Melbourne High Rowers Ride across Victoria for charity
Murray to Moyne is a short meaningless phrase for those not in the know. After 17 hours of listening to the sound of hazard lights clicking in my car as I followed riders from the Murray River to Port Fairy on the Victorian coast, I can say that I’m now extremely familiar with not only the phrase, but what it stands for. The main goals of the Murray to Moyne cycling event are firstly to raise funds for hospitals and health services throughout Victoria. Secondly it is to continue the dream of its founder Graham Woodrup of getting more people to realise the fabulous health and social benefits of riding a bike.
For the 10 boys from Melbourne High School who participated in this year’s riding event, apart from those goals set by the organisation, they had a couple of their own. All of the boys are current rowers at the school or a former rower. The boys operated independently to arrange participation in the Murray to Moyne event which was held during the first term holiday break of 2018. Credit goes to Karma Lai, one of the year 12 students for conceptualising and planning the event.
The path they took was the yellow path from Echuca to Hamilton and then the red path down to Port Fairy. (More on that later).
One of their personal goals was for the year 12 rowing cohort along with a couple of rowers from year 11 and one from year 10 to undertake a last joint physical challenge together before shifting their focus to the final terms of study before their exams. Strong bonds had been formed during their time rowing and this event was a physical challenge, not one in a competitive environment.
The second goal was to succeed in the challenge of completing the ride as a team. The ride turned out to have an even larger effect on the boys than they could have imagined. It is also fair to say that for the parents who participated in the support roles associated with the event also came away with a set of those “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences.
The group chose the Red Cross as their charity of choice.
Initially I was extremely concerned about the fact that a group of young riders, most of whom did not have extensive road riding experience, would be riding their bicycles along country roads on a Saturday night up until after midnight, having ridden since 7 o’clock that morning. Factors like tiredness, angry or heaven forbid substance affected drivers were the thoughts that crossed my mind when I was first told about the boy’s intention to undertake this adventure.
This, in part was why I initially signed up to participate in the ride as support crew for the boys. An outstanding statistic was that four dads and three mums along with two younger siblings and a dog were there throughout the event to support these young men.
It is no mean feat to ride 520 km from Echuca on the New South Wales Victorian border down to Port Fairy on the coast of southern Victoria. With military precision documentation was prepared detailing roles, meal planning, bus and bike trailer bookings, accommodation and many other important aspects of the logistics required to participate in such an event.
So there it was on a Friday morning at Melbourne High School the riders and their parents mustered before heading north towards Echuca in a bus with an additional two support vehicles. Although a generous three hours had been allocated for the drive from Melbourne to Echuca, what none of us planned for was the unfortunate accident involving a large semitrailer carrying 1 million chicken McNuggets which overturned on the Hume Highway blocking the easiest route Echuca. Plan B with the assistance of Google maps was implemented immediately providing us with a scenic back road sojourn up to Echuca. No one was hurt in the accident, and, well, the chickens were already nuggets.
Not 30 minutes into the journey the tranquillity of the Victorian backroads was shattered by a nonfatal head on crash. Occupants bloodied and dazed sat on the side of the road while the mangled wrecks of their vehicles provided the sad evidence of misjudgement. That very sobering event did nothing to calm my concerns of combining bicycles and vehicles in the middle of the night on similar roads. Of course after arriving in Echuca and meeting up with the boys and other parents I chose not to share those thoughts.
As the boys were preparing to take on their own arduous challenge I thought it only fair that I too should sacrifice something. So in preparation for the event I had gone out and purchased a two person tent from big W along with a single blowup mattress for the combined princely sum of $14.
Not having camped in a tent for quite a number of years when I turned up at the camping ground prepared to pay around $20 for a site that had no power I was a little taken aback to find out that the going rate was $45 but for that price it came with power. I decided that when I got back to Melbourne I would camp for two nights in my backyard and instead went to the same motel the boys were staying in and paid $90 for a very comfortable motel room. I’m glad I did that because it gave me an opportunity to photograph the afternoon activity and also the morning activity as the boys prepared to head off on their ride.
Anat had prepared some wonderful food for the boys to consume throughout the trip and the first meal was to be a barbecue held by the pool at the motel. The brisket and sauce was a big hit. Prior to dinner the boys had headed out on a training ride of around 20 km during which time Phil unfortunately encountered a puncture.
Before last light the bikes were oiled and locked back on the bike trailer.
The next morning everyone packed and departed for the start point of the Murray to Moyne bike ride which is located on the banks of the Murray River next to the boat ramp. It was when we arrived at this location that we understood the full extent of this bike ride and the support that is provided to it. After the safety briefing and some pre-ride photographs the first group of our riders lined up to leave on the 520 km journey.
The Rapid Relief Team were there to fuel the riders with the magnificent Murray on the morning of the ride as a great backdrop.
Every 25 km our teams of riders would swap over. This entailed the bus and trailer heading 25 km down the route while Tony and I formed a vehicle safety buffer travelling behind the group and in front of the group with our hazard lights on.
Even though it sounds incredibly boring travelling at 25 km an hour in a car, especially for 520 km, I can assure you that there were many things to see along the way in addition to having to maintain a high level of concentration of what was going on in front of me and behind me. I really think that with Michael and Tzur driving the bus and managing the swap over of each team of riders Tony and I were able to provide the safety vehicle function and also on one occasion act as a bike recovery vehicle when a flat tire occurred.
Although it took a few changeovers for the teams and ourselves to work things out by the time we had reached the town of Stawell for dinner our processes were very smooth. This was where we caught up with the three mums who assisted with dinner on the go. The sun had well and truly set by the time the riders headed off for the final stage of that day or rather night which would take them from Stawell down to Hamilton.
This was the part of the ride I was most concerned about. Despite there being just a couple of incidents where very large trucks approached at speed creating a draft as they passed the riders there was no danger. The many kilometres of blinking hazard lights stretched out along the highway gave ample warning to all of those travelling in both directions of this massive event unfolding on the country roads of Victoria. I was very appreciative of the fact that throughout the entire trip there were no angry or impatient drivers behaving in a way that would endanger the riders.
Even though I wasn’t riding, maintaining concentration as I trailed the riders was at times difficult especially as the night wore on. On one of the legs, actually a leg that Joe was riding in I saw a very large grey kangaroo that would have easily have been 170 cm or more in height standing like a curious spectre on the side of the road watching briefly the passing of the bicycles before hopping off into the complete darkness.
The boys were in amazingly high spirits leading up to midnight and despite a small setback of one of the team encountering a puncture just before Hamilton our flashing lights guided the riders into town and hopefully towards bed sometime after midnight.
Even though I have mentioned that the length of the bike ride was 520 km, in fact the boys completed 526 km due to the fact that I lead them in the wrong direction after they got into Hamilton. Fortunately after asking directions we were quickly cycling into the Showgrounds to sign in and sign off. The ladies had rented a house and we were planning to all go there, but first the boys – starving wanted some food from a fast food takeaway. Even though the dining area of this fast food restaurant was not open as it was after midnight, the drive-through was open and potentially serving customers.
I think the sight of 10 strapping young men walking through the drive-through portion of this fast food restaurant proved too much for the young staff working night shift and they refused to emerge and serve the boys. Even after phoning the fast food restaurant to confirm that the drive-through was in fact open, there was no way to coax the employees out to serve us. Again Plan B to the rescue and we retired to the house with the three ladies and opted for the healthier option of food that was available there.
The time was approaching 2 AM when we were all bedded down for about four hours sleep before rising to take on the final challenge of Hamilton to Port Fairy.
The high spirits of Krista, Anat and Eun helped transition the boys from bike to bed (actually sleeping bag) in quick time.
It was a beautiful morning in Hamilton as the riders gathered along with the marshals and support crew in preparation for the day’s ride. I prepared myself at the start point to take some photographs and felt very proud when the announcer spoke of the involvement of Melbourne High School and her pleasure of seeing young people being involved in the bike ride. The boys team was called forward – the team name is CORNS BC which stands for Unicorn Boat Club.
With the discipline of a good rowing team the boys were up and out the door on schedule arriving at the Showgrounds in preparation for the 7 AM start. At this point in the ride there were two paths to take to get to Port Fairy. One was via Penshurst and the other was via MacArthur.
Off the boys set and I took pictures as they left the starting gate. So intent was I on getting photographs and then going to refuel before catching up to them, I missed one small point.
They had headed off on the wrong route towards Penshurst. After refuelling and heading out along the road to MacArthur I received an anxious call from Tzur saying that they had got to the front of the riders and our boys were nowhere to be seen. A quick look back through the photographs on my camera confirm the fact that they were in fact heading towards Penshurst. With all informed we met at Penshurst and affected a relay change as if nothing had happened. I have to say this leg of the journey down to the coast with a fantastic tailwind for the riders and rolling dairy hills was a treat for both the riders and the support crew.
Personally I have never driven this route before and I would thoroughly recommend that if you are looking for a weekend away – Echuca and Port fairy are wonderful places to visit and stay. I really think the tourism boards for that area should be supporting the Murray to mine bike race because it opens up an area of Victoria that a number of people who participate in the bike event get to see and share with other people. It is something definitely worth sharing.
Just before arriving at Port Fairy I saw an ambulance coming in the opposite direction and later found out one of the riders had fallen off their bike. Care, support and response were immediate and fantastic.
Just before entering the town of Port Fairy vehicles and riders are divided to head into town via separate paths. This gave us an opportunity to drive into town, park and then set up for some final photographs before the boys ended their ride. With the sounds of country music playing live in the park all of the riders gathered and celebrated the momentous event and ride they had just achieved.
In Alphabetical order…
The following riders rode the entire event:
- Chanyoung Pak
- Gavrill Gourevitch
- Joe Christie
- John Poliniak
- Kai Flaherty (Old Boy)
- Karma Lai (Captain)
- Nick Szigeter
- Phil Tran
- Rohan Lynch
- Yotam Brotman
The following mums and dads were very helpful throughout the event (that said – ALL parents are helpful and have supported the boys in so many ways):
- Anat Brotman
- Eun Kim
- Krista Poliniak
- Mark Christie
- Michael Lynch
- Tony Lai
- Tzur Brotman
Tenzin and Pepper along with Jane
Parents physical presence does two things, it provides a level of support and appreciation for our children and also gives us an opportunity to capture a lifetime event that not only our boys will cherish but we will remember forever.
As I mentioned this event did a number of things in terms of setting and achieving goals. A surprising and positive by-product of the event was that it created a reset point for some of the boys including Joe where rather than having challenges thrust upon them, they set their own challenge which was equal to or greater than what has already been presented to them in the formal structures of school life and they completed it together as a team and as a group of young men who honour the work.
This chapter which was about a group of rowing mates taking on a personal challenge, concluded in part by eating a meal in a fast food restaurant in Colac which was, I am happy to report, okay with 10 young men coming in and asking for a meal although I need to add it was 1 o’clock in the afternoon rather than 1 o’clock in the morning.
I felt honoured to be included in this event and really want to thank the Dads with whom I think we all had a really great time, the Mums who were there but gave the boys some space and of course our boys who created a memory out of the Murray to Moyne.
So something I had never heard of has become something I’ll never forget.