10/15/2005 - Departure

Jean Reilly (from Dyer, IN and from the ride last year) and her husband Glenn picked me up to take me to the airport. Jean and I were surprised there by our fellow rider Cathy “Fearless” Huston. She lives in Grand Rapids and had found out what flight to LA we were on and booked a seat on the same one. Jean and I talk frequently but I hadn’t had much chance over the last year to really talk with Fearless, so it was great to have time on the flight to LA to catch up.

The flight was late leaving Chicago so by the time we got to LA our layover time had shrunk considerably. The four other returning US riders were meeting us in LA for the flight to Sydney, and not surprisingly we found them in an airport bar! We had a short reunion with Jen, Rhonda, Stacy and Linda before getting on the plane for the 14 hour flight. The flight was going along pretty well – free drinks, a decent dinner and a good movie followed by my new best friend – Ambien, and it was off to sleep. However, about 4 hours into the flight we were rudely awakened by an announcement that we were losing cabin pressure and that we should begin using our oxygen masks immediately – which alarmingly did not appear as expected. As we all stared at the ceiling waiting for the masks to appear, hyperventilating (but not from lack of oxygen - there did seem to be enough of that) the announcement kept repeating – adding the startling news that we would also be losing altitude. I was across from the galley, and soon realized that the flight attendants did not look overly alarmed, so I took some small comfort in that. Of course as it turns out it was some sort of malfunction of the alarm announcement, the Ambien went back to work, and I had a good nights sleep – waking about 2 hours before landing.


10/17/2005 to 10/20/2005 - Pre ride: Sydney

We were met at the airport by Megan and Meredith – the Amazon Heart founders – as well as Marie (my roomie from last year) and my friend Kitty – who moved to Sydney in January and has been befriended by Marie, who lives very nearby her. They swept us all off to the beach for a breakfast bbq and lots of champagne! After breakfast, the others went their separate ways – mostly to the hotel – and Marie, Kitty and I went off in search of strong coffee so that I could try to acclimate to the local time zone and not just pass out! After a few hours of sightseeing, Marie dropped us at Kitty’s place so that I could unpack for my few days stay with her and her husband Paul. They have a great place with a terrace rooftop view of downtown Sydney.

Spent those few days hanging around seeing the local sights – had dinner with Marie and her partner Mark one evening, and basically just tried to get over my jet lag!

On Thursday, I checked into the hotel and met up with all the other girls who had been coming in throughout the day. My roommate Lisa and I got an unexpected upgrade to a great room. Little did I know it was as good as it would get for the rest of the trip, but more on the accommodations later…

Around 6:00 on Thursday we all grabbed drinks and went off for our first meeting. Megan and Meredith had put together a slide show from the ride last year and from the other 2 rides this year which was very powerful and emotional. An equally emotional round of introductions followed where everyone shared a bit of their stories that have brought us together, and then we were officially underway!

We mostly decided to hang around the hotel that evening since there was a drag queen leading a trivia contest – who would want to miss that? Considering though that our group was mostly Americans and we were in Australia, we didn’t do so well with the trivia…But a good time was had by all as the pictures attest!


10/21/2005 - Practice Ride 1: Blacktown Harley to Coogee

Got in the vans early to go out to pick up the bikes. The weather forecast wound up being correct, sadly, so we were introduced to our bikes in the pouring rain! Since we had a couple of media stops scheduled, we didn’t have the luxury of waiting out the weather. We all donned our raingear and just got on the bikes and rode. My Street Bob was gorgeous – it was love at first sight. It’s a bigger engine – 1450cc, but I’ve ridden bigger bikes so that didn’t take much getting used to, but we had city traffic, pouring rain, highways, tollbooths, roundabouts, and we were on the wrong side of the road – on bikes we’d never laid eyes on before to top it all off - which was the bigger challenge than the bike itself. We did amazingly well and it all went off without incident. Got some great pictures taken for one of the big Sydney papers in front of the famous Opera House at Milson’s Point. In the middle of mid-day rush hour at this famous tourist stop, we made quite a stir on our bikes. It was almost worth the misery of riding in the rain!

That evening it was back to Milson’s Point for a nice dinner outside – again, with the Opera House lit up in the background. The weather had cleared and we had a fantastic time. A small group of us decided not to go straight back to the hotel, and Marie navigated us to the oldest pub in Sydney. There was a little band playing and they found out who we were and what we were doing, and they made a nice little announcement about us to the crowd. By the time we got back to the hotel the rest of the group had gone to bed, so we did too.


10/22/2005 - Practice Ride 2: Coogee to Botany Bay National Park

A bit of a later start today and much better weather made up for yesterday. It was still a lot more city riding than I care to do, but the scenery we saw today was what I envisioned for Australia. We packed lunches and took off for Botany Bay National Park. On the way back pulling out of a gas stop on a sharp steep turn, the person in front of me stopped short, causing me to stop short and I came very close to dropping my Bob. Thankfully I was able to pull him up and get on my way before getting run over by a bus. A hairy moment, but all’s well that ends well.

For dinner we all got take out and drinks from a variety of places and met up at the beach for a little pot-luck dinner. It was an early evening since we had a big day ahead of us! Got all packed up and ready for the morning and hit the sack by 9:30!


10/23/2005 - Day 1: Sydney to Newcastle

An early start to get our gear in the vans and get the bikes lined up along the boardwalk at Coogee Beach. My carpal tunnel had really flared up with all the city riding the last 2 days and a much stiffer clutch on the Harley than I’m used to. My left hand was numb just by going from the hotel garage to the beach. I hoped I’d be able to manage, but was frankly pretty worried. Thankfully, once we got out of the city it eased up some. We had a great ride up Mount White – at least until we came upon a motorcycle accident along the way. One of the bikes involved had apparently crossed to the other side of the rode and gone into (and was still lodged under) the guardrail. The blue tarp over the guardrail was an indication that there had been a fatality involved. That was sure a sobering moment for us.

We arrived at our next stop to a great welcome by group of local Harley riders. The Warrior’s Café at Mount White is a very popular biker stop. The group rode with us to our lunch stop at The Entrance – a popular beachside area. Then it was on to meet our first BCNA (breast cancer network Australia) survivor group. They put together a very nice event at Warner’s Bay – yet another beautiful beach area – where we had a chance to meet and chat with a number of fellow survivors.

This evening was our first stay at a Youth Hostel. How do I describe that experience??

One reaches a point in ones life where sharing a non-air conditioned room, on a second floor with no elevators, no screens (there are LARGE bugs in Oz…), no bathroom and 4 sets of bunk beds (which one has to put sheets on oneself) is not desirable. You all know I’m much more the mini-bar, room service, cable TV, chocolates on the pillow type. Then try to get all the snorers in their own rooms, and non-snorers in theirs, and then the sometime snorers in yet another, and you can imagine the scenario - a bunch of tired, crabby, sweaty women who end up arguing about who gets the bottom bunks. We were so grateful whenever we found an actual hotel with an elevator or a room with only 2 beds! Talk about luxury...

Though looking back we had a lot of laughs about it and it gave us something to bitch about - but when you’re hot, tired, and old – well, you get the idea. Eight women – 1 bathroom?? Hello!! (Although we didn’t know how lucky we were at the time that we actually had a bathroom in our room – AND we were on the first floor…)


10/24/2005 - Day 2: Newcastle to Taree

An overcast day, but not unpleasant – our first stop of the day was at a Harley dealership. A number of us had bikes that needed adjusting – they fixed my clutch which helped a lot with the pain and numbness I’d been experiencing. From there we had a very scenic ride along Buckett’s Way - through winding farmland roads with almost no traffic – but plenty of potholes! There were some real bone rattler's there - a few times I was sure I'd bent the rim on the front tire! The next stop was the National Motorcycle Museum – an enormous set of buildings with more antique motorcycles than I ever would have imagined existed!

From there we were racing some bad weather that was coming up on us, but had one more stop where a group of schoolgirls and another BCNA group were waiting to greet us. The girls were so sweet – all in their school uniforms. We gave them all our jackets to try on – which they loved – and had a brief visit with the ladies, then it was back on the bikes to try to beat the storms. Schools were just letting out and all the kids in the streets had us beeping our horns like crazy women! We got caught in a bit of rain, but made it back for the most part for a stay in a “real” hotel. Well, “motel” really, but after the hostel (which we coined “hostile” early on) it seemed pretty luxurious!

The rain started in earnest as we were walking to dinner at a local sailing club. I ended up having some great conversations with a couple of the new Aussie riders – Greta and Susanna. We shared not just our stories, but our personal philosophies and thoughts about illness and its causes. The sharing and stories continued back at the hotel where we ran back and forth between rooms, dodging rain and talking and laughing into the night…


10/25/2005 - Day 3: Taree to Coffs Harbour

Beautiful riding today to Nambucca Heads. There was a group at Shelly Beach that met us and provided real food! We’ve been getting served free food by Baker’s Delight for much of the trip, and were SO excited to see fresh fruit, chicken and sandwiches – all prepared by the local BCNA group. The beach was beautiful as was the ride in down a long winding narrow road.

The highlight for me was being approached by one of the BCNA ladies, who had gone to the Changing Gears website and discovered that one of the riders was from Chicago. She found me and told me that her niece had been recently diagnosed and wondered whether I’d be willing to contact her – since she lives in Schaumburg. Of course I told her I’d be happy to (and have been in touch with Christine recently – who is a sweetheart, and was so grateful for her aunt's introduction).

From there it was off to our next Hostile in Coff’s Harbour. This was a particularly interesting night in that we had a dinner hosted for us by the local Rotary Club. They had about 70 people show up to meet us, and put on a very nice spread for us. The big event of the evening was when one of the women seated across from me passed out in her chair in the middle of dinner. In a true testament to the dedication of the Rotarians, the business part of the dinner proceeded without a hitch. The woman next to me, who was very drunk, commented “Her husband used to faint on occasion. He’s dead but he was a good Rotarian.” I have no idea what that even meant, but it gives you a flavor for the tone of the evening! She ended up being ok eventually, but it was quite exciting there for a while. Well, for a Rotary dinner, anyway…There was a gorgeous lightening storm that lasted hours that night. A bunch of us stayed up late just enjoying nature's show.


10/27/2005 - Day 4: Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay

The day started with a breakfast put on for us at a Harley dealership ikn Coff’s Harbour. The weather was hot – even so early in the day.

It was another beautiful day of riding, along the Summerland Way, but SO hot. Another dealership for lunch, then on to Byron Bay.

We were met there by a group of survivors who put on a very nice spread for us including champagne, sandwiches and even had a masseuse for us – much needed and much appreciated!

It was Linda’s 50th birthday and we all went into town that evening to a great restaurant on the beach for a dinner celebration.

Another night of 6 to a room – lots of laughs there too at the end of the night.


10/28/2005 - Day 5: Byron Bay to Redcliffe

We had another gorgeous day, but it kept getting hotter the further north we went. It was a little harder riding today – more city type traffic – not very pretty scenery in my opinion – it reminded me a lot of Miami – tons of beachside condos and hotels in the Gold Coast area, but they all looked alike after a while. Not very interesting architecturally, and lots and lots of stoplights – yuck!

We rode through Surfer’s Paradise, but didn’t get to see much pf the beaches since they were in the process of putting up barricades along the roads for the Indy races.

We stopped at another dealership for lunch and were lining the bikes up along a fairly busy road, when a car rear-ended another car that had slowed down to look at us and the bikes! Crunch…no one hurt, but the cars sure didn’t come out of that very well. Oops!

After lunch we headed up through Brisbane (the 3rd largest city in Australia) – during rush hour – again, not very pleasant riding, but sometimes you just have to do it to get where you’re going. We ended up in Redcliff at an interesting old resort for the night. I ended up rooming with Cathy for the night and it was fun to spend more time with her.

I had talked to Rhonda a few times about switching bikes with her for a day or so. I loved my Bob –but without having a way to stretch out my legs while riding, my knees were starting to bother me. Rhonda was having trouble with the forward controls on her bike so as soon as we got our gear stowed in our rooms, we swapped bikes to go for a ride. It felt good to get on her Softail for a change and so we agreed to swap bikes for the next day.

For dinner, one of the aussie girls had arranged some great food for a bbq from a local caterer. Another rain storm drove us inside to finish the bbq indoors – a first for me – grilling inside! But great food and great fun.


10/29/2005 - Day 6: Redcliffe to Noosa

A short ride to a beautiful breakfast stop at Sutton’s beach. An "Australian Story" camera crew and reporters met us there. It’s a national newsmagazine show – similar to our 60 Minutes – that is doing a 30 minute documentary about the ride for airing early next year. They joined us a few days ago and will be here and there filming for the rest of the ride. Great publicity for Amazon Heart!!

We finally got to see kangaroos and koala at our next stop – Australia Zoo. It was wickedly hot and we sure were wishing we weren’t in full leathers! They made special announcement about us during one of the shows. The announcer introduced Greta and I and we got a chance to speak for a few minutes to the crowd about Amazon Heart and the event.

The afternoon included a spectacular ride over Mt. Mee and through a number of national parks. Beautiful twisties and forests. This was my kind of day - the heat doesn't even bother you when you're moving - and the scenery was just breathtaking!

Noosa was another gorgeous beach town and yet another hostile! We were all so hot and tired from our day, and still had one more group of survivors to meet and talk to before we could find our rooms and showers! Only 4 to a room that night – luxury! A nice dinner in the garden of the hostel and lots of time for visiting, wine and stories. Would have liked to have seen more of that town though. That’s one worth going back for. Gorgeous beach and shops.


10/30/2005 - Day 7: Noosa to Brisbane

Hard to believe its almost over. It was back to Brisbane today. I kept the Softail for one more day because the riding wasn't going to be very interesting, and I did enjoy the break and ability to stretch out. And of course, Rhonda didn't mind having Bob for an extra day either!

We were joined on part of the ride by Raylene Boyle – an Australian Olympic medalist and fellow survivor – who rode part of the day on the back of Meredith’s bike. After dropping her off, we went off to the beach to meet up with the Dragon’s Abreast Dragon boaters who let a number of the girls see what it’s like to paddle in those huge gorgeous dragon boats. The rest of us just had a rest and tried to rehydrate – a couple of the girls were suffering from heat exhaustsion, so by this time the hydrating was crucial!

Then it was off to the hotel (yes, a real hotel!). Greta had asked me earlier in the day if I’d like to room with her that last night. We had hit it off so well and wanted to spend some time getting to know each other better since time was getting short. When you're on the bikes all day and have so little down time, it's tough to really spend quality time with everyone the way we'd like.

We had a great dinner at the hotel – with lots of emotional speeches, then to the bar to finish the evening. Greta and I stayed up til 2:00am talking, laughing and, of course, crying. She is such an amazing woman and such an inspiration. I was so grateful for that time together and it was worth the scant several hours of sleep we both got.


10/31/2005 - Day 8: Pink Ribbon Ride – Brisbane

Lisa organized a beautiful breakfast for us on this last short day of riding. A gorgeous huge tent and an amazing spread of food set the tone for a great last day. Bob and I were reunited for our last day together. It really is a much more fun bike to ride. The Softail felt sluggish compared to Bob even though the engines are the same size. Bob is just zippier and more fun on the twisties.

We rode off to meet up with a big pink ribbon ride – over 1500 bikes were participating. Though the ride itself wasn’t spectacular, seeing all those bikes was great. We left the after-party early to do some unscheduled riding in the mountains. They were gorgeous and the day was sunny and hot - perfect for mountain riding. We stopped for a bite of lunch and headed back to drop off the bikes.

So sad to say goodbye to the bikes and to the girls who had to head straight to the airport. A number of us had booked an extra night at the hotel – I had made arrangements to room with Marie – my roommate from the ride last year and a dear friend. It was just like old times – chatting and laughing and revisiting all the events of the week. We all ended up going out for a nice dinner at a seafood restaurant, then back to the hotel and chatted til the wee hours. It was such a great ending to such an amazing week. The memories and friendships will last a lifetime.