G’day,

Tomorrow, I’m starting the 2014 Great Cycle Challenge, to do my bit to raise much-needed research funds to fight kids’ cancer.

My aim this year is to cover 1500km over the next 31 days, and I’m hoping to raise over $1500. I’ll be blogging about it, too, on theolcrank.com

So why am I doing this? Because cancer is the single biggest killer of children from disease in Australia. 

Every week, 12 families get the most awful news they’ll ever hear – that their child has cancer. And three kids die of cancer. Every. Single. Week.

Cancer turns up completely unannounced. It gives you no time to prepare, no time to respond. Getting up and riding my bike, no matter the weather, is absolutely nothing compared to the constant pain, suffering and anxiety that these kids – and their families – face every single day.

And the battle with this godawful disease goes on for months and years at a time.

I should know – we’ve been through it, and we’ll deal with the fall-out for a long time to come.

Without continual research and treatment developments that are always going on in the world on paediatric oncology, our life story would be a lot different.

Our kids should be living life, not fighting for it.

So that’s why I intend to ride 1500km over the next month, in the midst of my normal family and work life.

But I really, really need your help. Please, sponsor me to support my challenge and to help our kids. Don’t worry – I’m kicking the tin, too.

To make a donation, simply view my page by clicking on the link below:

www.greatcyclechallenge.com.au/Riders/theolcrank

All funds raised will support the Children’s Medical Research Institute to continue its work to develop treatments and find a cure for childhood cancers. And everything over two bucks is tax-deductible. The national tally already stands at $800,000!

Thanks for your support. Keep an eye on the blog, too – I’ll make it entertaining. If I can!

Cheers and thanks,

Robbo

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The Great Cycle Challenge is deceptively attractive on the outside. Pick your own kilometre target, and you’re given the luxury of a month to achieve it. Sounds like an easy way to raise money for kid’s cancer research, right?

Well, it’s the 21st and I’ve been for five rides. Five. I’m making the game tougher…  The regular reader of my blog will know that I like to take the longest time imaginable to do the easiest task, so this morning’s planned 50 turned into a hurried 20.

I snuck in 25km in Melbourne during a work trip last week – more on that in my next instalment – and I may sneak in another 30 on Friday. The weekend isn’t looking great, though, so I’m going to have to ride to work (part-way, anyway) next week.

Now with the terrible NSW bushfires just to the west of us, the sky has turned grey with soot and smoke, and outdoor exercise is not recommended.

In the meantime, I’m awed and humbled to report that your donations have smashed through the $1900 barrier, thanks to a ridiculously generous donation from my mates at Fiat-Chrysler. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Me on the bike, Karla Leach from Fiat-Chrysler silently cursing me. Thanks for the smashing donation, Karls.

Will I make 500 this month? It’ll be tough. I may have to round up some accomplices…

A quick word in praise of the peeps behind the Challenge, too including my mate Greg Johnson; the website and ride app are working faultlessly, and it’s making all of the rider’s jobs that much easier. Salud, lads.

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Darkness, both physical and mental. That’s what I remember about our first moment in Ward C2 West at Sydney Children’s Hospital. As a patient whose immune system is in a depressed state, Max – full name Maxim Timothy, medical ID number 91803 – is given a large room to himself, isolated from the rest of the kid’s cancer ward.

It’s a small blessing; even if we carried comprehensive health insurance, we wouldn’t get a room anything like it. The nurses, lavender-swathed ghosts in the gloom, are welcoming, calming this panicked parent as we start night one of a long stay.

The next day is awful. There’s no other way to put it. It’s the day that we learn that Max has acute lymphoblastic leukaemia; a disease of the blood where Max’s bone marrow produces far too many white blood cells far too quickly. These cells are immature, and essentially useless at their key job – maintaining Max’s immunity.
The long-term prognosis from the oncologist is positive, but until you sit in a hospital room set aside specifically for the purpose of telling parents that their child has cancer, it’s impossible to relay the sense of terror and hopelessness that pervades every fibre of your being. Mel and I hold hands as Dr Richard Cohn breaks the news. She cries. I can’t. Not yet, anyway.

That same day, Max is wheeled into theatre for the first of many, many procedures that will take place in the next… however long it was. From memory, it was to take a sample of marrow from a hip bone as a baseline read. Lumbar punctures – the good ol’ spinal tap, in other words – would also become a regular part of Max’s treatment process, where spinal fluid is checked for the presence of cancer cells. I watched Max go in for that first procedure – I think Mel had left for the day – and for the first time in a couple of days, I was alone. No doctors, no nurses, no one. And it struck me full-force. My little boy has cancer. What now?

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December 2006, after his first op. Still smiling.

I’ve just watched 650 bike riders cover just over 1000km in total this weekend. Why such a short distance? Each one of them covered a 400m BMX track – at scarcely believable speeds – at least three times each. The sport of BMX is on the uptick again, and Max was there, competing in his third State Championships event. After a year punctuated by injury (a broken collarbone took a while to heal) and illness (flu hit hard this year), I honestly wasn’t expecting him to do as brilliantly as he did.

Max at Lake Macquarie, October 2013

Max at Lake Macquarie, October 2013

Out of 54 riders in his age group, and after winning his first moto of three for the day, he was beaten out of a place in the 24-rider quarter final by half an agonising wheel length. He started racing when he was six, and he loves it. Just loves it.

Sadly, my plan to pack a bike in for the trip to Lake Macquarie didn’t happen, so I’ve added nothing to my Great Cycle Challenge total since last I wrote. This week isn’t looking terrific, but I have a cunning plan…

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I broke a few laws on the way home that afternoon. I even outran a cop. It didn’t matter – even if I’d driven under the limit, the day wasn’t going to get any better.

Dr Jolliffe was explicit and clinical in her appraisal. “I don’t like his pallor, and I think it may be a blood disease,” she said briskly. The ‘c’ word didn’t even cross our mind. “I want you to take him straight to Wollongong [hospital], and his blood results will be waiting for you. No delay. Do you have someone to look after Milly?” We did, but I simply don’t remember who. It was all getting very frightening now. I like to have things organised and under control in order to achieve a good outcome. This wasn’t in my control.

“Can we go home first?” I asked, already deciding that that’s what’s going to happen. “The doc fixed me with a withering stare. “I said ‘straight away,” she said pointedly. My blood ran cold. I nodded meekly and we went straight to Wollongong hospital; how, I don’t really remember. We didn’t have to wait long for the news that would change our lives so completely, so quickly.

“Maxim’s white blood cell count is very high,” the pediatric resident told us, just as if he was telling us he’d sprained his ankle. “It’s most certainly leukaemia.” My little boy was playing with a toy on a casualty ward stretcher. Leukaemia? Cancer? Fucking CANCER? How… how did this happen? Mel looked as frightened as I’d ever seen anyone, and I didn’t feel any better.

“Now… Westmead or Sydney Children’s?” asked the resident quite brusquely – his name escapes me, but it won’t be the last run-in I have with him. It’s not like we had a moment to Google either hospital for a resume, either; we chose SCH at Randwick mainly because my folks live between it and home, and I used to live nearby and was familiar with the area. “Righto, then; you can take him up now – they will be expecting you.”

It was about 5pm. “Let’s go home first,” I said to Mel. “we can pack, give him a bath, then we’ll head off.” By necessity, I was designated as the hospital carer; I hadn’t even thought about work at this stage, but that would come later. We packed a few things, including few toys, a blanket and Max’s favourite pillow, while he played in the bath.

Leaning on the door frame of the bathroom, watching my little boy push his Sesame Street boat around in the bubbles in the soft light of the falling evening, the thought that this might be his last ever one at home forced its way to the front of my mind. I can still conjure up that vision – and that all-pervading sense of pure grey dread – as clear as a bell to this day.

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Max at SCH, December 2006. The wombat is a gift from the kids at his day care class; it’s their class mascot, in fact.

I’m going to write this series in a bit of an unusual way. The first part of each post will be about the Great Cycle Challenge, while the second part will be the first time I’ve put finger to keyboard to write about our time with Max and leukaemia. I hope it’ll be a good insight into why fundraising is so important.

A dream start - literally.

A dream start – literally.

Day one, and it’s a 0430 start. Sadly, it’s not to blearily tumble into Lycra and head out for a Wollongong-and-back loop on the Bianchi; instead, I’m writing this at 12,000m on my way to a work gig.

I’ve got 500 bike km to cover this month, and I’m warning you now – it’ll be a real battle to get them in.  My calendar resembles some sort of evil horizontal Tetris puzzle, sentencing me to 16 away days out of 31. Add to that the finalisation of a house purchase and our eldest in HSC mode, and the month of October looks short. Very short.

I have some cunning plans , though. Commuting for part of my daily 158km round-trip on a few days will add some valuable bike miles. Sitting on spin bikes at hotel gyms will account for a few more. Lunchtime rides, morning quickies, mountain bike epics… It’s going to be a stretch, but we’ll get there.

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He looked so, so unwell, lying on the lounge that Tuesday morning. Pale, sunken eyes, a look of absolute exhaustion on his four-year-old face that shouldn’t have been there. That’s the thing about cancer; it’s an elusive bastard to detect. Our rambunctious livewire hadn’t been himself for a couple of months now. His once beloved swimming lessons had become a screaming match of reluctance, he’d been talking about “really sore legs”, and his colour… even my mum remarked on how pale Max was.

A shot taken at my brother Pete's birthday lunch just two days before Max was admitted to hopsital. He wasn't quite five.

A shot taken at my brother Pete’s birthday lunch just two days before Max was admitted to hospital. He wasn’t quite five.

There was a lot going on in our lives at the time, too. Mel’s beloved mum Jessica had died earlier in the year after a long illness, just missing the birth of our third child, Amelia. Naturally, we put a lot of Max’s behaviour down to the fact that he was a little boy now competing for mum’s attention. He wasn’t sick, per se – he just wasn’t himself.

But on that Tuesday, there was no doubt; it was time to go to the doctor. And as I drove to the office in Sydney, preparing for a trip to the States for work, I couldn’t ignore a small, but perceptible, sense of dread creeping into my stream of consciousness.

By lunchtime, though, Mel was ready to abandon the doctor’s appointment. “He’s back to normal,” she said tiredly; code for ‘he’s being a little shit again’. Max was a pretty difficult youngster, it has to be said, with poor sleeping routines and a very active sense of mischief. And just hours after looking so awful, he looked to be back at his best/worst.

I’ll forever be thankful that Mel took Max to our local GP, Dr Pam Jolliffe. We’re not doctor people, us Robsons, but it doesn’t bear thinking about if we’d skipped this one. The doc literally took one look at Max before ordering immediate blood tests and advising Mel to call me.

I was in with my magazine publisher at the time I got the text from a tearful Mel; a kind, patient and thoroughly decent man called Mike Koslowski. He’d been incredibly supportive through Mel’s mum’s illness, and boy, was I was about to test him again. I recall I made a lame joke about the Robson’s luck deserting them again, not knowing, of course, what the diagnosis of Max’s illness was. But I knew. I just knew. Something was not right.

The joy of sox

August 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

We lost a good pair of socks today. Mid-high, grey and black, made by Sock Guy for Rocket Parts. I’m not one for marking down the purchase date of socks, but I’m thinking 1997.

Despite turning at the hems a little a couple of years back, the Rockets kept rocking. There’s a teeny tiny bit of pilling on the soles, but it affected them not a jot. But the gaping hole on the ankle, just above the shoe line, has, at long last, done them in.

They’ve done their job. They’ve starred in numerous photo shoots, raced any number of races, explored any number of trails. They’ve been muddy, and they’ve been bloody. And they’ve been washed at least 800 times.

Oh sure, I’ve fallen hard for the high black sock fad. And that’s pushed the Rockets (and my Trek/VWs and my Yahoo/Ritcheys) to the back of the sock drawer over the last couple of years.

But what I loved about the Rockets was the fact I could still wear them under jeans or a suit, and no one was the wiser that I was a mountain biker.

Like Superman’s tights or… well, a pair of mountain bike socks, it allowed my a daily connection to a world I much prefer over the neccesary but occasionally mundane moments in my day-to-day.

I’ll miss you, Rocket socks. Thanks for the memories.

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American Beauty

July 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

When writers blarney on about azure blue skies, jewel-like water and achingly beautiful wilderness, they’ve either been to Lake Tahoe, California, or they’re making stuff up. The Ol’ Crank is here driving Jeeps on the fearsome but awesome Rubicon Trail, and I took the opportunity to extend my stay by a day to go and ride.

40km of trail took us two days to complete. Gnarly

40km of trail took us two days to complete. Gnarly

 

My destination – the Flume Trail. Rated by many as one of the most scenic routes on the planet, it’s part of a wider trail network that also includes the iconic Tahoe Rim Trail. I’d called the local bike rental joint a month or so ago and sorted out a Specialized Stumpy 29er – or so I thought. ‘Laid back’ best describes the approach at the busy little rental shop, so when no record of my call was forthcoming, the guys quickly found me a replacement in XL – as it turns out, the better size for me – and sent me off to the shuttle.

It'll be along eventually...

It’ll be along eventually…

 

On a breezy day under azure blue skies – and at a lung-lacerating 2000m above sea level – I spent the next five hours taking photos, making videos, grinning like a loon, chatting to other riders young and old, dropping my jaw at the view, running out of food and very nearly water, getting some jellybeans from a stranger to just struggle home and having a fantastic ride on some awesome trails.

How good is this?

How good is this?

 

The Rim Trail is a more technical affair, with plenty of rocks and sandy bits to keep your dander up.The Flume… well, it’s not hard, but it doesn’t matter. The scenery makes it one of the coolest trails on the planet. The consequences for staring at the jewel-like water of the lake, though, can be dire.

The edges of the Flume Trail are sandy, and if you screw up, this is what awaits you

The edges of the Flume Trail are sandy, and if you screw up, this is what awaits you

 

It’s given me a taste for the adventure ride again, too, and with the impending relocation of Clan Crank (more about that soon; don’t want to jinx it!), I’m going to get stuck into planning a couple of longer-haul missions as the weather warms up.

On the bomber again soon for the 15-hour haul home. I really hope this isn’t my last trip to Tahoe, but the Jeep guys were talking about Moab for the next event…

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The plan? A bike I can use to train with and coach Max. It’ll also be useful to ride at the Monster BMX track at lunchtimes.

Not surprisingly, I have almost enough bits in The Shed to get it up and going pretty much straight away; I may need to find an almost-obsolete ISIS bottom bracket in order to recycle some old cranks, and there may be a slim excuse to upgrade the Turner to XTR brakes, but I must behave. I must resist. I must… ahh, who am I kidding.

Now, which bike to sell to make room for it…