You’re about 430km into the first day of a 4-day group ride; and you’re in pain: strong pain. It’s pain from an unusual source, and you don’t know why it’s hurting so much. There’s about 120km to go to the scheduled stopover for the night. So what do you do? Grit your teeth and ride the 120km to the scheduled stopover? No, you turn around and ride the 430km back home! Well that’s what a friend of mine, Phil, did. Yes, you might say that was silly. But I get it; I so get it!
Now, I must stress that Phil didn’t intend to ride the whole 430km home; but that’s how it turned out. To many people reading this, I’m sure the totally logical and practical thing to do would’ve been to ride the 120km to the stopover, give it some rest overnight and see how it felt in the morning; when a decision could be made whether to continue with the ride or return home. That would, theoretically, be the most logical and practical thing to do; but in situations like this not all minds are totally “logical and practical.” Those minds that are, don’t understand those that are not. I understand. And that is part of why this story appeals to me so much – along with the admiration of Phil actually doing this, as it turned out, marathon ride!
I’m a “what if?” type of bloke; and I suspect that Phil is too, to a certain extent anyway. His thought process went something like this: “What if it doesn’t get better? I’d be 120km further away from home than I am now, so better that I turn around now than go a further 120km and turn around.” He’d already been thinking of turning back, so obviously the further he went, the further he’d have to go to get home. There’s good logic in that. Influencing the decision too, was the fact that the next day was going to be the most physically demanding, with lots of twisties to ride. So, as I said, there was good logic in his decision.
But let’s get back to the very beginning, which, as Julie Andrews reminded us, is a very good place to start.
Phil, who lives in the Wollongong area, has a riding group called Illawarra Riders. Every year they do a ride down to the Snowy Mountains. Not the Snowy Ride, but always a couple of weeks after that – when there are about 3,000 fewer bikes on the road. For the last four years Phil hasn’t gone on the ride. Five years ago he had a slight altercation with a truck: well, actually it was a head-on collision! That caused considerable injury to the right side of his body, leaving him with some damage to his right leg. It had been a slow recovery, but had progressed to the point where, this year, he felt he was able to do the ride. He was anxiously looking forward to it – firstly because he loves riding those roads and had missed being able to do the ride in the preceding four years, and also because it would be a great achievement, proving that he was back to a state of being capable of doing these long rides.
The plan was to ride down the coast to just past Bega, turn inland to Bombala and then across to Jindabyne for the night. The following couple of days would be spent basically playing around the Snowies, then back home again. Phil takes up the story of what happened.

“I packed lightly, just my top box and small(ish) tank bag, but it didn’t take long after setting out that the worries started to set in. I just didn’t feel comfortable and my left hip (not the one injured!) started to become very painful. Some Voltaren gel and a couple of painkillers at the first stop quietened it down a bit but the nagging concern was still there. By the time we got to Tathra for lunch, I was already considering the idea of turning back and heading for home.
“Up through the mountains, Candelo, Wyndham and Bombala, I was all over the place. The combination of being tail-end rider, increasing pain and discomfort plus just not feeling ‘right’ on the bike, decided it for me. At Bombala I told the ride leader that I couldn’t continue and I turned back for home. Gutted doesn’t even begin to describe it!”

So if the decision was made to return home from that point, you might think that the “logical and practical” thing to do would’ve been to get a room for the night, giving the body some much-needed rest, and then set off for home in the morning. But when you’re in pain and a long way from home, the mind doesn’t always think in that kind of detached, calm and rational way: well, mine doesn’t anyway. I’m putting myself in Phil’s situation here (which, as I said, is one of the things that appeals to me about this story, because I can identify with it!), but my mind would be thinking, “What if it gets worse overnight and I can’t ride at all in the morning?” My mind would be wanting to be back home as soon as I could. Even heading towards home always makes me feel a bit less anxious in this sort of situation. I’m not sure if that's what Phil was thinking, but I can imagine it might have been part of the thought process.
Now, I must stress again that Phil didn’t intend to ride the whole way home! His immediate plan was, in fact, a very logical one: take some painkillers to settle the pain down again and ride back to Bega, which was only about 80km away. But he said that as he rode, (and the pain-killers kicked in) he actually felt okay. So, when he got to Bega, he continued. Being on his own meant that he was free to stop as often as he wanted and for as long as he wanted, which extended the distance he was able to ride. As he got to each possible stopover point after Bega, he felt well enough to push on just a little further. And of course the further he went, the closer to home he got. As the ride progressed, it got late too, so he thought he may have trouble finding accommodation. And then of course there was the expense: if he could make it home, that would save the cost of a motel room for the night.
Now, to put this in context, this is the same Phil who told us about (unintentionally) driving 1200km in one day to retrieve a bike he had restored. (Click here for that story). Long distances aren’t the concern for him that they might be for a lot of us. “Thirty years ago, I could reel off 1100km days one after another with no problem!” I not-so-gently reminded him that he was 30 years older now though! Of course the pain returned along the way, and he ended up pushing through it to finally make it home: after almost 900km of riding that started out with him “not feeling right” on the bike, and then being in pain. What a marathon! Phil sums it up.

“The ride home was even more painful and boring, something riding solo for me never is. My music helped distract me but I have rarely ever felt more glad to be home than when I pulled into the garage.”

There was a kind of silver-lining to the cloud of disappointment though. That weekend was the weekend of the Motorcycle Expo in Sydney, and he went there, and saw a lot of bikes of interest and caught up with many people he knew. You can read the whole story – of the ride, the visit to the Motorcycle Expo, including meeting motorcycle racing legend, Kel Caruuthers, and  more – in the Blog article on his web-site. Here’s the link:
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