Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Pillars of Strength

I found myself deep in though while cycling the other day and came to the conclusion that while I am certain you all can't hear enough about my training regime and typical "Sarah moments" there is actually a lot more to this ride.

As the "About Pedal4Parkinson's" section of the blog will inform you I started this ride as a way of doing something for a cause which I was sick of hearing that there was really nothing we could do. While a lot of my passion for this cause was driven by showing my father my love and determination to help him in any way I could I was also determined to in some way help anyone else who might even remotely relate to the highs and lows experienced by my family as a result of Parkinson's over the past few years.

When most people ask me about the ride they tend to focus on physical fitness, making comments like "I wish I was fit enough" or "you're a beast". In all honesty after last years ride and training up towards this years I have to say the physical fitness required is only a very small component in comparison to the emotional strength required in the lead up and duration of the ride. I am expecting some will scoff and make some snide remark that all you need to do is sit and pedal, why would that require emotional strength?

Even if it wasn't for such a cause sitting on your bike day in day out for a number of hours gives you a lot of thinking time. While there are minor distractions of traffic and various obstacles this time is more or less forced reflection time. Given we as a society are becoming so good at distracting ourselves from such time it can be quite a daunting thing to run with especially when there is no place to hide. Be it thinking about you meals the last few, your future direction in life or the ones you love these thoughts can get quite deep and intrusive on their own, adding in the physical exhaustion of training and emotional exhaustion of a cause so close to your heart and I think you will see where I am coming from with the emotional strength.

The fact is there is no way I could have conjured up anywhere near the emotional strength to do last years ride let alone consider riding again this year without such a strong and inspirational network of family and friends. While there are many people I would like to thank for their love and support (I like to think you know who you are and that I have thanked you endlessly) I wanted to share a few stories of some very strong individuals who's stories and support have really helped me hang in there when things get hard.

My Family
This consists of my Dad, Mum and my little sister Mandi. As cliched as it is to thank my family for their love and support I could not go with out doing so, and to be honest I wish there was more I could do to thank them.

Firstly my dad, as you are all aware he is the centre of this whole ride for me. Since I could remember my dad has always taken a cup half full prospective on life, the first quote or saying I ever remember being repeated to me being "Don't be a glum-bum, don't be sour. With every rain, there blooms a flower". I really feel my dads optimisuum and positive outlook on life has not only helped me through a vast number of things including the ride but I like to think that just a little has rubbed off on my character. In combination to this my father has to be the strongest and bravest person I have ever known not just for surviving in a household of three very driven, stubborn and feisty women. Since being diagnosed with Parkinson's it has been a rough ride for us all and while it has been hard and we all have our moments my dad has pushed through and if anything pulled us through with him.

Mum, Dad and me enjoying the finer things in life

Then there is my mother, the most driven, powerful and inspirational woman I know. Mum had definitely given me direction in life as well as the determination to not just succeed in my goals but to push the limits and always give my 200% effort, the saying "the sky is the limit" definitely does not heights reached by my mother near the justice she deserves. While we have had out differences and clashed I like to think that these happen as a result of being to alike in many respects and for that I could not be more grateful.

Finally there is my Mandi, my sister, my partner in crime and most importantly my best friend. If there is one line to sum up our relationship it would have to be "family by chance, friends by choice" and I honestly could not have chosen a better best friend. For those of you who don't know my sister we are generally speaking polar opposites, to give you a brief insight I have put together the following quick comparison:

It should however be noted that no matter how different we are across the board we still seem to know each other inside out. I can always count on Mandi to be there when I need it, be it my gross lack of fassion knowledge, my inability to shop, someone to skype cook with, stalk pretties around town or to hold me up when I need the support I know my sister is always there. I can only aspire to provide the same in return.

My Saint
When I first moved to Sydney to study everything was a little daunting, my fathers diagnosis was still fairly fresh and all I wanted was to be there to help, instead I was starting a degree in a different state. My first day of O-Week I encountered the most enthusiastic, passionate and inspirational young woman, Winey Suen. Going in top an engineering field words could not express how much I cherished meeting and being accepted by such a bubbly spirit. It was not until 6 months down the track that I realised Winey and I had a lot more in common when she announced she would be shaving her lovely long locks for Parkinson's to support her father. This was a massive turning point for me and I owe a lot to Winey as she changed my perspective on everything. I still remember standing there watching her hair falling to the floor and telling myself that's were I want to be, I aspired to be as strong, as forgiving and as generous as this beautiful woman and to thios day this aspiration keeps me going. I have no hesitation in saying that Winey is my Saint and with out a doubt my savior and I know I am not the only one she has touched.

Winey with her father (Picture from the Parkinson's NSW Newsletter)

My Allies
It is always reassuring to know that you are not fighting alone, as such I was ecstatic when David Greaves introduced himself on my blog. David is from the UK and has conducted a Pedal for Parkinson's there called End to End since before I'd even thought of such an idea. Suffering from Parkinson's himself David's story will truly inspire you and can be found at his website. In talking to David over the past few weeks we have been throwing around some crazy but fantastic ideas of perhaps involving me paying a visit to the UK mid 2011, of which I could not be more excited.

Another inspirational rider was also brought to my attention by Parkinson's Victoria, John Vaughan-Fowler recently completed his cycle Top2Botom, cycling Darwin to Melbourne in aid of Parkinsion's. I am trying to touch base with John to find out more about his adventures but given he just got in he is probably indulging in a well earned rest. You can read more about John's story on his website.

I must also say without the Parkinson's organisations and their support groups (Parkinson's Australia, Parkinson's NSW and Parkinsons VIC) this endeavor would have been near impossible. From sharing professional resources, assisting in planning and very kind words of support I can not thank them all enough. Since I have known them each one of them treats their job with passion and strives to achieve the best outcomes, provide unbeatable support and unconditional friendship for suffers and their families. All I can say is that it takes a very special kind of person to not just do the job but do it well and these guys are the best at what they do.

Finally a brief mention, as this post is already ridiculously long, to all my friends who have been there for me. Be it supporting me on the ride, giving me hugs, making me go out and train, rest and eat when I really don't want to or even just putting up with my moods as a result of this emotional roller-coaster you have all been there for me and I promise I am always there to return the favor.

Thank you all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rains, Drains and Minor Pains

It would be an understatement to say that the last few days have been an interesting experience and quite eventful, even after the two days of puncture practice.

Monday began with the blaring of my alarm at X:XXam (censored as to not scare small children or men). While I can do early I decided that after last year getting use to shoveling food in at that time prior to riding might be an idea. I seem to have a fairly set patten upon bouncing out of bed and first step is radio, coffee on then sit down to SMH and BOM while I wait. This morning in particular a slight pitta-patter of rain could be heard and given the two prior days I thought nothing of it. Even when the news provided flash flood warnings in true Sarah style I went on my balcony and decided the rain was not going to make for a nice ride however it did not warrant loosing the kilometers. As a result after pushing some muesli and coffee in my mouth and updating my facebook status to sook about the rain I was off.

Dad use to magically know when I has been in the bath long enough by whether I had prune fingers. Do you think this applies for cycling in the rain?

Not long after I had gone out I discovered why they are called flash floods. 10km out the rains had picked up and I was finding myself cycling through large amounts of water developing intense rapids down the hills and accumulating in pools at the bottom. At this point I was as wet as I was going to be and had convinced myself that the knee deep water wading and rapid cycling would vanish as soon as it had come. Luckily this stubbornness only lasted until the rain picked up to a point where it actually hurt, disappointed but relieved that i would be able to dry off I headed home. On a lighter side for some strange reason when wringing out my clothes I measured much water I could get out of each item, results are as follows:

Wringing the water out after dripping all over my house

GVBR Jersy = 70ml
Knicks = 75ml
Hat and Gloves = 40ml
Bra, Undies, Socks = 55ml

Tuesday started much the same but a lot less wet, in fact I even got slightly too much sun. I have however decided I need to be a little more careful checking my gear after loosing one of the screws holing my left clip on down a drain in true Sarah fashion. While that happend only 30km in I would have rather ridden barefoot than turn back so I simply removed both clips and continued on for the remaining 90km. Now I am bot sure how many of you have attempted to cycle in road shoes clip-less but there isn't as much friction between you and the pedals as you would like which makes for many an amusing slip-up. All in all though I am very glad I went on and ad a truly amazing cycle (may have had a little to do with checking out the sexy planes in Richmond) and even discovered a new route.

My poor new shoes...

Given the exhaustion of the past few weeks today I have resorted to bribing myself with breakfast at my favorite cafe with a really good friend and trainer, Pei. I figure if anyone can scare some sense and rationality into me it is her. I have to say though since my ride yesterday spirits are definitely on the up and I am ready to concure the world again.

Running late for my cycle,

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It is the Season for These Punctures...

But I want to ride! (Sexy Saeco cap thanks to Alex from Deus)

Be it the rain, my carelessness or Santa's sneaky substitute for coal it has not been a good 2 days with respect to punctures. Today's experience was however much more spectacular with a total blow out while clocking 60kph on the decent towards Galston Gorge. Having never experienced anything of the sort before I must say I was a little shaken and took a few minutes to recouperate before attempting to view and repair the damage.

Upon inspection I found a nasty gash across my tire and being 50km out was pretty stuck as to what to do. I was later informed that it is not unheard of to use $5 note to cover the hole on the inside (thanks Chris), however between my shaken state and having smartly packed shrapnel and plastic I was grateful when Adam (support on P4P 2009) offered to collect me.

No idea what did it but it sure did it fast and a good job of it as well

Yet again the boys at Bikecology came to the rescue, supplying me with a folding tire to get me through the next few few days of training while they order me another set. While Andrew kindly fitted the tire (I think he sensed both my laziness and exhaustion of the past week) I headed out to my favorite cafe for a good feed and break from it all. How could good coffee, salmon and GF cupcakes from AboutLife not make me smile?

Coffee, salmon, poached eggs, spinach, beans, mushrooms and GF toast.... AKA Heaven

Friday, December 25, 2009

What Better Way to Celebrate Boxing Day Than With Beer (Glass)?

While my inability to consume gluten results in a severe lack of beer in my diet, my bike decided to get right into the festivities of Boxing Day consuming a large chunk of beer glass on approaching the decent into Berowra Waters on todays ride. This unfortunately resulted in a spectacular puncher and a need to pull over and change the tube.

Changing a tube is usually a frustration especially in the wet conditions we were posed with today I am not sure I have ever had such a frustrating experience. It took three able bodies (me, Jimmy and Tom), five tire leavers and a lot of time. After many a slip and changes in strategy we finally succeeded to change over the inner tube and get back on the road.

Due to visibility concerns I finally wore my 2007 GVBR jersey...I have no doubts everyone saw me and soon after blinded

Excluding this minor inconvenience the ride today was brilliant. Even with the forecast for rain I was lucky enough to have two eager riders join, Jimmy who will be cycling to Melbourne and Tom (AKA the Hill King). After a little persuading Jimmy drove out to mine to meet at 530am where we left to meet Tom along the way. It took both Tom and I a few kilometers to get over the amusement that Jimmy was riding with two saddles, one one bike and the other stuffed in his jersey. Jimmy assure us it was as he was testing one and didn't want to be caught out if it wasn't comfortable, Tom and I had our own thoughts and have deemed that 'Jimmy 2 Seats' has a razor ass.

'Jimmy 2 Seats' recovering after tearing into his saddle

The ride totaled 110km and went out to Bobbin Head, Galston Gorge, Berowra Waters then back through Pennant Hills to home. While the misting managed to keep us a touch wet the rain was kind enough to hold off most of the way with the majority of drenching coming from each others rear wheels. Upon completion it was very amusing to see the sopping, greasy, muddy state we were all in.

The hottest look this summer; caking suncream, chain grease with a splattering of road grime to ensure it all sticks

Merry Christmas to all, I hope you all stayed safe and had a splendid time.

Only 2 weeks till we leave! Oh dear...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Getting Sarah Out of a Pickle

Usual state of my bike, I think I will be taking a bit better care

Ironically after joking around with the boys on Friday night about how long it has been since I changed my chain my Saturday morning cycle was cut slightly short after a few minor technical difficulties. Between the slipping, jumping and general playing up when changing gears I felt mildly jinxed. Slightly annoyed and frustrated at having to turn around 30km shy of the 150km target for that day I called in a favor or two.

Chris Smith is an endurance mountainbiker with a ridiculous amount of experience and knowledge base in both mountain biking and road cycling and lucky for me he is one of the most generous people in existence. Even after a strenuous day of training and the fact that he has an early start and more training the next day Chris kindly agreed to have a look over my bike, teach me a thing or two and point out what I would need looking at, even though it was 10:30pm. After being rightly critizised for perhaps not cleaning and looking after my bike as well as I should I was given a list of what I should get looked at, replaced and consider changing. I really can not thank Chris enough for all his help, and for those of you who feel what I am doing is crazy I would advise sussing out his blog and the wild world of 24hr racing.

Nice shiny new and clean chain and cassette (I had always thought they were meant to be black)

Once I had some direction I had the task of finding a bike shop who would do all this preferably within a couple of hours as to avoid missing any more training time. My first port of call was my local bike shop Bikecology in West Ryde who however as I feared were overworked with weekend before Christmas jobs as it was, Bob did however kindly direct me to their North Parramatta store where I was saved by Gary and his team.

Upon calling Gary at Universe Cycles and explaining briefly what I required, perhaps in a slight state of panic, he kindly agreed to have it done by that afternoon. Between listening to me rattle off everything I had been taught the night before with Chris along with the utter confusion as to why anyone would drill into a Cannondale frame and attach panniers I am not sure these boys knew what they got themselves in for, they did however handle it unbelievably well and even had it done more then an hour prior to the agreed time. As a result I would like to extend a massive thank you to Gary, Adam, Andrew and Rick at Universe Cycles for their generosity, smiles, great work and speediness as well as Bob from Bikecology for the referral.

The hard working guys at Universe Cycles

If you find yourself in a similar pickle drop the guys at Bikecology / Universe Cycles a line as I have no doubt they will do their best to help out and you will only get quality (in charisma and work):

Email -
Phone - (02) 9630 1491 (North Parramatta), (02) 9874 5836 (West Ryde)

I will restrain myself from giving out contact details for Chris as I think he may need a bit of sleep.

2010 Ride Meet, Greet and Eat

From left; Jimmy, Shu, Shorty, Me, Steph and Alex

Given that a few more people will be riding this year I felt it may be a wise idea to introduce them to each other prior to spending a straining 2 weeks on the road together. For this reason dinner was aranged at mine for both social and organisational purposes of course.

While the intention was to ensure all the full-trip riders met it was soon discovered between work, weddings and flu this was not as viable as thought. Still it was a brilliant night filled with fine food and company.

Milk-crates: An engineers solution to a furniture shortage problem

Those that ended up making the evening included:
  • Shu: From uni and also completed part of last years ride with me, Shu will be doing a leg or two of this years ride
  • Shorty: Was a bike shop guy and whip cracker to me on the Great Victorian Bike Ride and upon discovering we only like 8km from each other regular cycles and the potential of him cycling a leg of the ride have been put on the table
  • Alex: Good friend and cycling buddy, Alex and his workplace Deus have provided tremendous support towards me and this ride, Alex is intending to cycle a leg of the ride
  • Steph: Girlfriend of Alex and friend from uni, we are slowly getting Steph acclimatised to the idea of cycling a leg
Other people you will get to know but couldn't make the evening:
  • Sri: My sanity, Sri is the person that over the past 2 years has always ensured both my feet are secured on the ground. While Sri had intended to ride the whole ride he has kindly set this aside to fill in as a support driver, which we were lacking
  • Chris: Friend from uni and super keen cyclist, Chris will be cycling this whole ride with ease
  • Tom: Newly found friend who found out about the ride when published in The Northern District Times , Tom is considering coming on all or part of the ride and after cycling with him he will do so with ease
Other than eating food and enjoying one and another company we also managed to review the itinerary and sort some finer details of the ride, including meal plans, equipment, training and logistics. While we are still working out how to attach both a trailer, 4 bike-bike-rack and 5 bikes to the car with all else I have to say we are getting there, lucky to as it's not long now.

Personally I have to say the best part of the night was having three gentlemen clean up for me... That is not something you see everyday but I think I selected the most domesticated guys to go on a long cycle with.

The boys hard at work

Assembly line to maximise efficacy, I must say I was very impressed

Jimmy takes his drying seriously

Ride Preparation at its Best

Dad and me on day 1 of the ride

What better way to train than with ocean views, resealed roads, redirected traffic, catering, arranged accommodation and brilliant company? This is what I was lucky enough to experience in the first week of December when cycling with my family on Bicycle Victoria's 2009 Great Victorian Bike Ride. The ride began in Portland and ended in Geelong and was set out as 550km of pure bliss along the Great Ocean Road. Being a glutton for punishment and perhaps a little nervous about January's 1400km ride a few extra kilometers may have been clocked along the way.

Could it be more perfect? The splendid views on route

My family have adopted this annual ride as a regular get-together event which seems to satisfy the key requirement of 'family time' as well as each family members individual requirements:

  • Me: training, training, training
  • Mandi: Sleep-ins, late nights, gigs & not having to cycle (Mandi Volunteers as she hates exercise in all of it's forms)
  • Mum & Dad: Almost romantic get away, without the guilt of leaving their darling daughters to fend for themselves
The 9 days was a truly brilliant get away and I most certainly took maximum advantage of the cleared roads and marked routes, not getting lost even once. We were also extremely lucky with the weather with only the first few days being a touch stormy. I did however lean that head winds just become a fact of life along these roads and the only way to appreciate them was to turn around and do the route again, which may have happened once or twice.

Cyclists sprawled along the beach at one of the lunch stops

One slight issue I did come across was the lack of fresh vegetables provided as part of the catering, given this seems to be my staple at home it did take some getting use to. I may have been caught out on the odd occasion turning towns upside-down in search of what ever roughage I could find, one such time produced half an iceberg lettuces and a tin of beans! As unexciting as it may sound to you now given this was all I could find in the town for 2 days it was a very big highlight.

My joy of devouring 1/2 an iceberg lettuce

Other such highlights of the trip included my sister and my desire to ensure a smile was on all 5000 riders and 500 volunteers faces of the evening. Our methods were not far off the usual behaviors of the McDonald Girls however we decided to make a particularly special effort for the Country Night, with Mandi dressing up as Dorothy and Myself as Heidi. Lucky for us as Mandi was on the Events team we got a heads up a few weeks before to prepare for such random antics.

The McDonald Girls at their best, Heidi (left) and Dorothy (right)

All in all I could not have asked for a better way to train and we are all already booked in for the 2010 ride!

I am thinking I need one of these made up for the Syd to Melb ride...