What do crocodiles and road safety have in common? Well, not much usually, other than it is generally safer inside a vehicle if a crocodile happens to be on the road, but this October added a new commonality to the pairing. Australia’s leading voice in road safety, the Amy Gillett Foundation, teamed up with the world’s oldest, and arguably toughest mountain bike stage race, the Crocodile Trophy with the goal of advocating road safety in the far north, raising some funds for the foundation and getting five intrepid souls over 900km from Cairns to Cooktown.
The mission was conceived over another Saturday morning coffee ride in Cairns, where just like most cities around the country, a near miss between vehicle and cyclist was being discussed and digested. With cycle safety hot on the agenda, it seemed appropriate to use the Crocodile Trophy as the conduit to help deliver the message of cycle safety to a broader audience. The team grew and shrunk over the ten months leading up to the race, with the main stalwarts being Duncan Murray (ex-Chairman of the Amy Gillett Foundation) and Adam Cobain (ex-roadie turned dirt junkie). Getting riders to commit to ‘the Croc’ is no easy feat; the parcours are daunting on paper, the distances are brutal, and then there is the heat, dust and camping required. However, it is one of those mystical events that do test the limits of a cyclist’s metal and is a ‘rite of passage’, akin to a stage win at Le Tour.
After months of preparation, a dwindling team and not nearly enough training for one of the cruellest undertakings on two wheels, Duncan and Adam were finally joined on the start line with Simon Gillett (3 X World Champion Rower and Patron of the Amy Gillett Foundation), Andrew Wiley and Robert Topfer (Corporate whizzes and cycling enthusiasts). Racing antics aside, what made the race special was to be part of something larger and to proudly display ‘a metre matters’ across the back of the jersey meant more than any results could deliver.
For those that have had the Crocodile Trophy experience, I’m sure that they will reaffirm the brutality of the race. Early mornings arrive with pains from the previous day’s stage and badly inflated camp mattresses. The stages start with a vigorous enthusiasm that has most chomping on their stem before the tempo finally drops and the long slow suffering begins. You learn a lot about yourself, your limit and question what on earth you are doing on some random unused gold trail that last saw a horse and carriage on it. The heat is overwhelming and there is generally not enough time to recover for the next day. However, that being said, amongst all the hurt, there is genuine purity and peace that is found, and the Crocodile Trophy riders and staff and support crew all unite into a single compassionate community; it is something to behold and a must to experience.
To date, the Amy Gillett Crocodile Trophy Team has raised nearly $11,000. The team and crew all made it to the infamous Grassy Hill in Cooktown, with some of the team clocking up nearly 50 hours on the bike over the nine days. Duncan arrived in Cooktown with a broken wrist, having been involved in a crash on the short but intense final stage from Hopevale to Cooktown (he rode 30km with one hand and rear wheel that resembled a potato chip).
The Crocodile Trophy is as much a beast as its namesake. It is old, it is dangerous and needs the utmost respect. You don’t prod the ‘croc’ or it will chew you up, it requires you to wrestle with it, all or nothing. That being said, it is a majestic creature that can send one reeling in awe. To attempt it earns respect, to finish it places one in a select group who can honestly say they have danced with the devil and won.
For the Amy Gillett Foundation, ‘a metre matters’ message has dual purpose and as cyclists we have as much responsibility and accountability on the roads as vehicles. It is always too easy to become complacent and blame vehicles for every negative encounter that we have on the roads forgetting our responsibility to ride with awareness and sense. Remember that we do not only represent ourselves and the branding on our jerseys but the greater cycling community and that our behaviour is on display all the time. If you would like to know more about the Amy Gillett Foundation and programs it has in place, please visit the website and if you would like to help the team reach their goal of $20,000, please donate, your donations would be greatly appreciated.