Jess Douglas

The 2017 Cloudride Bike Packing Experience

08 June 2017

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Its has been 7.5 weeks since my crash resulting in concussion and memory loss, time off the bike and all that drama at Easter on the Monaro 1000 Cloudride.
My biggest regret is not riding along and giving myself 7 days to complete it, instead rushing in head first trying to smash myself and race it.  
The entire region is amazing, so many pictures I wish I had taken, so many places I wish I had stopped and soaked it in.
To be honest I am not at all excited about writing about it. The ride itself was quite big, consumed a lot of my brain space and events mingled into one.

I have been asked, “Would you do it again?”  My answer is kind of yes, and on the proviso that I promise to enjoy it and literally bike pack it.
My memories are flashes and emotions, these are hard to describe in a blog.

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The lead up to this event involved setting up a bike thanks to Kerry Staite of K-Lite.com.au with SON dynamo hub laced by Bike Matters, and the whole set up really supported from start to finish by Kerry in fact.
Bike Bag Dude - Kedan was also most helpful many years ago in planting the seed with bags as a gift to me which I have used sporadically in the hope I will one day go long.
I refitted all this onto my Liv obsess 27.5 hardtail.

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There have been all sorts of people that have inspired me to do this event, but mainly it was just a tick box, do it, ride it as fast as I can and see what happens. It was never a race with others, just a race with me and my bike and my mind.

Having now done the Cloudride, just over 800km of the said 1000km I can safely say that the ‘race’ element was enjoyable and horrible all at once.

Do I want to do anything like this again?

Yes, I want to ride my bike to faraway places and I want to capture them in pictures in my mind and on my Instagram. I want to immerse myself in the micromoments that present themselves without me even having to search for them.

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Will I want to race one again?
Probably not. Racing was like the hunger games. It felt like Life and Death and everyone was watching. Day and night. Both comforting and strangely suffocating at once.
I longed for moments of lying in the grass in the sunshine and chatting with people I met along the way, taking pictures, soaking in moments via every sense I had and pinching myself at where I was located and riding my bike at that moment.

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I want to go again, not necessarily on this particular ride even on my own mapped out journeys that I can do on long weekends and come back to reality seamlessly.
Opportunities to escape the grind, on my bike, for a weekend or a week and allow yourself a reminder that this world is awesome and full of magic.  We tend not to take that time to ponder whilst rushing to do life M-F 9-5, let alone on a bike.

After experiencing my crash and the concussion and the return from it, I can honestly say a little piece of me died, and a little piece of me realised that nothing really matters other than people who love you and the people you love.  

The experiences you have and the memories gain.  I am grateful for my able body, my repairing brain and memory, the fact that my brain has allowed me to ride my bike again and live my full life.  But it could have been so very different.  I am acutely aware of this now.  What a scare having reduced brain function...it is nothing like a broken bone.

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It is true that many amazing landscapes existed on this ride. It was EPIC.
Dropping down into Wee Jasper on a winding descent, dropping down into the back of Tumut on another beautiful picturesque descent.  
Riding the Hume and Hovell Tk along the Blowering dam as night was approaching into the moonrise and darkness - wow!
Getting to Batlow with Steve and Matt eating salt and vinegar chips and a ginger beer at the pub as they set about closing around us at around 8:30pm on day 1.
Riding up the big hill out of Batlow and losing sight of the boys as they settled into their pace and me into mine.  
Deciding to ride on into the night and riding alongside packs of wild brumbies.  
Reaching the mountain ranges at sunrise knowing I had missed my opportunity to sleep so continuing on with a nodoze instead.  
Dropping down to the dam only to have to slog it back up again and just deciding that I better just smash it up this climb so I can start to make my way towards Jindabyne.  
Getting to the top and realising that the food/coffee long awaited breakfast spot was 1km “downhill” meant I would have to climb back up.
A quick assessment revealed that I had a days worth of food and spare water - stuff it, I continued.

This next bit was pretty spectacular. The Selwyn ski fields into farmland was slow but beautiful. So many steep ups and downs.  
Eventually at sunset reaching the back of the Snowy Hydro 4wd access track to make my way to Jindabyne.  And there at the end was Eric Caesar randomly saying hi! Dot watching to my surprise.

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Jindabyne was a quick rush into the servo, grab what I can and fill up pockets with snippets of food, fill bottles with gatorade substances and pack a can of coke for later on.
First sleeping experience on the side of the road was fun, woke up shivering no alarm needed. 2 hrs and back into it.

It was here that I started to develop an alter ego.

Jess needed water and whenever I drank from my bottle I would say that I better save some Jess. It was weird, I knew I was the Jess I was talking about but couldn’t stop referring to the other Jess and making sure she was well and looked after.

Riding down hill forever would have been a great view into Victoria but alas it was the wee hours of the morning.

Next memories were having a stand off with a healthy looking dingo, that kept looking at me whilst I was looking at it, and I had to get a bit angry and tell it to eff off quite loudly with points of hands and gestures.  It went off with tail between legs begrudgingly.  More brumbies to come too. Kangaroos and wallabies, no wombats here.

Arrival at Snowy River at 4am with fog, meant my lights were useless - but I had a garmin and a GPS file with a blue line that I was told to follow. Slippery rocks, heavy bike, no idea how far or how deep this river was going to be. Elated when I negotiated this section in the dark.

OMG - Hike a bike from hell!

This turned into a bootcamp session. Just keep pushing 50 more steps, grab brakes, rest, go again, make it to the next water bar, oh there’s about 4 more to go...but wait, there’s more.  A 9km section may well have taken 4 or so hours. I changed brake pads in at the top of one of the climbs in a ‘brumby neighbourhood” each tree smoothed out with many horse neck & hind quarter rubbages.  
Wow, Mr or Mrs Brumby didn’t like me there and gave some serious snorts and stomps and I gave some back. Then more anger from the horse. Ok time to concede. I hid behind a tree and waiting for it to go. Change brake pads and did a quick repack.  
Still more ups and downs to go. Many more very steep - I mean very steep and rocky ups. Feet are starting to hurt now. Carbon soled shoes are a bad idea.

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Finally Finally Finally the top is there, but this can only mean one thing...Down down down and very steep downs with loose rock and a need to make sure I do not crash, not here.

This section is serious, arriving in Tubbut it was time for a 20 min nap at the tennis courts in the sunshine. Bliss.
Arriving in Delegate after a big day of not much else other than hurt and hike a bike the general store had everything and I bought it all.

Next - riding into sunset with food in belly life was good. The boys were ensuing my lead, which was fine, Steve was firing I was not really enjoying this being out front being pursued.

So at this point I am cruising - hoping he catches me. I am sick of being chased. Its exhausting mentally.  

Night falls and the road into Bombala is boring and my eyes are willing to be closed. So I pull over and grab a 20 min nap. More well wishers in Bombala offering me some food. I can’t eat it, I am still full from my feast at Delegate. Finding accommodation in Bombala was my desire to rest and let the boys catch up. I was almost daydreaming of us riding together. I briefly catch up with Steve at the pub where he moves on and camps out. I camp it up in a bed and a shower and leave at around 7am the next day instead. Losing my lead but gaining my sanity.

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Today is to be the day I will finish my cloudride experience but I am fresh and feeling hopeful to do another all nighter and arrive in Canberra the next day and have this mega race done. I don’t care where I place I just want to go home and go to bed. Live my life that I love, I miss Norm. I am loving the ride and the places I am passing but missing him.

Today was gorgeous.

From Cathcart to Nimmitabel the roads, the terrain the scenery was magic. I chose a moment up in the Tantawangalo State Forest to lay down on the grass and soak up the sun. 1 min of bliss, micro moments of hope and happiness.

Nimmitabel was a food feast, eat eat eat and eat. My talking is minimal, I can’t really hold a conversation right now anyway. After a few big days like this on your own, it’s eat drink breathe and grunt.

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From here to my crash site, the terrain was undulating with some beautiful glow on the farm land from the sunsetting in the west.

I was in the groove. Finding perfect toilet stops and high fiving myself for such wins.
Taking bites of the slice I had bought thinking shit this is divine, good choice Jess.  
Choosing to smash up every climb like in my mind I was little miss Fredericka Fresh Legs.
Using the out of saddle with bar ends option many many times for saddle and shoulder relief.

Nothing was particular sore, but my butt felt like it was on fire, my shoulders and triceps felt numb and wasted, and my knees were puffy.
Brain was clear, thoughts were sharp and I was looking forward to the dark.

Entering Badja State Forest, the route is now at 1000mts above sea level and the animal wildlife is rife. Its new years eve celebrations up here. This is good, the speed must be slower, the brain working hard, wombats everywhere. I love wombats - wow they are amazing.

I text Norm - It’s WOMBAT city up here!!

Then not more than 5km down the road I hit one. I am down. Concussed. Don’t remember what just happened. Why I am here. What I am riding for?
I was out for probably 15- 20 mins as I have been able to look at my data on Strava and Norm noticed I did not move for 30 mins on map with my DOT on the night.

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All I know is I am up on my bike trying to ride it forward and something is wrong.
Instantly my highly trained bike mind thinks it must be a buckled wheel so I go to fix it and hop back on the bike.
I am sore on my right hip and shoulder and realise I have hit my head too.
Riding my bike around 200km or so seems possible - maybe - once I realised where I was and what I was doing that is.  
I told myself just follow the blue line, slowly. You will come good. My brain was fuzzy. As much as I tried to sell the concept to myself, the realist in me was very dubious of it.
I passed a house with lights on on this road with not much going for it and continued riding past it. My better judgement had me turn around and try my luck at seeing who might be home and could they help me. Upon reflection I don’t even know what they were going to be able to do but I had to try.

Knock knock knock, I could hear voices. Shit what will I say, how can I say it, what really happened anyway? They answer and I am not sure what to say and where to sit and how to get my story across. So I give them Norm’s number and say to ring him, ring my husband.

Norm told them everything and I slowly dozed off but trying my hardest appearing to be normal like a drunk person trying to act like they are definitely sober.

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The end result was they took me to Cooma hospital and I was asked questions given CT scan and a few different tests to assess balance and cognitive function. It was agreed to have me overnight for observation. All I wanted was a shower and a gown - make that 2 gowns please! (so I could use it to cover my bum in the opposite direction!)

I was feeling heavy headed, eyes droopy and brain fuzzy. I managed to tell Norm where my car was parked in Canberra via a dropped pin I gave myself from google maps. He booked a flight for the morning and drove straight to meet me after picking up my bike from the people that helped me.  We then headed home for the long drive. And that was it, Cloudride done. So close..but not quite.

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Thankfully I was pretty out of it all week, talking was tough, working was impossible, phone conversation was exhausting, and lots of sleep was had.
I could not even imagine being able to race my bike again, to work again or to even drive again. It was unfathomable in my current state.
My balance was totally off and had to use props to get around.  I got angry quick and frustrated understandably so.  
But I am grateful for this recovery time, I had been told by medical professionals and also the friends I had that were experienced in this, that I needed rest, I needed to give my brain time to do nothing.
Let it shutdown and repair. It now became apparent why a seriously ill or injured patient is put into an induced coma. The brain is the epicentre of everything. If too much stimulation or expectation is put on it, it will shut things down for you.

I saw a Doctor that next week, who specialised in concussion in Geelong, she was great and the tests were hard. But I drove myself there, and listened to her advice and started back training that next day with purely walking and after 1hr of walking Max I was tired. But each day I progressed and soon I was riding on the indoor trainer again with low HR and Low watts for about 30 mins. Feeling like it would be forever before I could go hard again.

I then was able to go for my first mountain bike ride on the trails of Forrest. It was like an out of body experience until I was finally able to relax and let the mind back into the body again.  By the end of the 1.5hr session I knew it was only a matter of time before I would not be worried about my future and that it was going to be ok.

Since this day I have ridden my road bike many many times out on the road, descended 10km at a time and gone hard up hills too. I have ridden gravel, mtb and technical terrain and lifted weights and am training for a marathon. That’s a running marathon.

What is different? My memory is pretty weird.

I have a blank on certain things just totally blank if someone says what did you do last night, I cannot even remember if anything was even on let alone if I did anything in particular. Or what did I eat? I reckon I need to start keeping a journal of each day to confirm the things that occurred so I absolutely concrete it in my memory.  I get anxious or angry quickly but am aware of this and have developed strategies to cope. I was struggling with reversing the car, only that it took longer to think but could still achieve the reverse action.

I guess I do wonder will my memory worsen, will I have early onset dementia?  But I am working hard to keep what I have and not accept my current brain state as permanent or degenerative.

I do ask myself, so did you enjoy racing in this style?  Well sure, but I don’t feel I will ‘race’ again in the Bike Packing scene, I may participate and hang back, eat drink and be merry, sleep in a bed and chill the F#$K out with the mid pack taking Instagram pics and having the time to tell the world about this magical escape I am on.  

Next stop is a few overnighters or multi day adventures solo or with friends, to nice places to see what’s on the other side, and I will never ever stop riding my bike and I still love wombats.

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Jess has not only first hand experience in coaching, but is a qualified fitness coach & cycling coach. She is a 3x Australian and 3x World Mountain bike champion and loves helping people be the best they can be.