Stage 8 – Tomingley To Ascot

This was the first of our virtual bonus days.

On the old schedule, we would have been on the road to Sydney today: all day.

Instead, pre-armed with a 40km lead in our back pocket, I had the chance to drive the schedule through the covers (cricket joke) to the boundary rope, and far beyond.

All week the weather forecast had been promising a wild one and this was it: wild by name, wild by nature.

But first, a personal landmark…

31st August.

Twenty two years ago today, I married Jane in Inverness. Isn’t it remarkable how everything on this journey revolves around the number 22. In numerology, 22 is ranked as the most powerful of all numbers, able to turn lofty dreams into reality. It’s described as confident, pragmatic, ambitious and disciplined. I’m not sure it necessarily describes my track record in marriage but it sure as hell defines Ride2Cure and the 44444 miles that preceded it.

The joker in me got on social media as soon as the clock ticked past midnight (in actual fact, I needed to get up for a pee) and I proclaimed, with much mirth, that “today is my wedding anniversary: tomorrow will be my wife’s wedding anniversary.”

Geddit?

The 17km drive back to Tomingley was interesting, not least because the sky was basically invisible because of the dust. A new phenomenon to me, in drought stricken New South Wales, the predicted high winds were accompanied by dust storms, and we had them for the next five hours.

But hey, what is there not to like about a tailwind that’s blowing a hoolie at 30km/hr?

I was flying back through Peak Hill before you could shout “Road Train” and it continued in pretty much that vein all the way to Parkes, 65km up the road. The plan had been to visit the dish, the infamous Parkes radio telescope where they monitored the moon landing, but in reality we couldn’t see it for dust. I don’t know where it was in relation to where we were but as visibility was down to about a hundred metres, it really didn’t matter. Parkes didn’t dish up its telescope for Ride2Cure.

However it is the Elvis capital of Australia. I bet you didn’t know that. To put it into some kind of perspective, Parkes has a population of 12,000 but in the second week of January each year, the Elvis festival attracts twice that number of people to the town. It seemed like a no brainer therefore, to home in on the Elvis statue in the middle of town instead of the Dish.

But first we had another commercial radio gig to do: 2PK ROK FM. Between them, Deanna (our media specialist at Neuroblastoma Australia) and Paul did such a fantastic job of scheduling awareness gigs all the way down the road. The routine was so slick: Deanna researched them, and once she got a bite, she passed the information on to Paul. He then made contact on the ground and we just scheduled the stops into our day. I kept saying all the way through: not just on Ride2Cure, but on LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma too, if you keep banging on doors, eventually some will open, and in the case of R2C, those open doors allowed us to get the message out and the donations flowing in.

The message I kept trying to hammer home is that one day, hopefully soon, some anonymous punter is going to donate the final dollar that enables the laboratory researchers to unlock the genetic code of neuroblastoma. It can’t come a day too soon, but until then we’ll keep chipping away with the story, the dollars and the pounds.

After the radio, it was straight down to Elvis for a photo shoot and the local paper, the Parkes Champion-Post.

It seems strange sitting at home back in the UK, but you’ve only to put “Steve Taylor Ride2Cure” into a Google search engine to find all these relatively obscure news stories popping up in local papers all along the route: and invariably the best ones were the ones where we got face to face with the journalists, and that’s entirely down to Deanna and Paul. Gud jab, guys!

Remember how New South Wales was in drought? Well the mad Scotsman broke it. By the time we left Parkes, the rain was on and despite still having another 35km of a tailwind to play with before the lunch stop at Forbes, I was freezing from all that standing about. When you’re cold, it’s so easy to tweak something so those Forbes km’s were knocked off at a much more leisurely rate of knots than anything that had gone before on stage 8.

Strange things happened all the way through Ride2Cure, like they were always meant to be. Remember the van door that wouldn’t open from the inside? Well by the time we got to Peak Hill, it wasn’t opening from the outside either some of the time, and we were getting seriously concerned that Britz had sent us on the road with a duff motor.

Cue the lunch stop in Forbes.

The road we needed for the afternoon demanded a left at the lights at the bottom of Dowling St in the middle of the town. That’s where the Newell Highway continues on its merry way to Wyalong, another 70km’s down the road. While we actually did need that left, our plan for the afternoon was to head out into the country in search of quiet tarmac, en route eventually to Quandialla, end point for the original stage 9.

We parked up round the corner from the lights and Paul started making the sandwiches. Then he looked up, stopped, and exclaimed “I’ll be back in five minutes. There’s a Toyota Service Centre across the road.” Sure enough, he was back in five, and the van was in their forecourt two minutes after that.

We’d hit the jackpot: the guys were on their lunchbreak and within ten minutes, with a bit of poking here and a bit of bending there, they’d fixed the door. And not just fixed for now, it stayed fixed all the way to Adelaide! But on their advice, we still left the cable ties inside the door panel for the next unwary punter who might suffer the same fate as ourselves…

Chapeau Toyota Service Centre, Forbes!

But that wasn’t the end of the fun and games for the day. Far from it.

An hour out of town in the afternoon, I was minding my own business, and trying my best to stay upright in an increasingly strong cross/headwind, when the van – our van – suddenly shot past me then slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road.

Get in!

Dogs!

Feral dogs!

And they’ve seen you!

I dislike dogs at the best of times, so a six pack of the feral variety certainly didn’t float my boat. I was in that van, bike and all, before you could shout “Feral Dogs!” a second time.

Paul insisted on driving half a km down the road before he’d let me out again. In hindsight, I think that was the longest unridden section of the whole Ride2Cure gig between Brisbane and Adelaide. It was either that, or Pedigree Chump for lunch.

Now I was concerned.

I’d gone over to Australia worrying about spiders and snakes: not once did I consider wild dogs as a potential menace. Needless to say, I spent the rest of that afternoon scanning the adjacent woodland for danger. I bet the big man thought I was barking: it turned out afterwards that he also had his radar tuned to the dog channel for the rest of the day…

As the road took us increasing west, so the wind became ever more my foe. Strong as a strong thing, not even drafting behind the van was working anymore. If it wasn’t blasting from one side, it was blasting from the other, and no sooner was I two metres off the back of the van than I was ten or twenty metres gone. We’d been here before. This was getting really tortuous and I’d had enough. What was needed now was to find a landmark, something that I could hang my proverbial hat on, just so I could come back in the morning and start again in the relative calm. I don’t like giving up at the best of times but this was getting downright dangerous the way the wind was gusting.

I abandoned at 15:40pm adjacent to an old grain store by the railway crossing at a wee place called Ascot, about 10km west of Garema. 142km was okay, but with back to back hundreds firmly in my sights, it felt like stage 8 was an opportunity lost. Nevertheless, I was now almost 200km ahead of the original schedule, with another long day in the saddle on the cards for tomorrow.

Almost halfway to paradise (there’s a song in there too!)

Stage 8: 142km. 1106km done. 1116km to go.

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