One of the best parts about managing She Rides is hearing about all the beautiful places that play host to our programs all across the country.
We caught up with our newest She Rides Leader, Mel Macaulay, on Queensland’s Fraser Coast about her upcoming Mountain Bike Confidence program earlier this week and we can’t help but be slightly envious of the lucky women who will be joining Mel to ride in this pretty spectacular part of Australia.
We had a great chat with Mel, and loved hearing all about her own journey into mountain bike riding, and what motivated her to become involved in She Rides.
Grab yourself a coffee and settle in for an entertaining and inspiring story of one woman’s journey into cycling, punctuated by a mix of challenge, great achievement, bruises, travel, food, and great friendships.
SR: Tell us about riding on the Fraser Coast. What makes it a great place to ride?
MM: Combine perfect sunny Queensland weather with a variety of scenery & terrains from the beach to rail trail, fast & flowy single track mountain bike park to the fire trails that cut through the forest, the Bicentennial National Trail to scenic backcountry roads – there’s something for everyone, for every mood, for everyday.
You can choose to get lost in the bush all day, ride to a country town for a local pub or cafe meal, or go for a short spin and socialise over coffee & cake afterward.
SR: When did you start cycling?
MM: I’ve always had a bike growing up…I remember as a young child I would play ‘baddies’ with my sisters on our bikes in the driveway where the ‘bad’ person got to run their bike into everyone else. Of course, I was always the ‘baddie’.
As an adult, I really started cycling when I was 30 whilst I was living in Mount Isa. I was surrounded by people who loved the outdoors and in particular mountain biking. After moving back to the coast I decided I wanted to start racing mountain bikes. My first race was the Mount Perry 6hr which was advertised to be suitable for everyone. Although I was pretty fit, & had been training on fire trails in the forest I had never ridden single track.
Actually, I didn’t know what single track was until that race. Needless to say, every lap was a challenge and the one lap I completed without a single fall was nothing short of amazing. A week later even though my body was every colour of the rainbow I was hooked and looking for another race to participate in.
SR: What do you love about cycling?
MM: I love the freedom that cycling brings. Riding and smelling the different smells, seeing sights that you miss from the window of a car as you whizz past. I especially love the ability to cover larger distances compared to other outdoor activities such as hiking which means over a day I can cram so many more experiences into the day. Cycling allows you to see more scenery, climb more than one mountain, see more wildlife.
I love sitting around at the end of a good day on the bike and laughing about the days ‘trail stories’. Cycling allows me to combine my love of the outdoors, hanging out and socialising with friends, fitness and even holidays. It is a great sport that doesn’t have an age limit, is not hard on joints like so many other sports, and you don’t need to be fit to begin. These days there are so many bike options, there is a style of bike to suit everybody.
SR: What are you most proud of achieving on the bike?
MM: I have been diagnosed with a condition called Mitochondrial Disease. This degenerative condition as stated by the Mitochondrial Disease Foundation is terminal, has no cure with little effective treatment. Mito has left me blind in one eye and with limited movement in the other eye. Although I am extremely lucky as many with Mito are wheelchair bound due to increasing muscle weakness and many organ issues, I live a pretty full life although I still do need to manage my energy. And riding off road single track with one eye that doesn’t respond well to rough surfaces & changing light brings its own challenges…
So in 2008, I raced my first 24hr race at the Australian National 24hr Championships. From there I raced the World Champs in Canada in Canmore. My then 10yr old son travelled to Canada to support me during that race. The weather started off beautifully warm (for a Queenslander!) which quickly turned bitterly cold after heavy rain and storms swept through making climbing challenging with the thick black slippery mud. My son David looked after my clothes, washed filthy bikes, changed batteries, his goal was to stay up all night!
My favourite memory of that race is crossing the finish line where my son was waiting, he threw his arms around me exclaiming with tears ‘Mum, we did it!’. For most people, this would have been a big achievement, for me with Mito and at that stage in my life a single mum it was massive. And to be able to share this kind of experience with my son is invaluable.
After racing numerous 24hr races, in 2017 I won gold in my age group (40-44) at the Australian National 24hr Championships back at Majura ACT, the 10 year anniversary of my first 24hr race. The ability to keep my body in condition to race a 24hr race irrespective of a ‘health condition’ is a testament to me of what cycling can do for one’s health and mindset.
SR: Tell us about the best day you have ever had in the saddle.
MM: Too many to count!
A stand out day is Andrew and my wedding day. We were married at the beautiful Bunya Mountains in Qld in 2011. We didn’t invite anyone, however, just a few close family & friends were coming for the afternoon ceremony. On the morning of our wedding we decided to ride down the mountain towards Maidenwell, the descent was so much fun we forgot how long it would take to ride back up to the top!
I still had to have my hair and makeup done prior so there we were laughing and yelling (in fun) at each other to hurry up or we would miss our own wedding when the photographer phoned to check everything was on track for her arrival later in the day. I’m not sure what she thought when we said we were out riding and hoped we would be back in time for her arrival, but it was a great fun way to start our special day, and really set the scene for our marriage!
SR: What motivated you to sign up to be a She Rides Leader?
MM: From when I first started riding, women who mountain bike has been a minority. There’s nothing wrong with riding with the guys, and I have lots of male riding mates and mentors, but it’s just different with the girls. I have spoken with many ladies over the years who have said they tried mountain biking with their partner, but they couldn’t keep up, felt nervous, usually fell off and didn’t feel it was for them. So for me, I want to empower women to help them feel safe and assist them to overcome their nervousness and feel more confident and in control. I believe that when we change one area of our life, then it flows into other areas of our lives as well.
On the other hand, as women, we tend to focus on our family, our career and ensuring everyone around us is happy and achieving and we forget about us. I enjoy encouraging women to reconnect with themselves, their passions and their dreams and supporting & challenging them to do more than they previously thought possible. I’m enjoying being part of a national cycling program that is working to bring women together in a healthy, supporting, nurturing & positive environment.
SR: When you head out for a ride, what is the one thing you never leave home without?
MM: The simple knowledge that this ride will never happen again, I can try and replicate it, but it will never be the same, so I take advantage of the moment and make it the best ride each and every time! Oh, and phone to capture and share those moments….not to call for help!
SR: Finish this sentence – When I’m out on the bike…
MM: When I am out on the bike I can recharge and take a break from everything else. It reconnects me to nature, to myself and helps me keep a clearer perspective on life itself.