Words by Dean Lucas
As I stepped off the plane back onto Australian soil in late March I was met with a certain worrying calmness in the crowds of people alongside me. I had just come from the canceled World Cup in Portugal where a slight but undeniable tension mixed with panic was in the air, this however seemed to stop when I disembarked in Sydney.
I felt as though I alone was aware of something, like I was living two weeks into the future and had seen what was to come before anyone else.
It was like I was on the Titanic watching the approaching iceberg and all I could do was wait for the impact.
It had already been a special year for me. Months of training were behind me, and I had just decided to pick up my whole life and move in pursuit of achieving a lifelong goal. I moved out of my house and scattered all my belongings throughout family members that would look after them, a massive undertaking but all worth it to give me the best chance I could to train and be around other riders such as Jack Moir.
In a sudden and abrupt fashion, everything was up in the air which took a massive mental toll on me and had me asking many questions, most notably, “what’s next?”
I felt as though I had been put into a forced retirement with no sight of coming out anytime soon, along with that a sense of lost identity.
No matter how hard I tried to shake it and pull myself back up to the high I was on going into Portugal, I just couldn’t.
As a result, once I got back to Australia, I decided to leave my new found training ground of Newcastle and return home to Victoria to be around family to try and make sense of this whole thing.
Upon returning home, I still couldn’t change my internal dialogue, questions constantly spinning around in my head. “What’s going to happen now? Where will I live? How long will this last?”
I was in a constant state of fear that was ultimately crippling my happiness and way of being.
I knew something had to dramatically change in my mindset and view of the situation so I did what anyone should do in a situation like this- I decided on focusing on the things that were in my control and that make me happy while also blocking out the things that were having a negative impact on me.
So, a day after returning home from Europe I packed my van with a week’s worth of supplies, deleted all my social media apps and headed to a location that holds a very special place in my heart, Mt. Buffalo.
When I arrived at the foothill of the mountain my mood began to shift almost instantaneously, as if all the noise around me had begun to fade from a desperate yell of panic to a gentle whisper of hope.
It was almost as if I had suddenly turned down the volume on all the negative external forces being projected onto me, giving me the time and clarity to stop, breathe and look at the bigger picture along with the new opportunities that had just presented themselves.
This wasn’t something I thought would change as quickly as it did in my mind but I’m so grateful it did, to not look at it as if I had lost something but instead as if I had gained so much more. Focusing on all the positives and throwing away all the negative emotions can change everything in your mind.
After a week of complete isolation and deep thoughts a new opportunity suddenly presented itself in the form of a place to live and new housemate, that place being Falls Creek and that friend being Joe McDonald.
Although Joe and I were reasonably close we probably weren’t two and a half months of solid isolation close…yet.
What ensued during those two and a half months can only be described as life-changing for all the right reasons. We turned a time of uncertainty and fear into the absolute time of our lives.
From exploring untouched places to meeting up with new likeminded people it seemed as though we had created the perfect storm for what was to come.
During this time I was lucky enough to meet up with an old friend of mine Jarryd Sinclair. Over the years we had shared many mutual friends but had never been super close, I knew he’d involved himself in the media world and he knew I had worked myself into a good spot with my riding so he decided to approach me with an idea to collaborate on a media project.
I knew some of Jarryd’s past work and the level at which he operated so I jumped at the opportunity and the planning began.
Along with Jarryd I was also introduced through mutual friends to Riley Mathews, a skier from Falls Creek that normally chases winters as I chase summers.
Seeing as that wasn’t possible at this point in time he decided to take up photography and in turn became the missing piece to our puzzle.
Once we had the team together and the concept of filming three different SCOTT bikes in three completely different locations within 100km’s of each other, it was time to go, but where to first?
That was easy, back to where this series of strange events first led me, Mt Buffalo.
When we arrived I couldn’t help but think back to when I was here at the start of the pandemic and how things had drastically changed since then, from not knowing what was to come and feeling a sense of being lost to now diving in head first into my biggest media project to date alongside two incredible human beings - what a surreal feeling.
The first of the three bikes we shot was the SCOTT Addict RC, one of the nicest road bike I’ve ever seen let alone been given the chance to ride.
As shooting began we played around with different methods and new idea on how to get the best shots, eventually we found the ace up our sleeve, we strapped Jarryd into the back of my van attached to knight surfing harness, armed with a gimbal and Riley behind the wheel we were able to get some of the smoothest shots I’ve ever seen alongside the bike.
After reviewing the footage, it didn’t look real, like it was part of a video game or something filmed by a high-end production with a 100k budget - not bad for a couple of guys in a van!
After all the shots were done we decided to camp that night up at the horn, (the highest point of Mt. Buffalo) due to the fact we were still in a semi-state of lockdown there was not a single other soul up there aside from us, pure peace and quiet hung in the soft cool mountain air as we watched the sun set on a successful first day.
Almost as quickly as we had watched the sun set it felt like we were watching it rise again, a 4 am start along with a small walk got us to the peak of the mountain to capture that elusive golden light that any respectable film maker would trade his or her grandmother for.
After we got the shots and Jarryd and Riley were grinning ear to ear it was time to shoot the Downhill.
A small drive saw us leave the beautiful “Jurassic Park style” Mt. Buffalo and arrive at our new location, Mt. Mystic overlooking the small tourist town of Bright. As I unloaded my new SCOTT Gambler out of the van I couldn’t help but smile, this was my first time riding downhill in months along with riding a completely new bike defiantly instilled a sense of excitement mixed with nerves.
I find that racing and filming are two very similar things, even though with filming you only have to be fast for 10 seconds at a time compared to 3 minutes. That being said, you have to be perfect for those 10 seconds and due to the smaller window your working with perfection is more expected and the pressure is just as high.
As I pushed up to get the first shot my mind was filled with doubt and excitement all at the same time, excited to be doing what I was doing but with a bit of doubt manifesting from the fact that I haven’t ridden in so long and not on this bike before. I pushed 50m past where the boys were situated, took a deep breath and waited for the call. Jarryd yelled out he was ready and away I went down a steep rocky shoot and passed the boys.
When I stopped so did all the nerves and doubt, I felt amazing straight of the bat and the doubt was quickly replaced with confidence, this was further reinforced by the two onlooking boys who at this point had never seen me ride downhill, they’re reaction of excitement and shock instantly fueled me to push harder, and so I did.
As the day rolled on hours felt more like minutes and the feeling of hunger seemed to escape our bodies even though we hadn’t eaten for hours and had all been pushing ourselves the whole time.
We had found that infamous flow state as a collective group and in that moment we were so committed in achieving a set goal that nothing else seemed to hold the same weight as it normally would.
In those moments I think it’s important to stop and reflect on that exact point in time, and to realize that what you are currently in the middle of is something that may have once been perceived as an impossible dream that has now become a daily reality.
In those movements it’s important to stay humble.
Another incredible day of shooting was done and dusted, that left us now with our last bike to capture and a completely new location to go.
After another sleep that was cut far too short, we were back in the vans racing the sun as we approached the top of Falls Creek.
When we finally reached the summit we did manage to beat the sun, unfortunately though our price for that was an icy cold wind that cut through you like a Japanese knife through paper.
We all huddled in my van for shelter and as we worked out our options and plan of attack for dealing with the strong winds and lack of visibility. We decided to start further down the trail, using the surrounding hills as a slight cover from the vicious wind. Once we were out of the wind and fog it seemed to take on a new identity, from cold hindering enemy to a now creative helpful friend the wind and fog had completely transformed within a distance of a few hundred meters and the guys couldn’t get enough of it.
We used the fog along with the surrounding barren landscape to capture some of the most cinematic shots you could ever ask for. Once the fog started to dissipate and morning slowly rolled into midday we decided we had earned a quick power nap, that quick nap turned into a 3-hour sleep on the grass in the hot sun, it was fair to say all of us were pretty worn out by this point.
As we woke to a hazy daze, we slowly pulled ourselves together and got everything ready for the finishing touches.
We made our way over to Mt. Mackay, as we reached the top you could see for miles and miles over the Kiewa Valley and along with each of the locations we had previously shot at. Mt. Buffalo, Mystic and Falls Creek all sat perfectly still on the horizon as we captured the final shots and completed this truly amazing project.
This time, the idea of “what’s next” was gladly welcomed into my mind with great excitement and anticipation, I’d been given the time to reflect on what was truly important to me and regained the motivation to strive towards that.
Now going into 2021 I feel as though I am riding a wave of momentum created over the past 10 years, all the good, the bad, ups, downs, crashes, wins, people, places and culture I’ve encountered along this journey has led me to this point now.
So, what’s next?
Doing everything humanly possible to make the dream become a reality and becoming the best in the world at racing my bike and in the process inspiring others to do the same
Video: Jarryd Sinclair
Photography: Jarryd Sinclair
/ Riley Matthews
Many thanks to Ride High Country
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