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"A few of our riders are cooked. Not just emotionally, but medically": Orange cyclist's diary


The hard yards. Supplied.

"We were expecting around 20 people to greet us when we arrived at the Commonwealth Hotel. Instead, there were about 400."


When the dust settles on the Spinning for Spinal Support 500km charity ride from Orange to Newcastle, it is hoped about $200,000 will have been raised for the Stronger Together initiative.


The ride generated more than $106,000 in donations, with the ball held last Saturday night to raise the balance.

In August 2021 Katherine Swain dived into a pool and sustained a C4/5 spinal cord injury, leaving her without use of her legs and partial use of her arms.




Despite the devastation and the isolation due to Covid restrictions, within weeks Swain was asking what could be done for others in the same situation. Stronger Together was born.


During the ride, Orange's Harry Fardell kept a diary. He has kindly agreed to The Orange News Examiner publishing it. The diary has been lightly edited.


HARRY FARDELL'S DIARY


DAY 1


The first day took us from Orange to Wellington, a 95km journey crossing three shires, and passing through the historic villages of Mullion Creek, Euchareena, Stuart Town and Mumbil.


Clean and fresh, minutes before leaving Orange. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Our departure was emotional, as we bid our family, friends, dignitaries and seemingly a fair few media, goodbye.


This made our first few kilometres particularly tough - although this may have had something to do with the Summer Street dash, done at a solid clip.


Spirits otherwise were high, with a good pace set by Sophie Fardell and Eddie Fisher.




Have had a few discussions today about Katherine Swain, our dear friend who we are doing this ride for.


Her beautiful personality, and positivity over the past few months will be used as our incentive over the next few days. There will be days that we will have sore legs, however this journey is for people who would love to feel the same pain in their legs.

Lunch was put on by our fantastic support team, with Kelvin and Tanya White looking after us on the road, and Nick Windsor and Josh Wilson off it.




In an early drama Windsor spilled cola all through Peter Bell's van, but made up for it with some delicious chicken sandwiches in Stuart Town.


Following a few deceptively tricky hills leading into Wellington, the team arrived, and after a quick shot of carbs, hit the Wellington pool for a recovery session.

Only one flat tyre, for Canberra’s hero Angus McKerchar.


A great first day. I dare say some sore legs tomorrow morning though.


First night fever was a little evident amongst some of the touring party, however almost all of us were bagged and tagged last night by 9:30.


DAY 2


We pointed the steeds east, and set off to the wine region of Mudgee via Goolma.


This ride was particularly scenic, yet extremely tough as we encountered 15km/h headwinds almost the entire ride.

We passed the vast renewable resource generation areas, with their solar and wind farms.


This was so impressive that BHP employee and staunch coal mining advocate Eddie Fisher almost crashed his bike and rode 200m through the grass after being captivated by the power of nature and man.

We passed the Wellington Correctional Centre (which I dare say some of our Newcastle riders may call home at some stage in their life - only joking, a bit of regional rivalry there).


And the properties where Mudgee locals have started up equine studs and viticulture to earn their living.


Mudgee is famous for its beautiful wine (Lowe wines, Moothi Estate, Robert Oatley), beautiful people (Ken Sutcliffe, Natasha Belling), and beautiful surroundings (think of the village in Doctor Doctor).



You can imagine how this image was tarnished when 15 sweaty people dressed in Lycra rolled into town. Heads were turning (unfortunately they were turning away) as we utilised the local massage and nail salon industry.


The ride as a whole was very challenging. Three bikes needed to be fixed in Mudgee, and six in total needed running repairs.


All good.

None felt the pain more than Gomez. He has looked like a character out of a Tim Burton movie the last few days, and following a review by the Mudgee Hospital, it was revealed he had rhabdomyolysis.


He had been in agony, as his body had been eating its own muscle stores.

Following two drips, he was instructed not to ride tomorrow. The fact he had come this far was testament not only to his own mental toughness, but also his love for Kath.



The evening was spent at Three Tails Brewery and Smokehouse. This independent craft brewery would usually be the type of establishment where a few riders would really lean into a big session.


However, tomorrow presents our biggest challenge. A 162km journey through the Bylong Valley to Denman. Sort of early to bed - dinner party night on Married At First Sight - as fresh legs and heads will be needed for the queen stage of our tour.



DAY 3


Today was tough. Very, very tough.

With Gomez needing a spell, Wilso stepped up and rode his steed the majority of today. He did 120km and Kelvin knocked out the rest.


The day started at 7am as we set forth towards Denman via Wollar and the Bylong Valley.


Cycling over road works. Supplied.

This journey took us past a handful of Mudgee’s wineries, a hot air balloon, and the gorgeous homesteads on Wollar Road.


[Wollar Road was closed due to road works, however thanks to some Kelvin White fast talking, coupled with fantastic generosity of the local road workers, we were allowed to pass through as the guys took smoko.]


The hill leading to the road works was our first tough test, yet everyone charged up the hill thinking that the worst was behind us. So naive.

After navigating the road works on foot, we travelled down the Bylong Valley (think Yellowstone scenery, without the snow-capped mountains cluttering up the horizon).



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Tall Jack set a cracking pace up front. Following the toughest 20km stint of the ride, including two climbs longer than 5km, we passed into the Upper Hunter Valley, a region synonymous with small horse studs and some of Australia's best agricultural land.


None of us had ever ridden more than 110km in a day. The heat kicked in, muscle fatigue took over, and overuse injuries were everywhere.

The last 40km was universally agreed upon as the most mentally draining thus far.


The provision of lollies, sandwiches, muesli bars and jokes had been invaluable.


However, to put this big day into perspective, Kath had her accident 222 days ago.


The journey that she had already gone through had been unfathomably harder than what we went through today.


Tomorrow, we'll be on the bike again, as that's what Kath and every other quadriplegic would do if they could.


Say cheese.

Today there were some tears. No doubt it was a mixture of exhaustion, dehydration and the emotion that comes with missing your children, but also it was for Kath.


A few of our riders are cooked. Not just emotionally, but medically.

I rode with Turtle today, and his Achilles bilaterals are hanging on by a thread;

Luke Sherwood had a massive stack coming down a hill at 60km/h; Jenna Hattersley has pushed herself physically so far beyond what she thought she was capable of, that the fellow riders conveyed both confusion and excitement when she showed up to a pit stop on her bike, and not in the van.


No one has given up. There’s even talk that Gomez is getting back on the bike tomorrow, even though his body is literally eating itself.


Denman hosted us this evening, where for the first time this trip we were split across three accommodation venues.




It now feels like the home stretch. Can’t wait to see Kath

DAY 4


This was a difficult day. I have already fallen asleep writing this post.




Not only due to the undulating terrain, but the slow increase in lactic acid building in all our legs.


Much like yesterday, though, our journey had multiple scenic contrasts. We saw the stunning back entrance of horse studs such as Coolmore; pedalled in fear along the Golden Highway as we passed the otherworldly scenes of the open cut mines near Singleton; through to the affluent wineries of Pokolbin.


Today really had it all. It was the busiest ride that we have had thus far, which was a big challenge to a lot of us. However we are all safe and parked at our accommodation.

I spent the afternoon with Gomez, who seemed like he had a point to prove. I’m not glad he decided to prove it to me. Very fast pedaling, the calves and quads were cooked, and he was running off one lung!



It’s 11pm. One day until we see our families and friends. I’ve been extremely fortunate in that I’ve seen my beautiful wife every day.


However a lot of patients during the pandemic haven’t had the same option. Katherine wasn't able to see her family for months.


With tomorrow only a 54km day, I let the hair down tonight. Looking forward to tomorrow and giving Kath and my kids a giant hug.



DAY 5


Our last day took us from Pokolbin to Newcastle, a 54km ride that locals would suggest should pass through Cessnock and Kurri Kurri.


Instead, we decided to ride down the Hunter Expressway. It ended up a pretty silly error as we popped seven tyres over one 30km stretch.

Rain, semi-trailers, exploding tubes, but also generosity as one repair was completed by a person in a random car that decided to stop and help two of our stranded riders.



Home stretch.

The final 15km into Newcastle were done with Gus McConnel, a great bloke and quadriplegic who sustained his injury after being hit by a car while riding his bike at Bar Beach.


Riding behind him was inspirational, as he showed that there is so much more to life after a spinal injury. He also burned me on a hill near Wallsend.



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We were expecting around 20 people to greet us when we arrived at the Commonwealth Hotel. Instead, there were about 400. Lots of tears to go with the pressure sores.


The last week, our group of 19 shared an experience that will bond us forever.

Being a Newcastle University rugby player, I never thought I’d say that about a group of Wanderers guys, however you couldn’t meet a better bunch. No wonder Kath found them when she moved to Newcastle.


As for our Orange crew, I could not be more proud of all of them. The sacrifices that they all made to do this both physically and emotionally have been huge.


We made it.

It was a group that, five months ago, had to stop four times around a 25km airport loop, and now “next stop is only 30km, sweet” casually rolled off the tongue.


Our support crew carried us through the week, and literally ensured we didn’t die.


My wife Soph is a superwoman. During this ride she was either up the front giving everyone something to chase, or she was at the back talking to our great friend Jenna.



This trip was all about Kath. I feel guilty that I have gained so much out of this journey, but it took a spinal cord injury to our beautiful friend for it to happen.


My tear ducts were overactive, yet my heart was overflowing.





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