Chatting over a post-ride coffee this morning a mate, Andrew C, reminded me that last year I used Strava to track my Christmas shopping expedition to the local shopping centre (see below). For fun, he tried it himself when shopping for pressies with his own kids earlier in the month. Little did he know how useful that data would be. Just a couple of days ago he was again out with the family, and his kids were complaining profusely about having to walk so far. Andrew promptly pulled out his phone, opened Strava and showed them they’d walked around 20km at the shops. Strava Dad 1. Kids 0.
Each year a small but select group of elite track cyclists park their solo ambitions to achieve something very special alongside someone who, quite literally, couldn’t do it without them. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to speak with one of the rising stars of Aussie track cycling, South Australia’s Steph Morton, to explore the inspirational role and motivations of a sighted pilot in a Paralympic track tandem. This is the article that appeared in Bicycling Australia magazine…
Track cyclists don’t come much more able bodied than South Australia’s Stephanie Morton OAM. Fresh from two Top 10 placings alongside Anna Meares, Kristina Vogel and Co at the 2014 World Championships in Cali, Columbia, and with one eye firmly on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, this 23-year old sprinter is fast. Very fast. Australia’s reigning National Champion in the keirin, Morton’s star is already on an impressive trajectory. But what makes her arrival on the international scene far more remarkable is the unconventional path she’s ridden to reach this point in her burgeoning career. Until two years ago she was the gold medal winning and world record setting pilot of a track tandem with veteran Australian Paralympic stoker, Felicity ‘Flick’ Johnson.
For reasons obvious enough, few able-bodied athletes grow up dreaming of Paralympic glory. But when the invitation came unexpectedly two years out from the 2012 London Paralympic Games to unite with the vision-impaired Johnson, 19-year old Morton, still an emerging state representative yet to achieve national honours, was both flattered and excited by one of elite cycling’s most unique challenges. The experience that followed would change her life, and riding career, forever.
“Flick and her previous pilot, Katie Parker, were already part of the South Australian track squad,” remembers Morton fondly. “They often trained with me and the other sprinters in Adelaide, so we did know each other. Katie wanted to start a family and I was approached by the head coach of the Para-cycling track program to take her place.”
“I think they were probably looking at everyone to be honest,” continues Morton with an endearing humility. “Pilots are really hard to find. Everyone is focusing on their single bike career, so even though there’s plenty of talent out there, it’s about finding someone who’s willing to give up two or more years of their own career to help someone else.”
Two years. It’s a significant commitment for any young athlete still trying to break into the elite ranks of their chosen sport. But it was one Morton was ready to make. “In a lot of ways it really was the perfect opportunity,” she says. “At that stage I was only riding at State level. It was exciting to be asked and once I put it into perspective, it may have sounded like a lot – but when you’re only 18 or 19 it’s not much in the grand scheme of things. Two years out of my whole career, which could be ten years or more, is nothing.”
Decision made, it was time to hit the boards on the tandem – something Morton admits to having somewhat mixed emotions about initially. “I was nervous but also excited,” she says of that first day. “It was real baby steps, but Flick was absolutely great, she was so calm. She just said ‘look we’ll start down the bottom, work our way up to the top to get you comfortable, then we’ll come back down’.”
“She had so much confidence in me which gave me real confidence within myself,” says Morton of her then-new riding partner, nearly 20 years her senior. “A tandem isn’t like riding a single bike, but we hopped on and worked really well almost immediately. Things just clicked which was very lucky. We both thought ‘yeah, let’s give this a shot’.”
As the duo’s confidence continued to grow, their lap times continued to fall. But it wasn’t until Johnson and Morton’s first competitive race that eyes really started to open, shining a bright light on their untapped potential.
“Until then we’d really only been training and learning,” remembers Morton. “But you always manage to push yourself harder on race day. I can’t remember if we were just off or we did just break the Australian Record, but it was like ‘Oh wow, and this was only our first shot. What can we do with a bit more time together?’ (In the next two years) we ended up breaking the World Record, Australian Record, Paralympic Record, Oceania Record – so something was clearly working!”
“For a while I kept dabbling with my single bike as well as riding the tandem. But the closer we got to London that became my total focus. I actually missed Nationals in 2012 for the single bike because if we lost on the day in London I wanted to know I’d done everything I could – no excuses,” she says. “Obviously it worked out in the end. The way I saw it missing one Nationals was no big deal, there are plenty more.”
As someone who’s now competed in both disciplines at the highest level, how would Morton describe the differences between riding tandem and single track?
“They’re different,” explains Morton. “But they’re also the same in a lot of ways. You’ve got roughly double the weight so the g-forces on the bends are stronger. It also takes a lot more time to get going. When we’re doing a flying 200m for example, on a single bike you get three laps. I think we got six laps on the tandem. I’d compare it to going from a Smart Car to a monster truck. The car is small and zippy. But with a monster truck, you’ve got to get it moving. It was great fun though and I loved it for what it was. Some of the speeds you get up to – 65km/h plus at times – it’s pretty cool. They’re all steel bikes too. Carbon frames would probably just snap in two!”
Given the unique team dynamic between a sighted pilot and vision-impaired stoker, one thing Morton often gets asked about is communication between the riders during races and even training sessions. She suggests her relationship with Johnson was far more intuitive than most people realise.
“The event we did in London was the 1km time trial. That’s four laps flat out. There aren’t really any tactics or communication, you just go as hard as you can!” she says.
“With Flick I found I didn’t actually need to talk much at all. As the pilot she just followed my lead. She could feel when I was moving up out of the saddle, or when I was back pedalling she knew we were going around someone or coming off the track. She was just so in tune with what I was doing we didn’t need to verbalise things.”
Whilst silence clearly worked for Morton and Johnson on the boards, being heard is something many disabled athletes and sporting associations continue to wrestle with in a cluttered landscape where sponsorship dollars and column centimetres are often hard to come by. Not surprisingly, Morton’s experiences have left her in little doubt to the considerable value such sports offer – not just to disabled athletes and their families but also governments, communities and businesses. As she speaks it’s hard not be swept up by her heartfelt admiration for the athletes she trained and competed alongside for two inspiring years.
“There are athletes who have lost arms, legs or maybe their sight due to cancer or other accidents and illnesses. How they turn these things around, make them a positive and represent their country, it’s amazing – totally inspirational,” she enthuses. “Sometimes they can’t do little things like tie their own shoelaces but they can get on a track bike and fly around the velodrome and break world records. I just think, ‘wow, you’re awesome!’”
As for those who question whether able-bodied athletes deserve to be recognised with Paralympic medals when they triumph as Morton did in London:
“Well you have to train just as hard as the disabled athletes, and able-bodied athletes for that matter,” she says without hesitation. “The runners are in the same boat; vision-impaired athletes who run with a guide via a tether. If I wasn’t training hard enough or I was being lazy, the bike’s not going to go as quick and we’re not going to win. It’s not like we were the only team with a sighted pilot either. Everyone has a vision impaired athlete and a sighted pilot. I know Flick would have been absolutely devastated if I didn’t receive one (a gold medal in London). Vision impaired athletes can’t ride by themselves. It’s like a little thank you from the stokers as well, which is really nice. It’s cool that you get a medal.”
Arguably even cooler was being awarded the Order of Australia Medal on Australia Day earlier this year, alongside Johnson. “It was just the icing on the icing on the icing of the cake,” says Morton, very much aware how unusual it is to receive such an honour at such a young age. “To share that with someone and know we did it together, I think it’s always that extra bit special. Just knowing all those cold mornings and rainy days paid off. We won a gold medal and got an OAM. You stand there with your jaw dropped, ‘wow, are you kidding me?’”
Australia Day honours are one thing. But Morton is the first to acknowledge a bulging trophy cabinet of medals, records and accolades isn’t the only benefit she’s enjoyed from her Paralympic sojourn. “The whole experience was just so positive,” she says, suggesting she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend other young riders follow a similar path if the opportunity was to arise.
“It was such a different experience to riding a single bike or even being in a single bike able-bodied team. You come across the most amazing people, mingling and talking to athletes and coaches from other countries, it’s the whole life experience – not just what it gave me on the bike, but off the bike too, the appreciation for life.”
As was always the plan following London, Morton returned to her single bike career in late 2012. With multiple National Titles already under her belt since, she has no doubt her time in tandem with Johnson made her a more complete rider.
“I was more prepared for riding in front of lots of people,” she says. “Riding with the expectation that comes with representing your country. It prepared me mentally because (unlike a lot of young riders) I was already used to a lot of the things that happen. It was just so many things – all positive.”
It may have always been on the cards. But given Morton and Johnson enjoyed a 24-month run of such unprecedented international success, was it difficult to leave the pairing when the time actually came after London?
“Pilots don’t grow on trees. But being so young everyone knew from the start I was only in it until London. It certainly wasn’t ‘oh, you’ve betrayed us’ or anything like that,” says Morton. “I had to give it a shot on my single bike. If I’d stayed in the Para-cycling program after 2012 I’d have always wondered ‘what if?’”
While Morton resumed her solo sprint career and is now a key member of the elite AIS system based in Adelaide, she remains in contact with Johnson and other riders within the Para-cycling track program, something she clearly enjoys.
“It’s been great to have someone like Flick to talk to,” says Morton. “An elite athlete who knows what it’s like and knows what the pressures are – we no longer ride together but it’s still such an asset having her.”
“I’ve actually raced against Flick’s new pilot a bit too,” she continues, referring to fellow South Australian sprinter Holly Takos. “It’s cool to be able to sit down and share my experiences. Hopefully they can beat our records. It’s getting really competitive and it’s great more people are now realising these guys train just as hard and put their life on hold just as much as anyone else.”
Like the bulk of Australia’s elite track cyclists, Morton’s next major target is the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Assuming she can get through the selection trials – something she readily admits is far from a given – then it’s full steam towards the 2015 World Championships and, hopefully, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“We have so many girls coming through, it’s going to be a tough slog, definitely not a walk in the park. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully that will get me across the line,” she says.
With Anna Meares showing no sign of slowing down before Brazil, plus the return of former world champion Kaarle McCulloch and the emergence of an exciting new generation of female sprinters, Morton is well aware she’ll need to call upon every watt of her considerable power and rapidly-growing experience just make the Australian team, let alone medal.
“Sprint cycling has taken a massive leap in the last few years,” she says. “It’s exactly what you need to make the sport better – depth and a really competitive training environment.”
It’s already been a quite a ride for the South Australian flyer. With the commissaire’s bell unlikely to ring on her career any time soon, Morton has plenty of laps left to achieve even more. If she does make it all the way to Rio, it’s a fair bet her old teammate Johnson will be one of the first to congratulate her.
“Yeah, for sure,” smiles Morton. “She’s definitely one of my biggest fans.”
So are we, Steph. So are we.
Met a bloke at Heffron Park in Sydney this morning, Joe, who was telling me he’s lost an incredible 76kg in about a year of riding (he was 147kg, now he’s a very fit looking 71kg). He finished second in the E-grade race this morning, and will surely be getting the handicapper’s shoulder tap pretty soon. Anyway, he said something about his spectacular weight loss that had all and sundry in stitches…
“Either I was shedding a lot of weight, or my d*ck was getting a whole lot bigger…because for years I couldn’t see it!”
Good on you, Joe. Always inspirational to meet people who’ve turned their lives around like you have.
I get to speak to some pretty impressive people each year. But this guy might just take the biscuit. I wrote the following article for Bicycling Australia magazine earlier this year. It profiles a pretty incredible kiwi guy by the name of Jeremy Scott who a few years ago decided to ride home to New Zealand. From London. http://bicyclingaustralia.com.au/2014/06/hearten
Charities and cycling. They go together like Cavendish and Renshaw. Chains and sprockets. Derrieres and chamois cream. While many riders will pedal hundreds if not thousands of kilometres this year for a range of hugely worthy causes, chances are few will attempt anything quite like the ride recently completed by ex-pat New Zealander Jeremy Scott. Thanks to The Heart Foundation, I had the privilege to learn more of his remarkable journey; one which saw him travel almost 50,000km and flirt with death for the second time in his life.
In 1973 a Kiwi lad by the name Jeremy Scott was a little boy with a big problem. At the age of just two, doctors discovered his heart had a hole in it. Whilst potentially life-threatening, Scott was considered too young for correctional surgery and spent the next two years trapped within the limitations of his own body; specifically a heart unable to pump the blood a young boy needs to do the things young boys do – things like running, jumping, climbing and, yes, riding their bikes.
“I was pretty small as a baby. But as I got older my mum and dad noticed I couldn’t keep up with the other kids. I’d start but always have to stop,” remembers Scott. “Turned out there was a huge hole in my heart – as soon as my heart rate went up it couldn’t get enough blood to my arms and legs.”
After 24 months in medical limbo, Scott finally underwent open heart surgery at Auckland’s Green Lane Hospital in 1977, paving the way for him to live a largely normal and active life. But while he would go on to travel far and wide in the ensuing decades, Scott never forgot the brilliance of the surgeons who changed his life. When the opportunity presented itself to say thank you by raising funds and awareness for The Heart Foundation, he jumped at the chance. Or more precisely he jumped on his bike and rode it for more than 800 days and 50,000km from his adopted home in London to his childhood home in Auckland; a journey he completed earlier this year.
“I first got the idea back in 2004,” says Scott. “It was a way of linking my two homes on opposite sides of the world. Originally the plan was to set off in 2010 but I ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament and had to undergo a knee reconstruction. After six months of rehabilitation I went to the Lakes District in the north of England and rode up and down hills to test out the knee. It felt okay so I resigned from work the following day. One month later I was on my way. That was October 2011.”
Clearly Scott is no fan of long-haul economy air travel. But surely there are easier ways to return home after 10 years working abroad as an architectural draftsman? For however you dissect it on Strava, 50,000km is a gargantuan amount of riding. It’s roughly the equivalent of doing 15 Grand Tours; attempting Sydney-to-Perth repeats a whopping 12 times; or well over triple the distance Lotto Belisol’s Adam Hansen raced in the entire 2013 season (approximately 15,200km if you’re wondering). Throw in the added complications of traversing war zones, extreme weather, unscrupulous locals, language barriers, mafia gangs, treacherous roads and drivers of such dubious ability they make Sydney cabbies seem like angels, and clearly this was not a journey for the faint of heart.
The more we talked and the more I read of Scott’s meticulously kept travel blog, the clearer it became just how extraordinary this ride was on virtually every level imaginable, starting with his experience as a distance cyclist. He had none.
Unlike many who read this magazine, Jeremy Scott was no cycling tragic. He had no state-of-the-art carbon road bike. He boasted no Audax-inspired palmares. In fact, his ‘training’ consisted almost exclusively of commuting on a custom-made Koga Miyata Signature aluminium bike he picked up quite by chance, when a Canadian friend was returning home and couldn’t squeeze it in his packing crate.
“I’d never consider myself a cyclist. I rode a bike to and from work but I wasn’t very fit,” Scott recalls frankly. “In fact I’d go so far as to say I was unfit when I left London.”
It wasn’t just his fitness and cycling experience that was lacking as he pedalled into the great unknown in October 2011. Scott was entirely bereft of support crew. “The trip was totally self funded and I cycled solo the majority of the way,” says Scott. “Occasionally I crossed paths with other cyclists and we’d ride together for a way – I met an Aussie along the Silk Road on the Kyrgyzstan border, we did about 4,000km together – but part of the challenge was to do it unsupported. The day I set off from my flat in London was the first day I’d ridden with all the panniers on the bike. I was shocked to feel how heavy it was, but there was no turning back.”
Perhaps not surprisingly Scott says the early days were the worst, physically and mentally. Doubt continually plagued his thoughts. “From the very start I was riding over 100km a day on a regular basis. I was shattered. I’d get off the bike, eat then pass out. The reality of what I was attempting really hit me. I wouldn’t see friends or family for a long time. But eventually I found a rhythm and the confidence began to grow. After a few weeks I really noticed the increased strength and endurance. Thankfully my first countries were France, Belgium, Holland then into Germany. Most of this was flat so I had time to build strength on easier roads. But I’ll always look back to those first few days and think the hardest part of the entire journey was simply having the courage to try.”
Try he most certainly did; and trying it most certainly was. The absence of support meant virtually everything Scott required including water, food and spares had to be sourced and then carried in one of his bike’s four bulging panniers; two on the back wheel, two more on the front.
“There were a few times I found myself short of water, but it was never critical. Once in the Taklamkan Desert (in north west China) I started running out so I just waited on the side of the road. Within minutes a truck pulled over and gave me five litres – plus a cold ice tea,” he recalls gratefully.
Occasional hydration issues aside, Scott found being unsupported a hugely liberating experience. “I camped in my tent the majority of the time; it gave me so much freedom,” says the Kiwi. “In parts of China where every bit of flat ground was used to cultivate crops or rice, I often slept in abandoned or half-completed buildings. I would sneak in when the builders finished for the day and leave before they started again the following morning. I slept in Mosques, restaurants, prayer rooms, Buddhist Temples, police stations, petrol stations, on park benches, in local’s houses; toilets in Japan were also a great place to get shelter and warmth. There weren’t many places I wouldn’t have considered sleeping.”
While the early weeks may have been the hardest, other challenges lay in wait for Scott with each new day bringing new problems to solve. Yet overall he suggests he’s been very fortunate, starting with his bike.
“The bike has been brilliant. I’ve had to replace things like pedals, brake pads, cables, chains and sprockets – but no break downs. When I arrived in Australia the gears on my Rohloff Hub started slipping but it never stopped me from riding. I actually met the distributor who quite fortuitously was holidaying in Yeppoon. He stripped it down, gave it a full service then sent me on my way. His work didn’t cost a cent. Not bad after two years of cycling and around 40,000km under the belt! I also had a small lug break off the frame, but some friends made a bracket for me and it was as good as new. I’m on my third set of tyres – Schwalbe Marathon Plus – and they’ve been fantastic. Touch wood I haven’t had a puncture since July 2012. In fact, there have only been four punctures in total – three within a week as I rode through some polluted cities in central China. The steel from shredded truck tyres caused me all sorts of grief.”
While Scott’s bike held up well, what about the impact on his body, particularly given his general lack of preparation and previous riding experience?
“Look, I’ve been really lucky,” he admits. “I had the occasional saddle sore but nothing serious. Whenever I spent long days in the saddle (Brooks B17, if you’re wondering) my neck and shoulders would get a bit tight. But there were only a few occasions where the heat and fatigue really got the better of me. Sumatra was particularly tough as I had to cycle long distances over a short period. The roads were poor, the hills were steep and it was incredibly hot and humid.”
Over such an extended passage of time and distance, heat wasn’t the only climatic phenomena Scott had to cope with. “The European winter was cold but thankfully dry. Most of central and eastern Europe was below freezing 24 hours a day. Turkey had their worst winter in 50 years. Travelling through the mountains in eastern Turkey temperatures plummeted to minus 40 degrees overnight; I remember cycling in minus 20 degrees. It felt wrong to cycle past ski resorts, seeing people sliding playfully down the slopes while I pedalled further up into the mountains.”
Continuing east into Iran the wind posed its challenges for Scott astride his heavily laden and not overly aerodynamic bike. “I had days where I was actually blown off, the wind was so strong,” he recounts. “Then in China’s Taklamakan Desert it soared to over 50 degrees; no shelter, just blistering heat and numerous sandstorms. There were also typhoons when I reached the east coast of China, Korea and Japan.”
Beyond the weather itself, Scott’s riding conditions were also influenced by the vagaries of local roads and the drivers who used them. “In Turkmenistan the roads were so bad in places it was better to cycle in the desert. The roads in China, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were also rough in places. But Iran had brilliant roads, as did Japan.”
As for drivers? “China and Indonesia had appalling drivers, coupled with heavy pollution-bellowing traffic. They were definitely the worst. But places like Belgium and Holland were well set up for cycling. Japanese drivers were also very considerate and patient.”
Scott then begins to catalogue some of his many near misses, the causes of which may seem more than a little familiar. “I had a really close call in Turkey where I nearly went over the hood of a car that cut me off. A car in Sumatra actually bumped into me as it attempted to overtake in a stupid place. Another guy in Sumatra opened his door on me; somehow it just missed me but it ripped my rear pannier clean off the bike. That would have done damage, I was rolling pretty quickly.”
“I had a few crashes too, mostly the result of my own carelessness. The worst occurred on a mountain pass near Matsumoto in Japan. It was night and snowing with visibility about one metre. I hit a patch of ice. The landing was okay but the bike slid into me and the pedal cut into my Achilles tendon. I didn’t think too much of it at the time. But when I woke in the morning and discovered how much blood was in the bottom of my sleeping bag I realised how deep the cut was. I was lucky not to sever the tendon.”
The other considerable challenge of Scott’s journey was the sheer isolation of it all. Over 800 days in the saddle provides an eternity for personal reflection. What did he think about for hour after hour, day after day?
“Often I was completely lost in the moment,” he reflects. “I’d listen to birds, animals, trees blowing in the wind. At other times I’d think about family and loved ones. I thought about times where I have hurt people and where people have hurt me. Time has allowed me to bury some demons, let go of grudges and move on, focusing on what I can do with my own life in the present rather than dwelling on the past or things I can’t control. Sometimes my mind was completely blank, almost as if it was some form of meditation. I would ride many kilometres and not recall a single moment of where I’d just been.”
“When things were really tough I’d be completely focused on getting through that moment. The mountains in the east of Turkey were incredibly hard, as was Sumatra. I simply focused on getting through the day, as I knew I was then one day closer to more enjoyable times. It was best to break it down one day at a time, otherwise it would all have seemed too overwhelming.”
Overwhelmed was something Scott never became in more than two and a half years of riding. But plenty of the people he met thought he was certifiably crazy. “Some were excited and inspired,” laughs Scott. “But many couldn’t even fathom what I was doing, no matter how many times I tried to explain. In a lot of countries people wouldn’t consider cycling two kilometres so the idea of riding around the world was beyond the realms of comprehension; some of their reactions were hilarious!”
One thing that was far from hilarious, however, was the night Scott spent in an Iranian roadhouse fearing for his life in 2012. It was the darkest hour of his entire journey, and one that would, figuratively, put his once fragile heart to the ultimate test.
“Sadly the most dangerous incident occurred in my favourite country – Iran,” reveals Scott who at the time still hadn’t mustered the courage to tell his mum. “It was about 5pm and I stopped for water in an isolated truck-stop restaurant so I could camp for the night. I was invited inside for some tea and food; completely normal in Iran. After a while several men – one with only three fingers and a lot of facial scars – began asking about my valuables. I also noticed other people were coming and going but they weren’t buying food. Bags of money and white powder (I assumed it was cocaine but never asked) were changing hands. Turned out they were drug dealers,” he says, before revealing they weren’t just selling the contraband narcotics. “They were using the stuff too.”
Scott’s anxiety levels were rising rapidly. But they would soon soar higher than the region’s revered Zargos mountain range when his semi-wasted hosts made it clear he wouldn’t be going anywhere, with or without his bike. They also had his passport. “They were making no attempt to stop me from seeing what was going on. In a country where drug offences carry the death penalty, I realised I was in big trouble – particularly when one of the men disappeared into the adjacent kitchen and returned with a cache of guns. He started spinning a pistol on a table and kept stopping it aiming directly at me.”
The mind games continued as the night dragged on, and the men began to argue in what Scott unnervingly believes was a negotiation over his life. “Eventually they came to some kind of arrangement and a large sum of cash was exchanged, again right in front of me. The three-fingered guy disappeared into the kitchen and I all I could hear were knives being sharpened. At the same time, one of the other men approached me: ‘you sleep now’. I remember thinking ‘sorry mate but I’ve never been wider awake in my life’. I believe he’d been paid to cut my throat as I slept.”
It sounds like fiction. But it was anything but for the terrified Kiwi. “I’d never been in a situation like that before. I genuinely thought I was going to have to kill at least one of these men to get out alive. Then suddenly they left the room, possibly thinking I was asleep. While they were gone I managed to grab a knife and my passport from a nearby table. I remember thinking if I could attack one of the men as he returned to the room, I might have a small window, say 10 seconds, to disappear into the darkness – or that would be it.”
As luck would have it Scott didn’t need to. At around 11pm two trucks rolled into the roadhouse each with two passengers. They entered the restaurant and to Scott’s relief they ordered dinner, not drugs. “I knew that was my chance; with four witnesses I had maybe thirty minutes to get out of there,” he says. “I told the men ‘I’m going now’ and began to wheel my bike towards the door. At first they put their hands on the frame to stop me, ‘no, you stay’. But I kept pushing and eventually I was outside. I didn’t look back.”
Six hours after stopping innocently for water, Scott sped off in complete darkness. “I saw a policeman at one stage, but didn’t know who I could trust, so I just kept riding.” In the end he sought shelter in a Red Crescent Ambulance Station some 40km away. “I guess one way or the other the ambos were going to see me that night!” As the sun rose the next morning Scott realised the terrifying ordeal was over. But his confidence had been shaken to the core. Despite the encounter, however, Iran remains his favourite part of the entire journey.
“It was such a shame, because the people of Iran were incredible; the most beautiful, friendly, welcoming people I met on my travels. Time and time again I was offered food and shelter by locals. I danced with shopkeepers in their humble shops or strangers in the street. People went to amazing lengths to show their hospitality or help me. It was incredibly humbling to have some of the poorest people on earth giving me what they have when they owned practically nothing. In the West we could learn a lot from Iranians on how to treat a stranger.” Gun-wielding drug dealers aside, of course.
We’ve only scratched the surface of this ordinary Kiwi’s extraordinary journey. Part of me thinks Jeremy Scott is an inspiration. The other thinks he’s completely insane. As the conversation draws to an end, Scott offers some words of advice for others contemplating such an epic challenge, be it for charity or any other reason.
“I spent hundreds of hours researching the different countries. But I only rode about 30% of my planned route. If I undertook a similar journey I’d simply turn up at a decent time of year, chat with the locals, then start riding. Local knowledge is far better than any research you could ever do.”
Make a donation to The Heart Foundation at:
Read more about Jeremy Scott’s journey at:
The following guest blog is written by a good riding mate of mine, Gavin, who until this year lived in Sydney but now calls Atlanta home. He’s actually the one who introduced me to road cycling about six years ago, something for which I will be forever grateful. Great to get his thoughts on the differences between riding in Sydney versus the States.
This is actually the second time Gavin has had an article featured on Carbon Addiction. To read his 2012 review from one of the toughest one-day races in Australia, the 228km Grafton to Inverell, click here.
Okay, okay. It’s official.
I’ve been in denial for the last six months or so. Despite plenty of friends telling me to pull my finger out and train harder if I want to ride better – including a deeply-frustrated riding pal of mine, Albert, who’s long since graduated to a higher grade – I’ve blissfully been cruising about thinking all will be okay since my most recent criterium win, way back in February.
Of course, as I well knew myself deep down, this attitude was nothing but fanciful tripe. Yet for many months I found all manner of excuses and didn’t do anything about it. However after a winter of considerable discontent on the bike, (and only the occasional flirtation with doing any proper training thanks largely to the urgings of my mate Albert) several pretty ordinary DNFs in the past six weeks finally spurred me into action.
As I write this I’m barely two weeks back into a structured training program. But already the difference is pretty remarkable. According to that elastic thing strapped to my chest, my threshold heart rate has already increased by two beats on my initial test. It’s as if an internal switch has been flicked, and my system is “on” again.
Even better, when I raced the other night I felt something I haven’t felt in a long time at the end: strong. The fact I imploded spectacularly after surging on the final lap in a suicidal attempt to bridge what I thought would be the winning break – it wasn’t – doesn’t matter. The tank still had plenty of gas in it after 50 minutes spent at nearly 40km/h despite brutal headwinds. The fact I was in a position, and condition, to even consider trying to win was a win in itself.
It was significant progress. It was a great feeling. And it was just the carrot I need to train even harder. Which I fully intend to do.
See you soon Albert…
Haven’t had a really good vent in a while. But this has been simmering for a long time, so here goes. The topic relates not just to cycling, but 21st Century life in general. Plenty are sure to disagree with me, no doubt vehemently in some cases. That’s your prerogative. Just as this is mine.
So, what is this controversial topic?
Taking responsibility for our own lives. And stopping the blaming culture that’s rapidly becoming inseparable from everyday life in Australia – including cycling – a culture I believe is, frankly, %#@ed.
Now I am no lawyer and I certainly don’t qualify for Mensa. But nevertheless it seems somewhat obvious to me that here on planet earth….shit happens. It always has happened. It always will happen. Sure, we do what we can to mitigate that shit wreaking havoc on our lives by making educated choices, being generally careful, looking out for our mates and doing other things like taking out insurance. But sometimes as we go about our lives the brutal reality is we’re just dealt shitty cards, masquerading as dumb luck.
Like many others I’ve had my share of accidents on the bike, both when commuting and racing, which have left me physically and financially damaged. In two cases in particular, I have little doubt I could have pursued someone to ‘sue their ass’ – one was a driver, the other was a fellow cyclist – but I never did. Why? Simply because I don’t buy into the whole ‘someone must pay for this and it won’t be me’ culture of financially-motivated responsibility delegation. Yes, my hip pocket hurt just as much as my body on both occasions. But my conscience was clear.
We’re not naïve little kids. No one holds a gun to our heads and makes us ride our bikes, be that to race, train, commute or even just ride to the shops. We know full well that shit happens to cyclists each and every day before we even roll out of the driveway. Sometimes seriously bad shit. Life is like that. Yet we choose to ride on regardless, as we should.
However – and this is the real raw nerve right here, folks – if something does unfortunately happen, why do more and more of us now think it’s okay to instantly look for someone else to blame? It’s out first instinct. Blame someone.
I’m not for one moment suggesting that the outcomes of many of these incidents aren’t terribly sad and unfortunate for those affected. Nor am I suggesting in situations where gross and/or repeated negligence and/or criminal behaviour has clearly occurred, the perpetrators should go unpunished. What I am very much suggesting is far too many situations seem to be pursued in the courts where opportunistic ‘victims’ – no doubt egged on by no-win-no-fee legal folks – are looking for handouts or to somehow capitalise upon their own misfortune.
Say the guy riding beside you hits a rock, or a manhole cover, or a crack in the road, or a piece of an old refrigerator (happened to a mate of mine on the F3 north of Sydney) or front wheel punctures and spears into you. You fall, destroy your $6,000+ bike and break your leg in five places. That sucks, sure. But was it really his fault?
Or how about the rider in front loses concentration or decides to clear his nose at an ill-advised moment, your wheels touch and you come down, breaking your collarbone and three ribs. Were they in the wrong? Hell yes, they were. But you can be pretty sure they didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident, the kind of which happens all the time. Human beings – yes, even me and you – are rather fallible. Shit happens. And, remember, you knew full well that unexpected shit happens on bike rides long before ever being in that bunch, on that day, at that time.
What if they’d been riding erratically for quite a while that morning, overlapping wheels, late and hard on the brakes, moving left and right, an accident waiting to happen? Again take a long hard look in a mirror and take responsibility for yourself. Talk to them. Educate them. And if they still won’t listen simply leave the bunch. It’s called being a grown up.
Now, if you have insurance to cover your physical and financial discomfort, the pain is likely to be far more manageable. But if you don’t have some kind of income protection or TDP or private health insurance to cover the costs and time off work (or never checked the fine print to make sure you were covered), well, in my view you’re the negligent one, not the other guy. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since birth, you’ll well know cycling isn’t the safest sport in the world. Accidents happen out there every day. Maybe you should have taken up chess, because you’ve certainly been rolling the dice with your life, your mortgage repayments, your kids’ school fees and your finances in general on the bike.
Oh, and one final point. Am I the only one who cringes every time I hear one of those compensation lawyer ads on the radio, or see a billboard urging me to “Get what’s only fair”? FFS. Lest we forget, despite the background violin music and compassionate voiceovers, altruism is way down the list of motivations for many of these suited shit stirrers – they’re doing it to grow their business, make more money, get that promotion, earn that bonus and put that extension on their holiday house. They want us all to become rampant blamers because, despite making society a decidedly nastier place to live, that will line their pockets handsomely. And, sadly, more and more of us are making it possible for them to do precisely that.
Vent over. Exhale.