In 2006 I was heavily into downhill racing on mountain bikes, stunt riding, and skimboarding in gnarly shorebreak. We had to wait for the right conditions to skim, but for the bikes we could take matters into our own hands.
We built our own trails and stunts and we built them to be dangerous.
We built a trail called Snakes and Ladders, and kept building it further and further down the hill. The gully we kept crossing turned into a creek, and for us that meant one thing – log ride.
Hunting up and down the creek turned up a couple of possibilities. The first log was about 200mm thick, 12 meters long and 5 or 6 meters above the rocky creek. That was just a bit TOO sketchy.
The second log was at least 20 meters long, starting out a meter thick and tapering down to 300mm on the other side of the creek. It sloped, twisted, cracked and turned, with a slimy green coat of moss. Perfect.
Maybe two meters clear of the jagged rocks in the creek, we knew this would be the gnarliest stunt in the forest.
Fast-forward a month or two. The trail was now 200 meters past the log. We had ridden it successfully a number of times, and fallen off it a number of times. Some riders refused, and no-one thought the worse of them because it was a mean, gnarly log.
One Saturday we were out practising for the South East Queensland Downhill Championship the following day. We had ridden all our favorite trails at top speed, and I remember laughing as i got a forty foot jump slightly wrong and went spearing off into the trees.
As we approached the gnarly log, the other 5 or 6 riders pulled off to the side of the track. “You fkn wooses,” I thought to myself, “I’ll show you how to ride the gnarly log.”
I made it all the way to within one meter of the opposite bank of the creek. Just where the log kinked left, my front tyre slipped off the right hand side. We had put some extra branches there just in case this happened, but the wheel crashed straight through them and down.
I remember thinking I could lift the wheel across to the other side, but the heavy downhill bike plunged down and I only succeeded in pulling myself headfirst into the bank of the creek.
There was a loud crack and a flash of rainbow lights.
I was upside down with my full-face helmet tucked into my chest. I couldn’t breathe very well and I suddenly realised that I couldn’t move. I knew then that I had broken my neck.
My first thought was an indescribable sadness for my parents, who have had to put up with a lot. My second thought was that I would never play guitar again, which would be a waste, as I had been practising so much lately.
My friends told me at first they didn’t worry about my fall, as I do this sort of thing so very often. It was only when I did not move that they realised something was wrong.
When they reached me I told them that I had broken my neck and that they had to move me coz I couldn’t breathe. They were very reluctant to move a spinal injury but I assured them I would take full responsibility, whatever happened. Luckily, they were able to gently lay me on my side before heading off in various directions to seek help.
I was basically suicidal for the next 20 minutes or so as I pondered a future life as a total quadruplegic. Then suddenly I exclaimed “Ow!” because some bastard was poking me in the ankle.
“That’s fantastic!” said Phil Morrow, who had stayed with me while Mick Mclennan and the others called for help.
“I’ve been poking you all over with a stick and I just got a reaction!”
This was a cause for great joy and jubilation all round, and much stick-poking ensued. Further tests revealed that I had the smallest flicker, a tiny twitch of movement in hands and feet. I resolved there and then to be positive and grateful for any improvement. If I recovered enough to be able to drive one of those electric wheelchairs by moving my chin, then that would be a happy day.
The ambulance officers arrived about 40 minutes after the fall, after a long hike from where they left their vehicle. At about the same time we heard the clatter of the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter overhead.
But it would be another 2 hours before the Brunswick Valley Rescue Squad figured out a way to stretcher me out of the rugged gorge, and another hour after that until we reached a clearing where the helicopter crew could get a winch down through the trees.
It was a strange feeling rising up through the branches on the stretcher with a helicopter crewman dangling beside me. It was a very windy day and I remember being worried that if the stretcher got caught in a tree, then we were all going to die.
The chopper flew to Lismore to refuel, and then straight to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. I did not enjoy the flight as there was a lot of vibration and I could only think about jagged bone fragments sawing away at what was left of my spinal cord.
It was a huge relief when the helicopter touched down in Brisbane. A team of medicoes ran out with a trolley and as they wheeled me through the big glass doors I sucked some more oxygen through the mask and thought, maybe I’m going to be OK…
TO BE CONTINUED: Three months in Spinal…