Monday, March 17, 2014

Raph's Journey Continues

In Australia, "Cycling for March," my friend Raphael's 1900 km bike ride from Adelaide to Sydney, continues.

As I mentioned previously, Raph is undertaking his epic journey to raise awareness and funds for melanoma prevention, research, and a cure for this particular type of skin cancer that claims far too many young lives in Australia. Raph is dedicating Cycling to March to his sister Tess (a friend and former student of mine) who died from the disease in 2012.

Right: Raph's mum, Bernie, and sister, Mim, are his support drivers for Cycling to March. Two vehicles were provided by Toyota Australia.

Cycling to March has been receiving some good media coverage, with Olivia Shying's March 15 Daily Advertiser article being one of the best written pieces I've come across. It's reprinted in its entirety below, followed by some wonderful images from Raph's Cycling to March website, which he is updating daily with commentary, videos, and photographs.

This website is also the place to go to make a donation to support Raph's inspiring efforts to help fund the finding of a cure for melanoma. To visit the Cycling to March website, click here.


Riding for a Cure

By Olivia Shying

Daily Advertiser
March 15, 2014

Raphael McGowan is calling on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to bring Australia's most common cancer among youth, melanoma, to the spotlight.

Losing his sister to melanoma at the age of 30 changed the course of Mr McGowan's life as he and his family struggled to comprehend their loss.

Nearly two year's after 30-year-old Tess McGowan died form melanoma, just 11 months after diagnosis, Mr McGowan is making sure his sister's story is not forgotten.

In ride a he dubbed "Cycling to March", Mr McGowan hopes the 1900 kilometres travelled from Adelaide to Sydney will help increase the awareness of melanoma while also raising funds for the Melanoma Institute of Australia.

In 2011, Mr McGowan was pursuing his passion for cycling, riding across the United States, when he received a devastating call from his father, telling him his beloved sister had been diagnosed with melanoma.

Mr McGowan said prior to his sister's diagnosis he had no idea of the incidence of melanoma in Australia.

"They told me melanoma is the most common cancer in 19 to 34 year old and I thought wow this is pretty serious and this is my age group," he said.

During her treatment, Tess went on a trial drug, which gave her three extra months.

While to many people three months may seem like nothing, Mr McGowan said this time meant everything.

"This time allowed us to say exactly what we wanted to say," he said.

"It also allowed Tess to write letters to her daughter, who was one, telling her what she wanted for her when she was ten and twenty and so on," he said.

In the aftermath of his sister's death Mr McGowan and his family managed to raised $7000 but now they hope to raise much more.

With the ride ending in Sydney later this week, Mr McGowan says there will be a final celebration in Centennial Park, where he spent months training.

"The health minister will be there, Stephanie Rice who is an ambassador for melanoma will be there," he said.

Mr McGowan's real wish, however is to have the Prime Minister in attendance.

"I know if he will publicly recognise melanoma as a problem then people in Australia will listen," he said.

Mr McGowan said he hopes his work in raising awareness around melanoma, will allow Tess' dream of a cure to come true.


On each day of his trek, Raph is journaling and sharing photos, a video, and even a song of the day on the Cycling for March website.

Following is a sampling of the comments and images Raph has shared to date, March 17 . . . his birthday!.

An excerpt from Raph's journal entry for Day 1 of Cycling to March (February 26, Adelaide to Mount Barker - 60 kilometres) . . .

. . . We gathered at [the South Australian] Parliament House where we were joined by some wonderful people from the Adelaide Poche Centre and Flinders University - offering their genuine support to the fight against melanoma. Minister Jack Snelling welcomed everyone and highlighted the reasons behind Cycling to March and some lovely words of Tess.

Then the police escort out of the city! A convoy of police cars, motorbikes, cyclists, flashing lights. I didn't try and hide the smile and loved how traffic and pedestrians came to a stand still. If they read today's Advertiser then they would know what this was for.

Adelaide hills are beautiful and the climb to the top was both scenic and sweaty :) I was joined by local cyclists who led the way and were great company. The legs felt good and I was sure to follow the advice of Peter Kogoy in taking it easy the first few days.

The song today is "Debaser" by Pixies. Its also energetic and vocals sound great, one that I know Tess enjoyed and so too Michael Bayly. Time now for mum, my sister and I to eat, drink, stretch and rest. They were such a huge help today! Can't wait for tomorrow!

Raph's journal entry for Day 2 (February 27, Mount Barker to Tailem Bend - 85 kilometres) . . .

We woke to some unexpected crisp weather but once we were all up, packing the cars and eating breakfast, I knew everyone was looking forward to Day 2.

I know I speak for all of the team when I say it was a joy to be in the countryside. It was all long open roads with minimal traffic and a slight cross wind to keep things cool. We passed through many vineyards near Langhorn but were unable to sample a drop on this occasion.

A couple of farmers out on their motorbikes gave me a toot hello as I cycled by and at the end of the day passed by a dairy farm with a worker flicking me a thumbs up. When this happens it really boosts the spirit. Let me not forget to mention the cows. I passed many today and each time made sure I said hello, as we all do.

It was always planned that I would cycle alone today and for the coming few days. I wanted some time after this began to centre myself and remind myself this is actually happening! I enjoyed today and the company of mum and Mim. I continue to keep my fluids and supplements up thanks to Mass Nutrition Wagga ...I know from past experiences what can happen if this slips.

The song is "Alive" by Empire of the Sun. I love Luke Steele's voice and use to mimic it, with Tess agreeing there were 'some' similarities when I was in tune. I enjoyed singing it today to the cows. Flat tyre count is zero and happy if it stays there. Cheers.

An excerpt from Raph's journal entry for Day 9 (March 6, Warrnambool to Princetown - 86 kilometres) . . .

We got our first sight [of the Southern Ocean] shortly after lunch, and just seeing water is truly amazing for the soul. A couple who we met in Port Fairy and are also heading to Sydney (in a camper van) saw us for the second time today. They said they will donate each time they see me :) We continue to build new friendships daily. Interestingly, at this same lookout, three other couples saw the Melanoma Institute logos and on chatting to them ALL three have had melanomas removed at some point in their lives. It is so wide spread!

Above: Raph with his parents, Mike and Bernie McGowan.

Another excerpt from Raph's journal entry for Day 9 . . .

This morning we were invited to join the Warrnambool Clontarf Academy for breakfast. One part was so I could share with the boys what is driving me to cycling 1900 kms and also for them to share what Clontarf is all about. We were all so impressed at how proud and passionate the boys spoke of their education and desire to help others. I hope they know that this hour spent together provided my mum, sister, uncle and I with such inspiration, it was the talking point all day! Thank you.

Raph's journal entry for Day 11 (March 8, Apollo Bay to Barwon Heads - 116 kilometres) . . .

How could this not have been a great day after seeing the sunrise as we traveled along the Great Ocean Road.

After a stop in Torquay for a live radio interview we set off for the final leg today to Barwon Heads. We have a lot of family who live here and I knew some would be waiting to greet us. My cousin Moni joined Chris and I as we cycled the last few kms to finish at the very supportive local cycling store Hendry Cycles.

I smiled as I heard everyone clapping and cheering on approach, hugs were received by everyone. My grandmother was there, uncles, aunts and young cousins who were so proud to show me their bike's. How special it is when family and friends can come together.

Tonight we all attended church and Father Mick asked if I would share what I was doing. Two years ago our family gathered for the first Christmas without Tess in Barwon Heads. Tonight marked half way of this journey and to have a blessing from father and best wishes from those present is making me glow. All the relatives are now gathered for dinner together. I will now go and join them.

Day 13 (Werribee to Whittlesea - 90 kilometres) . . .

. . . I met a number of people today who melanoma has affected and their drive to make each day matter is incredible! I am so grateful for all the new friends I have made. Thanks also to friends currently in India who sent their support photo. . . . Classic!

Raph's journal entry for Day 15 (March 12, Bonnie Doon to Benalla - 82 Kilometres) . . .

Today I want to recognise and say thanks to all the local people that have helped make Cycling to March possible and special.

The day started with a call from ABC Radio who kindly allowed me to share with listeners in detail what we are setting out to do over these 24 days. When we arrived in Benalla, it was Damien and Annette who greeted us on behalf of Caltex, who have generously donated fuel cards for the support vehicles. There was also a reporter from the local Benalla Ensign, which is important as any article will allow what we are doing to be shared with the local community.

Ben and Liz Sumner own the Gallery Cafe and are friends of mum from Yamba. They told us to stop in and visit, which allowed us to meet the lovely cafe staff Wendy, the chef Cassie and Joe. This was an afternoon of great food and conversation with the staff. We loved it there!

By chance, I decided to go to the shop with mum and when looking for dinner happen to run into Joe again at the very trendy local Rustik cafe wine bar. Joe told the owner Ida who we were and what we were doing. Ida insisted we please sit and we had dinner there. Of course four lovely ladies Nola, Kaye, Judy and Carol overheard what we were doing and we then chatted to them. Like so many others we have met, melanoma had also taken some of their loved ones. Gladly, another lady Amanda from the Rotary Club said hello and asked me to share my details with her to see if the Rotary can help. Kindness is everywhere and tonight we were blessed to receive it in abundance!

Tomorrow is Tess's birthday. This will be a special day for many people and I know when people are thinking or singing happy birthday to Tess, it will be with a smile. Thanks Benalla for making us smile today.

An excerpt from Raph's journal entry for Day 17 (March 14, Chiltern to Culcairn - 106 kilometres) . . .

. . . [W]e said goodbye to Tom and Lisa and set off on their advice on the back way to Culcairn. No more than five minutes along this new route a car pulled up beside me and as I glanced right and wondered what was next, this lady shouted, "I knew Tess"! I immediately said "pull over"! Judy, a dear friend of Tess's from Sydney Playback Theater Company leaped out of her car and hugged all three of us. She took a wrong road, we were advised of a new route ... this was most serendipitous and all agreed a blessing orchestrated by Tess.

Above: Raph with his best friend Jake in Wagga Wagga.

An excerpt from Raph's journal entry for Day 18 (March 15, Culcairn to Wagga Wagga - 77 kilometres) . . .

"ONYA Raphael" as the sign said entering Wagga Wagga, made by my best friend Jake. I had 'Bike Bug' members accompany me from The Rock - more wonderful cycling company to add to this experience. . . . We arrived in the main street and were hosted by Mass Nutrition Wagga. It is worth knowing I have had no cramping or fatigue on this journey- cycling 6 hours a day then off the saddle ready to engage. You need the right food but also the right supplements and advise- thanks Mass Nutrition for keeping me fresh to experience every part.

Growing up in Wagga, our family have received a lot of support on this journey and seeing friends come to welcome us today made me stop and realise just how important good friends are. Now, bring your cute new baby as well and everyone just melts! . . .

Excerpts from Raph's journal entry for Day 20 (March 17, Gundagai to Yass - 104 kilometres) . . .

Being able to celebrate my birthday as well as Tess's on this journey was always something I looked forward to. To spend breakfast in a gorgeous B & B in Gundagai with our new friend Neil was the perfect way to begin St Patrick's day.

. . . We were met [in Yass] by Libby and husband Herb, cousins of a friend of mine, at the tourist information centre who had organised the local paper to meet us there. The local high school principal, Louise, also came down to make a donation from a recent school fundraiser and shared that the "sun smart" message was being received by students who are now wearing hats whenever in the playground. This was excellent to hear! It was a busy afternoon as mum, Mim and I were surprised by good family friends and keen cyclists Mick and Rozzie, who drove all the way from Wagga to say hello. Thank you!

Libby, her children and family friends hosted a birthday BBQ dinner for us. They even sang happy birthday and I got to blow out some candles. I was touched at how much of a fuss was made and I couldn't be more grateful for the company I got to spend my birthday with.

Happy Birthday, Raph!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Raph's Inspiring Journey
A Day Roving the Mid North Coast
Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast
Yaegl Country
A Fresh Take on Masculinity (featuring Raph's brother Iggy!)
Congratulations, Raph!
The Onward Call
Our Sacred Journey Continues: An All Saints & Souls Day Reflection
"Call Upon Those You Love"


Brian R said...

I donated to this cause after your first item. As I told Raph, both my sister and I have had small Melanomas but they have been found in time and we have both lived, so far, into our 70's. I am delighted to see we share the same birthdate. However I just turned 70 last Monday. A belated happy St Paddy's Day to all :-)

Michael J. Bayly said...

Happy Birthday for the 17th, Brian! I'm actually writing this back in Australia as I came back March 20 to surprise Raph when he finished his ride on March 21. I'll post photos soon. Thanks for contributing to the cause!