Within two hours of arriving at Gabby HQ, I had the bike rebuilt: wheels on, handlebars on, seat post in and even more importantly, set at the right height (surprising what you can do with a bit of Tippex). But see the most reassuring bit of the rebuild: the gears appeared to work perfectly. I’d been told by a mate back in the UK that baggage handlers couldn’t give a shit about your stuff and that there was every possibility that I could arrive with a bent frame or derailleurs out of true. It was the sole reason that I shelled out hundreds of pounds for a rigid box. But the bike worked perfectly, straight of said box.
I was in business.
The same afternoon, I went out to play. There’s a tarmac velodrome at back of Paul’s house, about a kilometre away over the railway line. For a week, that became my playground. The signage directs all cyclists go clockwise round the two-kilometre circuit, and it reminded me of that iconic scene near the end of Midnight Express, however this Pommie wasn’t for going against the flow, especially since the Aussie boys appeared to be going at twice the rate that I was.
I also had the dodgy calf to worry about. At no time during the seven days that I plied my training trade round that track was it pain free. The concern that I’d had back in Scotland was mirrored tenfold in the lead up to the off.
“If I can feel it now, in a flattish two hour workout, how’s it going to hold up over six hours on undulating roads against the wind” was pretty much my take on it.
I needn’t have worried: Spicers Gap sorted my calf, and in a good way. More on that later. Troublesome on stage one, it never bothered me again after I’d resorted to walking the bike over that hill.
I think in that lead up week, I started to get a sense of what was about to unfold. On the Sunday, five days before the off and two days after I’d arrived in the land of the Gabba, we drove into town to have a recce at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. Mindful of the fact that the next time we’d be back at that same place, we’d be in the motor home, with potentially a press pack on hand should we pick up a parking ticket, we were trying to suss out a place to dump the van for the ceremonials. As it turned out, Paul got a real sense of bravado on the morning of the gig and parked it on the pavement, right outside the front entrance. And once some serious players turned up to shake hands and do some interviews, the hospital security guy actually looked after our somewhat unconventional piece of short term parking.
You know what they say: “they can only say no.”
With the hospital location suitably sussed, we went a wander along the bike path that runs alongside the Brisbane River. This was better than anything that we have back in Glasgow. In fact, when you get three or four kilometres out of the city, the path becomes what I can best describe as a bike super highway: an outstanding piece of environmentally friendly infrastructure, hidden away from the traffic.
On the Monday, we went driveabout: that’s like walkabout, except we were in Paul’s Jeep. The plan was to suss out the first leg, with all it’s various wee nooks and crannies, on the road out of Brisbane. And it sent us home with something to think about.
For the van, the road out of town was a simple one: the M5 followed by the M7 and then the M2. Those three highways take you out to Ipswich on your way to the flat lands of rural south west Queensland. If only the bike route was that simple: I had chosen to use a Hammerhead Karoo for all R2C navigation: a piece of kit with a monumental ten hour battery life, GPS down to street level, and the ability to navigate even the most geographically challenged cyclist through the concrete jungle of the suburbs of south Brisbane.
The Karoo had our route right enough, but on that Monday, we weren’t on the Karoo so to speak. The story it was telling us was, for the most part, behind that wall, in amongst those trees, under that bridge, up that street and past those traffic lights. Do you get my drift? The Karoo route was NOT the route that Paul was going to be taking in the van. He knew the place, I didn’t. He had real concerns that I might get lost; I had concern that the Karoo might just let me down and leave me somewhere that the van couldn’t get to. However in the end result on that first day, it was neither the van nor the bike that was lost…
Time for a Plan B: we called it Google Stalking. Paul had been kind enough to lend me Janice’s old phone, the one that they use when they come over the UK. Paul whacked some pay as you go data on it and put it on a different network from his own phone. That way, he figured, once we got out into the middle of nowhere, we maximised our chances of getting reception on one of our two phones, and that was bound to come in handy once we needed to use Google Maps to find our way about the place.
But Google has another feature that we used to our maximum advantage. See that functionality that some parents use to track their kids’ whereabouts via their phone? We enabled that on both phones, then got the phones to point to each other. Within five minutes of realising that this might actually work, we had it sussed. Paul shot out of the front door and went a wander down the street: I could trace his every movement. An hour later, I went for my now customary spin round the velodrome circuit and Paul watched the gig unfold from the comfort of his armchair. We had Google Stalking cracked. It meant that on that first stage, Paul could follow me and I could see where he was parked up: and more importantly, Paul knew that if I was stopped for more than five minutes at a time, then something was potentially amiss and I’d be getting a call. It worked like a charm on that first day.
But back to Recce Day. We picked up the road from Ipswich, heading out of town towards the A15 Cunningham Highway, then Paul suggested we stop for a bite to eat. McDonald’s, Domino’s and Hungry Jack’s were all candidate junk food joints, but we struck lucky, we rolled a double six: we dropped into Red Rooster, where the lady on the counter enquired after my Ride2Cure shirt. We duly told the tale, whereupon she disappeared out the back to have a word with her supervisor. Upon her return, she said that this was cancer awareness week in the Rooster, and that they’d like to donate the takings from their collection buckets to Ride2Cure. Ever so slightly taken aback, we promised to call in again during the first stage, four days hence, and get some photos that they could use on their Facebook page.
After we left the Rooster, we hung a right at the big junction under the highway and followed the A15 highway for about a kilometre before escaping off into the middle of nowhere. But that kilometre was enough to give me kittens for the rest of the week. The 15’s a dual carriageway at Yamanto as it weaves its way out of suburbia: I’m not afraid of being a lone bike man on the hard shoulder of a highway, especially with the comfort of the van behind me, but even so, it only takes a road train flying past at 100kph to put the wind up you (quite literally).
By now, we were totally in the Karoo zone. We were living the route, and it gave us ample opportunity to run a full system test on the road to Lake Moogerah using nothing but GPS satellites and a bunch of left/right instructions.
It took less than half an hour to encounter our first obstacle: a dirt road. The beauty of route planning on the Karoo is that it will always try to keep you safe, so if there’s an option that it thinks is safer than the highway, it’ll take you that way. As we were to discover on stage 2, the optimum solution is sometimes to marry the Karoo route alongside Google Maps and if the Karoo wants you to get down and dirty, then it’s your call whether to take the highway or the by-way.
Anyway, we made it to Moogerah with relative ease, so much so that a wee lunch stop seemed like a bon chance.
There was a micro brewery signposted 6km away at Mount Alford: seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, given that we planned to be back in town with the Ride2Cure bucket in four days’ time.
We got there and it was shut. Furthermore, there was no obvious sign when it was likely to be open. Not to worry, the Mount Alford Hotel was right across the road.
“This’ll be a typical rural Queensland pub” quipped the big man.
He wasn’t wrong.
It felt like you were walking into a 50’s sweet shop that also happened to sell beer: except the beer didn’t come out of taps at the bar: it came out of taps in the wall.
For the Four Tops (Motown supergroup), read the Four Taps: XXXX Gold, Great Northern Pale Ale, Carlton Mid, and another brew whose name escapes me, or maybe it’s just that my photos are as clear as my memory (do you see what I did there?)
There were two punters at the bar, Col and Bruce, who were passing through on their way north. We told them the story, even recording a wee interview with Col, who in his day had been a bike racer, and we left the bar almost a hundred bucks richer for the soon to be bought Ride2Cure bucket.
That was Monday: Tuesday promised (and duly delivered) our first live radio gig: 88.3 Southern FM in Melbourne. Community Radio is big in Australia. A bit like our local commercial stations in the UK, the community stations serve up a mixture of music, social content and live sports in a range of languages. Our ten minute slot gave us our first opportunity to get the awareness message out there: little did we know at that stage that Southern FM would be the first of many.
Wednesday was just a regular bumming about day, picking up last minute stuff from bike shops and the like, ahead of excitement day: Thursday and the motorhome. I guess this was always going to be my next “what might go wrong” moment. My nervousness was that Britz might not have a van for us at all: that they might have sent our van out with someone else, or that it was off the road for some mechanical reason. A screwup this close to the off would certainly have jeopardised our chances of pulling this off.
Also, by the time I arrived in Australia, 100% of New South Wales was in drought. Indeed, much of south west Queensland was pretty much drought stricken too: nature doesn’t do state boundaries. But the Aussie weather forecasters reckoned without the LifeCycle Man fae Scotland. I’d packed my virtual water diviners. By now it was becoming increasingly clear that we were going to get dumped on at the weekend: definitely Saturday and quite possibly Sunday too.
I hadn’t packed mudguards. But that was never going to be a problem because back home, I have a Masters degree in Duct Tape and Cable Tie Engineering. We hit the reject shop and picked up an A3 size plastic ring binder, a roll of duct tape and a bag of cable ties for five bucks. That’s about three quid in Brexit tokens. Back at HQ, I fashioned a template out of cardboard that I thought would do for a back mudguard, then copied/cut that template in plastic. Having drilled some holes with a corkscrew, I then attached half a dozen cable ties across the cut out shape to give it some tension so that it wouldn’t just flop on the wheel. With additional holes cut on the flaps down each side, the two dollar light as anything mudguard was soon in place and secured with more cable ties to the frame of the bike behind the seat post. A few strips of black duct tape later, all of the cable ties were covered up and we had ourselves a fully functional piece of kit that matched the black livery of the bike.
The front mudguard was a wee bit more challenging: but all I needed was something that would stop the water flying up off the front wheel and landing on my glasses. Been there, done that and it ain’t much fun over a long period. More plastic engineering ensued, which coupled with more cable ties to hold the skimpy contraption off the tyre, resulted in a perfect solution to a guaranteed problem. And you know what? It worked. To perfection.
Two mudguards. Five bucks. Sorted.
But back to the motorhome… Joy!
They had our van, and it even looked big enough to take the bike box, the next of my concerns. Do you see a theme emerging here: what could possibly go wrong next? I guess that came from being ten thousand miles from home on the other side of the world, and not in complete control.
Once we got the van back to Gabby HQ, the bike was the next concern. Would it fit across the front seats, because that’s exactly where we wanted it to be sleeping at night. And the box, standing about a metre and a half long and a metre high, simply had to fit somewhere where it was out of harm’s way during the day, and not tucked up in someone’s bed overnight. Fortunately for us, there was a rather a large cubby hole behind the fold down, downstairs double bed, a cubby hole just about big enough, width, height and depth wise to accommodate…. a bike box!
And yes, the bike did fit across the front seats with an inch to spare on either side so basically, we were in business.
Paul got the downstairs bed because at six foot five, it meant he could lie diagonally across the mattress, leaving me with a two foot by two foot landing pad each time I climbed down from the top bunk for a pee in the middle of the night.
The van was everything we’d hoped for. Big enough, functional enough, and driveable enough at 25kph to make both of our lives tolerable for the next couple of weeks.
Next up, the big shop. Plan A was to cook easy to prepare stuff at the end of each day. We had a microwave and pots and pans, we had a toaster and running water, and we even had a wee gas stove: everything you need for beans on toast or pasta with bolognese sauce: real Masterchef contenders, our concoctions.
My preferred scoff for fuelling each day cut right across the tried and tested formula from the LCFN Weir Pumps days. With boxes and boxes of cereal onboard, and bananas aplenty, refuelling on the road was never going to be a problem. However the preferred 6am munchkin was muesli mixed with what became affectionately known as clusterfux, y’know those crunchy lumps of granola type cereal mixed in with dried fruit. Alfresco muesli and clusterfux in business class up the front of the van at 1C became a real highlight of every R2C morning.
With the grub all stashed away in even more cubby holes, we set off to find Lucy, who was jetting in from Sydney that afternoon. With the boss now in town, the gig suddenly assumed a whole new level of importance.
Where better to meet our benefactor than at a radio studio.
This time it was 4BC in Brisbane, a commercial FM station serving not just Brisbane but the communities right down the Gold Coast. And we were live, on the drivetime late afternoon show, right there in the studio, eyeball to eyeball with the main man. I much prefer the studio gigs where the whole thing feels much more intimate, both for us as purveyors of the story, and for the listeners who get a more polished end result. And of course, we had Lucy with us, so we delegated the why part of the R2C story to our leader: I just filled in the bits with 44,444 miles of this and 2,222km of that.
After that it was off to one of the chicest restaurants in town, down by the waterside, for our last supper, whereupon we got one complimentary meal and some free drink courtesy of me sporting the R2C kit and chatting up the waitress.
And that was basically it for the prep. Nothing left to do except enjoy one last sleep in a proper bed before the first of many super early starts and all the fun of the fair.