Jason Collins benefited from the kindness of strangers in the middle of a long-distance race in the Australian outback.LUKE MCMANUS June 21, 2014 3:33am
Echuca Finke Desert Rally riders (from left) Linc Spiers, Darcy Regan, Jason Collins, Luke Harrison and Shaun Brennan. Photo: Jessica James
A helping hand is never too far away, even when you are stuck in the remote Australian outback.
Echuca enduro rider Jason Collins discovered the true power of goodwill after suffering a mishap during the first day of the Finke Desert Race on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
On board his KTM 450, Collins was about 60km from Alice Springs, travelling towards Finke, a small town in the desolate southern region of the Northern Territory, when he suffered a flat back tyre.
Determined to finish, Collins powered on for another 80km before a steep sand dune threatened to derail his first competitive enduro.
‘‘(The tyre) was dead flat for about 60km, then during next 20km the tyre popped off the rim,’’ Collins said.
‘‘I was riding without a back brake after it ripped off the steel which had also started to come out from around the tyre and wrapped around the sprocket.
‘‘Luckily, I carried some pliers in my camel pack so I could cut the wire and keep going.
‘‘It really slowed me down ... I travelled another 5km before I came across the dune.’’
Despite multiple attempts and with the four-hour cut off fast approaching, Collin’s race looked shot after failing to conquer the sandy obstacle.
Luck was on Collins’ side, as on top the same hill, a large group a spectators had witnessed the rider’s futile efforts.
With limited tools, the group ‘‘of about 30 campers’’ took charge and breathed life into Collins’ race.
‘‘They came over, picked my bike up and took it into the bush back to their campsite,’’ Collins said.
‘‘They’d took one of their bikes off a trailer and swapped one of the wheels over ... it would have taken them 10 minutes at the most.
‘‘They had the bike up on a couple of those Engel fridges and were using whatever they could.’’
Collins was soon on his way again, bolstered by a new wheel from the unknown Melbourne man’s new ‘upper-class’ KTM.
Collins finished the remaining 90km to Finke without any more hiccups, crossing the line in a time of three hours, 27 minutes and 29 seconds.
Another 33 minutes slower and it would have been race over.
‘‘I wouldn’t have been able to ride the following day if I didn’t finish within the four hours,’’ he said.
‘‘They really looked after me ... if it hadn’t been for those blokes, I wouldn’t have finished.’’
Equally gracious was Jason’s partner, Amanda, who had remained in Alice Springs during the two days.
With no phone service available in Finke, Amanda had only the internet to check up on Jason’s progress and had no clue what was going on.
‘‘It’s really good knowing there’s still kind people like that out there,’’ Amanda said.
‘‘I started to worry as it was getting late and he hadn’t reached one of the checkpoints.’’
She had good reason to worry, given the challenges which fronted the 650 racegoers who braved the unforgiving terrain on board either a motorbike, quad bike, rally car or buggy.
Maintaining speeds of more than 80km/h for three-straight hours had Collins suffering from fatigue, while the ‘‘blinding dust’’ meant other riders were also an obstacle.
‘‘Fatigue is probably the main thing,’’ Collins said.
‘‘There were ‘whoops’ (small jumps) nearly the whole way on top of rocky and sandy sections.
‘‘I ran up the end of a couple of bikes on the second day and fell off a few more times simply because I couldn’t see where I was going.’’
Collins arrived in Alice Springs unscathed following the second day of racing (3:01:18), shaving almost half an hour off his day-one time.
Fellow competitors and training partners Lincoln Spiers (Echuca, 7:10:01), Darcy Regan (Tongala, 6:25:32), Luke Harrison (Pyramid Hill, 7:33:36) and Shaun Brennan (Kialla, 6:13:46) all completed the 460km round-trip without a hitch.
Less can be said about the sixth member of the group, with Echuca Village’s Jarrad James experiencing a mechanical fault in the lead up to the event.
‘‘We’re all pretty shattered for Jarrad ... he was heartbroken,’’ Collins said.
‘‘After 12 months of training, not being able to complete the race or even start the race is pretty heartbreaking.’’
James’ misfortunes and Collins’ troublesome day one has not deterred the group and ‘‘the amazing support crew who helped us’’ from aiming for next year’s Finke Desert Race, keen to mark its 40th anniversary with an even better performance.
Even if it means calling on a little helping hand along the way.
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