Contributed by Larry Fingleson
In 2009, Felice and I were fortunate to be at a conference and hear Peter Baines share his story and how he formed Hands Across the Water. There were many messages that resonated and I was drawn to connect with Peter and give energy to supporting the charity.
As a family we visited the orphanage in Khao Lak in 2010 and a couple of years later, Dad and I completed the 800km south ride from Bangkok to Khao Lak. The finish was an incredibly reflective and emotional one for me. I stood where I had been with my family, having just completed a significant physical challenge with my Dad – it was an experience that I immediately knew I wanted to share with my boys.
The Journey began – we needed to find a year that would tie in with Jaden’s schooling and with Zane being old enough to take on the challenge. January 2019 was the date and the 800km north ride, from Nong Khai in Thailand’s north-east along the incredibly biodiverse Mekong River for seven days before heading inland to Yasothon for the eighth day would be the ride.
And so the 7 year Journey of planning, fundraising and training began.
We needed to fundraise $10,000 each in order to do the ride. There were lots of ideas and efforts to make this happen, including lemonade stands, selling of loom bands, Hands’ bands, books for Hands, talks for companies who donated to the charity, donation of items at fundraising dinners and valuable contribution from Dad.
In addition to the fundraising, Zane needed to be physically ready for the challenge, the heat and the distance. Morning rides to Terrey Hills at 5:00am became the routine for about 6 months before the ride.
I treasured these times and I will forever be grateful for them. The training rides created a chance for Zane to talk and ask questions – there was nothing to interrupt us. Two regular events would take place on the training rides – a toilet stop half-way point in Duffey’s Forest and a stop at the Hassle Park Bakery for a warm chocolate croissant.
While we trained, Anthony Chesler helped Dad train and provided incredible support. It was awesome to have him on the journey and on the ride with us.
Leading up to the ride, we encountered a number of challenges, including ‘minor’ emergency surgery to have my appendix removed 10 days before the ride which potentially put my participation at risk.
The 2nd Jan 2019 arrived, and we were on our way to Thailand to experience what we had planned and looked forward to for the past 7 years. There was excitement and apprehension. Would Zane manage the entire challenge? Would I be able to ride every day after having had my appendix removed? How would Dad hold up after ticking over his 70th birthday a few months earlier?
The night before the ride, we met all the riders and received our riding kit. It was all now very real. Waking up and getting dressed into and seeing Zane in his riding gear with his infectious exuberant smile made me smile too.
The 8 days of riding brought with it so many dimensions. The camaraderie of a shared journey was ever present – all riders made a point to ride with each other at some point. There were also opportunities to find your own space and enjoy the sights and sounds of rural Thailand with little villages, serene landscape with calls of “Sawadee ka” as we cycled past the locals.
There were of course the routine elements that underpinned each day – 6:00am wake up, breakfast, preparing the bikes, applying sunscreen, studying the days riding itinerary all in good time for 7:00am roll out. As the day progressed, sections were covered and the kilometres were being ticked off. Each day we would enjoy a morning tea break, lunch, an afternoon break and the welcomed arrival at our overnight stop. Every stop would be next to a very small local shop (which almost always involved buying ice-creams and chocolate bars) with lunches at local restaurants. As we arrived at morning or afternoon breaks, the support crew (who were incredible and caring) would have small chairs waiting, with the table ready with snacks (like peanut brittle and rice-wheels), ice, electrolytes, water, anti-chaffing butt-cream and of course more sunscreen.
Any doubt of Zane not completing the ride was gone by the end of day 2. He became so comfortable on his bike and he took turns riding with people at the front, in the middle of the pack and above all, almost every time that Dad was riding Zane would ensure that he waited and rode nearby.
Out of choice we sang and listened to Anthony’s well curated playlist and on the rare occasion we needed to endure Zane’s noise pollution (including Eminem).
Zane formed an incredible bond with Tao – one of the children from Baan Home Hug (The orphanage that we would ride into). They met on the first night with a very clear gap in communication. Tao spoke no English and Zane no Thai. It was remarkable to see how a genuine will to connect, could form a bond that did not need language. They found ways to make each other laugh – they became comfortable enough that they found ways to bond and play physically and as time progressed and they had time on the bike next to each other, Tao managed to teach Zane how to count to 100 in Thai. Watching them together was a highlight for everyone on the ride.
Zane endeared himself to everyone on the ride. He found a way to ride with everyone or to sit and find out a little bit about each of them.
There were of course many memorable moments throughout the trip that added and made the trip magical – Ando’s Ketosis obsession, punctures, dropped bottles, evening fines, daily Captains, the occasional fall, local coconuts, our dear ‘direct stick’, Anthony’s slippers, evening drinks carried by the Mule, daily washing of riding gear, packing and unpacking each day, Ches’ cracking of the raw egg, the boys ball purchase for Tao, Nom’s Nums, Zane’s grilled chicken, waking everyone to ‘The Grind’ and who could forget Zane’s first local Thai massage, Dad’s man-purse and how we “hooked a brother up” with Weet-bix and Leos for breakfast on the last morning!.
One of the “magic moments” on the ride for me was riding behind my Dad and my son and watching them talk and engage on all things, but on this one particular day, they discussed baseball and my Dad’s favourite memories. At the next break, Zane came to me and said that “Pa was crying – real tears, not just swollen eyes.” We discussed why? and Zane understood the fact that he had taken time to show interest and listen and triggered memories that had probably not been explored for years.
We all went into the ride with expectations that it would be both fun and challenging, but what emerged from being together well surpassed all of our expectations.
The trip did have one downer and that was the fact that Jaden was unable to join us. We missed him!
The group that Dad, Zane, Anthony and I rode with were a fantastic group that made the ride all that more enjoyable – Dan Murray, Mal McClelland, Kylie Findlay, David Anderson, Renee Hancock, Steven Ford, George and Carol Spence, Jo Goh, Maria Greensill, Kyan Everson, Heather Monk, Peter and Claire Baines and of course Tao and Num.
If life is about making memories, we were all very fortunate to experience what we did, which is deeply etched and will be with us forever.