2017 Ride for the Chopper from Woolgoolga to Tamworth raises more than $100,000 for Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service

Important lesson: Some of the Ride for the Chopper team stopped into Wytalibah Public School to teach the kids the importance of wearing a helmet on a bike - a promise each child made to the crew.
Important lesson: Some of the Ride for the Chopper team stopped into Wytalibah Public School to teach the kids the importance of wearing a helmet on a bike - a promise each child made to the crew.

Riders make it over the Great Dividing Range to Glen Innes

It’s not often a group of riders stop into school, but the kids at Wytalibah Public School had a lesson of a different kind at the end of term.

The Ride for the Chopper crew dropped into the tiny school en-route to Tamworth as part of the annual fundraiser for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

Mountain trek: The riders take a break in the forest between Grafton and Dalmorton on the 500km journey from the coast to the bush, last week.

Mountain trek: The riders take a break in the forest between Grafton and Dalmorton on the 500km journey from the coast to the bush, last week.

The kids have seen the rescue helicopter – it’s even landed in the school grounds on one of its rescue missions.

The riders were on day three of the ride after leaving Woolgoolga for Grafton.

From Grafton, they wound their way through the national park to get to Dalmorton where they spent a night under the stars.

Foggy ride: From left to right, Tim Manton, Stephen Hunter, John Brighton and Will Lulham pedal out of Dalmorton en-route to Wytalibah.

Foggy ride: From left to right, Tim Manton, Stephen Hunter, John Brighton and Will Lulham pedal out of Dalmorton en-route to Wytalibah.

The 12/16 Hunter River Lancers in Tamworth travelled to meet them. Corporal Darryl Broadley, Sergeant Nic Showell, Private Michael Taylor and Trooper Cody Johnson set up ’Chateu De Dalmorton’ around a campfire for one night before the Drover’s Run crew cooked a campfire dinner.

A foggy start greeted the riders before they made it to Wytaliabah. But it wasn’t all about the riding.

Lunch, a swim in the river and a school visit were on the agenda in the tiny village before they headed to Guyra.

Alive and well: The riders celebrate the finish in Tamworth. It was the first time the ride has set off from the coast for the bush. Photo: Gareth Gardner

Alive and well: The riders celebrate the finish in Tamworth. It was the first time the ride has set off from the coast for the bush. Photo: Gareth Gardner

Fundraising continues to climb

THEY were riding to ensure no one ever has to pay to be airlifted in the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and now they’ve set records on and off the bike.

The annual Ride for the Chopper’s fundraising total is on track to top $110,000 – one of the biggest sums in the ride’s history.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that generous donations, as well as sponsorship from local businesses and the community along the way had topped $100,000, and continued to climb this week – something that has blown away the chopper’s ride committee. 

“This just highlights what the service means to the communities, and what the community does for the service,” Westpac Rescue Helicopter’s Michael Wilson said.

“And together we’re all helping to ensure no one ever has to pay.”

Girl power: The Ride for the Chopper boasted the most amount of women in its history with more than 15 on the ride, pictured with the Service's Michael Wilson.

Girl power: The Ride for the Chopper boasted the most amount of women in its history with more than 15 on the ride, pictured with the Service's Michael Wilson.

The riders set a first for the annual charity ride by trekking from the coast, over the Great Dividing Range, and also set a new record number of women on the trek. The 5,000m of climbing was also believed to be one the biggest uphill treks.

No hill big enough for chopper riders

PUSHING uphill, into the wind and on bumpy roads on a bike doesn’t sound like the most appealing to spend a week.

Mr-fix-it: Stephen Hunter was on his fourth Ride for the Chopper and made a name for himself as the bush bike mechanic.

Mr-fix-it: Stephen Hunter was on his fourth Ride for the Chopper and made a name for himself as the bush bike mechanic.

But there was no doubting the drive of the 2017 Ride for the Chopper peloton who trundled more than 500km from the seaside setting of Woolgoolga, over the Great Dividing Range, through Guyra, Black Mountain, Armidale, Gostwyck and Walcha and back to a hot and windy welcome in Tamworth.

The ride raises money for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, aiming to ensure no one ever has to pay.

And they come from far and wide. Kentucky, Tamworth, Gunnedah, Woolongong, Coffs Harbour, Newcastle and the Central West.

It drew a mix of youth and maturity, a slew of veteran charity cyclists, as well as first-timers.

But the experience was the same across the board. 

Gruelling.

Deborah Sadleir was a relative novice heading into the ride, only drawing on about 12 months worth of cycling experience, and was supported by her husband, Matthew.

Setting off from Woopi towards Grafton was one of the biggest challenges of the ride.

“There were very, very steep hills and they were very rocky,” Mrs Sadleir said.

Coastal life: Sarah Wylie from Tamworth, Kirsty Speed from Sydney, and Kentucky's Amy Bell felt the sand between their toes in Woolgoolga.

Coastal life: Sarah Wylie from Tamworth, Kirsty Speed from Sydney, and Kentucky's Amy Bell felt the sand between their toes in Woolgoolga.

“I thought if this is the path, because I have a cycle-cross bike …  I just thought, ‘my gosh, this is going to be a lot harder than what I thought.’”

Even the more experienced riders recalled the uphill climb from the coast in reverential tones, but the camaraderie and support within the group were just as helpful as a tailwind.

“Coming up next to other riders and and they ask you how you’re going and they tell you to jump on behind them and get navigated through the hard bits,” she said.

Bush life: The 12/16 Hunter River Lancers’ Corporal Darryl Broadley, Sergeant Nic Showell, Private Michael Taylor and Trooper Cody Johnson at Dalmorton.

Bush life: The 12/16 Hunter River Lancers’ Corporal Darryl Broadley, Sergeant Nic Showell, Private Michael Taylor and Trooper Cody Johnson at Dalmorton.

But it’s not the first time Mr Sadleir has cracked a sweat for the chopper, working for Best Practice Constructions, he helped build some of the buildings at the Tamworth base.

Despite the gruelling 650 kilometre ride, Mrs Sadleir said it only made her more keen to keep riding.

Dalene Pretorius, a veteran of five charity chopper rides, told Fairfax Media the Woolgoolga to Tamworth was the hardest.

Ms Pretorius’ first rescue chopper ride was back in 2008 and said the camaraderie kept her coming back for more.

“It was a huge challenge this one coming through the diving range,” Ms Pretorius said. “It was definitely the hardest one.

“The uphills from Grafton probably those two days, just uphill, headwind and corrugation.”

But it wasn’t all about the riding. Along the way the riders visited schools in Wytalibah and Woolbrook, had community BBQs and dinners and also had a taste of the camping life. 

The 12/16 Hunter River Lancers’ Corporal Darryl Broadley, Sergeant Nic Showell, Private Michael Taylor and Trooper Cody Johnson set up ’Chateu De Dalmorton’ around a campfire for one night before the Drover’s Run crew cooked a campfire dinner.