The night before I was a wreck - part of it was excitement, the other was not knowing how to properly pack my bike and if I was packing too much or not enough. Questions were going over and over in my head, I would catch myself just staring at my bike hoping it would all sort itself out - messages were sent to various people. I was already becoming a burden and I knew it. This is when the problems started, in my head I was already defeated.
I barely slept that night, I dreamt of the great adventure ahead - going over and over the possibilities. My brain just wouldn’t shut off. Then the light started coming through the blinds… it was go time.
I finished packing my bike, stuffing whatever I had into wherever would fit and went to load the bike on the roof rack of my car. My hand slipped and got caught up in the bike - the other hand felt a sharp pain. A cog tooth had dug in-between the nail of my thumb and blood was dripping everywhere. This is when it happened, breathing became quicker and I started to feel light headed. I don’t get it often, but the panic attack left me on my knees on the front lawn with my head down. That defeated feeling was back with a numbing roar - I was ready to quit there and then. I went back in the house to assess the bloodied hand - my wife could see what happened and stopped me to get my breathing back on track. She urged me to contact the boys and tell them that I will be there. Without her support then, I wouldn’t have made it to the meet up. A few bandaids and a bit of help with putting the bike on the roof and I was headed off to meet up with the others - the drive out felt strange, like time had slowed and I was feeling a bit numb.
I was first to arrive and unloaded the bike. Then the rest of the crew showed up, rocking with excitement - all smiles and aloof. Their energy was restoring my confidence that with their help and experience, I will be okay. I continued on and we set out. The familiar sound of tyres on dirt was calming and I pointed the bike for the hills, making small talk and introducing myself to those I hadn’t met before, hoping that they couldn’t sense the delicate state of mind I was in.
All of these worries, the build up, the stress all became a dull whisper as I started to smile - to breath and to take time to observe my surroundings. To appreciate the company and to be present with what I was doing. We climbed, the group split and riders paired off - this was a great opportunity to get to know the other riders in our group of nine, we shared stories and found out that others had their own little battle going on in their lives.
There were a number of highlights along the way - discovering an Arboretum deep in the mountains that contain many varieties of Fir, one to come back and explore on foot. Reaching Mt Franklin Chalet, a building that i have seen in many photos but never really knew where it was. My first hut and being a bit creeped out about the bed and wondering how many people and sweaty hikers have rested on that poor mattress. We climbed.
The day was getting on, the number of rest stops, small mechanicals and the later start was starting to catch up to us. All was not lost though, we had reached the top of a major summit and had a good descent ahead of us, Adam was taking a pic of the decent and I waited for him to catch up when all of a sudden there was a major vibration in my front wheel. I locked the brakes up and came to a stop to see what was happening, I expected a stick but when I worked out what had happened that dull roar and build up of pressure in my chest started to rise. A screw had shook loose and the support arms of my rack had come loose, my Salsa anything cage was dangling. I started to panic not knowing what to do - knowing that our group was getting further and further away. Lucky for me Adam restored order and he worked out a solution - cable ties and voile straps helped keep the front end somewhat stable. (I have to mention here how thankful I am for Adam here). We descended but my confidence in the bike and set up had staggered, I second guessed every vibration and scenarios started to go over and over in my head. Should I turn back. What should I do? We descended and pushed on I expected to see the group around the next corner as we lost altitude.
We started to realise that light was fading fast - we were doing calculations in our head. A new challenge, we weren’t expecting to be riding in the dark. We came to a corner where a makeshift wall was made with an arrow drawn in the dirt - pointing to a good solid 30 minutes of calf burning hike a bike, we started only to see a flash of colour up ahead. We shouted out to the tail of the group to let them know we weren’t too far behind. We ended up overtaking some of the group and got to the top of the hill to catch the sunset which looked amazing, but also filled me with dread. We were still 11km out of the camp site with light fading fast on what I would find out the next day - a bloody steep, rocky decent.
I followed the lights of Adam - riding behind and beside him - trying to pick out smooth lines and dodging fallen branches. The terrain was undulating, bomb down a hill then walk up the next - repeat. The group spread out quickly on the decent, each person racing to seek shelter. Adam and I pushed ahead chasing the front light of Dan Hunt as he pushed on to find camp. Adam and I continued to ride on in the darkness, following deep tracks that would spit you back on track like a roller coaster if you veered to the side. The cold and fatigue had settled in - I mentioned to Adam that I wasn’t having fun.
We saw Dan’s light hook around a bit further on, thats when I realised from the route planning that the last bit before the hut swung back on itself. At that point I knew we were close and the dread of setting up camp in the unknown was over. Luckily there were no others at the hut because a group of 9 riders were about to source shelter, feed, share stories around the fire, swap flasks of their chosen whisky.
I set up my tent, bumping my thumb with pain knowing that the bandages were blood soaked underneath my gloves. I didn’t care. Whilst I was setting up my tent - my guardian Adam warmed up my meal for me. I returned to the hut and found a seat in the corner, I observed how stoked everyone else was and my body started to shake uncontrollably - I wasn’t cold, I was worn out. Keith noticed and swiftly made a space for me around the fire (thanks Keith), I took comfort in my food and the stoke around me. I had reached the destination.