Sean Atchinson’s cycle for change

SCT CIO, Sean Atchinson, took part in a challenging four-day ride in the name of a crucial cause.

Sean Atchinson will admit with no hesitation that he enjoys riding his bike, something which was interrupted when he had an accident a few months ago. While it could have been easier for him to use this as an excuse to not get back on the road, he came right back and put his passion for two wheels towards a worthy cause.

From 18th-20th November, Sean took part in the 2022 Cycle for Change ride by the PUKAUP charity which undertakes education, advocacy and storytelling to facilitate conversations about mental and emotional well-being with the objective to prevent suicides. Founded by Wayne Schwass (former AFL), annual ride distances are based on the number of suicides in Australia from the previous year, in 2021 there were 65,000+ attempted suicides, and tragically 3,139 Australians committed suicide. This meant the ride was 313.9km in length. The 70 participating riders each wore this year’s number on their bikes and kit as a reminder throughout the days on the road.

The day before the ride commenced, the riders and supporters gathered for dinner. “The riders (70) and support staff (30+) all gathered in Marysville and got to know each other and to find out our personal stories/journeys that led us to be part of the cause.”

They learned about Wayne and the PUKAUP team’s journey regarding their passion for prevention as there is no cure. There were also three guest speakers; Michael Tomalaris, former host of cycling on SBS from 1992–2021 now an ambassador for mental health, Matt Keenen (a sports journalist and now the voice of cycling in Australia and Simon Gerrans (ex-Pro rider with stages wins in the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana).

Day 1 of riding was Friday 18th November, a warm-up ride of 104km and over 800m of climbing, I had selected to ride in the B Grade, with 30 riders, two support vehicles, a roving mechanic and a doctor that was not required. The gruppetto rolled north to Eildon for lunch and a very scenic photo opportunity by the lake, then a short climb to the Eildon dam and then rolling hills back to Marysville. It was a warm and sunny day, lots of talking in the gruppetto and we all stayed together and 3:40hrs of riding. It was a great day in the saddle.

Day 2 was not planned, it was to be a ride outside of my comfort zone and one that pushed me further on a bike than I ever expected to go.

I missed the take one step forward, and as everyone took a step back, I found myself being moved to A Grade. A smaller group of riders, but a group that only had two speeds…stopped and full gas. As they started 30 minutes behind C Grade and 15 minutes behind B Grade (where I was meant to be), the scene was set and the challenge had been accepted by the ride leaders to catch and overtake the other two groups. It was a day of 121km, 1,500m of climbing that included Skyline Road, a 6.5km climb with parts of over 14% and an average of 8%. It was a shock on leaving Marysville, the pack went from 0 to 45kph in a matter of yards, and it was hang on and pedal. I was not able to talk that much, I was more concerned about getting air into my lungs, food into my stomach and liquid in my mouth…most of the liquid was blown away by the wind. After 45km of riding, we passed the C Grade group, then onto the 1st climb of the day to the Dam of Lake Eildon. 1.5km in length and I was not last, close to it, but I hung on.

There is a picture of me 1km from the top when the worst was over and I could manage a smile for the camera — and yes the support vehicle had never driven so slowly up a hill. They were having bets on whether I would get off…But never, I felt like a Pro as I had my own support team looking after me!!!

Tig’s and Chris (ride leaders) came back for me with 500m to go, they had heard that four riders from B Grade were chasing me down and there was a bet on to catch me. With help and support from them and the support team, I made it to the top and carried on going, leaving A Grade clapping and cheering me on. Descending is not a strength of mine, anything above 50kph is putting me outside my comfort zone whilst going downhill on two inches of rubber and wearing lycra. With A Grade now chasing me, I hit 67kph and was into a world of hanging on and for a split moment, actually enjoying it.

The last 10km back to Marysville was so hard, a slight 2% climb for 10km. But the A Grade pack had a point to make. With the help of the team (via the hand of god(s) on my back a few times), I was pushed back onto the wheel in front and we all arrived back together.

I knew it was a fast day, but when my Garmin flashed up “fastest 40km and fastest 80km” I knew that it was special. 121km, sub four hours and a number of PR’s on Strava. We arrived back in Marysville over 30 minutes before B Grade and 90 minutes before C Grade.

The moral of Day 2, friends are there to help, even when you don’t ask for it, the support is invaluable and even when I said no, they helped.

Day 3 was a very short and wet day, and due to safety concerns, the ride was cut short. The wild weather had brought trees down and water on the road made riding very dangerous. We were happy to return back to Marysville for a warm shower and a very early lunch.

Whilst I had a great time, the reasons for riding were to talk about a subject that is not spoken about enough, that is why PUKAUP exists, to get us to talk, so help family, friends and mates who may be suffering in silence and need support. Listening is the place to start.

SCT Logistics: a transport service that cares.