19 year-old Ben le Mesurier is extraordinary. He’s riding from Perth to Melbourne solo to raise money and give back to the Melbourne Children’s Hospital who saved his life a decade ago. I caught up with him in Adelaide while he rested up before heading on to Melbourne.
Words - James Raison Images - Ben le Mesurier
Sitting at a cafe awaiting massive breakfasts, I started by asking Ben how the hell he came to be sitting here. He’s on his high school gap year when most other teens are finding the outer limits of their liver functions.
“I was meant to go to England to do cheese making but they ended up selling the farm. One day my cousin came over and he joked that I should ride from Melbourne to Perth to say hi. That kind of stuck with me. I did some research and realised that it’s not impossible. I thought I could really learn something about myself, the country, and use it to give back. The only reason I can cycle at all is the Royal Children’s Hospital who was able to identify my [heart] condition. It developed when I was 9. They gave me a pacemaker and looked after me extremely well for the next 9 to 10 years.”
You’d expect someone who has just ridden from Perth to Adelaide would have prepared for months and ridden 10 million training kms but Ben did things a little differently.
“This endurance cycling was totally new to me. I was just a city cyclist who enjoyed riding fast occasionally. I did all my training on my fixed gear bike. I had to learn how to use gears on this ride. When I first started it was a new concept. My longest ride on my fixed gear bike was 120 km, the longest ride on the bike I’m riding at the moment was 80 km. The first day I rode out of Perth was 180 km.”
That lack of preparation makes Ben’s achievement all the more extraordinary. He’s a testament to mental strength and courage. Something that becomes infinitely more apparent when he talks about the Nullabor.
'It’s everything you expect and not at the same time. It is very long. It is very bleak and boring. You get a quick message that there’s no mistakes allowed on the Nullabor. You get constant reminders by the death you ride past. If I counted all the dead animals I’d be in the thousands.'
The omnipresent spectre of death isn’t the only challenge. The sheer vastness and monotony plays tricks on the mind:
“You can’t look up because you don’t feel like you’re going anywhere. On the 90 mile straight you see the road disappear into a blue horizon. The small shrubs make it looks like you’re heading towards a forrest on the horizon but it never comes. You have to ride 146 kms with no shade.”
THE EMOTIONAL TOLL
Asking what surprised him the most, Ben quickly identifies the emotional aspect:
“It’s been extremely emotional. It’s something I didn’t ever consider just how emotional it would be. I was preparing for the physical aspect. I had an idea that it’d be a bit emotional but when it actually came to it, I really didn’t expect how often on the Nullabor I’d just lose it. Looking down the 90 mile straight not seeing anything, just a horizon that fades out to blue and just trying to keep going… trying to push through. I had the physical strength. It’s just cycling and you don’t have a time limit. It’s hard trying to explain breaking down at times or screaming at the wind, or being so frustrated. I don’t exactly understand how that happens. You’ve just got so much going through your head and at the same time so little going through your head. I still haven’t figured out why I broke down for no reason at times. You achieve something and I was so happy I started tearing up for no reason. You realise where you are and you start bawling, or laughing, and your emotions are so strong. I just did not expect that emotional change and journey. As it’s gone on I feel like I’m a bit stronger mentally and emotionally.”
The size of the challenge pushed Ben to find the strength to keep going. His tough childhood trying to manage his heart condition was a source of constant perspective in his darkest times.
“It’s difficult to keep in mind how lucky you are to be here riding your bike in this place. Especially raising money for the Children’s Hospital, a lot of those kids won’t be able to ride bikes. My first operation when I was a kid, I was super depressed about it. Next to me was a kid who was a year younger than me fighting cancer. I don’t know whether he survived. Those kids don’t get to go out and battle a headwind and it’s something I teared up about quite a lot. You need to realise you’re so lucky and fortunate to have to tackle these winds and get frustrated by these hills that don’t end. I had to try so many different things to keep me going. When you get to really dark places you need to find something else to keep going, something way stronger. You’ve got to find something to make your situation feel not as bad as it is. That might be why I got emotional so many times. It was because I was trying to find that drive to keep going. I went to areas I never wanted to explore but I kind of had to.”
FIXED HEART, FIXED GEARS
It was very easy to forget Ben is still a teenager during the two and a half hours I spent with him. It’s impossible not to be impressed by his maturity, worldliness, relentless optimism, and perspective on how lucky he is. His adventure is a testament to gaining mental strength through suffering.
I left the conversation inspired to go on an adventure. Inevitably I’ll have to find some toughness while riding bikes in the future and it's likely I’ll hear Ben’s words in my head. We are all incredibly lucky to be able to jump on our bikes to go fight headwinds, get rained on, feel smashed by hills. Eventually we go home where we can eat, sleep and do it all again. That's something I'm incredibly grateful for.
Make a donation through Ben's Everyday Hero page.