A while ago I noticed “The Snowy Ride – 2013” and decided to join in. I arrived at the Dandenong departure location at about 7.50 a.m. only to find it totally bereft of older people on motorcycles. I figured I must have missed a logistical detail or two and knowing how fast the group rides, relative to me, immediately gave up hope of catching up, if in fact there was a Ulysses posse ahead of me.
I decided to travel via Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Cann River, Bombala, Cooma and finally to Jindabyne. It looked straight-forward and completely logical on the map which I bought at a servo as a concession to the value of logistical planning, however slight. What I did not know was this was going to be an 11 hour journey around the Cape of Good Hope, mostly into the sun (or seemed like) and that at the destination I’d feel more than halfway into a body bag. The sun shouldn’t be an issue for me as I have a pair of dark, dark glasses as well as a pull-down tinted visor in my helmet. The combination of the two works really well combating the sun but it gets so dark I can’t see the road half the time which I regard as a real concern. For every plus, there’s always at least one minus, maybe two…
On arrival at the the place I had booked outside Jindabyne, absolutely totally wrecked, I pointed the Triumph toward the driveway entrance without taking any notice of the angles. That is, the driveway had a short, steep uphill entrance, and the hill was also angled downward to the right to match the slope of the road that it was on. So we’ve got an off-camber uphill curve which falls off to the right and the sun, you guessed it, shinning in my face and in my infinite exhaustion and wisdom I approached the driveway from the left side at slow speed, got over-balanced to the right and no matter how hard I tried, my right leg would not hold it up. Soooooo I tried to lay it down as softly as possible.
No way to pick it up by myself so I just waited for somebody to come by. Finally a young bloke stopped. He comes flip-flopping over, has a look and says, “Geez, you dropped your bike!” Well, I never heard a truer thing said in all my years. Never. I said, “Yes, would you help me pick it up?” So we got the Triumph back on its feet and parked next to my apartment. The lad went on his happy way. I’m sure he was stoned out of his brain because he looked and acted just like I did at his age. Stoned or not, I was very grateful to him. My subsequent driveway entrances were approached on the right side with immensely improved results.
Enough about my travails. The point of this post is the children with cancer who benefit from the Great Snowy Ride. There were 3,200 registered riders this year and a good portion of them participated in the Ride. The ride itself was one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced. I was near the end of the posse (normal for me) and to see bikes in their thousands snaking up that canyon felt like an immense show of strength and commitment to the cause of improving the chances of survival for thousands of children.
Listening to the presentations after the ride, I learned that whilst government funds hospital and clinic infrastructure like the Childrens Hospital, it does not contribute much to cancer research. This leaves it up to private charity organisations to keep the research ticking along, thereby giving more hope to those who need every sliver they can get.
So here we are in our thousands standing before a stage in Thredbo Village. We were jam packed to the extent one almost couldn’t move. They had various things happening up there, raffles and such and short speeches from Honda and other large sponsors of childrens cancer initiatives.
Then this little lady stood before all of us and for fifteen minutes told her daughter’s story of a particularly lethal form of leukemia. She simply talked about what it is like for the child, for her and her husband, for the extended family and of course, for the doctors and nurses who do their best all the time. This lady took all of us on the journey without any hint of feeling sorry for herself or anyone else. It was just “how it is”. The gift she gave us was a graphic understanding of the plight of these children. She thanked us for the $250,000 that we had generated for the cause, but she didn’t ask for anything else. It was and is up to us/me to decide what to do with the insights she gave us.
As an aside, during this lady’s 15 minutes you could have heard a pin drop which isn’t bad for 3,000 bikers all of whom are used to talking pretty much non-stop and all at the same time... At the end of her speech, they brought her child, Emily, a beautiful little girl, and do you know what, she squirmed around like any other kid. Emily’s survival chances are about 50-50.
The good news is that research funded by organisations like The Snowy Ride, are making real headway into understanding the structures of many child cancers. It seems like they are getting a virtuous process going where each new insight triggers the development of new, effective drugs. And as these drugs are used, they can observe the impacts and design yet more effective drug therapies. The result is that survival rates continue to increase on a constant upward trajectory. And this, of course, gives children and their families more hope.
I guess you have gotten the impression that I was deeply touched by this experience. It almost brought me to tears a couple of times. These children did not choose to be sick. Cancer chose them. They need a chance to live full lives like the rest of us, but many won’t.
So that was the Saturday. I waited long enough to see if I won the Honda CBR800 and while I waited, this young woman appeared out of nowhere and asked me if I was ok. I said, “No, I’m not ok, I am seriously fatigued and plan to catch up with a good night’s sleep.” She asked if I thought I could get down the mountain safely and I assured her I would. She didn’t look convinced. After they called somebody’s else’s name for the CBR (which surprised the hell out of me) I walked down to the Triumph which was perched securely on its sidestand, to my eternal relief. As I was getting the helmet and gloves on the same woman appeared and asked again if I was right to get to Jindabyne. She was genuinely concerned which I did appreciate, however it did make me feel every one of my 64 years. Did I really look that bad? Anyway she next said she was staying in an apartment a couple blocks away and would I like to take a nap on her spare bed? ……….At this point I needed to reflect… what's going on here? Instantly I launched into one of those fantasies characteristic of older men. It lasted a nanosecond, like a bottle rocket. Then my boots were firmly back on the pavement and I was thanking her for her generous offer but I reckoned I could get down safely. And I did.
Sunday was go home day. I gave the map close inspection and decided the shortest way home would be to take The Alpine Way over the hill to Khancoban, on to Corryong, Wodonga and finally the Hume. Well, right from the get go I took a wrong turn and ended up at Perisher and Charlotte Pass. The latter is a dead end. It says “Pass” but doesn’t pass one on to anything which I feel is a form of dishonesty. You have to go back to find the Alpine Way! The ride up to Charlotte Pass is beautiful and I recommend it to people who actually intend to go there. My mistake cost me about 90 minutes.
Taking the Alpine Way as described above is probably the shortest way to go in terms of distance, but not in time. This is because the Alpine Way is a goat track. Very slow and careful for me. Dangerous. By the way, the road between Khancoban and Wodonga is a lovely stretch with lots of fast bends. Bikers love it and the police know it. They were omnipresent on that road. On the Saturday an officer caught somebody doing 190. Took his license and bike on the spot. And so he should.
To traverse the 11 hours home I had to dismount about once an hour. I had sore knees, sore feet, sore ankles, sore arms, sore back, sore neck, sore eyes, sore ears, sore hair. The little 10 minute respites were what got me home.
Next year I’m going to hire a Chinook helicopter to transport my Triumph up there and back.
Thanks for reading.