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Preparations in Australia

Written by John Clark
I am a vice-president of the Lions Club of Sydney, and through this I'm aware of the activities of the Children's Mobility Foundation. I am approaching Lions Clubs along the route to mount fundraising activities coincident with the bicycle ride. There is very little central coordination of the Foundation so we are approaching each Lions club individually. First club to express interest is the one at the starting line - Scarborough in Western Australia who would like to set up a beach breakfast to send the boys on their way across Australia. We are talking to Lions clubs in Kimba, Port Augusta, Clare Valley, Mildura and Wagga Wagga to arrange talks at club meetings, sausage sizzles, kids bike rides etc. The funds they raise will be used for purchasing custom-made walking machines for disabled kids.

My partner Barbara Wellesley is National Director of Good Beginnings and I am on the board. We are spending the latter part of this week and the weekend in Perth organising that end of the ride, as well as developing new Good Beginnings parent support programs in Western Australia. Good Beginnings people will also participate in the starting event and do their own fundraising. There is a (small) possibility that funding may come through for a new program in Port Augusta in SA, in which case we will try to put on an event to welcome the guys and launch the program. We are already planning a fundraiser linked to the Good Beginnings program in Eudunda in SA, and a final celebration (breakfast again) at Bondi at the end of the ride.

We were over in Cornwall two years ago when Peter mentioned the bike ride plan, and Marion was convinced the guys were going to die in the desert. Barb and I were a bit more realistic and pointed out that with the right planning and support there should be no mortal threat apart from the road trains. We chatted about transport, food, accommodation and communications, and it all seemed feasible. In the process we apparently elected ourselves project managers for the trip - so we're having to organise all of the things we talked about!

We've hired (after agreement with Peter & Graeme) a two to three person campervan, but this will effectively sleep only two with the rest being storage. I'll drive the van all the way - 4200 kms and have a number of different travelling companions - Barb will do the Perth to Ceduna section (approx 2000kms). We will sleep in a tent near the van, while Peter & Graeme will snore at each other in the van - their problem although earplugs may be all they need.

Each day will have a flexible plan depending on the weather, bikers health etc. Typically we hope to get up at first light (around 6.40) and have the bikes away by sunrise - 7.00 (temp around 8 - 10 deg). I'll pack up the camp site, then leapfrog the cyclists to have breakfast cooked at a rest stop at 9, then another hop till snack around 11.00 then another for lunch at say 1.30. Rest for a couple of hours then a final stage from 3.30 till dark a bit after 5pm. Camp site will be most often in a camping ground or the paddocks behind roadhouses. Motels every ten days or so, and a rest day every seven.

Early dinner cooked in the van or taken from the roadhouse/cafe/pub/RSL etc. Not a gourmet experience but important to get around 25,000 kilojoules into each of the riders each day. I'm still working on the spreadsheet for food shopping/meals energy ratings/catering plan so as to get the right balance between cost, space, availability of shopping and energy. For instance it is ten days between shopping at Kalgoorlie to the next general store at Ceduna, so we'll have at least six days on dried/tinned food.

We'll take a fairly extended first aid kit. Barb is a nurse and still remembers much of her training. We've also been made aware of the likelihood of saddle sores, so there will be a number of cures for chafing, rubbing, sweat and infection as well as muscle, gut, and abrasion cures. Basic cleanliness will be important.

Water will be a constant problem. The cyclists will drink around 6l per day, will need to wash themselves and their knicks regularly, and we'll need some for cooking etc. Our smallest ration at this stage looks like 10 litres each per day for all uses, because the normal winter rains have failed everywhere except the far west. The first 14 days of June saw 170mm of rain in Perth, 22 in Norseman, 6 in Eucla, 7 in Ceduna, 21 in Mildura, 35 in Wagga, 10 in Goulburn and 0.8 in Sydney. Huge parts of the country are in drought and it is reportedly extremely difficult to even buy water across the Nullabor itself. More planning and lots of spare jerry cans of water.

Each stage, the bikes will take a couple of hours to do around 40km, while the van stays behind to clean up, then passes them with perhaps a photo op and goes ahead to find a meal/snack spot and prepare the food. A good day could see well over 160km, but we have to average 150km on the cycling days or lose our rest days to catch up. It all depends on the winds. With the van starting and stopping every 20km or so, we'll probably need to carry spare fuel as well as water.

This routine also means that the bikes should usually be within 30 mins of the van. The van will have GSM, CDMA and satellite phones so our external voice comms should be OK although there will be many days with no internet connection to the external world. We'll have a laptop, but all the desk research (Royal Flying Doctor contact numbers, distances between stops for fuel, food & water, opening hours of roadhouses, addresses and phone numbers etc) will have been done before leaving.

We'll carry some basic spares for the bikes (wheels, tyres, chain links etc) but will rely on Peter and Graeme for maintenance expertise. There are few repair shops for bikes outside capital cities, but lots of bush engineering available for rough repairs if needed.

The greatest problems will be boredom (many hours of straight flat slow riding/driving - I'll be OK with the CD player in the van), the risk from road trains which take over the whole road (it's best to actually head bush rather than be buffeted by 120km per hour winds as they pass too close), and the differing expectations of the team. For the last one we'll have to do some efficient settling in over the first few days. At least the goals should be common to us all - but I'm sure somebody will squeeze the toothpaste the wrong way! At least Peter and Graeme have had some experience with distance events so they know some of the pressures involved. We will have very little privacy for ablutions or dressing, so having personal space at other times will be very important, and we can expect to get testy with each other, particularly if the weather turns bad.

Please help us to make this challenge count.