getting the support that we deserve and have fought for.

To have not learnt from the past and continuing to ignore the Department’s ongoing mistakes is akin to giving a Soldier with PTSD a noose and pointing him or her in the direction of the closet tree with a strong branch.

Training Week In Review – Week 17

Week 17 or The Last Training Week In Review Until I Find A New Race To Train For

After riding the Scott 25 Hour the previous weekend I found it extremely difficult to find motivation to get back on the saddle.  Feeling a little tender but otherwise quite good; I hit up Berm-Master Nat for an easy spin around Bruce Ridge on Monday.

Before I start whining about how Nat flogged me and made me ride up hills including the dreaded Bruce Ridge pinch; I have to say not only is Nat an amazingly generous and nice person…He is an unbelievably skilled cyclist (note I didn’t say mountain biker… I said cyclist!).  The previous day he had a little spill and ended up with some mean looking deep tissue bruising on his quads; I on the other hand had finished riding over a hundred kilometres with no sleep the day before.  “Let’s take it easy”, he said, before speeding off and leaving me staring at a Nat-shaped dust cloud ala Looney Tunes!

I enjoy riding with faster and better riders, you can watch how they ride and learn.  Mountain biking is always about adapting to change and getting better; and when you follow a rider of Nat’s calibre you pick new tricks and fix bad habits.

During the Scott I managed to overcome my bad habit of two-finger braking as a matter of necessity.  My hands were cramping and when I started my decent of the downhill section I found I didn’t have enough hand on my grips to safely navigate around obstacles at speed.

So during my ride with Nat I watched him corner his super-light Open at speed and copied his body position and soon realised I was able to lean into the corners more and rely less on tap braking to ensure I don’t wash out and meet the ground with my face.

After the ride I started to feel a bit off colour; something that would follow me well into the week and keep me off the bike.  It had nothing to do with the lap of Bruce; maybe the chest infection I picked up in Vietnam had one final trick left for my immune system.  I felt flat all week and found it very difficult to get up each morning for work; and considering I usually open my eyes and literally jump out of bed, this was a strange thing for me.

So Week 17 ended up being a rest week with very little interaction with my bikes at all.  So now as I prepare to tackle The Beast I’m feeling quite relaxed with no muscle soreness for the first time since I began training for this race.  Maybe a week off is what I needed.

Training Week In Review – Week 16

Week 16 was my week of training and preparation for the Scott 25 Hour.  The week started with a long weekend in Canberra thanks to Family & Community Day on the Monday.  So what better way to commemorate than to go for a spin around Kowen Forest/Sparrow Hill.

With fellow Bermers Roger, Tony, Alyssa and last years Battle of the Beasts riding buddy Argo; I enjoyed 34.7km of my favourite trails.

Wednesday was my first night ride at Bruce Ridge, partaking in the Regular Berm Loam’n’Lard ride.  A great ride followed by an awesome chicken schnitzel at Edgars Inn afterwards.

I stayed off the bike until Saturday morning when the Scott 25 Hour began at Mt Stromlo.  I rode a total of 111.5km during the Scott and a total of 167.3km for the week.  Not a bad second week on the bike after taking a month off.

If you want to read my wrap up of the Scott 25 Hour 2013 click here!!

Training Week In Review – Week 15

Week 15 of my training for the Battle of the Beasts was my return to the saddle after almost a month of not riding.

In the months leading up to my Wedding and Honeymoon I debated and weighed up the pros and cons regarding racing in the Kowalski Classic.  The 2012 KC was not only the inaugural Kowalski Brothers signature event it was also my very first race.  I remember starting in the very last wave of the 50km race and finding myself at the tail end of the third wave riders before the feed station at the 30km mark.  I did very little lead up training and the longest I had ridden on a mountain bike up to that point was 32km on fire roads.  I loved every single minute and pedal stroke of my first race including the debilitating cramps in my calves; and the four days I couldn’t walk without pain afterwards.

The Kowalski Classic will always hold a special place in my heart; so opting out of this years event due to time off the bike and travelling back to Canberra from Melbourne was a hard decision.  From all accounts I missed out on a tough but enjoyable ride through Sparrow Hill and Kowen Forest’s finest singletrack.

While I was travelling in Vietnam and Cambodia I managed to pick up a little chest bug that was still in my system and causing me to dry cough and also cough up blood.  Because of this, Week 15 didn’t kick off until Wednesday morning with a slow ride around Mt Stromlo with my friend John.  It was the perfect ride to ease back into training; slow, steady and finding my flow.

I backed the morning ride up with a Wednesday night ride with The Berm crew around Sparrow Hill and Kowen Forest as prep for the following Saturday night’s CORC 3 Hour Twilight Race.  I felt good; albeit a little tired from the morning’s ride and a day slaving away at work.  36.9km of singletrack on Kate and my quads and calves were cramping and sore.  Welcome back to the world of cycling Chad!

BIKES 098

After spending Thursday sitting in my office at work with quads sore to the touch I decided I would break out Zooey the Giant Anthem for the upcoming CORC 3 Hour.  A quick lube and 10-point safety check of my trusty dual suspension stead on Friday morning; I strapped her to my roof and headed out to Mt Stromlo for another quick loop.  Considering I had only ridden Zooey once off road since buying Kate the XTC, I quickly found my flow and rhythm and was relishing the smooth riding and her ability to launch into the air on the smallest of jumps.  After a very enjoyable 15.1km I decided Zooey would be my ride for the next evenings twilight race.

I was very excited for Saturday night’s 3 Hour race at Sparrow Hill.  I hadn’t ridden a 3 Hour race this year and was looking forward to riding out there at night.  I’m not the greatest rider in the world by any means; but I love riding in the forest at night.  It’s a Zen-like experience riding through the pine trees with just you, the bike and lights.  Factor in a few dozen other riders feeling the same buzz and you’ve got yourself a race.

The Canberra weather had turned on the high-winds for a few days leading up to Saturday and a number of trees had fallen over on the course.  Nigel had marked out some new tracks and made the immovable trees clearly visible and soon we were on our way.

The first lap was surprisingly fast as we settled into the singletrack and headed into the first climb.  As promised there were a few detours in place and a few tree trunks requiring some bike lifting and running jumps to clear; but despite the unexpected cyclocross additions this was a super-fun course.  I settled into a steady but quick pace and was enjoying my second lap until my chain broke and I was forced to up-end Zooey and attach a quick link to get back on the course.  I spent less than five minutes making my repairs in the pitch black forest and didn’t see another rider; let alone a set of lights.  The field had well and truly spread out.

At around the 8km mark I felt all the tension in my cranks disappear and realised my chain had broken a second time.  I came to stop and looked at my rear derailleur and discovered that my chain was no longer anywhere near my bike.  I searched an area of about 50m along the track I had just ridden and couldn’t find it anywhere.  Relegated to the fact my race was now over I wanted to complete this lap as quick as possible so I rolled down the hills and sprinted up the climbs as I headed back the registration tent.  I retired after two laps and spent the remainder of the race on the sidelines braving the cold.

Not wanting to push it too much for my first week back on the bike I didn’t ride at all Sunday; instead I washed and serviced my bikes in preparation for Week 16.

BIKES 100

Training Week In Review – Weeks 12, 13 & 14

I imagine opening the door to my garage, I walk past the two parked cars, the boxes of tools and up to my bikes; two hanging on their ceiling stand and the XTC resting against the wall.  I look at my three Giant bikes, clean, serviced and facing the automatic door almost as if they are waiting to roll onto the asphalt outside. But the tyres are low and a spider has built a small but intricate web from the cold brick wall to the rear derailleur on the XTC. I look to the bench where my helmet, gloves and shoes sit; they are covered in a fine layer of dust.

My name is Chad and it has been 25 days since I last rode a bike.

It has been a busy three weeks for me.  I drove to Melbourne and got married to the beautiful Carly and travelled to Cambodia and Vietnam for our Honeymoon.  During that time I haven’t ridden a bike or conducted any sort of training outside of hiking around the countryside.

Before this break in training I was carrying a few niggling injuries including a relapse in my torn pectoral muscle.  The time off the bike has been good and has helped me relax and focus on what I want to achieve leading up to the Battle of the Beasts and for the rest of the year.

I have lost some fitness and muscle tone so I won’t be jumping into any huge rides just yet; but with a 3 hour twilight race next weekend I will aim to spend a few hours off-road and doing a recce of the proposed course.