YOU'VE GOT TO ENJOY LIFE !
There is an incident that perfectly defines Doug Sunderland. It occurred in 2000, when, aged 75, he was on a motorbike trip with Ferris Wheels Motorcycle Tours through India. He had a head-on crash with a car that broke his knee, shoulder and ankle. He got up, mounted the bike and was ready to continue. Mike Ferris insisted on him getting off the bike and into the back-up bus. Doug refused, insisting that he was okay. “I didn’t tell them I had any broken bones,” he said, when recounting the incident afterwards. The stand-off continued. Mike, who Doug later referred to, probably only half-jokingly, as a “pig-headed prick,” eventually backed down and let him continue, noting resolutely to the camera that captured the confrontation, “I knew I wasn’t going to win this one!” It says a lot about Doug. He has been described as “obstinate” and “a silly old fool”; descriptions that could be totally justified by the incident. But it also shows his determination to enjoy life – despite what life throws his way. Who is Doug Sunderland? Well, he has described himself as, “Just a bloke from Wangaratta” – but one who has done extraordinary things! The incident described above appears on Ferris Wheels’ promotional DVD, but the cameras – and indeed Doug – were there to make a film as part of a TV special for SBS, titled “Grey Voyagers”. Doug is, justifiably, quite proud of the film, which won 5 awards. Doug is a keen motorcyclist, and has been riding since he was just 14 years old. He claims to have kept a record of every kilometre he’s travelled, and on that particular tour he notched up 2 million km. He has kept on riding since then, doing many overseas tours, with his current tally standing at 19 countries he’s ridden through. In addition to that he has visited 49 countries and camped on every continent - including antarctica! When I met him recently, about a decade after the infamous incident with the car, he was 85 years old and in poor health. He has advanced prostate cancer, he has no feeling in his fingers, his hands tremble, he can’t lift his left arm above horizontal, and his right arm has almost no muscle strength. His right knee has been replaced – courtesy of the accident with the car – with one made from titanium and stainless-steel, and won’t bend very far. And when I met him he was on the third day of an around-Australia ride! Three weeks earlier he’d been in hospital having a prostate and bladder operation. “The doctor told me not to drive.” He said. “I told him, ‘Okay.’” And he smiled; the unspoken “But he didn’t say not to ride” being understood by those of us chatting to him on his arrival at a lunch / coffee stop. We laughed. This was his second trip around Australia. The first one, almost a year before, had been clockwise; now he was going anti-clockwise. “Do you know the difference between going clockwise and anti-clockwise?” He asked. I suggested it had something to do with winds across the Nullarbour. “It’s shorter!” He declared. He waited a few moments for us to consider this then, flashing a cheeky grin, said, “You’re on the inside of the road, the inside of the circle, so it’s not as far around!” We laughed again. Laughing is something that comes easily when chatting to Doug; laughing and, alternately, shaking your head in amazement! His stories of incredible adventures and dogged determination both inspire and amaze all that are fortunate enough to hear them. For example, he told of a trip he did to Africa, when he was 79. When arranging his trip the travel-agent asked him what he wanted to do. “What is there?” He asked. The young woman behind the desk presented him with a list of the country’s extreme activities. One of those caught his eye – white-water rafting. “Have you ever been white-water rafting?” She asked. “No,” He replied, “But I’ll give it a go!” And he did. He said he was doing okay until “a big Dutchman” stood up and fell on top of him, knocking him into the water and breaking his shoulder. The Dutchman was okay, but Doug ended up in hospital. Now, you might think that white-water rafting the Zambesi River at 79 years of age was being a bit over-ambitious, but it fits perfectly with Doug’s philosophy, which he stated a couple of times during our time together; “You’ve got to enjoy life, haven’t you!” This trip around Australia was a result of that philosophy; but it was also to fulfill an ambition he'd held for some 10 years; to ride 52,000km in 52 weeks. With the first trip around Australia just fitting into that time frame, plus riding New Zealand "from tip to toe" a few months later, and the normal running-around, his ambition was realised by the completion of this trip. Doug reckons that riding a motorbike had actually benefitted his health. He has suffered from prostate cancer for many years, but after he returned from a motorcycling trip to India in 2002 his doctors were surprised to find that his cancer-count was down. But Doug had an explanation; the vibration of the bike. He said that the Swedes had been known to cure ailments by treating them with vibration, so that’s what the bike was doing. It was while on a trip to New Zealand in 2007 that his prostate cancer suddenly reached a critical point. He spent some time in hospital there, and on his return home he was referred to a specialist who gave him less than a year to live. He said he “took things easy” for a couple of years and then, “I made up my mind, ‘Stuff this! I’m not going to sit here and rot; that’s not how I live!’ so I decided to go around Aussie.” He is, as someone described, “a tough old bugger,” and not unfamiliar with hospitals. His description of first a nurse’s and then a doctor’s prolonged attempts to insert a catheter (through an opening severely restricted by the effects of his prostate cancer) brought tears to our eyes – from laughter and the imagined pain! His tough nature is displayed by his sleeping equipment. No tent or sleeping-bag; Doug just carries a tarpaulin. “I lie on one half and throw the other half on top of me. That’s good enough for me.” For this trip though, the accommodation was somewhat different; this time there were motels, and people putting him up for the night in their homes. This time, he found himself traveling as somewhat of a celebrity. His celebrity status had been brought about by the efforts of a young motorcyclist, Kris Growcott. Kris is in the T-shirt business. A chance meeting with Doug inspired him to do all he could to help Doug on his journey. So he created the Cavalry of One brand. The idea was to produce and sell T-shirts and donate 30% of the profits to Doug to help him with the costs of fuel and accommodation. He established a web-site for the brand (click the link above), and promoted it through on-line presence on social networks like Facebook. The word spread quickly and T-shirts sold. Kris was able to get other businesses to support him too; including Andy Strapz, who gave Doug a tank-bag, and AirHawk Australia, who provided him with an AirHawk seat for the journey. Other businesses came on board with assistance too. It was through spotting Cavalry of One on-line that I first got to know about Doug; although I had previously seen him on the Ferris Wheels DVD. By the end of the trip Cavalry of One had 2,700 fans on Facebook, and Doug was building his own list of on-line friends, even though, when I met him, he couldn’t access his Facebook page because he had forgotten his password (Kris had set it up for him). As he travelled, and as more people got to know about him, interest in his trip grew. Newspapers and local radio stations became interested and began doing items about him. Complete strangers went out of their way to help him, riding with him and offering him accommodation. When I met him there were two other people who had come to meet him, to guide him through Sydney. They had never met him, but had been inspired by his story and were doing all they could to help him on his way. And that’s the effect Doug has on people. He attracts great admiration, and his attitude to life is a total inspiration to all that hear about him or meet him. Some people, when you meet them, leave an impression; others change your life. Doug is one of those people! At Darwin ABC TV got involved, doing interviews and filming for an episode of Australian Story.They also fitted a tracking-device to his bike, so people would know if he stopped unexpectedly, due to accident or mechanical breakdown etc. They filmed him riding into Melbourne, along with a group of accompanying riders, as the official end to his trip. Cynics might argue that, with just 30% of profits going to Doug, Kris and his company obviously did very well out of the venture. But there were overheads that had to be paid, and Kris worked extremely hard behind the scenes promoting Doug and his ride, securing sponsorship and arranging accommodation etc. Without Kris Doug wouldn’t have had the sponsors, or the motels, or the people to greet and care for him at each stop. And he wouldn’t have gained the almost celebrity status that his efforts have attracted. And as for Doug himself, he was more than happy with the financial assistance he was receiving. When I spoke to him he was quite overwhelmed by peoples’ generosity and all the attention he was getting. He seemed amazed that people would take such interest in what he was doing, and go out of their way to meet him. He asked me several times how I found out about him and seemed genuinely surprised at what was being achieved by the on-line presence that Kris had set up. Doug’s choice of bike for the trip was a new Hyosung Aquila; the new fuel-injected model. He bought the bike from Peter Stevens Motorcycles (who threw in a free service) shortly before commencing the trip. As well as the afore-mentioned accessories that were donated to him, Doug had the bike fitted with a “cruise-control”; a kind of throttle-lock that holds the twist-grip in a set position, but still allows it to be turned when necessary. This device relieves the need to constantly apply pressure to hold the throttle open; a big bonus for Doug with the lack of strength in his fingers and wrist. The bike was ideal for Doug, and provided ample performance. He says he only rides slow, about 95kph. “You’ve got to know your limitations.” He said, then added, “And I never break the speed-limit.” The big comfy seat and forward-controls riding-position suited him. When he arrived at the coffee-stop where I met him he didn’t immediately get off the bike, despite having just ridden 285km. He just lounged back in the seat, looking very comfortable as he began to chat to us. The trip didn’t go entirely smoothly. For one thing the weather wasn’t always kind. He encountered a lot of rain, as well as the extremes of heat and cold that our country can serve up in what might otherwise be officially termed Spring. The bike suffered a few running problems along the way too; at one stage running on one cylinder and struggling to maintain 40kph as Doug pointed it across northern Queensland. And Doug had a few health problems as well. But despite these minor (as he would see them!) set-backs, Doug arrived at his home in Wangaratta, Victoria, right on schedule on 17th November 2010. Kris organised a group ride into Melbourne which, as I mentioned, was filmed by the ABC. On the trip he covered just under 17000km in 31 days of riding, averaging around 548km per day. Not bad for a bloke in his 86th year and suffering the health problems he does. Ah, but then, as he says, “You’ve got to enjoy life, haven’t you!”
Click here to return to the front page. Click your BACK button to return to the previous page.