It might seem strange that I recommend you go mountain bike riding in the Atherton Tablelands when one of our party ended up with a spiral fracture of their tibia and fibula.
When you see your friend’s foot flopping off the end of her leg, you can’t envision yourself ever getting back on a bike again.
But, I did. I had to somehow get back out of the bush on the 3 km track.
I just rode a little more cautiously.
It’s pretty easy to come a cropper off your bike. You start getting into the swing of things, you learn how to navigate the roots of trees sticking out while turning tight corners, your confidence grows with each new dip, you get airborne a couple of times, thrill courses through your body when you stay on and you think, next time, I can go just that little bit faster.
Hell, you’re almost ready to take on a jump.
I was feeling this as I came flying down the hill, showing off my technique with my bum a little off the seat. I was enjoying myself and was convinced I had ridden myself out of beginner level.
That last corner was a little sharp, but I held it steady and was buzzing. I caught up with our guide who stopped for a minute to allow everyone to catch up.
We chatted about the sport of mountain biking while soaking in the smells of the Eucalyptus trees. The birds were chirping and the sun warm on our skin. The humidity, usually stifling the Far North Queensland air was on vacation.
I was happy for the break to soak in the sun for a bit and enjoy the bush scenery. I don’t get to spend as much time as I like with nature anymore.
The peace was suddenly interrupted by yells from one of the girls behind us.
“Oh no. Someone’s come off.”
We waited, thinking it must have been a small crash and the yells were just an expression of shock and annoyance.
A break in the screams didn’t come, it was a string of fucks mixed in with pain and fear.
“I think we better go back and see what’s happened.”
The four of us walked quickly back around the bend and saw Celeste down in the gully. She was shaking and screaming about her leg. Craig had been riding behind her and so was first responder. He was holding her foot and the look on his face told me she was in trouble.
He mouthed. “Her leg is fucked.”
I looked down and wanted to pass out.
Our small group immediately kicked into action. We knew that a friend was in need and all she had was us. It’s amazing how in these moments your body just knows what to do.
Our guide was phenomenal. Trained in first aid, he calmly got to work and guided us all with what to do to help minimize her pain.
Peter Tuck, the owner of the Tableland Adventure Guides was also riding with us, as was another host from Tourism Queensland. They got straight on the phone to call in the ambulance.
We were also fortunate to have with us, Glen Jacobs, the man who created the mountain biking track. One of the worlds first Professional Mountain Bike Trail Builders, Glenn creates them all over the world, including Olympic courses.
He knew the shortest way for the ambulance to come in and directed them over the phone.
We moved Celeste to a comfortable position and wrapped her leg to reduce the swelling.
For the next 90 minutes, Craig held her foot while the rest of us supported her leg, rubbed her back, helped her to breathe through her pain, and tried our best to take her mind off it and feel calm.
Celeste was our host from Tourism Queensland for our Cairns trip. She was so excited about showing off this region and this was only day one. She was devastated.
We were devastated for her and in her sweet way she tried to see how she could fix the trip while she was lying in the bush miles from help with a badly broken leg.
We assured her we would be fine.
I willed myself to not burst into tears. I could not let her see my crying, but the eyes kept welling. I hated to see her in such pain and feel so helpless. Ever since having children I had this door open to a new depth of empathy, love and compassion. I can’t look at people in pain without thinking of my children. A mother’s love connects you to other people so much easier.
So I kept my sunnies on and rubbed her back and told her to squeeze my hand as hard as she needed. We would get through this.
What seemed like hours later, the ambulance arrived. Thank God for morphine, green whistles, and other pain killers. She needed quite a bit of it. The firefighters arrived not long after with stretches to carry her out.
Traumas like this allow you to see the good in humanity. Our mountain biking group showed such strength and support. We were all strangers the night before and now here we were helping another person like old friends.
The service men were fantastic: calm, supportive, encouraging and very gentle with Celeste.
All the boys walked her back out on a stretcher, swapping in and out to carry her to the nearest road so she cold be taken to hospital. It’s where she stayed for the next week. Her leg was operated on and although she was much better, the recovery road for her is quite long.
She was amazingly strong and brave.
So why would I still recommend to you that you go mountain biking in the Atherton Tablelands?
Well, for so many reasons. Accidents happen. They are just a part of life. It can happen walking down the street, in your backyard, in your own kitchen even.
That doesn’t mean we have to not do things that are enjoyable. Activities that get us out in nature, exploring, laughing, discovering, having fun and relaxing are vital for our sense of well being.
Accidents happen, yet they are pretty rare. All you have to do is accept that accidents can happen, and take precautions.
Take the corner a little slower than you would really like to. Wear your helmets, ride only at a pace that you feel comfortable with. It you are struggling, get off your bike and walk it. There were many small bumps, I could not get enough pedal power for. So I jumped off and walked it.
Our Tableland Adventure guides were amazing. They didn’t push us, they kept it at a safe pace and they had guides at the back to help those who wanted to go at a slower pace, all the time instructing to help the rider learn the best way to manage the bike and trail.
And their response shown to the crises – that they have never had before – really impressed me.
And at the end of it all, when the ambulance left and we all sat down to debrief, Peter’s wife gave us the most delicious smoked salmon sandwiches and homemade Apricot slice and hot tea that I have ever had.
They were such a sweet and lovely couple. I felt so sorry for them that they had a group of media people experiencing their amazing tours to share it through their publications and this tragedy happened.
It was just an accident and I am happy to share that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience before the accident and I would do it again and recommend that it is a worthwhile experience.
Tours: We biked the new ‘ridgey didge” track, a moderate trail, but there are trails to suit all ability levels. Although there are some challenging features designed for more advanced riders that like to get airborne from time to time, there is always an alternative [known as a B line] line around the feature.
Costs: Half or full day tours starting from $95 including gear, guide, refreshments and transfers in the Atherton area
Check out a short video here of our adventure (pre-accident)
Where’s your favourite place?